Friday, May 25, 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.

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