One of the aspects of NPR listenership that many stations tend to target in the semi-annual pledge drives is the concept of “driveway moments”: sitting in your car after you’ve arrived home in order to hear the end of a story before going into your home. The idea is that if you experience these moments a lot (I do), you must value their service and enjoy their stories, and you should support them with a donation (don’t worry, I also do that too). I had one such driveway moment last week during an interview with Brad Meltzer on the program Here & Now about his children’s book series, Ordinary People Change the World.
Brad Meltzer is known for his political thrillers, but he has a newer series for children about famous historical figures, Ordinary People Change the World. Each book in the series is about a prominent historical figure (Amelia Earhart, Abe Lincoln, and so on). The series is growing and features important gender and racial diversity.
Most notably, the books describe important moments in the person’s childhood that foreshadow the important figure they became. For example, Rosa Parks confronts a bully who picked on her about her race. Bullying is a very relatable, often everyday experience for children. Child Rosa stands up to the bully in much the same way that she resists moving to the back of the bus as an adult. Obviously those are incidents on very different scales but for children, the bullying incident is something they can see in their own lives. It makes her seem ordinary, perhaps just like them. She goes on to become an important shaper of American history — but she was once a child, with childhood concerns. I believe this is what makes the stories so compelling for children.
Amelia Earhart’s childhood story involves early engineering. She built a roller coaster in her backyard! This foreshadows her adult achievements as well. It roots her huge, seemingly impossible adult dreams in child-sized dreams and activities. Again, instead of just telling children the incredible things Amelia attempted as an adult, the story is first about the cool-but-ordinary-and-very-possible things that Amelia did as a child.
These books especially resonated with me because as a little girl, I had a series of illustrated books about famous women in American history (think Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, Pearl Bailey, Amelia Earhart, and so on). These books have been lost somewhere in my transition to adulthood and I haven’t been able to find them in the depths of the internet either. But — I remember distinctly how these books inspired in me the confidence to know that I could change the world in my own way. I’m delighted to see a new series with exactly that purpose.
For the racial and gender diversity in subject matter and the intentional, developmentally appropriate storytelling, Fair Play gives the Ordinary People Change the World series five pinwheels, our highest rating.
You can find all of the books released so far (and the upcoming Rosa Parks release) in our Amazon Storefront.
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