The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

July 8, 2012

Jacque Gage: Unheard-of heroes championed in new book

JOPLIN, Mo. — Every age has its heroes. Every child has at one time or another needed a hero, someone to look up to and admire. I tried to think of some heroes of the past. When I was young, I remember others my age being smitten by the Beatles. Others adored Elvis, admired Billy Graham or JFK, were amazed and amused by Will Rogers’ rope tricks and writings, or loved the movie heroism of cowboys Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, or Tom Mix.

Today, I see more “anti”-heroes than real heroes adulated by our youth. Really, do we want our children to look up to Lady Gaga? Do we want them to imitate the actions of Lindsay Lohan? Do we truly want them to keep up with the Kardashians?

Brad Meltzer wrote “Heroes for My Son” and “Heroes for My Daughter,” but better known for writing suspense and thrillers as well as comic book series, so this type book is a real change of pace for him.

It all began with the birth of his son. Meltzer wanted to write a book for his son Ð one that would serve him well for all his life. Meltzer started to write, but was coming up with platitudes like “be good,” as if merely artciulating the sentiment were enough to make him be good. Meltzer said he wanted his son to be so amazed at the book that “Norman Rockwell himself would need to be resurrected to paint the picture of it.” He realized that what he was coming up with was not going to be what he wanted.

He recalled hearing that the Wright Brothers would bring extra materials to their flight test locations to be prepared for multiple crashes. That way, they could repair their planes on the spot and continue their testing. Meltzer liked the way a simple story can teach perseverance.

As a result, he decided to write a book to his son (and later his daughter when she began demanding, “Where the heck's my book?”) as a collection of small stories, each highlighting a different hero and his or her character trait. The result is a slim volume of stories of famous and not-so-famous people. On the left-hand page is a picture of the person, their character trait, and a caption about them. The right hand page features the story about the person, along with a quote.

Many of the people in Meltzer’s books are those you would expect to find in history books about heroes and heroines. Others are surprising. And there were others, I’d never heard of. I expected to see stories about Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and the like and was not disappointed. I’d never heard of Alex Scott, an 8 year old dying of cancer who opened a lemonade stand and ultimately raised millions of dollars. Then there is Dan West who began Heifer International.

The most surprising heroes to me were the Three Stooges.

You say, “The same Three Stooges who name-call, poke each other in the eyes, and are generally numskulls?”

Yes.  Surprising, huh? They are cited for being “subversives.” In 1940, almost two years before Pearl Harbor, during a time when many in the U.S. were promoting isolationism or neutrality, the Three Stooges had the courage to go against public sentiment and make fun of Hitler in their film short, “You Nazty Spy!,” pre-dating Charlie Chaplin’s ridicule of Hitler in “The Great Dictator” by several months. The sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again,” followed in 1941. Both film shorts can be found on YouTube.

These books are each quick reads and enjoyable for both young people and adults. You will learn something you may not have known about many of the celebrities. You will learn about new people and perhaps find a new hero. There’s even a place at the end of the book to place a photo and write up about your personal hero. Of course, to do that you’ll have to buy a copy of the book; we won’t let you add your heroes to the library’s copies of the books!

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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