Q: How did you come up with the idea for your "Ordinary People" series for kids, and how do you choose the people to write about?
A: These books have always been for my own kids – to give them better heroes and arm them with lessons of resilience and compassion. I tell my kids all the time: Being famous is very different than being a hero. I wanted my kids to see real heroes…and real people no different than themselves.
We started with I am Amelia Earhart and I am Abraham Lincoln. But each book tells the story of the hero when THEY were a kid. We see them as children. So it’s not just Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln being famous — it’s them being just like us.
We’ve since done everyone from Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Walt Disney, George Washington, Jane Goodall, Anne Frank, Harriet Tubman…and next is I am Frida Kahlo, which just came out. We all need heroes today.
Q: In a review of the series on NPR last year, Juanita Giles said that the books were "saving the day" for her family during the pandemic. What do you hope kids take away from the books, especially during this difficult time?
A: What I love most about the books is that we start with the childhood of each hero. 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. So I hope the books, especially today, teach lessons of resilience and tolerance.
Q: You write for adults and for kids--do you have a preference?
A: Nope. But whatever the audience is, I don’t just write about heroes. I write about values — values that have been sorely missing — for years — from the dialogue of our country.
And the core of my own values is this: When you see someone being treated unfairly, you must speak up. We all know this. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is common decency. Parents are using our books to teach that lesson.
Q: What are you working on now?
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Just a thank you to every parent and grandparent who uses the Ordinary People Change the World series to fight back against the cynicism in society. It’s how we can all make the world a better place.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb