Children’s Book about Chief Justice John Marshall Aims to Teach Tykes American History


American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States by David Bruce SmithKids today don’t know history like they used to, and it’s not their fault. With the modern emphasis on standardized testing and teaching that favors skills over knowledge, history has fallen by the wayside in U.S. classrooms. According to a 2011 nationwide test, U.S. history is now American students’ worst subject, with many fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was important. If such an iconic figure can’t carve out a stronghold in the minds of young people, what will happen to equally important but less regaled pioneers of our past? Are they destined to fade into obscurity?

This concern is a driving force behind The John Marshall Foundation, a Richmond organization dedicated to educating the public about the life and contributions of Chief Justice John Marshall. And it is the inspiration behind a new children’s picture book sponsored by the foundation: American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States, written by David Bruce Smith, illustrated by Clarice Smith, and newly released by Belle Isle Books, an imprint of Brandylane Publishers, Inc. in Richmond, Virginia. The book will be released on March 1, 2013.

John Marshall is a man worth knowing. After a rural boyhood, he fought in the Revolutionary War alongside General George Washington, became a successful lawyer, congressman, and Secretary of State, and was eventually appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a post he held for 34 years. In this capacity, he almost single-handedly transformed the Supreme Court into the powerful branch of government we know today. Yet few children have heard of him, and many adults would be unable to describe his legacy. The John Marshall Foundation wants to change that, starting as early as possible.

U.S. History teacher Josh Hoekstra of Minnesota, who made headlines this year for his innovative approach to getting his students interested in history, has said, “Kids need to make a personal connection with the people they are studying. Kids who ‘hate history’ are the ones who never were exposed to the human side of the people they are studying.” It’s in this spirit that American Hero was conceived. The result is a picture book that focuses on John Marshall the boy, and later the man, revealing the personal side of an important historic figure. Complete with an educational vocabulary list and more than 30 graphite and watercolor illustrations by  internationally known artist,  Clarice Smith, it’s sure to captivate and leave a lasting impression in the minds of young readers, both inside and out of the classroom.

With structured history programs in decline, it’s up to parents and teachers to find innovative ways to expose children to history, and story time is an ideal time to do so. American Hero is one way children can discover why John Marshall was and remains the Great Chief Justice.

Join the author on Monday, February 18, for a book signing at George Washington’s Mount Vernon as part of George Washington’s 281st Birthday Weekend Celebration. The book signing will take place from 2:30-4:30pm.

Autographed copies of the book are available on the author’s website.  It can be ordered directly from the publisher Belle Isle Books or from



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