In his new kids'-book series, Brad Meltzer is putting a fresh spin on famous Americans

By Anthony Breznican
Updated January 17, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Brad Meltzer has a hang-up about heroes. He has regularly explored the dynamics of good versus evil in both his thrillers and the comic-book world, where he’s penned stories about Green Arrow and the Justice League of America. But as a father of three young kids, Meltzer says he started to rethink what it means to be one of the good guys. Superhuman crime-fighters may be fun, but they’re fantasy.

That led him to another problem. “We’ve put real heroes on such pedestals that they’re not human anymore,” Meltzer says. “I said to my daughter that Amelia Earhart was this amazing woman who flew across the Atlantic — and I’m waiting for her to be impressed. But when I told her that when Amelia Earhart was 7 she built her own homemade roller coaster in her backyard, my daughter said, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s just like me.'”

That’s when his latest book series came to him: a kid-friendly collection of cartoon storybooks called Ordinary People Change the World, which begins with I Am Abraham Lincoln and I Am Amelia Earhart and tells the stories of what these iconic figures were like when they were children.

Meltzer hasn’t ditched the capes, though. He just wrote an updated version of Batman’s first adventure from 1939, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” “I know it sounds silly to use Batman in the same sentence as Earhart and Lincoln, but they’re all part of the American mythology,” Meltzer says. “Being good to someone else, being humble and showing kindness — that’s impressive. And to me, that is the lesson of my favorite heroes, real or fictional.”