Megan Preston Meyer on what inspired her supply chain-themed childrens’ books
There’s no shortage of discussion regarding the supply chain education provided at Universities nowadays. However, when it comes to engaging much younger age groups, there is arguably a lack of literature and resources for introducing children to the world of logistics and supply chain. One individual who is hoping to buck that trend is Megan Preston Meyer, who has released 2 children’s books that touch on basic supply chain concepts. A 3rd is currently in the works, with a Christmas-themed short-story available too.
Megan, originally from the US but now based in Zurich, has spent many years working in well-known companies such as SAB Miller and Ebay in the fields of supply chain, procurement, data and analytics.
Despite having since moved into the world of writing, she hasn’t left her enthusiasm for supply chain behind. Her latest works blend in key supply chain concepts with captivating childrens’ stories, bringing the discipline to the attention of children who could become the supply chain managers of the future.
Keen to find out more about how Megan came up with the idea, what she hopes the books can achieve, and how she produced the childrens’ picture books, we took some time out to speak to the author herself.
Thanks for speaking to us at Trans.INFO Megan. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of writing supply-chain inspired books for children?
Well, my background is in supply chain and analytics – I worked for about 10 years in the corporate world before I decided to kind of leap off the corporate ladder and become a writer. So supply chain is what I’d been thinking about, more or less day in and day out, for a decade.
Then, when I decided to start focusing more on writing and communications, I went hiking with my husband and we were talking about supply chain puns. We came up with the fact that FIFO kind of sounds like Fido, which is a classic cartoon dog’s name. So we thought that Fifo could be the little dog and we had to create a superhero to go with the canine companion, and it all kind of spiraled from there.
That led to me coming up with this story and adventure for Fifo and Supply Jane to go on. So it really did all kind of start off with some wordplay.
What kind of audience would you say the book is for?
Once I decided to actually make the book, people would ask me “what age group is it for?” And I said, “I don’t know”. I just figured I would be marketing to parents who were supply chain professionals or who had that background, and then they would use it as a tool to start the conversation with their children. That’s what it is there for really, to spark conversation with the kids.
Just recently, a couple of people have reached out to me and said that they were donating copies to schools or to child care facilities.
The books aren’t textbooks – a child will not be able to finish reading one and say, “Oh, now I know everything about supply chain”. There are little nuggets and little anecdotes, and they’ll be able to explain the manufacturing bottlenecks or the concept of first-in, first-out.
This gives a perspective into the wide world of careers that are out there. You don’t have to just be a doctor or lawyer, there’s all kinds of interesting things to learn about. Then you can talk to your mum and dad and see what they do all day. It acts as a starting point for kids and puts it on their radar that the world of supply chain exists.
How did you go about forming a narrative that could connect with a young readership and relate to the world of supply chain at the same time?
It’s funny because the story grew up more organically than you would think. Part of the reason for that is that I didn’t sit down with the goal of writing a kid’s book about supply chain.
I’ve found that trying to force a concept into a narrative is much more difficult than thinking of a fun story and then realizing this narrative illustrates a particular concept, or letting the story kind of grow up organically.
Most good stories have some underlying lesson, there’s a little bit of steering required. You’ve got to set the story in a dragon food factory, for instance, or, make sure the ingredients are all there for the story to go in the direction you want.
Then once you have the problem that needs to be solved, it’s much easier to fit the concept within a set of situations or words that a child can more easily grasp than in a textbook.
Is there any order in which you are introducing some of the basic supply chain concepts into your books?
Well, there’s two so far, and they’re both pretty standalone. The concept of the third one I’m working on is going to be on the supply chain process as a whole. So it’ll have more on upstream-downstream, how things move and how disruptions occur, which is pretty timely these days.
If you’re going to explain supply chain from an a to z kind of way, it’s such a big topic with lots of interrelated sub-topics or concepts or sub-subjects. So I figured instead of trying to tackle too much, or trying to pressure myself into creating a huge structure, once I find a concept I think is interesting that kids can relate to, then I allow that to bubble up on its own.
What kind of supply chain aspects do you think children can relate to?
The thing that I love about supply chain, logistics, and operations management is that it is so tangible – these are phenomena that we see in our everyday life.
For instance, first-in, first-out and stock rotation, which is what Fifo Saves the Day is about. That’s something you see at the grocery store and in your own kitchen.
If a five or six year old can start to understand the reason that the family’s having pork chops tonight instead of chicken is because the pork chops expire tomorrow, whereas the chicken is good until next Tuesday, then they can internalize this concept and see why the milk is in the order that it’s in at the grocery store.
If I manage an entire warehouse full of inventory, I need to make sure that I am at least cognizant of what order we are distributing. So if you start at something very tangible and visible, then it’s much easier to extrapolate up.
Captivating characters are key when it comes to books, regardless of whether the readers are adults or children. What did you do with the central character in your books to make her relatable to kids?
The main character, Supply Jane, is a kid. I don’t know exactly how old she would be, but she’s a kid just like the audience is. When I originally came up with the idea, I was going to have the main character be named Justin Time – he was going to be more of an action figure or some kind of a superhero.
Then I thought that wasn’t actually what I wanted to go for, as you don’t want someone to swoop in and save the day. You want a character that a child can see themselves in. If you’re reading a book and you see a superhero do something great, that’s entertaining, but you’re not going to be able to do that in your everyday life.
If, on the other hand, you see a kid who’s not all that different than you, except from the fact she has purple hair and you probably don’t, then you might be able to kind of internalize this a little more and feel a little more empowered to go out and look for these problems and seek ways to solve them. Perhaps even help the adults in your life too and see what they may have overlooked.
Were there any methodologies you went through when putting together the first books in the series and deciding on what vocabulary to use?
Once I was set on the story and was actually going to put it into a book form, I did a little benchmarking to see how long a typical story book is. I don’t have kids, and I haven’t read a story book for several decades now. So I did that and tried to use pretty simplistic language.
I don’t like using jargon or technical terms unless it’s done ironically. From that point of view, the language was at the right level. But I also was very conscious not to dumb anything down and there are a couple of terms in both of the books that are not going to be in a typical six-year-old’s vocabulary. That’s because I envisioned the books to be read with a parent or a teacher to start the supply chain conversation.
Kids are also smarter than we give them credit for. And how else do you learn new words and increase your vocabulary if not by reading?
Illustrations are also important for bringing childrens’ books to life. What was it like working with your illustrator, Aneta Amersdorffer?
Probably the most exciting part of the book process was when I found Aneta on the Upwork freelancer platform.
I had written this book and I needed to get it illustrated, so I went to the freelance platform and was prepared to basically dictate and even sketch out every single page full of illustrations.
However, I started working with Aneta and she’s an absolute partner. One of the best indirect compliments she gave me was that, although she doesn’t have an operations or logistics background at all, she was able to get the concept enough from just the text that I had provided and from our conversations.
That meant she could really illustrate it and do things that I would never have even come up with. She’s an artist, and while I’m good with words, I’m not good with colours and pictures and symbolism.
The first book was more of a case of “I think it should look like this, I think it should look like that”, but in the second book, she just ran with it. She put in so many little details and like any good picture book, I would say at least 20% of what you’ve gotten out of it is just from the pictures alone.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve with this series of books?
I would love it if a couple of kids out there started thinking about the concepts in the books and started considering a career in logistics or supply chain a lot earlier than they otherwise would have.
When I was working in supply chain, a lot of the people I was working with, very few of them had gone to school for supply chain management, procurement or whatever branch we were in. We just sort of ended up there through the twists and turns in our careers.
That’s great, and it works for a lot of people, but why not be more intentional? I live in Switzerland, but I grew up in the US, and a lot of my understanding of education comes from the US system. There, many of the 16 to 18 year-old population go to get a four year degree, and then usually go to grad school. There’s no other alternative really, that’s just what you do.
There’s already a lot of focus on getting teenagers interested in different types of careers and industry trades. But if we can start even earlier and get kids thinking more mindfully about they want to do, no matter what it is, then we can maybe avoid some of those 17-year-olds panicking and thinking “I’ve got to fill out a four year university application, because I don’t really have anything else in mind”.
I don’t really think that these two little books are going to completely change the next generation, but it could get a few kids to start thinking differently.