I can still recall the first time I encountered someone who didn’t know that “Walt Disney” was a real person. I was eight-years-old in my friend Stevie’s backyard talking about Walt Disney the man when he and his older sister both looked at me and said, “Walt Disney was a man?” I’m always surprised when I happen upon people who think the name “Disney” has no origin with any type of founder. That’s why I got excited when I Am Walt Disney arrived on my doorstep from Penguin Randomhouse.
Part of Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series, I Am Walt Disney is a picture book for kids that mixes brief sentences with comic speech bubbles to tell Walt Disney’s story in an easy to understand, kid-friendly way. The illustrations by Chris Eliopoulos are so charming and fun, with Walt being a child-sized character with a mustache from start to finish (the stache is present even in his boyhood Marceline pages) while other adult characters (Roy O. Disney, Ubbe Iwerks, Marty Sklar, Mary Blaire, etc…) are adult-sized. The style of the drawings reminded me in many ways of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes series.
Obviously, Walt Disney’s story is told in a more condensed format than The Walt Disney Story could give you, so it fast forwards through a lot of things. It spends a third of the pages on his pre-Hollywood life with lots of anecdotes, like painting the Marceline house with tar and delivering newspapers in Kansas City in snow up to his neck. Oswald isn’t mentioned, but it goes from Mickey Mouse to the animated feature and when you turn the page, it isn’t just Snow White, but a spread that highlights many of the animated features made during his life before getting into Disneyland. It’s a great short summary of his life, finding humorous ways to talk about it without being disrespectful of poking fun at any of it.
While the text may not mention things like the Silly Symphonies, I Am Walt Disney is full of Easter Eggs. Pay close attention and you may notice flowers from Flowers and Trees, as well as Disney references and luminaires of the past and present. Hidden Mickeys are abundant and cleverly hidden, so be on the lookout for those as well.
The book’s finale is like a goodnight kiss fireworks show in the parks, with a look at how Walt Disney’s legacy has lived on through Epcot. That spread also celebrates synergy with all of Disney’s modern IP’s represented through Guest apparel, plus an in-joke for the author that we become privy to. Walt’s values and mission are also driven home as he encourages readers to imagine their own Disneyland and with information about Cal Arts.
I’ve read many lengthy biographies on my hero, Walt Disney. I Am Walt Disney is a great way for kids to be introduced to the man who founded the happiest company on earth. It will hopefully inspire them to dive deeper into Walt’s story when they get older and for parents reading it to their kids, it’s guaranteed to put a big smile on your face and give you a warm fuzzy feeling by the end.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.