Jim Henson is an important part of most childhood stories. Everyone remembers how Sesame Street, The Muppets and The Dark Crystal played some part in their story. Jim Henson was the one who gave children a childhood to love, one filled with happiness. Henson wanted to be in television, so he showed up at his local TV station and asked for a job. They said, “No.” On his way out, he saw a flyer for ‘Puppeteers Wanted.’ He took the flyer, went to the library and learned everything he could about puppetry. A few months later, he returned to that same TV station and asked for a job again, this time as a puppeteer. The rest is history. For those who aim to dream big and do something incredible for the world, look no further than to be inspired by the legend.
Last week, I stopped into Barnes & Noble where Brad Meltzer introduced his latest book, “I am Jim Henson.”
I do not normally go to children’s author events, but I decided to go to this one. I’m glad I did. I was not prepared for the incredible lesson I was about to learn.
These books appear innocent on the outside. They are stories about important figures in human history. From Martin Luther King, Jr. (a book that is constantly sold out) to Rosa Parks, Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart, these books are designed not just as a history lesson for children, but as an underlying act to encourage children to become someone amazing.
Here are just a few excerpts.
From “I am Jim Henson”…
There’s good in all of us. Sure, we’re all different. Some of us have beards, or no hair, or blue fur, or green flippers. But goodness lives within each of us. That’s an idea that should never get old. Believe in the good of the world. Create something new. Share what you love. And find others who believe in those favorite things you dream about. Together…
It starts when we’re kids. That’s when we learn some of the best things in life. Laughing. Sharing. Imagining. Dreaming. Creating. Never stop doing them. And never stop being kind. There’s nothing wrong with being a do-gooder.
From “I am Helen Keller”…
Think of your life as a hill that must be climbed. There’s no correct path to get to the top. We all zigzag in our own ways. At some point, you’ll slip, you’ll fall, you’ll tumble back down again. But if you get back up and keep climbing, I promise you…you will reach the top. Don’t let anything hold you back. Our lives are what we make of them. There will always be obstacles. But there will always be ways around them.
From “I am Rosa Parks”…
In my life, people tried to knock me down. Tried to make me feel less than I was. They teased me for being small. Being black. Being different. Let me be clear: NO ONE should be able to do that. But if they try, you must stand strong. Stand for what’s right. Stand up for yourself (even if it means sitting down). When you do…others will follow. I am Rosa Parks. I’m not a politician, or a president, or an actor, or a famous business owner. I’m just an ordinary person. But I’m also proof that there’s NO SUCH thing as an ordinary person.
These books are not just for children. Adults need to read them, too. We need to be reminded that these people were just ordinary people who did something incredible with their life. Their stories are a reminder that no matter how ordinary we are we can change the world.
That is the point of these books. But there’s also an even bigger message. We are living in a time where our political climate threatens our livelihoods. We see how the bully won the election and it gave rise to white supremacists who threaten people that are not 100% white. [One teacher at the event told me that following the election, every child in her school was on suicide watch.]
Children are scared. Adults are scared. But it is in these very books, we see how being defiant and choosing to do good, choosing to do what is right and overcoming obstacles as they arise, can make us into extraordinary people. We can rise up.
The book that had the biggest effect on me was “I am Rosa Parks.” It made me sad and embarrassed to know how America used to be. Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 happened, we are seeing America revert back to darker days. Everything that made America great, we are told is not so great. We are told that equality between human beings is not a great thing. We are told that being a bully is ok. It is accepted to be the bully. America wants the bully to lead us.
We are told that the things we know in our heart are true and good are BAD. What these books tell us is to stand strong. We have to stand up for ourselves. We may be a bunch of ordinary people, but an ordinary person can change the world. That is self evident in these books. WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
I highly recommend buying these books not just for the kids, but for yourself. We sometimes need to be reminded to believe in ourselves. It is so hard to remain strong each and every day after facing the onslaught of bullying and fear we live in.
These books serve as a reminder that we can follow our dreams. We can overcome obstacles. We can be the change, just like President Obama says we should be.
Read them to remind yourself of who you are and who you can become. Read the books to your children. Let them see that these people were just like them. They were kids too and they grew up to do something wonderful just by being themselves.
EXTRA: Over the last year, two of Meltzer’s children books had an overall 91% increase in sales, which is completely unheard of in the publishing industry. This was in direct correlation to the election. Those two books were “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “I am Rosa Parks.”
Here are the current children’s books available from Brad Meltzer. He is developing 100 stories about ordinary people who did extraordinary things. This is just the beginning, so start collecting.
To be released later this year:
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