Monday, May 10, 2010

Always be nice to the fat kid

The imminent birth of his first-born child was not a good time for brand new parent, Brad Meltzer, to get stuck at a red light. As he waited for traffic to resume, he considered the universal question—who and what will my child grow up to be?

“It’s a moment where there are no limits or detours or any of the restrictions that reality eventually brings,” writes New York Times best-selling author, Brad Meltzer, in his new work of non-fiction, Heroes for my Son. “And it was in that moment of unbridled love and pure naïveté that this book was born.”

Meltzer started working on his book that very night and listed two fundamental requirements for his son to become a “good man.” They were: love God, and be nice to the fat kid in school.

One of the author’s favorite stories is about the perseverance of the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur. In anticipation of their plane crashing, every day they brought with them materials to patch it up. Over and over the duo would crash and rebuild, crash and rebuild until, finally, their little plane conquered gravity and flew, unassisted, above the earth. They refused to give up until they realized success.

Meltzer hand-picked a collection of 52 heroes—men and women—who best exemplify the qualities of “character and honesty, leadership and humility, tenacity and dignity.” He included black and white photographs and brief vignettes of lesser-known moments in the lives of extraordinary individuals that illustrate their exceptional accomplishments.

So who are Brad Meltzer’s heroes? You are, no doubt, familiar with many of them: Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Others are more obscure: Frank Shankwitz, Jiep Gies, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Dan West. All of them are fascinating.

There is no universal agreement as to the qualities requisite for designation as a hero. Dr. Scott LaBarge, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Santa Clara University, believes that all of us need heroes “first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals—things like courage, honor, and justice—largely define us.”

The state of Texas can learn a valuable lesson from Brad Meltzer’s collection of heroes. The Board of Education in this state has ousted Thomas Jefferson, Ted Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Copernicus, among others, from its social studies text books. Who will replace these time-honored, respected champions of history?

Heroes for My Son is a treasure. Meltzer writes in his introduction, “There are thousands of heroes. And I think that’s what I like best. This isn’t about how to be remembered—it’s a book about how to live our lives, and what we are capable of on our very best days.”

Brad Meltzer, the school children of Texas need your heroes.

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