Bestselling author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer will be in Tallahassee this Sunday, Sept. 16. He'll be at the Challenger Learning Center to talk about the high-flying American hero who was the first human to set foot on the moon.
Five years ago, Meltzer, who was coming off his popular History Channel series "Brad Meltzer Decoded," set his sights on a new project.
"You know, I was just tired of my own kids looking up to people who were famous for being famous and reality TV show stars and loud-mouth athletes and I thought, 'I can give them better heroes!' he said by phone in advance of his visit. "We need better values for our kids today. We are starving for heroes, whatever side of politics you're on, both sides are starving for heroes."
This led Meltzer to come up with a new series of books for kids focused on real-life heroes.
"So we started with, 'I am Amelia Earhart,'and'I am Abraham Lincoln,' Meltzer recounted. "We've done 'I am George Washington' and 'I am Dr. King,' 'I am Jane Goodall' and 'I am Lucille Ball,' and we are now coming out with our 15th hero in the series, a man who needs no introduction but a guy who I think is really perfect for these modern times, a guy named Neil Armstrong. So 'I am Neil Armstrong' is now launching as well."
Meltzer is fascinated with what qualities lead an individual to become "heroic." He cited an incident that happened to Armstrong when he was 8 years old and attempting to climb the giant maple tree in his backyard.
"And for him, climbing a tree was like a puzzle," Meltzer said. "It was something he had to figure out by grabbing this branch and another branch. And he grabbed a dead branch - he was 8 years old - and the branch snapped. And he plummeted to the ground, landed flat on his back and the wind was knocked out of him. And the most important thing Neil Armstrong does in that moment is he gets back up again."
Meltzer said that fearless persistance continued as Armstrong learned to fly before he was even old enough to drive. Then through his military flight career, and into his years as an astronaut. But there was something else that made Armstrong a quiet sort of hero.
"Neil Armstrong never used the word 'I.' He used to use the word 'we.' 'We did this; we accomplished that.' And he would say during the Apollo mission that it was everyone's accomplishment that was going to go there. And he meant the scientists, the mathematicians, the people at the tailor sewing his space suit together. Remember when humility was an American value?"
Neil Armstrong died in 2012. But now his star is shining bright again. Besides being the subject of Meltzer's latest book on heroes, Armstrong's tale will come to the big screen next month with the release of the movie "First Man." Meltzer isn't surprised and believed this is more than mere coincidence.
"You know, I don't think there's anything serendipitidous about it. I think that at any moment in history, cultures always get the heroes that they need. I don't think it's a coincidence that the two biggest heroes this year in terms of documentary are Neil Armstrong and Mr. Rogers and I don't think it's a coincidence that we pickede them, too."
And this Sunday, Meltzer will be at Tallahassee's Challenger Learning Center.
"Yes, I'm going to talk about the book of course, but I'll give you the inside stories. I'll tell you what NASA said when they got to read the book. We'll talk about the real fun of how you put these books together. We'll also my thrillers, the TV show, about the 9/11 flag that we were able to find on this anniversary of 9/11 and to me the fun is the ending where everyone gets their book signed."
The show and signing takes place from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.