The Forum | Historical Literacy

In Recognition of the Grateful American Book Prize

November 12, 2020 by Nathaniel Urban

A group of young students walk into their history class and sit down at their desks. A few minutes later, class begins with the teacher rattling off a seemingly endless list of dates, people, and places in a dreary monotone. Students spend the next 45 minutes trying not to fall asleep. And too often, that is all students remember about their history and social science classes.

It does not have to be this way. American history is not just an exciting story—chronicling the world’s first experiment with liberal democracy, a new form of government that put individual rights front and center. American history also informs the present by inspiring us to build a more perfect union and enabling us to play our role as responsible, self-governing, citizens.

Unfortunately, Americans have probably never known less about their history, a fact reflected in our growing partisan divisions and civil unrest. Historical literacy can help instill a sense of common purpose and concern for the general welfare among citizens by reminding us what we share. First and foremost: We are the fortunate beneficiaries of heroes, sung and unsung, who worked tirelessly to build the free society and conditions we enjoy today.

The Grateful AmericanTM Foundation means to advance that mission by restoring enthusiasm for American history among children, teenagers, and adults via videos, podcasts, articles, and book recommendations. The Grateful American Book Prize, the foundation’s annual literary award, recognizes outstanding works for children that focus on important events in American history and the people whose stories enliven it.  

Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, is the recipient of the 2020 prize for her book, Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963. Ms. Robinson has written a firsthand account of how her father leveraged his fame to help push forward the Civil Rights movement. Her observation of the Children’s March in Birmingham and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech led her to embrace political activism, as well.

According to David Bruce Smith, author and co-founder of the prize, the foundation aims to “provide children with a new, more exciting view of history at a time when much of the nation’s youth are bored with it.” Previous winners and honorable mentions of the prize include Alan Gratz, L.M. Elliott, Sonia Sotomayor, and other men and women who have generously shared their genius with the youngest among us to pique their interest in history and better prepare them for the challenges ahead. The full list of former recipients is available here.

The Grateful AmericanTM Foundation and the Grateful American Book Prize are rejuvenating a sense of excitement and pride in American history. The principles that unite Americans as one people have the power to bridge the divisions plaguing the country. Through a shared love and appreciation for American history, the authors that the Book Prize recognizes and the young students who benefit from their writings exemplify President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words of reconciliation, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

I am a grateful American because I know, as soon as I was born, that I was “endowed by my Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Founding Fathers declared that all men are created equal. It is with this endowed freedom and equality that we, as Americans, begin our lives. The hardest battle is won, and for that we are all grateful.


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