In an interview with marketing editor Brian Feinblum, he said the problem is “multi-generational. Unfortunately, financial resources for education have been on the decline; teachers are often unqualified or uninterested in history–but told they must teach it–and big business has not absorbed the deficiencies–nor recognized that today’s students are their future employees.”
Smith cited a 2011 survey conducted by the American Revolution Center that sought to measure the country’s “historical literacy.” The results were “distressing,” he said. For example, an alarming “89% of the respondents believed, that the Civil War occurred before the Revolutionary War.
That survey and other similar studies prompted him to establish the Grateful American Book Prize. “History books, particularly text books, are notoriously boring. Our aim is to encourage authors to liven things up. The important thing is to make history books interesting. There are many exciting stories to be discovered about the history of our country, stories that appeal to pre-teens and teens. In most cases, it’s not the stories that fail to engage; it’s the way they are told.”
The Prize recognizes the best children’s books in the genres of historical fiction and non-fiction written for the 7th-9th graders. “This is the only prize of its kind at the moment. Usually, prizes such as this weigh only the quality of the prose, and ignore the illustrations. This one will consider both–if possible. That ideal “marriage” will depend on the submissions, because I have discovered older fiction has less or no illustrations,” Smith added.
Smith’s list of recommended books for kids includes: Esther Forbes’s, Johnny Tremain; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, The Diary of Anne Frank and Stephen Crane’s, The Red Badge of Courage. “I would also put in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; most people don’t recognize it as “historical fiction”, but it is.”