Today’s post in the series of genius business ideas may not be a sustainable business model, but it covers a product I think today’s children would benefit from as adults.
Parents want the best for their kids. They don’t want them needlessly hurt, especially by going down paths they know will create unnecessary pain and hardship.
A friend suggested to me that many people have problems in relationships because of overly rosy expectations. They envision that calling each other boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, will lead to them living happily ever after or riding off into the sunset.
You can say people know life isn’t that simple, but everyone I’ve talked to about it believes it to some degree despite themselves. Or at least they did until life taught them otherwise enough.
Everyone I talk to about it points to fairy tails and children’s stories starting kids believing in living effortlessly happily ever after, prince charming, and so on. As we mature we learn things aren’t that easy. I don’t consider that a problem — I’ve learned to enjoy the reward that comes from effort.
But the jolt when experience differs from expectations can hurt and lead people to make mistakes they wouldn’t otherwise make. Some painful experiences probably nobody can avoid, but many of these painful experiences come from the stories and the expectations they create.
I don’t know what it’s like being a parent, but if I could avoid something that creates problems in my child’s life, I think I would.
A series of children’s books (and videos?) that don’t end with happily ever after and don’t contain overly simplified characters and impossible situations. That is, keep the children’s language, tone, drawings, reading level, and so forth, but substitute characters and endings more consistent with life around us. Instead of happily ever after, the books point out how the characters have many challenges still to overcome, an outcome not worse than happily ever after, but rather rewarding and satisfying.
The goal is for children to grow up not expecting fairy-tale endings, but still to have fun, entertaining, beautifully illustrated stories.
In Cinderella, for example, make the step-sisters and step-mother not so mean and give them motivations. Then make the prince not royalty. When he finds her in the end, point out the difficulties everyone will have in her moving away from home. Point out that they are just beginning to get to know each other, since they only met at a dance for a few hours, hardly enough to decide to live together forever.
In Beauty and the Beast — well, I don’t know what it’s about, but maybe have it not judge people so much on looks. I think you’re supposed to conclude looks aren’t everything, but then the beast becomes handsome. Take out the magic and the beast eventually becoming royalty.
In Sleeping Beauty — well, again I don’t know the story, but take out the royalty and the happily ever after ending based probably on magic and appearance and point out how challenging life will continue to be after whatever happened in the story.
Anyway, you get the idea. Pick a fairy tale, remove parts that create impossible-to-meet expectations, and put something more complex and consistent with life as we know it.
I think the stories would appeal to adults too. We experience the challenges kids can’t even dream of. When one of life’s Big Bad Wolves eats us, we may prefer to read a different take on Little Red Riding Hood where she learns to solve her own problems instead of a lumberjack randomly saving her. That way we’ll look to help ourselves instead of acting like a helpless victim.
If you’re familiar with Harvey Pekar‘s award-winning comic book series, American Splendor and Our Cancer Year, you know he made comic books about regular life. He didn’t write them for children, but he showed that regular people’s lives could be more complex and compelling than costumed super-heroes fighting for good and evil.
I didn’t start this post thinking of Pekar. I’ll include some quotes of his that seem relevant and I find helpful.
“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”
“It makes you feel good to know that there’s other people afflicted like you.”
“I think comics have far more potential than a lot of people realize.”
“I decided I was going to tell these stories. I went around and met [fellow cartoonist who helped him get started Robert] Crumb. He was the cartoonist. I started realizing comics weren’t just kid stuff.”
As a side note, I’ll note the line that “ordinary life is pretty complex stuff,” stated so simply, has influenced me a lot. It’s mostly ruined most mainstream Hollywood and corporate culture for me — laden with affected drama as it is — in the process immensely improving my life and decreasing the pointless drama.
Do you want to do it?
You probably know enough to run with the idea if you want, even without me. I’ve thought more about it, so you could contact me. But you might as well work with me in some way. I figured out this much. I’d probably help more than whatever cost of involving me.
If you know an agent, editor, or publisher who might be interested, send them a link or put them in touch.
I want to reinforce that the main point of this series is to show how ideas are easy to create. I see this as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Maybe you’d end up working in a publishing house, but you could make it your project as much as you’d like.