a guest post from author Steve Searfoss
Being a parent is exhausting, and we can all use a bit of help sometimes. Enter Steve Searfoss, with his KidVenture books that are fun and informative for kids (maybe for grown-ups, too). In this guest post, Steve is offering a hand to writers of any age. Thank you, Steve!
In my KidVenture books I set out to teach kids business principles and basic economics. If that sounds boring, then perhaps you need to start your own business, because being an entrepreneur is quite the adventure.
In Twelve Weeks To Midnight Blue a brother and sister start a pool cleaning business in their neighborhood. Along the way they encounter challenges: they struggle to find the right price to charge for their service; they run into a teenager who wants to steal their idea and start his own company; they hire a friend to work for them, and the friend shows up late to his first job.
Presenting these characters with interesting dilemmas and finding plot twists was the easy part. Being an entrepreneur myself, these sorts of predicaments happen all the time. Competitors do popup unexpectedly, it’s hard to find the right price for your service, employees can be hard to manage, and business can be quite unpredictable.
The hard part in writing the story was figuring out how to explain the business concepts in a way that is organic to the plot itself. I had a good friend of mine — who has PhD in economics and, perhaps more importantly, three kids in the target age group — read an early draft and he gave me some great advice. He noticed that sometimes I had the kids in the story discover a solution to a problem by first finding an analogy, and other times they were told the answer by an adult. He pointed out that the times the kids figured it out by observing something similar in their world were more interesting.
From that feedback on the first draft, I settled on a couple rules for how to explain business concepts in the story. The first rule is that the kids must encounter the problem and describe it in their own worlds. Then they need to arrive at a solution, somewhat serendipitously, by observing the same problem in a different context. By the time a grownup gives them the fancy words to define the problem and solution, they already have an idea what it means through their own experience. And then the subsequent plot reveals that was the correct approach. Ideally the concept is being taught three different ways: by analogy, by exposition, and by plot.
For example, one of the problems they run into, being a small company run by kids, is what happens when they agree to take on a job that they aren’t well-equipped for? In the story, they agree to clean someone’s pool that hadn’t been cleaned in years. They quickly realize there is no way they can make a profit on that job, it would simply take too many hours to clean. At one point Chance, the main character, is cleaning out a pool filter that’s been clogged with old leaves and debris and he realizes, if they don’t start filtering out customers and keeping out the wrong kind of customers, their whole business will get clogged up and no longer be functional. Later in a business meeting, Chance and his sister Addie come up with questions to screen customers to filter out the problematic ones before agreeing to take a job.
Meet the Author
I wrote my first KidVenture book after years of making up stories to teach my kids about business and economics. Whenever they’d ask how something works or why things were a certain way, I would say, “Let’s pretend you have a business that sells…” and off we’d go. What would start as a simple hypothetical to explain a concept would become an adventure spanning several days as my kids would come back with new questions which would spawn more plot twists. Rather than give them quick answers, I tried to create cliffhangers to get them to really think through an idea and make the experience as interactive as possible.
I try to bring that same spirit of fun, curiosity and challenge to each KidVenture book. That’s why every chapter ends with a dilemma and a set of questions. KidVenture books are fun for kids to read alone, and even more fun to read together and discuss. There are plenty of books where kids learn about being doctors and astronauts and firefighters. There are hardly any where they learn what it’s like to run small business. KidVenture is different. The companies the kids start are modest and simple, but the themes are serious and important.
I’m an entrepreneur who has started a half dozen or so businesses and have had my share of failures. My dad was an entrepreneur and as a kid I used to love asking him about his business and learning the ins and outs of what to do and not do. Mistakes make the best stories — and the best lessons. I wanted to write a business book that was realistic, where you get to see the characters stumble and wander and reset, the way entrepreneurs do in real life. Unlike most books and movies where business is portrayed as easy, where all you need is one good idea and the desire to be successful, the characters in KidVenture find that every day brings new problems to solve.
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