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'Flyest Fables,' Podcast Series With New Fables For The 21st Century


We are living in anxious times. Remember last month when a lot of us were worried that the U.S. and Iran were going to go to war? My sister texted me back then, and she told me that my 10-year-old niece and 8-year-old nephew came home from school and asked her, is there going to be a World War III? Our anxieties are often kids' anxieties. So how do you help a stressed-out kid relax? Morgan Givens thinks about this a lot. He tells stories on a podcast he created called Flyest Fables. His episodes usually start with a kid who's having a real-world problem, like bullying or a sick parent. In one episode, a boy named Jaleel (ph) is relieved to just get home for the day. But then his dad calls out to him.


MORGAN GIVENS: (As Jaleel's Dad) Your mom and I would like to talk to you for a second.

His shoulders sagged. He'd been so close to a little peace. But he rounded the corner into the kitchen anyway. And his parents sat there awkwardly, almost as if they were unsure where to start or how to talk to their own son. And he felt a rising tide of anxiety in his chest, sounding the drumbeat of his heart as he looked at them.

(As Jaleel's Dad) You know things haven't been great lately between your mom and I. And we just...

(As Jaleel's Mom) Jaleel, honey - me and your dad - we love you so much. Remember that, OK? And we love each other, too, but, sometimes - baby, sometimes, things don't work out always.

(As Jaleel) Mom, what are you saying?

(As Jaleel's Mom) Me and your dad - we're getting a divorce.

KING: Am I right that you are doing all of the voices?

GIVENS: I am doing all the voices.

KING: How are you doing all of the - I am fascinated by this...

GIVENS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Because it sounds perfect.

GIVENS: I think maybe that's because I grew up in a family of storytellers.

KING: Yeah? Tell me about them.

GIVENS: Yeah. So, like, my family can't get together and just tell a story and be like, oh, I went to the store, and the cashier said X, Y and Z to me. Like, they come in the house - and like, say my mom is telling me about this cashier. And she be like, y'all will not believe what happened to me at this store. Like, she gets really animated. She's like, and then the cashier looked at me and said, Ms. Givens, we don't have the 87 cents to give you back. And so, like, she, like...


GIVENS: She, like, becomes these characters. And so I think I just grew up into that. I tried to - like, Antoine's mom - I pulled that very much from my mom.

KING: Can you do Antoine's mom's voice for listeners who won't have heard her?

GIVENS: Yes. So Antoine's mom is a very kind and loving woman. But Antoine got a little lippy with her. He talked back. And she just looked at him, and she was like, Antoine, do I look like one of your little friends? And if you are a black American child...

KING: You know what that is.

GIVENS: ...If your mama says, do I look like one of your little friends? - the answer is no. I'm sorry. My bad.


GIVENS: You know, and so I tried to pull pieces of the people I know into these characters.

KING: Your characters are dealing with some serious stuff...


KING: ...Homelessness, bullying...


KING: ...Divorce...


KING: ...Illness. It's a kids' show.

GIVENS: It is.

KING: Why have all that tough stuff in a kids' show?

GIVENS: I put it there because I dealt with difficult things as a child. My parents were divorced. I'm a trans black man. I had to figure that out. And so I have this sense that just because - our refusal or inability to talk about some things doesn't mean that we shouldn't. It doesn't mean that these young people aren't going to deal with that. And so it's a, how do we give them a framework for how to deal with that? How do we help them understand that they're not at fault for their parents' divorce? And so I understand that these issues are heavy, and they can be heavy. And I tried to approach them in a way that is still sensitive and safe for young people. But these are issues that we have to address.

KING: Issues like self-doubt. And here, remember, the show is called Flyest Fables. So every episode takes a turn into magic. There's one character called Princess Keisha. Her mom, the queen, is very sick. And Keisha has to leave home and find a cure. It's a long, brutal journey.


GIVENS: Keisha pressed herself up from the ground.

(As Keisha) I can do this. I know I can. I just have to figure out how.

It would be so easy to turn around, to go back home and admit defeat. And she so wanted to. The mantra echoed like a song in her head coming to her from across the desert winds.

(Singing) Turn around. Turn around. There's something there behind you. Turn around, turn around. This thing - it will defeat you.

Keisha shook her mind clear and kept her eyes solidly on the mountain that seemed so large and immovable, the mountain that held the salvation of her mother and the entire Kingdom of Orleans.

(As Keisha) My mother, who's the entire reason I'm here. I will not turn around.

KING: How much of these characters are based on your life?

GIVENS: Oh, all of them have a little piece of it.

KING: Yeah.

GIVENS: Sometimes, I feel like I'm working through some of the difficult things I went through as a child. Like, I'm writing this love letter to my nephew, who I created it for but also for myself.

KING: How old is your nephew?

GIVENS: My nephew just turned 4. He is wild (laughter).

KING: Just turned - what's his name?

KING: His name is Mason Thomas (ph). He thinks he's Miles Morales - Spider-Man, though.


GIVENS: You can't tell him he ain't. And so I just, like - I'm like, live your dream, little man, you know?

KING: And you started writing these stories for him.

GIVENS: I did.

KING: Why? What was the need you identified?

GIVENS: I made it for him, one, because I wanted him to start being able to build the framework to understand power in the world and how it interacts. But I wanted him to have these stories that he would always have to guide him and to just be there when I'm not or when my brother might not be.

KING: Tell me the story of seeing a child listen to your show. I'm very curious what that must look like.

GIVENS: You know, it's - so I visited some second-graders.

KING: So that's 7, 8 years old.

GIVENS: Seven or 8 years old. And, you know, I didn't get to see them listen to it then, but they knew the characters. And I was like, what? And they be like, Princess Keisha - we love her. And the dragon. And I was like, how do y'all know all of this? But they held it in. And so I was like, it works. Whatever I'm doing, it's working.

KING: Morgan Givens - creator, host, storyteller in chief of Flyest Fables. Thank you so much for coming in. We really appreciate it.

GIVENS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.