McMaster alumnus continues to find ways to bring families together during the pandemic
Photos C/O Sabrina Byrnes
By: Nisha Gill, Contributor
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many people tried to look on the bright side, seeing quarantine as an opportunity to tackle personal projects and spend more time with loved ones. However, as time marches on, many are becoming restless, trying to find activities to keep themselves occupied, especially those with young children.
Programs such as Friendly Fables, a book subscription service and YouTube channel, help parents and guardians in their struggle with trying to fill the time, filling it with positive and heartfelt programming throughout the pandemic.
Friendly Fables was created by McMaster alumnus Alexis Alexander. Though the program didn’t begin until many years later, Alexander has said that the creative foundation for Friendly Fables started in his dorm room at Brandon Hall.
“I had a friend in commerce who would produce beats and we would write poetry and songs to record over them in between studying at Mills Library. I loved 90’s hip-hop and music consumed me in first year like most students. Popular songs at the time became the chorus for my university life. Writing those rhymes and immersing myself in music while at McMaster greatly influenced me later creatively with Friendly Fables for sure,” Alexander explained.
After graduating from commerce in 2004, Alexander founded Iconic Group, a digital advertising agency specializing in designing websites for Canadian companies, with two fellow McMaster grads. While the company is still thriving today, in 2017, Alexander left his job to be with his newborn son as he recovered from surgery at SickKids hospital.
During this time, he began to write rhyming stories for his children to help them through the difficult time. These stories, based on his children and their adventures, were the beginning of Friendly Fables. Since then, the project has grown.
“Friendly Fables has evolved into a rap-a-long concert performance, a series of animated cartoons and a live-action YouTube TV show for kids,” Alexander explained.
Despite the changes, the one constant throughout the years has been the aim of the program, which has always been to inspire children and make them smile.
Prior to the pandemic, Alexander had been planning to make a film using the characters from Friendly Fables; however, his plans had to be quickly altered as the pandemic spread. Instead, he combined existing concert footage with new scenes shot following social distancing guidelines. Alexander and his team succeeded in putting together A Magical Concert For Kids Stuck at Home, which was released on YouTube.
“We’re already seeing positive results from our early digital initiatives. I was so caught up in my live performances at schools, I didn’t realize how many more families I could reach by putting my songs and concerts on YouTube,” said Alexander. “I think it’s even more important now to continue with our programming for kids. I think parents, like myself, had a lot of early zeal during the quarantine. We were doing a lot of crafts and activities but as time has gone on . . . [parents] are struggling to find quality activities to keep our children entertained.”
“I think it’s even more important now to continue with our programming for kids. I think parents, like myself, had a lot of early zeal during the quarantine. We were doing a lot of crafts and activities but as time has gone on . . . [parents] are struggling to find quality activities to keep our children entertained,” said Alexander.
In uncertain times, we often hear a lot about the importance of resilience and being able to adapt to new situations. In the particular instance of the pandemic, there is also a lot of pressure not only to adapt, but to also use the newfound time in productive ways. However, there is also something to be said for finding ways to be happy and to make others happy during such times; finding ways to spark joy in yourself and others can be far more meaningful than just being productive. Alexander’s work at Friendly Fables has not only done exactly that, bringing families together in these difficult times but also encouraging the spirit of community that drew him to McMaster in the first place.
“Keep dreaming. Your dreams will unknowingly define you. Don’t ever lose sight of them and know that one day, in order to achieve them you may need to pivot and walk an uncertain, scary path,” Alexander said. “Trust in yourself and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Sometimes the most rewarding paths are the hardest to walk.”