History can be a yawn-inducing bore in the classroom

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 31 – “It’s amazing how history can be a bore in the classroom, but when young learners become adults they develop a desire to learn more about the past, as evidenced by the popularity of historical novels and films,” according to author and education advocate David Bruce Smith.

He says the traditional use of text books as an exclusive source for students may be to blame.

“The assigned books used in most history classes are a necessary source for names and dates, and for describing the events that shaped the past in a factual manner.  But they do little to inspire a passion for the subject.  Most teachers know that and so they use extracurricular activities as a means of engaging their students.  For example, one of the most popular methods of stirring young learners is to have them read historically accurate works of fiction and nonfiction– particularly  whose that tell stories with which they can identify.  It might be a tale of adventure or a relevant biography.”

Smith is so ardent about the use of engaging books as a means of generating interest among young students to learn about the founding and evolution of America, that he established the Grateful American Book Prize.  It’s an annual award for authors who focus on the genre.  “We want to give writers and their publishers another reason to produce more books that can help evoke curiosity in students about their country.  We want to give American history an appeal for students.  We want students to relate to the people and events that created the nation in which we live and its place in the global community.”

John Gray is the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Prize and had this to say about the use of novels as a tool for teaching history:  “Historical fiction, particularly if history is presented in an engaging and truthful manner, opens the door to young people with key moments primarily through characters that are age appropriate and who face relatable challenges even though the stories might be set in the 18th or 19th centuries. Historical fiction also makes complicated and distressing topics such as slavery, the Holocaust and even September 11, easier to introduce to a pre-teen audience.”

A variety of surveys and studies in recent years show how deficient students are in their knowledge of history.  And, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence which proves they are not absorbing their classroom history lessons, particularly in view of the 21st Century focus on STEM education which emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

How important is it for our kids to understand the past?  An Associated Press analysis concluded that history teaches us “how to become better citizens.”  It reinforces the notion that students, especially those in grade school, need to know why historical events and the people who helped build the country are so important to us today and in the future.

“Learning history means the development of critical thinking skills.  Recently, we have seen school curriculum that puts an emphasis on original source documents and nonfiction, including biography.  Biography can provide a richness and help energize children about the past.  In our Smithsonian museum stores, we carry the series of “Who was?” biographies aimed at kids.  Seeing that extraordinary figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman were once children like themselves helps young people navigate their way in the real world and understand that they too, are makers of history.  History is complicated, exciting and ever-changing.  So much remains to be written to thrill students with new concepts and understanding of American history,” according to Gray.

The panel of judges will select this year’s Grateful American Prize honoree in time for the October 6th presentation ceremony at the Library of Congress. In 2015 Kathy Cannon Wiechman won for her civil war novel, Like a River, which one history teacher said was as important a work as the classic, The Red Badge of Courage.

September 2016 Book Recommendations

Truman Capote’s, THE GRASS HARP; a boy and two elderly women observe life–from a tree.

Dr. Seuss’s, THE CAT IN THE HAT; Dick and Sally were having a dull day, until the cat arrived.

Jean Kerr’s, PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES; the vagaries of parenting six children. Later the book morphed into a Doris Day-David Niven movie, and a television show.

Willa Cather’s, ALEXANDER’S BRIDGE; trouble starts when the married a married engineer re-discovers a former lover. Published in 1912, this was the author’s debut novel.


September 2016 Book Recommendations

People’s Party in the Park: An Old Fashioned Labor Day Celebration

The Peoples Bank and Tom McHugh have put together a day of awesome music, scrumptious food, refreshing beverages, antique vehicles and fun for kids of all ages to create an Old Fashioned Labor Day Celebration. This event will be held in Fountain Park, Downtown Chestertown, on Sunday, September 4th, noon to 6:00pm.

The music consists of all local talent with a new band starting hourly with Sue Matthews at noon and continuing through the day with The Pam Ortiz Band, Philip Dutton & The Alligators, Lions of Bluegrass, Sombarkin and finishing up the day with East Roc. Food and beverage will be available for sale by the Kent County High School Music Boosters and Papa Smurfs BBQ Truck. Crow Vineyards will have their wines available for sale by the glass and bottle, and fresh squeezed lemonade will be for sale by the Sudlersville Lions Club.

There will also be exhibits and children’s activities presented by Kent County Humane Society, Camp Tockwogh, Camp Fairlee, United Way of Kent County, RiverArts, Chestertown Lions, Think Big, Jazz Festival and more.

Everyone is encouraged to come out and enjoy the afternoon, bring chairs and blankets to be comfortable. Also, you may bring your own food and beverage.

For more information call Karen Willis at 410-778-3500.

Smilow® Furniture’s High-Back Rail Back Armchair Selected as Chic Wood Frame Armchairs by Dering Hall

We are proud that Dering Hall – the online marketplace for the finest interior designers, architects, artisans, and design galleries — featured one of our classic chairs in their recent curated chair collection.

They selected Smilow® Furniture’s High-Back Rail Back Armchair in their article on Chic Wood Frame Armchairs – “from sleek vintage Brazilian chairs to minimalist modern pieces.”

Learn more about this classic midcentury modern, must-have piece of furniture.


The Love of Reading

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 16 – Getting your kids ready for school goes beyond outfitting them with pencils, pens and new clothes,” says author and publisher David Bruce Smith.  “The most important ‘gift’ you can give your child is a love for reading.”

He says that reading is elemental to the education process but, he adds, there is much more than literacy at stake for young learners.  “To paraphrase a character in a movie I once saw, the key to all knowledge comes in words.”

Smith, who co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize for authors who write and publish historically accurate works of fiction/nonfiction– especially for kids– points out that a well-read child becomes a productive citizen.  Reading also promotes curiosity, which is a cornerstone of success in later life.

He has suggestions for parents who want to motivate their children as they prepare for this coming semester:
  • Don’t censor them.  Let them read what they want. Parental rebellion causes young adult defiance.  Even internationally acclaimed author Neil Gaiman writes:   “You don’t discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.  Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read.  And not everyone has the same taste as you.
  • Stoke an interest in reading.  For example, if a child favors science fiction, introduce him/her to the great Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark.
  • For kids who hate the conventional ways of reading, there are now electronic alternatives such as audio books and Whispersync, a technology which enable users to switch back and forth between a Kindle book and an audio narration.
  • Finally, take your children to the local library, and, literally, show them the world in which they live.  “Libraries are about Freedom.  Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.  They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information,” says Gaiman.
One last thing, says Smith.  There’s proof now that reading is good for the mind-and the body. A new study in the journal of Social Science & Medicine, reveals that people who read live longer than those who never engaged.

As for the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize, the judges are poring through more than 100 books that were submitted for consideration and will be ready to announce a winner on October 6 at a ceremony to be held at the Library of Congress.