Making History Come Alive for Young People

Making History Come Alive for Young People

Concern over the state of Americans’ understanding of the past is nothing new, but has received renewed coverage recently in the wake of a disturbing new study highlighting critical gaps in awareness of the basic facts of the Holocaust among both adults and youth. But whereas many commentators wring their hands, helplessly bemoaning the situation, David Bruce Smith has taken affirmative steps to foster a love of history in young people. Smith’s Grateful American Foundation – an interactive multimedia educational series – is designed to “restore enthusiasm in American history for kids – and adults, too.”

Smith, a generous friend of CWI, pinpoints several factors that have converged to create widespread malaise towards history, namely shrinking educational funding, reduction and/or elimination of field trips, classroom materials that fail to excite students’ curiosity, and a lack of formal training in history among some teachers. Through his Grateful American programs – which include a radio show, video series, website, and book prize – Smith works to provide engaging resources that will capture children’s interest and utilize the power of storytelling to excite their empathy and imagination. To date, the foundation has produced fifty videos and a newsletter designed to accommodate different styles of absorbing information. Grateful American is also the force behind a new series of books about presidential (or other historical) couples whose lives together were partnerships; the inaugural book in the series – the story of John and Abigail Adams – will be published by Simon & Schuster in fall 2018.

Now in its fourth year, the Grateful American Book Prize, a project of Smith’s Grateful American Foundation, recognizes “writing, storytelling and illustration for children’s historical non-fiction and fiction focused on the events and personalities that have shaped the United States since the country’s founding.” Co-founders Smith and the late Bruce Cole, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, envisioned the prize as a way to encourage authors and publishers to produce more high-quality works of historical fiction and non-fiction for young readers. Winners are selected by a distinguished jury of historians and museum leaders (including CWI director Peter Carmichael), and receive a cash award of $13,000 (a homage to the original 13 colonies). Submissions for 2018 will be accepted through July 31.

Smith notes that certain subjects – like the Civil War and civil rights – are always strongly represented among the submitted books, as are subjects linked to pressing contemporary issues. “For 2017-2018, it looks like the subject will be immigration,” he observes. Smith is optimistic about the future of historical writing for young people, stating that, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of books the publishing world is producing.”

The Civil War Era has always been a source of fascination for David Bruce Smith, who is quick to name Abraham Lincoln as his favorite president. A Washington, DC-based author and publisher, Smith’s books include American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States; Conversations with Papa Charlie; Afternoon Tea with My Mom; and Three Miles From Providence. He holds a bachelor’s degree in American Literature from George Washington University, and a master’s in Journalism from New York University. His company David Bruce Smith Publications specializes in creating, designing, and composing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects, and is committed to educating young children through books, literature, and historic sites.