Brad Meltzer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of adult thrillers including The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin. His two nonfiction gift books, Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter were New York Times Bestsellers as well, and he has won the prestigious Eisner Award for his comic book work, Justice League of America. Brad is also the host of the History Channel TV show Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.
Brad feels that we can all be heroes and that is seen in his inspiring books series called Ordinary People Change the World. His two latest books I Am George Washington and I Am Jane Goodall we learn about both of these courageous people who turned out to be great leaders. Meltzer has a bunch of these books in this series that will become favorites in your family’s library.
I was able to chat with Brad about his books, fatherhood, and more. Brad currently lives in Florida with his wife, and his three children.
Art Eddy: You have two new children’s books in your fantastic Ordinary People Change The World series. It is I Am Jane Goodall and I Am George Washington. I love all the facts that you put into the book. On average what is the typical amount of time you spend researching on each person?
Brad Meltzer: It just depends on the person. Jane Goodall, because she is still alive I can go right to the source and ask if this thing happened. With George Washington it is harder because there is just so much stuff written about them. For those who don’t know these books, I wrote these books because I was tired of my kids looking at reality TV show stars and big mouth athletes and thinking that they are heroes. That is being famous. To me being famous is a lot different than being a hero.
I was determined to give them real heroes. The problem is that if I say, ‘Hey, Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic Ocean.’ My daughter is not impressed. She tells me that everyone flies across the Atlantic. I tell her that Amelia Earhart when she was seven years old built a homemade rollercoaster in her backyard. She takes a wooden crate and puts roller skating wheels on the bottom of it and shoves it up to the top of her tool shed and goes careening down and crashes. Now Amelia Earhart is bold, daring, and fun.
So for me the fun part that I stumbled in on was that the parts that are the hardest and the best to research is when they are kids. That is what your kids relate to. In one example in the book of I Am George Washington everyone thinks that George Washington is this amazing person, which he is, but he was a normal kid. He wasn’t great at sports. He liked fishing. He liked swimming. He liked what normal kids liked. He wasn’t a great scholar. His family was so poor that he didn’t even go to high school or college. He was actually a terrible speller. He loved to dance. Young George Washington loved to dance. My daughter loves to dance. All my kids are bad spellers. Now they can relate to this guy. Now I Am George Washington isn’t just a story about a famous person, but it is a story of what we are all capable of on our best days.
AE: I remember learning about the tale of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree to show he was an honest person, but in your book it states that he never did that and it was a tall tale. What was the biggest item of interest that you learned about anyone in this series that you were surprised at?
BM: I think my favorite one of all is one on Abraham Lincoln when he was a kid. He was ten years old. I couldn’t find this story. I actually got it from a guy at Knox College. It is like an Abraham Lincoln study center. He is one the top Lincoln scholars in the county. I used it in I Am Abraham Lincoln.
When Abraham Lincoln was about ten years old, he used to love animals. He came upon a group of boys playing with turtles. When he gets there he sees that they are not playing with the turtles. These bullies are putting hot coals on the backs of the turtles. They are torturing them to make them run faster.
In that moment looking at those bullies Abraham Lincoln has to decide what to do. I don’t care if you are ten years old or fifty years old sometimes it is hard to do the right thing, but someone has too. In that moment Abraham Lincoln stands up to those bullies. I love the fact that we get to tell that story. If you tell your kids about slavery they have no reference point, but my son today sleeps with an Abraham Lincoln doll. He loves that Abraham Lincoln took care of those little turtles and that he stood up to those bullies. When I heard that story it just shocked me. It was one of those moments where the President that you love and that you are supposed to love actually lives up to his own hype.
AE: I see that Jim Henson will be another book to come up in this series. Can you tell me who might be another person you are looking to write about in this series?
BM: We know the one after that, but we haven’t announced it yet. Can we just pause a second. We are doing I Am Jim Henson. That is my nerd dream come true. Usually at the end of the book I will say I want the final finale scene to be like for instance with Jane Goodall I want her and some chimpanzees, and a doctor in the big group shot.
With I Am Jim Henson I was like this is our one time man. I want every Muppet, every Sesame Street character, every Fraggle Rock and the Doozers. I want Kermit. I want Miss Piggy. I want Ernie. I want Bert. I want Grover. I want Jugband Christmas. I want everything that can possible fit. Chris Eliopoulos, the amazing artist that we have on this series was like what about this? I was like yeah, we want him in too. Put him in. It was like nerd nirvana.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what were some of the first few thoughts that popped into your mind when you found out that you were going to be a dad?
BM: It was a struggle for my wife to get pregnant. So I think honestly it was a pure sense of relief. It was hard. We had a hard time. We had issues and things like that. We thought it was going to be easy. It just wasn’t. When you are trying to get pregnant and it is not happening for a better part of a year I remember a relief and thanking God this happened. We felt so blessed.
AE: What are some of the core values you look to instill in your kids as they grow up?
BM: Every night that I tuck my kids into bed I say the same thing. I say three things to them every night. Dream big. Work hard. Stay humble. Every night. When I say dream big and work hard they say stay humble. It is like Friday Night Lights in our house.
For me I got it from a friend whose dad told him that years ago. I just love it. In fact I did an entire Ted Talk on that. If you put in my name and put in write your own history you will see that come up. I did a Ted X Talk and Ted Talk. It is the most popular one that I have done. I think it is because other people want similar values for their kids.
AE: What do your kids think of your profession?
BM: My kids are super unimpressed with what I do. No kid should ever think that their dad is cool. I am okay with that. I didn’t think mine was. Mine didn’t think his was. It is like being the cobbler’s son. That is the way it is supposed to be. They are super unimpressed. My youngest one is my reader. He is the one that I think likes it. He gets free books and things like that.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads?
BM: Love your kids on the good days and on the bad days. That is when they need you more. It is easy to a good dad when things are going great or when you are at the ball game or you are doing whatever you like doing with your kids. Your kids need you more on the hard days.
I think that there is only one rule when it comes to being a parent as far as I am concerned. It is love your kids. You can screw up everything else. We are all going to give bad advice and good advice. We are going to screw up with lots of things. As long as you love your kids and your kids feel that love they will figure it out. Their ego is built on the love that you have for them. They know when it is there and when it is not.
AE: What is your favorite family movie you guys like to watch together?
BM: Empire Strikes Back.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing and dance to as a family?
BM: They have been rolling their eyes, but I know that they like it. I have been playing a lot of Prince for them. I am not in favor of greatest hits. I have more Prince albums than anything else, but when he died I actually bought the greatest hits album. I know that they dig it. They won’t admit, but I can see that they know it is good.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
BM: The perfect family vacation is the one we just took. We went to Montana. We just chilled out in the middle of nowhere. We went fishing. We just hung out. I think my favorite moment of the whole vacation was that there was a hot tub in the back. We all just got into the hot tub and had that moment to all be there. We were all there in one spot. When we can do that I think is a miracle.
AE: Growing up was there a book or an author that started up your interest in becoming an author?
BM: I loved Agatha Christie, but man did I love Judy Blume. I loved girls and I thought that Judy Blume was an instruction manual for girls. If I am going to understand them and try and kiss one, one day I have to read the instruction manual. So Judy Blume just ruled me.
AE: Favorite comic book hero of all time is….
BM: Oh, that is easy. It is Batman. Batman is always going to fail. Batman will never stop crime. Batman is never going to bring his dead parents back to life. Every day when he knows he is going to fail he still goes out and fights. I think Superman is who we all wish we kind of were, but Batman is who we secretly know who we are.