Known as one of the shapers of the “Superman” myth, bestselling Jewish author Brad Meltzer is just as impressed with the stories of people whose actions stand out in the absence of supernatural powers.
“To me, superheroes like Superman are no different than the stories we tell about Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln,” Meltzer tells JNS.org. “They are all part of the American mythology—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.”
As an attorney-turned-DC Comics-writer and bestselling crime novelist, Meltzer has spent his life in realms that were traditionally ruled by men. But in his newest release, the focus of Meltzer’s writing shifts to the other gender.
In Heroes for My Son, Meltzer told the tales of some of the men (and women) whom he hoped his son might come to emulate. From his own parents to Superman creators Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel, international neighbor Fred Rogers, magician Harry Houdini, barrier breaker Jackie Robinson, and Drs. Salk and Seuss, Meltzer collected a cavalcade of characters with character—and showed others how to put it to good use.
Two years later—with the collection still building (now enhanced by fan feedback and suggestions)—Meltzer has gone back to the well for a well-deserved book for his daughter. Appropriately titled Heroes for My Daughter (Harper), this sequel adds to the mix such new heroes and heroines as Anne Frank, Ben Franklin, Judy Blume, Golda Meir, Lucille Ball, and even the “Three Stooges.” Just like the first volume, each entry is brief enough for a bedtime story but deep enough for a night of contemplation.
“It’s been two years now since Heroes For My Son was published,” Meltzer says, “and throughout that time, my daughter has asked one vital question: ‘Where the heck’s my book?’”
Though his daughter likes to point out that her book is bigger than her big brother’s, Meltzer affirms that they are the same. One notable difference came up in the editing, however.
“When I handed in the manuscript for my daughter’s book,” Meltzer recalls, “the editor…noticed that I kept overusing one word throughout the manuscript. That word? Fighter.”
As Meltzer’s mother had recently lost a fight with breast cancer, perhaps that image was on his mind. Regardless, he found that he used it in 14 of the 50 profiles featured in the new book—including that of the Dalai Lama, famed pacifist and peacemaker.
“That probably highlights my lack of descriptive ability,” the bestselling author admits, “and how overprotective I am, but it also shows that…I do want my daughter to learn how to fight.”
Though he had hoped to release the book for his daughter sooner, Meltzer’s mother’s passing delayed its publication and also made Meltzer look at his life and his heroes in a new way. “As I wrote this book,” he says, “I was forced to look to the world for women who, like my mother, could serve as ideals for my daughter.” From disease to discrimination, Meltzer hopes to inspire his children with stories of people who fought for what they believed in.
Meltzer insists writing the second book was not a means of fitting in all the heroes he could not include in the first, but rather a way to “remind my daughter that ordinary people change the world.” He says what makes a hero is “pretty simple.”
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“You have to help someone,” he says.
The author practices what he has preached. Proceeds from his sales go to such organizations as City Year, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Sharsheret, the “Jewish community response to breast cancer.”
Among the heroes in the book, Meltzer’s daughter particularly “loves Lucille Ball.” He notes that “she’s now the only girl in America watching black and white TV!… She also loves seeing the last hero in there: My wife, her mom.”
For Meltzer, the most important page in the book is the final one—a blank page that invites readers to reflect on those who helped them reach their dreams and achieve all they have in life.
“It says ‘Your Hero’s Photo Here’ and ‘Your Hero’s Story Here,’” Meltzer explains. “I promise, 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, it will be the most beautiful page in Heroes for My Daughter. It will also be the best present we can give our children: the reminder that it is ordinary people who change the world.”
“Show me your hero,” he adds, “and I’ll show you who you are.”