“My love of history spills over into everything I do these days,” says life member Brad Meltzer, ’92, author of nine political thrillers and the host of his own television show on the History Channel. Now that passion has taken yet another form: a series of picture books called “Ordinary People Change the World.” The first two, “I Am Amelia Earhart” and “I Am Abraham Lincoln,” are just published by Penguin and recount little-known stories in the early lives of the title characters.
The idea for the first book and the series came about one day when Meltzer, the father of three young children, took his daughter clothes shopping. Every outfit they looked at had a princess motif. Meltzer wanted his daughter to be inspired by a different message, so he asked illustrator Chris Eliopoulos to draw a picture of a young Amelia Earhart on a T-shirt with the accompanying words “I am Amelia Earhart. I know no bounds.” It was meant to be a one-off, but soon friends and family were requesting multiples.
“My goal is to redefine what it means to be a hero in America,” says Meltzer, whose picture books are intended for children aged 4 to 12. “Your child will choose their hero,” he added. “You might as well have a say in it.” The next two books in the series will focus on Albert Einstein and Rosa Parks, likely followed by Jackie Robinson and Lucille Ball.
Meltzer hopes that these initial titles will lead to dozens more. “These aren’t the stories of famous people so much as what we’re capable of on our best days,” he says. When a young Amelia attempts a take-off from her granny’s tool shed and crashes, or when 10-year-old Abe stops a group of boys from torturing a turtle, the messages are highly relatable. “It shows kids not just their great deeds, but the power and potential in all of us.”