Saturday, January 20, 2018
Books

Interview: Brad Meltzer's books about heroes for kids get an unexpected election bump

Brad Meltzer never expected the presidential election to influence the sales of the children's books he writes.

"During the final week of the election, sales of these books just skyrocketed," Meltzer says. The books are his series for kids ages 5 to 8, Ordinary People Change the World.

"We saw an uptick in the books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks," Meltzer says by phone. "The month of November, compared to the year before, sales were up 91 percent. That's a number unheard of in publishing, and that's with no additional advertising and no new releases.

"I think people on both sides were just starving for heroes."

The author of bestselling conspiracy-tinged historical thrillers for adults (the most recent is The House of Secrets) and the host of several TV series about history (including Brad Meltzer's Lost History), the Florida resident began writing the Ordinary People books to show his three children some original role models.

Tired of the reality show stars and cartoon princesses he saw kids responding to, Meltzer began writing biographies for children about real-life heroes, starting with I Am Abraham Lincoln in 2014. The engaging series, illustrated by comics artist Christopher Eliopoulos, includes books about Jane Goodall and Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson and Lucille Ball. The 11th in the series, I Am Jim Henson, will be published Jan. 10.

"This is the first year we've ever done someone who was actually one of my heroes as a little kid," Meltzer says. "I love Lincoln now, but when I was 5 years old I didn't care about him."

Meltzer, 46, grew up watching Henson's Muppets on Sesame Street, which, he says, "taught me that you can use creativity to put good into this world. Jim Henson and the Muppets didn't just make me laugh. He used that creative gift to put out a message of kindness, of caring, of creativity and of goodness."

His books, Meltzer says, are "part of Jim Henson's legacy, too. I was a little different when I was a kid. He showed me you could use those crazy stories in your head to do something good."

Meltzer's children grew up with the Muppets as well. A few years back, he was invited to appear on Celebrity Bucket List. "They said, 'You can do anything you want.' I said, 'I want to take my kids to Sesame Street.'

"I've had lunch in the White House in the president's private dining room, but the best thing ever was seeing my kids on Sesame Street."

Meltzer says the success of the Ordinary People series has been "humbling. I set out with these books to give my kids real heroes, and people have taken that cue. They've built a library of heroes for their kids.

"I get letters. One woman wrote, 'This is the first Halloween my daughter didn't dress as a princess. Instead she was Amelia Earhart.' In my most narcissistic moment, I never thought I'd influence someone's Halloween costume."

Meltzer says he thinks that thirst for heroes will continue. "On both sides, we're tired of politicians. We really want leaders. More than half of the country didn't vote for Trump, and even a lot of those who voted for him express concern about him as a person."

The next two books in the Ordinary People series will be published in October. One is about Sacagawea, Meltzer says. "The other, and we didn't realize he would be so perfect for this time, is Gandhi. We need him more than anyone."

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Comments
‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

Peter Mayle, whose international bestseller A Year in Provence sent countless tourists to the vineyards and lavender fields of Southern France, has died.In an email, Mr. Mayle’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, reported that he died Thursday in a hospital...
Published: 01/18/18

Events: Bob Woodward to speak at Mahaffey

Book TalkAuthor and journalist Roy Peter Clark (Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer) will lead a workshop, "How to Read Like a Writer," at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets $5.Bob Woodward ...
Published: 01/18/18
Notable: Books from those countries

Notable: Books from those countries

NotableBooks from those countriesHere are books by immigrants from some of the countries recently disparaged by the president. Americanah (Anchor) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a brilliant novel set in this country and in the author’s native Nigeria,...
Published: 01/18/18
Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

It’s an odd thing to say about a book in the Serge Storms series, but The Pope of Palm Beach is really kind of sweet.Serge might not want to hear that. He does, after all, kill people, in highly creative ways, when he’s not in manic pursuit of his pa...
Published: 01/18/18
‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

When author Michael Wolff was interviewed on the Today show about his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Savannah Guthrie asked him how he felt about President Donald Trump’s attacks on it. Wolff responded, "Where do I send the box of ...
Published: 01/17/18

Events: Writers in Paradise features Banks, Lippman, more

Book TalkThe Writers in Paradise evening readings continue this week. All readings will take place in the Miller Auditorium at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Books will be available for purchase on site. All readings are free and o...
Published: 01/11/18
Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

NotableOne year inWith the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration approaching, here are new books about him. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt) by Michael Wolff is the incendiary look at the administration that provoke...
Published: 01/11/18
Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

NightstandAndre Dubus IIIEckerd College’s Writers in Paradise conference takes place this week, and one of the returning faculty members is Andre Dubus III. Dubus is the author of six books, including Bluesman, Townie and two novels turned films, The...
Published: 01/11/18
Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

In Steph Post’s new novel, Walk in the Fire, there’s a young aspiring criminal with a gift for astute observation. Asked to describe the tiny Central Florida town of Silas, where much of the book takes place, he says, "You drive through and it’s like...
Published: 01/11/18
Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Raise a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and toast former Tampa Bay Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg. This week, he was announced as one of three 2018 winners of the Florida Folk Heritage Awards.The awards honor outstanding folk artists and folk ...
Published: 01/10/18