Grateful American Book Prize

Gift suggestions for the holidays

Holiday gift giving can be a truly onerous task, particularly when you are shopping for suitable presents for children and grandchildren.

“Checks, cash and gift cards are easy ways out for some parents and grandparents.  Electronic gadgets and geegaws might also be top-of-the-list to ensure hero/ heroine status in the eyes of cherished children.  But, if you want to give a gift that entertains, creates excitement, edifies and enlightens, buy them engaging books that touch off a yearning for learning,” suggests David Bruce Smith.

Smith is an author, publisher and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize that rewards authors of factually accurate historical fiction and non-fiction so he is biased, of course.  But his message resonates with almost every adult who endured middle school and high school history classes and their mechanical, rote-based, name-and-date lesson plans.

“But after graduation the great majority of us began seeking historical novels and movies because they put history into a context that was exciting and engaging.”

Kathy Cannon Wiechman was awarded the 2015 Book Prize this fall for her book Like A River, A Civil War Novel.  It’s an exciting “page-turner” for children of all ages, particularly for youngsters who can relate to the novel’s teen-age protagonists.

In a recent interview, author Wiechman agreed with the notion that a good read goes a long way toward the goal of engaging our kids in the study of history.  While science and math train our youngsters for the 21st Century world, history provides important life lessons that put their young lives in context, she said.


“I rarely liked history class.  Memorizing lists of generals, battles, and causes bored me, but when history read like a story, I was hooked.  I fell in love with history through biographies of Lincoln, Washington, and Lee, and I relished stories that transported me into the past.  Well-developed fictional characters took me on marvelous adventures and I always eagerly read the Author’s Note at the end of a story that separated fact from fiction.  It never seemed like a history lesson because I learned so much.  When I hear from readers of Like A River, my favorite compliment is ‘I felt I was there with Leander and Polly.’  If I can transport a reader into the past, the lesson will stay with him longer than any history class, because he has ‘been there’.”

Like A River is a top holiday gift recommendation from Book Prize co-founder Smith.  So are two novels that won Honorable Mentions in this year’s competition: Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson and The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl.  Wheels of Change confronts Washington DC’s racial turbulence during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.  The Revelation of Louisa May is a deftly appealing combination of actual events and history culled from the life of Louisa May Alcott.

Smith had additional title recommendations for young readers.  “They probably will find these stories so interesting that they won’t even know they are learning how to be good citizens who will enthusiastically participate in the democratic process as they grow older.”

Here are some of additional books recommended by the Grateful American Book Prize.  Google them to see which ones will be appealing for the kids on your holiday gift lists:

Judy Blume’s, FOREVER
Charlotte Bronte’s, JANE EYRE
Esther Forbes’s, JOHNNY TREMAIN
Kathryn Forbes’s, MAMA’S BANK ACCOUNT
Frank B. Gilbreth’s and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Frank B. Gilbreth’s and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s, BELLES ON THEIR TOES
Kirby Larson’s, DASH
Madeleine L’Engle’s, A WRINKLE IN TIME
Madeleine L’Engle’s, CAMILLA
Gayle Rosengren’s, WHAT THE MOON SAW
Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s, LIKE A RIVER: A CIVIL WAR NOVEL
Elie Wiesel’s, NIGHT