Like millions of other kids, author Brad Meltzer's favorite childhood TV show was "Sesame Street." "I thought Sesame Street was an actual street that was just round the corner from my house. Ernie and my mother had the same laugh, and that was always happy," he remembered.
"Jim Henson changed my life," Meltzer, of Fort Lauderdale, said of the late creator of the Muppets. "Yes, Henson was a great puppeteer but his puppets taught me that there is good in all of us. That we are all different, but we can all get along and embrace that difference. Jim Henson taught me about the power of creativity."
Now Meltzer is paying homage to one of his favorite performers with his latest children's book, "I Am Jim Henson," the 11th installment in his "heroes" picture books designed for ages 5 to 8 and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos.
Meltzer's three children inspired the launch of his children's books three years ago with "I Am Abraham Lincoln" and "I Am Amelia Earhart."
"I was so tired of my own kids looking at reality stars and big-mouthed athletes and thinking these were heroes. I wanted to show them that there is a difference between being famous and being a hero. And I am not alone in this as a parent," said Meltzer, best known for his 11 high-energy thrillers.
"We as a country are starving for heroes," he said, adding that "2017 represents 20 years since my first novel was published."
The response to the children's series has been overwhelming with several landing on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Meltzer's children's books have sold more than 1 million copies with the author seeing a 91 percent increase in sales from last year with the most popular titles "I Am Martin Luther King, Jr." and "I Am Rosa Parks." But Meltzer is most proud of the letters, photographs and emails he receives from parents, teachers, librarians and children. Last year, many young readers sent him photographs of them dressed as one of his "heroes" holding the books for Halloween.
"The reaction has been humbling. Many [readers] said they didn't want to go as a princess but as Amelia Earhart or Rosa Parks," he said.
Subtitled "Ordinary People Changed the World," the books look at "heroes" when they were children, showing their aspirations. "This is to show the young readers can see these heroes not just when they became famous but when they were children — just like us."
Meltzer's next thriller will be published during 2017. His next children's book will be about Sacagawea, the only Native American included in Lewis and Clark's historic expedition, followed by titles on Ghandi and Sally Ride, among others. "These [children's books] are my heart and soul," he added.
Brad Meltzer discusses "I Am Jim Henson" at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408.