Author Focus: Steve Sheinken

Sometimes history gets the bad rap of being boring. If your kids think this, or if they think the opposite and LOVE history, I have an author for you to check out immediately.

Steve Sheinken used to write history textbooks, but don’t let that stop you from picking up one of his middle grade or young adult books. His first book King George: What Was His Problem? is filled with stories from the American Revolution they wouldn’t let him put in the history books. It has a cover that is anything but boring and might be the perfect way to help your kids dip their toes into the subject of history in a way that is not at all boring.

In one of Steve’s most recent books for elementary-school aged kids, Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler, I found the following quote:

“‘Kids say [history] is… Abby lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘boring.’

‘Some shows are boring, some books,’ Mr. Douglass said. ‘But history is just stories. Surprising, sad, funny, gross stories. Set in all different times and places. What’s boring about that?’”

To me, this feels like the perfect description of what Steve accomplishes with his books. He finds and shares unique stories from history that have been overlooked or forgotten and shares them in an exciting and very readable way. His knack for creating historical books that read like suspenseful novels is legit.

Another plus, he has written stories for all ages. Some of his books, like Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War are better suited for teenagers (and adults). Others, like The Time Twisters Series are perfect for elementary-school aged kids. And, a few like Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers fall somewhere in the middle.

I would absolutely recommend Steve’s books for your kids and for you as well. I am a fan.

Interested? Below are some titles to choose from:

Time Twisters Series 

From Amazon: WARNING: DO NOT BELIEVE THE STORY YOU’RE ABOUT TO READ. Well, you can believe some of it. There is some real history. But also hijinks. Time travel. And famous figures setting off on adventures that definitely never happened―till now. Time is getting twisted, and it’s up to two kids to straighten things out.

Two books are out now and two more (one on Amerlia Earhart and one on Neil Armstrong and Nat Love) will be available next summer!

Readers 7 and up

Everything Your School Books Didn’t Tell you

This set of books by Steve Sheinkin give readers lots of interesting facts and stories they will not find in any text book. Fun and funny, they are an entertaining way to learn different aspects of American history.

Readers 10 and up

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

From Amazon: In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents.

In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world's most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

This is the first book I read of Steve’s and it lead me to all his others. This is an exciting and thought-provoking book.

Readers 10 and up

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

From Amazon: A true crime thriller -- the first book for teens to tell the nearly unknown tale of the brazen attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body!

The action begins in October of 1875, as Secret Service agents raid the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd. Soon after Boyd is hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring gather in the back room of a smoky Chicago saloon to discuss how to spring their ringleader. Their plan: grab Lincoln's body from its Springfield tomb, stash it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand, as a ransom, the release of Ben Boyd --and $200,000 in cash. From here, the action alternates between the conspirators, the Secret Service agents on their trail, and the undercover agent moving back and forth between the two groups. Along the way readers get glimpses into the inner workings of counterfeiting, grave robbing, detective work, and the early days of the Secret Service. The plot moves toward a wild climax as robbers and lawmen converge at Lincoln's tomb on election night: November 7, 1876.

This is one of the few Steve Sheinken books I haven’t read, but Mya has and she will give you her stamp of approval.

Readers 10 and up

The Notorious Benedict Arnold

From Amazon: Most people know that Benedict Arnold was America's first, most notorious traitor. Few know that he was also one of its greatest Revolutionary War heroes. 

Steve Sheinkin's accessible biography, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, introduces young readers to the real Arnold: reckless, heroic, and driven. Packed with first-person accounts, astonishing American Revolution battle scenes, and surprising twists, this is a gripping and true adventure tale from history.

This book was so interesting. I knew Benedict Arnold was a traitor. I did not know he was a hero. Another exciting read, this was an excellent book.

Readers 12 and up

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights

From Amazon: On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. 

The Port Chicago 50 is a fascinating story of the prejudice and injustice that faced black men and women in America's armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.

I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50 before this book. Their story is one that inspired changes in the Navy regarding race relations.

Readers 12 and up

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

From Amazon: Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an astonishing underdog sports story―and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.

If you have a football or sports lover in your family, this would be a great book to try. I learned a lot about the history of football and the story of Jim Thorpe is one I knew nothing about. Really good stuff!

Readers 12 and up

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

From Amazon: On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these files had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. The investigation that resulted--as well as the attempted government coverups and vilification of the whistleblower--has timely relevance to Edward Snowden's more recent conspiracy leaks.

A provocative and political book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children's nonfiction.

Readers 15 and up

This book was so interesting, thought-provoking and gave me a greater understanding of the Vietnam War. It is a book I would recommend to older teens and young adults (there is some language and I think the topic is better grasped by kids 15 or older). That said, it is a book I would absolutely recommend and wanted to talk about when I had finished.

If you had to pick one of Steve’s books to read next, what would you pick? Which one piques your interest?

Reader age recommendations are just that, recommendations. I list them, oftentimes pulled right off of Amazon, to give you a general guide.

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