June 01

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World Series – Review by Nikki Boisture

 

One of the difficulties with raising kids is that you want them to look up to the right people. Left to their own devices, my kids would probably only idolize twenty-somethings who earn their living playing Minecraft on You Tube. Not that there’s anything wrong with Minecraft and You Tube, but there are definitely better role models out there.

 

Historical figures, particularly years after their deaths, can take on an aura of the Gods. After all, George Washington is treated as a near-God like figure in American schools. But what if we taught kids that historical figures are human? That they started out as school children too?

 

This is exactly what Brad Meltzer does in his Ordinary People Change the World Series. This is a series of biographical picture books of famous people from all different walks of life, politics, entertainment, sports, etc. Meltzer tells the stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things, making their stories accessible to kids today. The books are marketed as being geared toward the 5-8 year old set, but when I’m reading one to my six year old, my ten year old stops what he’s doing to listen in.

 

 

Meltzer has made a lot of wise choices in subjects as well. As anticipated, there are books on historical figures (Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr.), but he also gives us biographies on subjects that are a little more unexpected. From scientists (Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall) to entertainers (Lucille Ball, Jim Henson) to activists (Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr.) and those with important firsts (Jackie Robinson, Amelia Earhart) all kids are sure to find a book suited to their interests. His next planned books are I am Gandhi and I am Sacagawea, which will be out in October 2017.

 

Illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos does a magnificent job of creating engaging pictures to go along with the story. The subject of each story is shown as a child throughout every portion of their life. For example, Jackie Robinson always looks like a little boy wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. Showing children doing extraordinary things really drives home the point to kids – that kids can grow into extraordinary people.

 

We get to experience the roadblocks that so many great people faced in their young lives. When I’m reading these books to my kids, they get to see that Lucille Ball was told being silly wasn’t ‘proper’, or that Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his best friend at six because the friend’s Dad said he couldn’t play with black children. As a mom to a six year old with speech apraxia, I was especially intrigued to learn that Albert Einstein suffered from a speech disorder that made people call him ‘dopey.’

 

A part of the charm of these books are the little easter eggs hidden throughout. Meltzer himself is included in a crowd scene in every book. I am Helen Keller features a lot of famous blind or deaf people, both fictional and non-fictional, and Animal appears on the last page of I am Jim Henson.

 

Each book ends with a famous quote from its subject, and words imploring us to be better people. Einstein wants us to never stop daydreaming, Helen Keller wants us to keep going through every obstacle, Amelia Earhart wants us to chase our dreams, and Rosa Parks want us to stand up for what’s right. Kids can follow the words of these greats and leave their own lasting legacy of kindness, justice, and courage.

 

Nikki Boisture is a lifelong reader whose love affair with kiddie lit was started by her childhood adoration of Judy Blume and the Babysitters Club books. She is a stay-at-home mom with two sons and lives in the Washington, DC, suburbs. She blogs about the books she read as a kid at her blog Are You There Youth? It’s Me, Nikki (http://whatireadbackthen.wordpress.com), and occasionally does television reviews at TV Grapevine.