The James Madison Book Award was established in 2003 by Lynne Cheney, wife of U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney. The annual award was presented each July to the book that, in Mrs. Cheney’s words, “best represents excellence in bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to the next generation.” The award was named after James Madison1, fourth president of the United States. According to the award's web site, 2008 was the final year of the award, perhaps coinciding with the Cheney's departure from the White House.

Nonfiction and historically accurate fiction about a subject in American history, written for elementary school and/or middle school children, was eligible for the prize. Anthologies, collections, and textbooks were not eligible. The award was a cash prize of $10,000 US, making it one of the most lucrative prizes in children's literature. "I hope that by recognizing books that teach children and young people about our country’s past, this award will encourage authors to take up this subject and publishers to seek out writers who can make American history come alive," said Mrs. Cheney2.

The award was funded by a $100,000 US donation by Mrs. Cheney to the James Madison Book Award Fund. She donated a portion of the proceeds from her successful books, America: A Patriotic Primer and A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women.

Among the many events during James Madison's time in the presidential office was the War of 1812 between the United States and British North America, which would later become Canada. This lends a certain irony to the fact that the winners of the inaugural award were a pair of Canadians: Vancouver author Peter Busby and Mississauga illustrator David Craig. Their book First to Fly subititled How Wilbur and Orville Wright Invented the Airplane is a detailed and fully illustrated centennial recounting of the Wright brothers' famous Kitty Hawk flight. The award was presented by Mrs. Cheney at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, near the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer.

List of winners:

  1. Mrs. Cheney’s essay on James Madison and his connection with reading is available on the fund's web site.
  2. Press Release:


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