Author Brad Meltzer knows what makes a hero or superhero tick. He’s written best-selling books about espionage in the nation’s capital in books including The Inner Circle and The President's Shadow, scripted conversations among the members of the Justice League of America for DC Comics, and uncovered secrets that only top FBI agents and international spies may know on his History Channel shows Decoded and the new Lost History.
New series on down-to-earth heroes
However, it is in his recent series of family-friendly books, such as the popular Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter and his series collectively called Ordinary People Change the World that Brad has been perhaps most able to define and depict heroism and how it can be achieved and accepted by all of us.
“There’s one [strength] that repeats over and over—and defines a hero: You have to help someone,” Brad says. “You may help people directly, like Abraham Lincoln, or maybe you inspire us like Amelia Earhart. But to be a hero, you have to help someone. In these books, these aren’t just the stories of famous people. They’re what we're all capable of on our very best days.”
While Superman and Wonder Woman amaze with their super-human powers, for many, it is their humanity and our ability to connect with them that makes them so super. This is all the more true of everyday heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks and Meltzer’s latest subjects, Albert Einstein and Jackie Robinson. These people could not leap over buildings or bend steel bars with their bare hands, but they did even more to overcome obstacles, bend rules and change hearts, minds and points of view.
With this in mind, Brad suggests that there is really not much difference between a female flier like Earhart and Wonder Woman. “They are all part of the American mythology,” he observes, “and the reason these stories still persist so strongly for all these decades isn't just because they tell the stories about other people. It’s because their stories also tell us about ourselves.”
Brad’s helpful definition of a hero has also directed his own life. As each new best-seller is released and more people come to know his name, he does even more to reach out and help out. Proceeds from his sales go to such organizations as City Year, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Sharsheret, a Jewish community response to breast cancer. While many of the heroes he writes about are his own (including his parents, grandparents, and eighth-grade English teacher), Brad’s Son and Daughter books also feature many of his family’s favorites.
“My daughter…loves Lucille Ball,” he says, offering an example from “her” book and noting that his daughter is so enamored with the pioneering and famously charitable comedienne that she is probably “the only girl in America watching black and white TV!”
Leave room for your own heroes
And while all of his books depict and discuss the helpful and heroic lives of such people as Gandhi, Ben Franklin, Golda Meir and “Superman” himself (i.e., Christopher Reeve), Brad says that he always saves the best for last by including members of his own family toward the end of each collection. In both books, there is also a set of blank pages where readers can add their own chapters and pay their own tributes to the people who have helped them and been their heroes as well.
“If you take a picture of your mom or grandparent or teacher, and you paste it in the book and write one sentence on what that person means to you,” he pledges, “it will be the most beautiful page [and] the best present we can give our children: the reminder that it is ordinary people who change the world.”
Who are the everyday superheroes in your own life? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Matt Robinson is a freelance writer living in Boston.