If you go on the New York Times list of best selling children’s picture books, you’ll find titles like “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” and “Mr. Tiger goes Wild.”
Not a single book in the top ten is about a real person.
Best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer is hoping to change that as he shifts focus from political thrillers to a series of children’s books called “Ordinary People Change the World.”
The first two installments of “Ordinary People” are “I am Abraham Lincoln” and “I am Amelia Earhart.” It’s pretty high-brow stuff for a very young audience.
They tell the tale of how these ordinary people did some extraordinary things that earned them a place in American history, without hiding what can sometimes be the ugliness of our past.
The stories have resonated so much with my kids, they’ve been sharing them with friends at school and all over the neighborhood. So I decided to bring in 7-year-old Kelsey and 9-year-old Kailey for this special assignment. To find out from Author Brad Meltzer what makes “Ordinary People” so special.
Kelsey: I like this. “These people will be free!” Because he’s standing up for (the end of) slavery so everybody will be equal and they all will be treated fair.
Meltzer: And those were the hardest pages to write, to be honest. I could have written this book and showed Abraham Lincoln as a little boy, and everything would be cute, and everything’s happy. But it was just as important to me, you have to show slavery. And you can’t just say he freed the slaves without explaining what it is. These are our stories, whether we like it or not. Our stories are always going to be good and bad. And, I think that’s what kids get most inspired by, when people are being honest with them and they still see that potential.
Kailey: Why did you make him a little boy that has a beard?
Meltzer: That’s a really good question. When we first did it, the editor said as he gets older we should see him grow older. And, I said that’s gonna rob it of all its magic. It’s our most subversive message in there, which is the power is not in being president. These aren’t the stories of famous people. These are the stories of what we’re all capable of on our very best days.
Kailey: Where did he get the pictures of Abraham Lincoln in the back? ‘Cause then you know that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a little boy his whole life!
Meltzer: And that’s exactly the reason we put that at the back of every book. There’s a photo spread that shows all the real things that happened in the book. The cartoons comes to life, and you can see what really happened. You know why? Because then we can remind kids this is real. These people are capable of great things. And you’re capable of great things, that’s what the books are supposed to be saying to us.
Kelsey: My favorite part is when she says “In my life I took many flights. Every single time there was someone who said I wouldn’t be able to do it.” I wish that was me.
Meltzer: I wish that was me, that is awesome. To hear (her) say that her favorite part is that no one should ever tell you you can’t do something. There’s the entire message of the book right there. Now, instead of looking at some dumb bimbo on a TV show or some athlete that’s embarrassing himself on television, your daughter says she wants to be like Amelia Earhart. Your daughter says she wants to be like a great woman in history. We owe our daughters heroes like that.
Meltzer hopes to create 100 books in the Ordinary People series. Following Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart, which have just been released, his next book, “I am Rosa Parks,” is scheduled to hit shelves this summer.
You can learn more about Meltzer’s series at his website.