She spoke with The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm about the award along with its first recipients, author Peter Busby and illustrator David Craig, whose book "First To Fly" is about the Wright brothers' early adventures in flight.
From the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, Mrs. Cheney says "First To Fly" is the winner not only for being informative but also for its historical accuracy, inspiration and clarity.
She says, "It explains what the Wright brothers accomplished in ways that a 9-year-old can understand. Me, too, I suddenly understood wing working, this difficult concept that the Wright brothers had to overcome before they could engage in controlled flight. So it presents a wonderful moment in American history, a great breakthrough for the world in a very accurate fashion.
"It tells the story in an inspiring way. You understand the persistence that was necessary for the Wright brothers to achieve what they did. And you understand the teamwork between the two of them. And how they kept trying again and again," Mrs. Cheney says.
The award is named after James Madison because he loved books and used them to a good end, Mrs. Cheney explains, "He used books to prepare himself for the constitutional convention and writing the Bill of Rights and for the federalist papers. So we named it after him. And it is to encourage great writing and great illustration in American history. And we were so lucky to find the wonderful books we did. We have several honor books."
The James Madison Book Award Selection Committee chose "First to Fly" from hundreds of submissions received from publishers for books copyrighted in 2002. The Selection Committee also named three children's books as "honor books." They are (in no particular order): "Inventing the Future: A Photobiography of Thomas Alva Edison, by Marfé Ferguson Delano; "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science," by John Fleischman; and "When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, The Voice of a Century," by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick.
Prizewinner Peter Busby starts "First to Fly" with the Wright brothers as young children who were enamored of this toy helicopter they were building -- something that children could relate to. The age group that would get the most out of this book, he says, is "From 8 to 12, or even older. That's the wonderful thing about illustrated books of this kind. No matter how old you are, you can learn something from them."
It has a lot of diagrams, historical photos, and technical information. Illustrator David Craig says, "I researched it a lot. I wanted to try to take it farther than what you see in photographs and try to take me back 100 years."
Busby and Craig have won $10,000 as part of the award. Mrs. Cheney says the James Madison Book Award will be given annually to the book that "best represents excellence in bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to the next generation." The eligible American history books should be for children, ages 5 to 14-years-old.
Cheney is underwriting the award through a charitable fund she established with $100,000 in proceeds from her children's book, "America: A Patriotic Primer."
Read an excerpt from the "The First to Fly":
On the morning of December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright stepped out of their shack and looked around them. Ice had formed in puddles between the sand dunes from the heavy rain overnight, but the sky was now clear. The weather was almost perfect-except for the wind.
The winds were stiff today-thirty knots. The brothers were cautious men. Any other day they would have waited for calmer conditions, but they had lost enough time already in the two months they'd spent at Kitty Hawk. There had been problems tuning the engine, making it run smoothly, and cranking up the power, and twice they had had to send the propeller shafts back to Dayton for repairs. Soon it would be winter, the weather would be too harsh, and they'd have to get back home to the bicycle shop.
They decided to risk it. Today was the day. They were going to attempt to fly their plane.
Excerpted from First to Fly Copyright© 2003 by Peter Busby. Excerpted by permission of Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.