WASHINGTON, DC – Give a kid a good story he or she can relate to and the child will become an enthusiastic lover of books, says author and publisher David Bruce Smith.
It’s a fact that schoolchildren are not born with a desire to read. There are plenty of studies that confirm it: too many young learners have an aversion to books, and their parents are stressed about their kids’ reading proficiency.
So, how can you get your children and grandchildren to become more avid bibliophiles?
“It’s not going to happen if you put together a selection of so-called ‘appropriate’ books. You need to let them pick what they want to read,” says Smith.
Smith is the co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, the brainchild of the late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole inspired Smith to establish the Prize as a means of encouraging authors and publishers to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction for young readers. The idea was to capture the imaginations of children, give them an incentive to explore the history of America, and—hopefully— jumpstart a love of reading in them.
“It is well established that too many middle and high school students have a history deficiency. They seem to be bored in history class because the teaching standards are based on memorization and rote. Let’s face it: history textbooks may provide the facts and timelines, but they don’t tell stories that are interesting to kids. But give them a novel— or even a true life story about an historic event or a person— and they become curious—leaving them wanting to know more,” says Smith.
Why is this essential? Because knowledge of the important events of our country, why and who made them happen, ensures that young people will grow up to be responsible, participating, citizens.
Smith puts the onus on parents for the vital task of encouraging their children to read, and says that “the Prize was established to aid them in this important work by encouraging new and established authors to publish page-turners with kid-appeal. And, why not give the children a history lesson they can take to heart as they read.”
Here’s a list of age-appropriate works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction to make it easier for parents:
- Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is an excellent example of how “humanizing” the facts of history can be whipped into a context that young readers appreciate. This book, a work of historical nonfiction that was made into an Academy Award nominated film, received the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize. It tells the story of African-American women mathematicians who worked at NASA and overcame racism in the early days of America’s space program.
- Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning, a work of historical fiction– also about racial injustice—received a much-deserved Honorable Mention in the 2017 Prize competition.
- Edward Cody Huddleston’s The Story of John Quincy Adams 250 Years After His Birth, also received an Honorable Mention Award in 2017.
- The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson, was the 2016 winner of the Prize.
- Freedom’s Price, by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols, was awarded an Honorable Mention in 2016.
- Laura Amy Schlitz for her work of historical fiction, The Hired Girl, also won an Honorable Mention in 2016.
- Like a River: A Civil War Novel, by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, won the first Grateful American Book Prize in 2015.
- Darlene Beck Jacobson’s novel, Wheels of Change, received an Honorable Mention in 2015.
- The Revelation of Louisa May, by Michaela MacColl also was awarded Honorable Mention in 2015.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Books of fiction and nonfiction that are eligible for the 2018 Prize can be submitted until July 31, 2918. They must be historically accurate and geared for children ages 11 to 15. Submission information and forms are available here.