When Ben Okon’s son Judah was born, early in the COVID pandemic, Ben’s grandmother was in an assisted living facility, isolated from the world.
To connect great-grandson and great-grandmother, Ben created videos as he read to Judah.
There was just one problem: Most of the books were not very good.
Ben’s full-time gig is with Google’s cloud strategy team. But at Staples High School, where he graduated in 2006, Ben had been influenced in writing by English teacher Gus Young.
So he set out to write the books he really wanted Judah to read.
Using his analytical skills, Ben researched rhyming, meter and story length. He discovered dozens of studies on children’s literature, attention spans and themes, and plenty of online resources for art and cover design.
He built a network of professionals to guide him. Then he got to work.
Ben learned that in children’s books, meter matters more than rhyme. If words don’t flow smoothly, even simple language is uncomfortable to read.
For 2 years, he wrote. All along he solicited feedback from relatives, friends, children’s authors and random playground parents.
Ben’s subject matter is — well, another matter.
He takes complicated ideas, and makes them kid-friendly. “Younger Me Academy” — his new 8-book series — covers topics like the science of generosity and happiness, growth mindset, the scientific method, and equity versus equality.
“Think of them as the picture book form of impactful insights from thought leaders like Adam Grant (author of ‘Give and Take’) and Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize economist and author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’)” he says.
They’re read-along books for newborns to age 8. They’ve got all the important elements like immersive illustrations, lovable characters and adventures.
Yet each book introduces a life skill that most adults never learned in school. (The tagline is: “Stories for kids. Lessons for life.”)
Welcome to children’s literature, 2023-style.
Ben made sure to get everything right. He wrote over 200 drafts. And even though “Owen and Lou Otter Help Each Otter” is not “War and Peace,” that’s a lot of revisions.
Yet while Ben set out to remake children’s books, traditional publishers were not buying.
Like their counterparts in the adult book world, they’re resistant to new concepts. For that reason — and to keep control of creative content — Ben decided to self-publish.
Using IndieGogo, he set out to raise $20,000. That would cover the cost of bulk manufacturing, and allow him to supply copies to non-profits at reasonable rates.
His plan resonated. It took just 2 days to raise all the pledges. His target audience — “growth-oriented families” — was hungry for STEM children’s books.
The campaign is live until May 25. Founders will receive all 8 books, at nearly 60% off. They’ll then be offered to the public, one title at a time.
It’s taken Ben Okon 3 years to complete his “Younger Me Academy” books. It will take much less time for parents and children to read the 32 to 40 pages in each one.
But — as they join other classics of kids’ literature — odds are good Ben’s books will be read over and over again.
(Readers of any age can support “06880.” Please click here. Thank you!)
The world can always use good children’s books. But there are many, many excellent children’s books – many right in the Westport Library. Funny ones, educational and serious ones. There is a section of books on helping children handle the serious and painful things that life throws us. Death of a pet, death of a parent, teacher or friend. When you have Gay parents, a parent in prison, being bullied. Everything. I haven’t looked at this section in 10 years and l’m sure many, many more have been added. Ittan adventure looking through all of the wonderful children’s books in a library or bookstore.