The inspiration behind ‘Heroes for My Son'

Brad Meltzer is the author of best-selling thrillers for adult readers, including “The Book of Fate" and "The Tenth Justice." But his newest book was written with youngsters in mind. "Heroes for My Son" gathers photographic and textual portraits of people whom Meltzer sees as models of humanity and examples of perseverance for his 8-year-old. Despite the size of the slender volume, it represents eight years of work and profiles, among others, Martin Luther king Jr. and Mother Teresa.

Q: The cover of your new book, “Heroes for My Son,” shows a boy held aloft in the Superman flying position. Will you talk about the boy and the picture?

A: I have two sons and my publicist said, “You’ll have to choose which one appears on the cover of the book.” I’m sure I’ll put my sons through all kinds of therapy, but not over this. The funny part is that all my relatives are calling, saying how beautiful my son is. The boy on the cover is a friend’s son.

Q: Superman turns up several times here, though never directly, as you’re writing about real-life heroes.

A: The intention for the book is to inspire. I started this book on the night my son was born, eight years ago. I wanted to include individuals who would portray not just morals for him, I wanted proof that anything is possible in this world. That’s why the Wright brothers were my first choice. They would take extra materials with them every time they tested their plane, because they knew they would crash. They would crash and rebuild, crash and rebuild. Jim Henson, Rosa Parks, [Superman creators] Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel: The hope they’ve inspired in us is inarguable, whether they created a flying machine or a flying man or a talking green frog or civil justice. The book is about sharing heroes with the people you love.

Q: At least two of your heroes bear the label “troublemaker.”

A: Nelson Mandela’s given name, Rolihlahla, means “troublemaker.” You’re talking about the titles that start each hero’s entry in the book. I never designed the book to be read cover to cover, but bit by bit. The publisher pointed out that two of the heroes had the same title, “troublemaker.” But look which two are troublemakers: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. They are linked, I said.

Q: Did you have a hand in selecting the pictures in the book?

A: I picked every single one. We were trying to find the moment that made them great. But instead of picking famous pictures, we looked for ones that also show that these people are us. Instead of picking Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out, I wanted to show him as one of us [relaxing on a porch]. The most important hero in this book is Teri Meltzer, my mother. When my publisher Rob Weisbach shut down, I called my mother and described what was going on. What she said to me is what I say to myself every day I sit down to write: “I’d love you if you were a garbage man.” I was writing this book for eight years. My mother died two years ago, and that really helped me to see what it needed to be. The most important pages in the book are the last two, which are blank so people can add their own hero’s story.

Author appearance

Brad Meltzer, author of “Heroes for My Son.” 7:30 p.m. Monday. Free. Marcus Jewish Community Center at Zaban Park, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4002, www.atlantajcc.org

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