Steve Sheinkin: “Football Hair,” Weird Facts and Tough Truths
Nonfiction writers – particularly nonfiction writers of history – have a reputation for being dry and, well, boring.
But prolific nonfiction history writer Steve Sheinkin is anything but. He is the master of writing fast-paced yet detail-rich historical accounts of everything from making the atomic bomb to the adventures of early female pilots to the story of Oklahoman Jim Thorpe and his extraordinary football career with Glenn “Pop” Warner at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. (Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower even make notable appearances.)
That would be enough to make Sheinkin the winner of the 2023 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers’ Literature, this year given by the Tulsa City-County Library through the Zarrow Foundation at the Hardesty Regional Library on Friday, May 5 at 6 p.m.
But Steve Sheinkin has one more quality that makes this award even more inevitable: He can find – and share – the weird detail in history that makes young readers sit up and pay attention while unlocking the tough truths of that history.
Books by Steve Sheinkin
Case in point: In Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, Sheinkin writes about the bloody and violent early days of football in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were no helmets or other padding, players often openly “slugged” each other on the field, and fans would even shoot their revolvers in the air if their teams made a good play. To try to reduce at least some injuries, players would grow their hair longer in order to have some protection on the field. “Football hair”!
His more serious books (like Undefeated, but also Bomb, a history of the making of the atomic bomb, and Most Dangerous, about Daniel Ellsberg secretly releasing the Pentagon Papers related to the Vietnam War) all have funny details like this…and his funnier books all have real historical facts. Sure, Abraham Lincoln was never a pro-wrestler, but what if he came back to today to rule the ring? It wouldn’t make his accomplishments in the Civil War any less admirable.
Sheinkin’s very first book for young readers – King George: What’s His Problem? – takes this “funny but true” approach to the royalty that our fledgling young country revolted against. As a textbook writer, Sheinkin says that he collected lots of funny bits and bobs that the textbook company wouldn’t let him include in the more boring schoolbooks – and this was the result.
In the world of online nonfiction readers, Sheinkin is also known for creating a wonderful video series called “Author-Fan Face-Off” where young fans “face off” with their favorite authors to see who knows the topics of their books better. Find it on YouTube @AuthorFanFaceoff.
No matter where you start with Steve Sheinkin – the lighter, sillier books with real history, or the real history books sprinkled with funny, weird facts – the reading experience will help your 5th grade and up reader get a firmer grasp on history…and an appreciation for what makes it fascinating.
Find a full curriculum guide and educator resources on “Undefeated” on the library’s website at tulsalibrary.org/mr-henrys-books-educator-workshop-steve-sheinkin
Meet Steve Sheinkin! Winner of the 2023 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers’ Literature
Friday, May 5, 2023
Hardesty Regional Library – Connor’s Cove, 8316 E. 93rd St.
Sheinkin will receive the Zarrow Award, give a public presentation about his writing process and hand out awards to winners of the 2023 Young People’s Creative Writing Contest.