Caleb Brown: This is the Cato Daily
Podcast for Friday, December 2, 2016. I am Caleb Brown. Trying
to turn The Road to Surfdom or The Creature from
Jekyll Island into popular children’s books would be a
daunting task, but it’s a task that Connor Boyack has done his best
to undertake. In his new book series, The Tuttle Twins
find themselves, with some artistic license, facing the same
problems that confound governments and civil society. We spoke this
week about how he is trying to bring the freedom philosophy to
Connor Boyack: One of the challenges is really
distilling the core ideas down to, in our case, a sixty-page
children’s book. You want to hit three to five core ideas that not
only children can understand, but quite frankly we are reaching an
entirely new adult audience who is not familiar with the original
works and who probably would never pick up you know, Economics
in One Lesson. But through this very nonthreatening medium,
when it’s a shared experience with their child, now we’re reaching
an entirely new audience hitting those very fundamental core
Caleb Brown: Okay so the one that spoke to me
most clearly was The Law by Frederic Bastiat. That would
seem to be the most simple of the tasks to translate that because
The Law, of course, itself is very short.
Connor Boyack: Yeah.
Caleb Brown: And the lessons there are clear as
Connor Boyack: Yeah I mean it’s fun too when
you can weave in you know, legalized plunder and so we have a
pirate in the story. I mean you can have some fun with it and bring
this down to a child’s level, but I’ve written five books for
adults and now five books for children, and it’s actually more
difficult to write a child’s book. You think oh it’s just short,
but it’s hard to have something where you strike the right balance
where it’s informational, it’s educational, it’s even inspiring in
a way, it’s uplifting, but fun for kids to read it over and over
again and so getting that balance was hard. That book, The
Law, was our first and so we spent a lot of time really trying
to refine the story, figure out how do we communicate the basic
principles of Bastiat’s essay in a way that’s going to be
long-lasting, kids want to read over and over again.
Caleb Brown: Okay, you also more recently
you’ve done The Creature from Jekyll Island, which is all
about the inflationary effects of giving some central bank the
authority to print money, so how did you boil that down?
Connor Boyack: So that one was fun. It’s
probably the darker book of our series. And so we took an actual
creature, the twins, the Tuttle twins, imagine this creature that
can go around and change prices and manipulate the money supply.
And so we introduced an actual creature, a monster into the book
that is kind of the nemesis and the you know, the bad guy in the
story. And so they can kind of pinpoint the bad effects of all this
economic manipulation on this creature. And of course they come to
understand that the creature is just a nickname and it’s actually a
group of bankers and politicians and it’s a bigger issue than that,
but the visualization and the story is wrapped around the creature.
And so we try and do little cues, little hooks like that so a kid
can understand well when you say Federal Reserve most
eight-year-olds would have their eyes glaze over, but when you tie
it to a scary creature that they’ve seen in the book and they can
kind of wrap their mind around, suddenly parents have a hook to
talk about these ideas with their children.
Caleb Brown: Alright, some of the other topics
you’ve done, The Road to Surfdom.
Connor Boyack: Uh-huh.
Caleb Brown: So how was that translated?
Connor Boyack: That’s our most recent one and
we change - we did a little play-on words. So in our case, serfdom
is S-U-R-F-D-O-M, the name of a beach in the book. Surfdom is a
beach and the government has a master transportation plan and they
make an actual road to the beach, Surfdom, using eminent domain, of
course. And so the twins uncover the unintended consequences of
collectivism. They see that oh, because of imminent domain this
farmer’s land was stolen. Because he can’t do his dairy farm
anymore, the local creamery that has been in town in for a century
went out of business, causing all of these people to lose their
jobs, and so on and so forth. And so they traced the ripple effect
to be able to see, as Hayek warned us, the dangers of collectivism
and central planning and so we help the young readers of our series
begin to observe those effects. So in Bastiat’s words right, they
can become a good economist by tracing not only the immediate
visible effects, but also the invisible and prolonged effects as
Caleb Brown: Okay, so it’s strikingly similar
to Economics in One Lesson, as well.
Connor Boyack: Definitely. And that was the
fourth in our series. The title of ours is The Tuttle Twins and
the Food Truck Fiasco, similarly trying to convey as Hazlitt
does in that book what the effects are of unfair competition,
overregulation, and distortion of the economy. So we use the story
which is a quite relevant one across the country here in America of
food trucks competing against restaurants, unfairly being told that
they can’t you know, park and operate within so many feet of a
restaurant. Institute for Justice and
others have been litigating on this issue most recently and so we
introduced that story because it’s a very real one that many of our
young readers are familiar with, they’ve been to a food truck, and
we can use that as a visual and the real-world example to show what
Hazlitt was talking about decades ago.
Caleb Brown: Have you thought about branching
out into doing other things that aren’t so strongly tied to some
specific classic work?
Connor Boyack: Yeah, and in fact we’re soon
going to be launching a YouTube series. I haven’t announced this
anywhere else yet, so your listeners get it first. Probably in
early January we are going to launch a YouTube series where each
video will treat a different current event or historical issue. The
books are going to be reserved for being based on original
treatises, texts, essays, and so forth. We want to point our
readers, after they’ve read our book, to the original works so they
learn more and can go deeper in that issue. So we’re going to do
ten books in the series. Each one is going to be based on a book or
an essay. But we want to branch out. There’s so much more material
to cover. And so we’re going to have a video series with some child
actors covering all sorts of other issues based with the same kind
of framework and philosophy as The Tuttle Twins book
series, we’re going to take it to video soon as well.
Caleb Brown: You’ve got these books and as you
mentioned before we started recording, you are selling them. You
are packing them up and shipping them. I’ve seen pictures…
Connor Boyack: Some late nights.
Caleb Brown:…I’ve seen pictures on Facebook
of you doing exactly that. So what is the next step beyond you
know, publishing you said ten books, and YouTube series, but what’s
Connor Boyack: Yeah. So it’s been kind of an
experimental project. When we started, we didn’t know if the market
was there. Elijah, who is the illustrator, is a friend of mine,
he’s also a father of young children, we said hey let’s do a book.
Let’s see how it goes. The response is overwhelming, we’re turning
it into a series, we’re doing a video series. But you know it
spread very well through word of mouth, certainly in libertarian
circles but beyond in home school circles and elsewhere. But we’ve
come to realize that there’s so much more compelling of a need to
compete for the minds of young children where they’re not getting
this information. So specifically in public, you know, private and charter
schools where the parents aren’t familiar with these original
works, the teachers certainly aren’t, they’re not presenting this
information. If anything, kids are getting the opposite type of
information in schools. So early next year we’re going to begin a
campaign, a donor-supported campaign, to try and fundraise enough
to widely distribute these books directly into schools, giving
teachers lessons plans so they can teach some of these economic and
political concepts directly to their kids and then the kids get the
books to take home and continue reading.
Caleb Brown: How does this translate? I mean
for parents who buy these books and maybe are not familiar with the
original works, what’s the sort of spillover impact for
Connor Boyack: That was actually accidental. We
figured hey, let’s create children’s books. And then about a year
into it we started hearing a lot of stories of the parents
themselves being engaged in and informed about these ideas.
Becoming really intrigued and going and reading the original you
know, books that ours are based on. Beginning to you know, become
part of the liberty movement. So we almost kind of stumbled onto
that secondary audience, but now it’s a big focus of ours, to try
and appeal directly to the parents, older siblings as well,
marketing to them some information, some courses, some books that
kind of build upon our series for an older audience. And so for us
really it’s about reaching an entirely new audience. For too long
in the liberty movement we’ve waited for people to graduate college
you know, or at least high school, to get to them. But by then
they’ve got a couple decades of you know, propaganda for lack of a
better word, that we have to overcome. We have to de-educate them
before we then educate them on these ideas and this philosophy. So
we’re trying to say let’s start from a young age, let’s build from
there, let’s get them while they’re young, introduce these ideas,
and then see what the future holds.
Caleb Brown: How has - we’re recording of
course on Cyber Monday - how was Black Friday for you and how have
Connor Boyack: Yeah, like you say we’ve been
packing up the books ourselves so it’s been a lot of work. We’re
soon going to have to transition to something else because it was
kind of a you know, side project, but it’s becoming a huge thing.
Parents are spreading the word like crazy, social media has gone
nuts. We’re you know, I think we’ve passed, we’re coming up on
25,000 books sold. And so definitely it’s kind of reaching kind of
critical mass where we have to commercialize this a little bit more
because it’s reaching a much bigger audience that we need to be
able to support. So we’ll get there, it’s been a ton of fun, and
the response has been awesome.
Caleb Brown: Connor Boyack is author of The
Tuttle Twins book series. Subscribe to this podcast at
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