Q: Brad, you’re a busy a guy. You write adult novels. You star on The History Channel’s Decoded. You write comic books. Why did you decide to write a picture book series?
Blame my daughter. A few years back, I was looking for clothing for her and all I could find were shirts with princesses on them. And I thought, as someone who’s around so much history: There are so many better heroes I can give her. So I asked a friend to draw me a cartoon picture of Amelia Earhart. I wrote the words “I Am Amelia Earhart” on it — and on the back I wrote, “I know no bounds.” My daughter loved it. Then my wife wanted one. And her friends wanted one. And the more I told her about Amelia Earhart, the more she fell in love. It made me realize: Once our kids hear about these real American heroes, they react the same way we all do. They’re inspired. They dream bigger. They work harder. Right there, these books were born.
Q. What made you start your series with a focus on Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln?
If you’re gonna do books about heroes, might as well start with the best ones. Amelia Earhart’s whole life is about taking chances, being brave, and finding the strength to do what everyone else said couldn’t be done. Lincoln’s life is just as powerful, especially when you see how many times he stood up for others. But what I love most is that we start with their childhoods. You see Amelia Earhart as a little girl, building a homemade roller coaster in her backyard; you see Lincoln as a boy, standing up to local bullies. For our kids and for us, these aren’t just the stories of famous people. They’re what we’re all capable of on our very best days.
Q. When you were a kid, who were some of your heroes?
I always loved Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers. Plus my grandfather, who used to make up stories for me. They all taught me the power of kindness — and the power of a well told story. Those lessons were never forgotten.
Q. Who are some heroes in today’s world that you think are great role models for today’s children?
We all love to complain that there are no current heroes today. But the truth is there are heroes everywhere. Forget about obvious ones like Nelson Mandela or Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney. There’s also policemen like Frank Shankwitz, who helped a little boy with leukemia ride a toy motorcycle and then used the idea to come up with the idea for the Make-A-Wish Foundation…or Team Hoyt, where father pushes his son in a wheelchair through marathon after marathon. Look around. Heroes are far more local than you think.
Q. How’d you chose your illustrator, Christopher Eliopoulos?
I know Chris’s work from comics, but the reason I was so insistent about working with him was he can do that Calvin & Hobbes/Peanuts thing where the characters aren’t just funny — they’re lovable. You dream with them, fail with them, and smile with them. It’s so much harder than you think. Chris’s superpower is just that: love.
Q. Who are some of the heroes you’ll be writing about in future titles?
Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, plus my daughter wants Lucille Ball. The list gets longer every day.