The Big Idea: Brad Meltzer
Posted on January 14, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 28 Comments
Brad Meltzer is known as a bestselling writer of thrillers and the host of his own television show on History Channel. But today sees the release of two decidedly different books from him: I am Amelia Earhart and I am Abraham Lincoln, both illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, and both aimed at a rather younger audience than Meltzer has aimed for before. There’s a reason why he wrote the books — and a reason, as you will soon discover, why he rewrote them as well.
Call this essay “How To Be Outdone By Your Artist on Your New Children’s Book.”
I met him on the Internet. I did. On Twitter.
I don’t remember what he first wrote to me about. Probably something about history: He watched my TV show, the self-importantly and yet perfectly titled Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. So I’ll wager he wrote to me about the Freemasons. Or the Illuminati. Or maybe Abraham Lincoln, if irony had a say.
Either way, I recognized his name and knew his art. Chris Eliopoulos. He’s a cartoonist. A great one. And little did I know, he’d soon change my life.
You see, I was in the midst of a crisis. A parental crisis. I was shopping for clothes with my daughter, and all I could find were T-shirts with images of princesses and more princesses. The only real difference between them was what hair color each princess had. And I started thinking to myself: I know so many better heroes than that.
So what does a loving father do at that point? He turns to a stranger on the internet, of course. I asked Chris to draw a cartoon version of Amelia Earhart. Below the picture, I wrote: I AM AMELIA EARHART. On the back of the shirt, I wrote: I KNOW NO BOUNDS.
That’s how it began. But soon, what started with a T-shirt had turned into an actual book. A children’s book, of all things. I always dreamed of doing a children’s book. And now, instead of just giving my daughter a T-shirt, I’d be able to give her perhaps the best thing of all: Amelia Earhart’s actual story.
From there, I wrote a biographical account of Amelia Earhart’s life, which Chris turned into pages and pages of art. A few weeks later, we handed in the proposal. My agent looked at what Chris drew. Then looked at what I wrote. And then she told me, “You need to make your words match his art.”
I blinked a few times, making sure I heard her right. But in that moment, I knew she was exactly right. Chris’s drawings were playful, fun, and passionate. They evoked my favorites – Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes – cartoons that were alive and full of heart. Indeed, as I flipped through his drawings, I realized that was his superpower. This stranger from the internet, Chris Eliopoulos, did heart like no one else. And best of all, the more I looked at it, the more I felt like a kid again.
Right there, I tore up my entire draft and started from scratch. His breathtaking art forced me to be a better writer.
The result became more than a single book. It became our new line of children’s books, starting today with the publication of I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln. The series was born because of our belief that the current definition of “hero” is broken. Today, so many in our culture celebrate reality TV stars and loud-mouthed sports figures.
I tell my kids all the time: That’s fame. Fame is different than being a hero. I wanted my kids to see real heroes…and real people who are no different than themselves. For that reason, each book tells the story of the hero when THEY were a kid. We see them as children. So it’s not just Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln being famous – but them being just like us.
As for Chris, he of course became part of our family. And I’m part of his. We all went to DisneyWorld. I kid you not. Last week, we went there together. Both our families.
You should’ve seen the way my daughter was giving the stink eye to the princesses.
I am Amelia Earhart: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
I am Abraham Lincoln: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Visit Brad Meltzer’s site. Follow him on Twitter. Visit Chris Eliopoulos‘ site. Follow him on Twitter.
Making Light linked to a nice piece of fanfic the other day in which Disney Princesses became real people: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1085502
As a fellow princess sufferer, thank you for this idea. I love the books and they are now on my wish list for the next birthday. She loves the style of Amelia Rules so this will be very popular.
When my daughter was that age, I also introduced her to real life princesses that were amazing. When she dressed up as a princess for Halloween it was as a warrior princess, and then after the broken collarbone the next year, was the wounded warrior princess. She got so much candy her bag broke. There are so many real heroes, I just don’t get the fame and media created ones. My daughter wants to be the next Jane Goodall or the first combination of rock star and geologist.
P.S. the t-shirt sounds amazing, is that for sale too?
Oh wow, that latter illustration is great. :) I love the expression on little Amelia’s face!
Just bought, sight unseen, because even the princess-obsessed (and oh, does our little girl love princesses) need Amelia Earhart.
Nice!! I see on Amazon that a Rosa Parks one is also in the works. I loved biographies as a kid ( still do) so I am excited to introduce them to my kids.
One of my daughters is named after Amelia Earhart. I am *so* down with this.
I am ordering these now. And Rosa Parks is coming next. My daughters (6 and 7) love biographies and history. These look wonderful!
Books for all the parents I know!
in that last panel, Amelia technically isn’t flying; she’s falling with style.
This is the greatest! I loved books like this as a kid, can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to enjoy them ;-)
This is awesome. As a new father of a girl myself, I am very anti-princess and it seems you really have to fight that. My parents keep trying to call her a princess and buy her onesies with princess/entitled phrases on them. Constant redirecting seems to do nothing. My wife and I will DEFINITELY be getting some of these books.
1 request: more women role models. There are tons of male heroes. Let’s see more women.
Thanks! (off to Amazon)
+1 on the t-shirt.
No thanks. Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis” comic for DC was vile and loathesome enough to earn him a rare lifetime ban from me.
In for sure! Tired of fame being a goal.
CGI – I generally do not write-off an artist for trying something new or different. Just like I don’t for their politics. That’s just me though. Life/art would be boring if nobody tried new things.
Why, oh WHY!, did you have to do this after my nieces were old enough to think that they don’t need to read picture books any more? Oh well, they are going to get a copy for their birthdays anyway!
And that was a nice “Space Chimps” reference, Greg.
@CGI: Wrong Meltzer. *Brad* Meltzer wrote the comic.
The illustrator here is *Chris* Meltzer. So you can buy these, ban intact. :)
Oops! I’m completely wrong. Sorry. (rassnfrassn too early in the morning – can’t delete commentfrassn)
Mr Teufel… you are definitely mistaken.
And I think we’re generally wandering off topic, folks.
Love Brad Meltzer, already have the books on their way here from Amazon. I pre-ordered them when I first heard about them. Can’t wait!
My son and nieces/nephews are a decade or two too old for these
I hope you’ll do Marie Curie – reading a biography of her as a kid inspired me to become a scientist.
You had me at I KNOW NO BOUNDS. Ordered the story of Young Abe for my 6 year-old.
@mgwa: May I recommend Jim Ottaviani’s DIGNIFYING SCIENCE graphic novel, for a story of M. Curie and many others?
Paul Goodman said it back in the 50s, in GROWING UP ABSURD: kids were dreaming of having 15 minutes on television, not of having statues of themselves in the park. Good to see the thought of the statue creeping back down from the cultural attic.
And, mwah hah hah. My stepdaughter is a read-to-the-kids daily type, and the granddaughter will be old enough for these books about the time the 4th or 5th one comes out. Birthday bonanza!
And ordered … thanks to Scalzi for the location for the Big Idea … and thanks to Brad for taking the time to write the Big Idea Piece, not to mention writing a non-princess and non-vampire children’s book.
Reblogged this on nizarhamka.
These look amazing I am buying these for my girls.
To Don Hilliard thanks for the recommendation I will be picking that up as well. My eldest who is eight loves science and will get a major kick of this.
Young Amelia bears a vague resemblance to the young Ellie from UP!
I have a daughter (who disliked Julie Gillard on the principle that Ms Gillard made it impossible for Rachel to become Australia’s first female PM) and two sons, Tom and Cameron.
Thanks to Mr Meltzer for providing non-princess examples for our girl (whether she needs them or not), but just as importantly, for our boys… It’s easier for a girl to be a non-princess if other people are aware that being a non-princess girl is possible :)