Grateful American Book Prize

Bridging the learning gap

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 2 – The summer break from school gives young learners a chance to catch their breath, but mind the learning gap, says David Bruce Smith.

Smith, who is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, notes that there is plenty of research to show that “our kids can forget as much as three months’ worth of learning, unless parents take measures to keep their minds active during the summer vacation.”

The Department of Education is now referring to summertime as a potential danger zone for young learners. “That’s because many young people lose ground over the summer in terms of reading and other things learned in school. Educators call this summer learning loss.”

The fact is that education researchers have found that “over the summer months, some students experience a slide in learning that can contribute to gaps in achievement, employment, college, and career success. This is particularly true for low-income students who lose access to critical supports that keep them safe, healthy, and engaged during the school year.”

And, they say, students who fall into the learning gap rarely catch up with their reading skills when they return to school in the fall.

Smith says his Grateful American Book Prize was created to offer “a particularly important way to keep kids engaged in reading and, at the same time, in learning the history of our country. History is critical to the development of a well-rounded education, but the emphasis on so-called math-based practical subjects in schools these days has obscured the importance of history classwork, particularly among middle and high schoolers. The ‘tween and teen years are critical in the process of learning and, while reading is fundamental, as they say, learning who we are as citizens of the United States is as important.”

The concept for the Prize is focused on motivating authors and publishers to produce more appealing works of accurately portrayed historical fiction and nonfiction that achieve two things: engage students in the love of reading, and encourage them to learn more about their heritage. Smith believes these kinds of books can capture a child’s imagination and generate curiosity about history.

“It’s a way to promote good citizenship as they grow older—and truncate– the summer learning gap,” says Smith.

He offers, what he calls a reading list designed to add value to the lazy days of summer without interfering with the need youngsters have to participate in healthy, active pursuits:

  • Esther Forbes’s JOHNNY TREMAIN
  • Jean Craighead George’s, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
  • Anonymous’s GO ASK ALICE
  • Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s LIKE A RIVER: A CIVIL WAR NOVEL
  • Madeleine L’Engle’s AND BOTH WERE YOUNG
  • Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT
  • Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF
  • E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS
  • D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE