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"To present a scientific subject in an attractive and stimulating manner is an artistic task, similar to that of a novelist or even a dramatic writer. The same holds for writing textbooks"
-Max Born, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Einstein’s friend, 1968

Smart Kids, Unacceptable Reading Scores


While reading scores in this country have been in a downward trajectory, IQ scores have been going up. In other words, as our students have been getting smarter their reading skills have been declining. That shouldn't be happening. We've blamed teachers, we've blamed unions, we've blamed parents, but some of our leading educators, like E.D. Hirsch, Jr, are blaming the "ephemeral fiction" used in most reading instruction.

In "The Knowledge Deficit," Hirsch writes, "The association of language arts mainly with fiction and poetry is an accident of recent intellectual history." We once taught reading with "narratives about the real world of nature and history."

I was very aware of the reading problem when I began to write "A History of US" and, from its inception, I was determined to make it a book to teach reading as well as American history. That seems to have worked. When the Voice of America visited a classroom a student called the books "page turners." ( Which is what all good books should be. Where "A History of US" has been used as a first-thing-in-the-morning reading text, scores have risen dramatically.

Switching from books to devices is meaningless unless content iss engrossing and mind challenging. Textbooks should be held to the same high standards as the best fiction and nonfiction, they should captivate young minds. Anything less is unacceptable.

This is the Information Age. To productively handle information you need to research (read), process (think), and use (write). So reading, writing and critical thinking are today’s essential skills. They are what I, as a writer, do as a way of life. It’s fun. And it's the kind of mental training that all our students need.

But much textbook learning in recent years has been fact and test driven, with no narrative base. In keeping with this trend, “reading” has been taught as an abstract decoding process. While decoding skills are helpful, that is not what reading is about.

The best reading is usually story-centered. Stories that carry information are especially suitable for classrooms. Writing is a thinking process that helps readers make sense of their reading and, where possible, extend ideas. Anyone can read mindlessly, but you can't write without doing some thinking.

So I believe writing is something students should do every day. But what does a teacher do with all that written work? Get students commenting on each other's work (after they've heard cautionary thoughts on why comments need to be supportive. Make it clear that every writer at every level needs thoughtful commentary--that's why there are editors).

Good writers do draft after draft of their work. Writing rarely comes easily to anyone--but it always makes you think.

Speeches and projects add purpose and dynamism to that reading/​writing/​thinking process. When students give oral presentations of their writing, teachers get a chance to grade on the spot, helping with the paper pile problem.

I see history and science as the ultimate Information Age subjects. History is the great mother discipline that brings all the others together. To study them well means delving into great ideas, digesting and using them. Digesting big ideas teaches critical thinking, using those ideas demands non-fiction reading skills.

Good writing engages readers, makes them want to turn the page, and then expects them to do creative thinking about what they've read. That's mind-stretching. Test prep doesn't work, we have years of abstract questions to make that clear. Thoughtful reading and writing makes scores soar.

A curriculum without a strong base in history has no story. And science, without its stories, is often hard to understand or remember. Both disciplines provide endless stories for writers.

Cultures have traditionally passed on their ideas through stories. The Greeks knew that, and so, too, did Mr. McGuffey, whose story-filled "readers" taught generations of Americans.


Sam and Joy
My passion is education. I am both a perennial learner and a teacher. I grew up in Rutland, Vermont and graduated from Rutland High School. After earning a bachelor's degree in government at Smith College, I went on to attain a master's degree and, later, was presented an honorary doctorate from Goucher College. Trying to satisfy my appetite for education led me into journalism. As a newspaperwoman: I was a reporter for The Ledger-Star in Norfolk, VA, a business writer for the The Virginian-Pilot, as well as, a freelancer for a number of publications including the The Wall Street Journal. In 1978, I became the first woman to be an associate editor and editorial writer at Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot. I was also assistant editor of McGraw-Hill's World News in New York City.

I have never stopped being a student. I've taken courses at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Bennington, Cornell, and the Wharton School of Business.

I've been a teacher: in Syracuse, New York, Omaha, Nebraska, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. And I've taught in elementary school, middle school, high school, and in a community college. A taught a writing course to high school English teachers (who got U of Va credit for it). I had fun, the teachers may have worked harder than they expected.

While my husband and I now live in Colorado, we raised our three children in Virginia and maintain many ties to that state. We have five grandchildren.

Currently, I am writing a storyteller's book on biology, which includes new research into evolutionary biology and presents the three domains that currently describe the biological world (but may soon change). It's an amazing subject, perhaps the defining science of our time. I'm having fun.

Published Work

Hakim's first published work was the ten-volume A History of Us, from Oxford University Press in 1993. The book is written as a narrative history intended for young readers of all ages.

Freedom: A History of Us was published in 2003. Subsequently, it was turned into a 16-part PBS television series and was the basis for PBS' Freedom: A History of Usweb series. The PBS television series is available on DVD. The one volume companion book works especially well in high school history classes.

The Story of Science is co-published by Smithsonian Books and NSTA, the National Science Teachers Association. The first volume, Aristotle Leads the Way, was published in 2004; Newton at the Center was published in 2005; and Einstein Adds a New Dimension followed in 2007.

Reading Science Stories is an ebook filled with science stories. Some are adapted from previously published books, some are new. This is a book intended to teach non-fiction reading as well as some science content. The stories are intended to be fun to read and also enlightening. "Free to Believe (Or Not)" is another new ebook. This one traces religious freedom in America. Do you know of the Flushing Remonstrance? Read about it here.

Teaching materials to accompany A History of US are available from Oxford University Press, as well as from the teacher/​educator CSOS team at Johns Hopkins University. That team has also done imaginative learning books to go with The Story of Science. NSTA's president, Juliana Texley has done an amazing teaching resource to accompany "Einstein Adds A New Dimension."NSTA has made teaching materials available on their website.

K12 has produced an abridged 4 volume edition of A History of Us.

COMING SOON - Right now I'm immersed in biology, especially the story of how we figured out the DNA/​RNA code that guides all life. I'm actually writing two complementary books in biology. One, the people tale, begins with Vesalius and Leonardo da Vinci, continues on to Darwin and Mendel, on to the Fly Room at Columbia University (where much of genetics was worked out), on further to the discovery of DNA and the cracking of its code, arriving at today's world of epigenetics and horizontal gene transfer. (Yes, some genes are directly passed between organisms, not inherited from parent to child.)

The other book tells the life story itself, beginning with the formation of Earth and, within a billion years, the first microbial life. Before long you have fish, then dinosaurs, then us.

"I have been using [A History of Us] in my classroom for three years, and I can state unequivocally that it is the best resource I have ever used."
-Lynn Silk, Alexander Elementary School


"Joy Hakim... has become a hero to school-children in the United States by putting the 'story' back in history."
-–Patti Thorn, Rocky Mountain News


In 1995, Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough went before the Senate Education Committee in support of a bill sponsored by Lamar Alexander and Ted Kennedy intended to improve the teaching and learning of history. McCullough gave a scathing attack on the state of textbooks, but cited Hakim's book as an exception: "Joy Hakim's new... multi-volume History of the United States is superb. But others are dismal almost beyond describing."

Since this time, Joy and her books have garnered numerous awards and accolades. Among her achievements, she was honored with the Smith College Medal: awarded for achievements as author of innovative textbooks.

Her series A History of Us has been awarded:
• 2012 McGuffey Award in Humanities and Social Sciences by the Text and Academic Author’s Association
• 2012 Ron Pynn Award for National Distinction in Educational Publication from the Text and Academic Authors Association (TAA)
• 2003 Matrix Foundation: Edith Workman Award
• 2001 The NY State Council for Social Studies: Salute to Joy Hakim
• 1997 Hakim's books earned her the first James A. Michener Award for Writing by the National Council for Social Studies and two Parents' Choice awards.

The Story of Science was:
• 2008 Winner of Benjamin Franklin Award for Education/​Teaching/​Academic This award is sponsored by The Independent Book Publishers Association.
• 2008 Awarded Selector's Choice 2008 CBC/​NSTA's Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
• 2008 Selected as a nonfiction finalist in the 2008 Colorado Book Awards
• 2007 Joy was the Nation’ s Best Books 2007 Award Winner, Science General for The Story of Science: Einstein Adds A New Dimension. This award is sponsored by USA Book News and is given to the best science book of the year.

Now in revised third and fourth editions, incorporating new materials and corrections, books from A History of Us have been recommended to accompany the Common Core curriculum. The books are also used in some home school curricula.

Quotes from teachers....

"This book is outstanding! I found myself reading all around the house, even trying to read while giving my daughters a bath! Now all I want to do is read the rest of the books as soon as possible and get them for my students."
-Teacher George Coggan, from Port Charlotte, Florida


"I wish you had been here with us on Friday afternoon. When I finished reading the first chapter of your book, A History of Us–The First Americans, the students all clapped. Your style is so passionate that it stirred the ten and eleven year olds and their much older teacher. This is the first time in my 36 years of teaching that reading a textbook sparked spontaneous applause! Thank you for writing these informative and engaging books!"
-Ellen Baker, a fifth-grade Masachusetts teacher

I often get letters from kids about my books. Here are just a few examples of what they have to say.

"You have saved me from another year of boring Social Studies text books.
Your books are great and make you feel you are in the book with the Indians or the Europeans or whatever it is. You make me feel like I am really jumping into a time machine into the past."
-Katie Rahowski


"My name is Jason Goodine. I am in 6th grade. Last year when my class studied the Civil War I did not want to stop learning about it....I like how you talk about so much in your books. Before our school got the History of US books, I hated social studies...Then I really started to like social studies. I like your books. They are so descriptive. In my spare time when I start to read one of your books I cannot put it down." - Jason Goodine


"Ever since your book on American History was first published, our eighth-grade teacher, Charles Schefer, has wanted it for our school. Well, after five years our class is the first to use it! It is an awesome way of presenting American History, so that we look forward, five days a week, for our American History class!" - Katie Schneider, St. Petersburg, FL


"My name is Claire Dorman. I have all ten of your A History of US books, and I love reading each and every one of them. I like the way you make the reader feel like she is in the time that you are talking about...One of my favorite books was An Age of Extremes. Yes, the one with the "boring" presidents chapter. Hey, you know, that chapter was not boring at all."-Claire Dorman, Newark, CA


"Other books just give the information, plain and flat. You make it fun. I don't know exactly how you made Social Studies fun, but you did, and I thank you for that."John, 5th grade, Hearst Elementary, San Diego

"Joy Hakim makes it so kids can understand about Martin Luther King, Jr, Harry Truman, and Thurgood Marshall, or Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and Ronald Reagan....I think this is one of the top history books, if not the best. But I haven't read all the history books, and I probably never will, but this will be my all-time favorite." -Jason Diemer


"I think it's so important that kids understand about America. If we don't know how it was formed, if we don't understand what freedom, liberty and justice mean, how will we ever become good citizens? You can't stand up for your rights if you don't know what they are. And now I do." -Susie Allen, Palo Alto, CA

"I get lots of letters (now most by email) from readers. It's a bonus I didn't expect. They're all wonderful; some are really special.

A third grader wrote to me and commented on my use of the second person. But the comment that always makes me laugh comes in the third paragraph...

"I would like it if maybe you would write some world history. I also might like it if, I don’t know when you will die, you would continue to chronicle events and instruct the publishers to publish it after you die if there is enough material for another volume."Alex T. Hyra

The Story of Science Team

I certainly didn't create the books all by myself. Byron Hollinshead produced A History of US and The Story of Science, besides providing guidance and support. This picture shows the amazing team that made The Story of Science possible: Lorraine "Lorri" Egan, editor, Kate Davis, copy editor, Byron H., Marleen Adlerblum, designer, and Sabine Russ, managing editor. Tamara Glenny, not pictured here, was the incredible editor of A History of US. You can read about her at the end of Liberty for All (Book Five).

I see myself as a writer, not a speaker, but sometimes I do leave my nest; here are some pictures from The Kennedy Library in Boston

Same theme each time I speak: We need to use subject matter, especially history and science, to teach analytical reading, critical thinking, and sophisticated writing. Reading, writing, and thinking are not subjects, they are skills. It's the content of books, the ideas they hold, that should be exciting. Best way that I know to convey those ideas is through stories.

That's Edwin Taylor on my left. Taylor is an MIT physicist and was the terrific guru for Einstein Adds A New Dimension. We are with a Boston teacher at the Kennedy Library.

This is a panel at the Kennedy Library. That's Anita Silvey in a hat, she is creator of the online "Children's Book-a-Day Almanac", then me, then Wendell Minor, an artist and children's book illustrator. Next is Sy Montgomery, who writes about nature, and Catherine Thimmesh, who has written books on space exploration and discoveries by women. I felt lucky to be in such great company.

Biology's iconic Carl Woese and me at The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I'm currently writing books on evolutionary biology and Woese has probably done more for the field than anyone before (and, yes, I do know about Mr. Darwin).

**Note the license plate.

By studying RNA, Woese discovered that the microbial world includes two very different forms of life: archaea and bacteria. No one knew of archaea before Woese found them. That changed the long accepted tree of life, turning it into a three-branched bush. We now talk of life having three domains: bacteria, archaea, and eukarya. Carl Woese died in 2012.

School Orders
Special discounts and sample books are available.

A History of US
Tel: (800) 445-9714

The Story of Science
Tel: (202) 633-2495

Reading Science Stories
Email: joyhakim@​

For more information, please visit Joy's Ordering/​Contact page.