Once upon a time, there was a stupid smart girl. That is, she did really well on all those "Just How Smart Are
You, Anyway?" tests; but she often had trouble in school, because she couldn't learn anything unless she was genuinely interested in it.
Eventually, she dropped out and wandered around until she signed with a literary agent, because it turns out that learning about stuff you're really interested in can be a paying proposition if you promise to write a book about it afterwards.
But she felt a little distressed by all the gaps in her education. Her knowledge of American history was especially spotty. She saw no way around this, though, because she simply could not talk herself into being interested in her own country -- not when places like England and Japan were so much cooler.
Meanwhile, a writer named Steve Sheinkin was making a successful writing career for himself. Like our stupid smart girl, he did a lot of research. Unlike her, he thought American history was pretty nifty. So he was hired to write school textbooks on the subject.
There was a catch, though. He had to leave out all the cool stuff he found in the course of his research. All the interesting, very human stories that made history come alive had no place in textbooks. Otherwise kids might get excited and engaged and maybe even learn something.
So Mr. Sheinkin dutifully wrote boring textbooks. But he held on to the fascinating anecdotes he kept finding. They piled up all around him until his family started to complain. (Tripping over an anecdote in the middle of the night can be very painful -- almost as bad as stepping on a Lego brick barefoot.)
He realized he had to do something
with his treasures. But what?
Finally, he got the idea of writing history books that people didn't have
to read. They just could if they wanted
"But why would we want
to read about American history?" the stupid-smart girl and others like her demanded.
"Because...coolness?" Mr. Sheinkin suggested.
"Prove it," they said.
"Okay," Mr. Sheinkin said.
And he did. He told stories of female Confederate spies who hid coded messages in their long hair, and slaves with names like Dangerfield Newby who fought for freedom. He told of girls who dashed across battlefields unharmed though their dresses were sliced through by bullets, and men whose ridiculous haircuts made their fellow soldiers laugh even in battle. He told of women leading bread riots in the South, and men leading race riots in the North. He told of white soldiers who pinned their names and home addresses to the backs of their coats before major battles so their families could be notified of their fates, and black soldiers who kept the American flag flying high even when they were wounded by gunfire.
And the stupid-smart girl learned that history, even American history, is only boring when the good bits are left out. And she even managed to learn a little about it, though it would never be her favorite subject.
And they all lived happily ever after. (Except all those Civil War spies and soldiers and civilians, who eventually died.)