Meet Lauryn Wendus, Creator of the Oliver Poons Children's Brand And #YellowHatsForCats
Today we are honored to bring you an interview with Lauryn Wendus, author of "Oliver Poons and the Bright Yellow Hat" and creator of the Oliver Poons Children's Brand - a burgeoning line of books, educational workbooks, and more - all inspired by her rescue cat Oliver! Lauryn turned a hardship (Lyme's Disease) into an inspiring book and children's brand - hear her story and learn about Oliver and the book - straight ahead!
That Cat Blog: Tell us about yourself and your background!
Lauryn Wendus: I don’t know if I can say I ever thought I would be an author! When I was a young child I loved writing and illustrating short stories, but as I grew into adulthood, I became much more focused on the business world. In my early twenties, I worked predominantly in the finance world, but that all changed when I contracted a very severe case of Lyme disease and was no longer able to work my previous job.
Writing children’s books came about because in the midst of a series of bizarre neurological symptoms resulting from Lyme disease, I began writing with my left hand (prior to this I was solely right-handed). I began to explore this odd symptom and what seemed to naturally flow from it was writing children’s stories. At the time this all started, I was in bed for the majority of my days and since my rescue cat, Oliver, was constantly beside me, he became a good source of inspiration for the main character!
TCB: Tell us about your co-author.
LW: My mother is the illustrator of our hardcover children’s book, Oliver Poons and the Bright Yellow Hat, and co-author of our workbook, Oliver Poons and the Bright Yellow Hat: Worksheets and Activities Pre-K through Grade 2. Being a co-author of an educational workbook was probably more in the line of what she may expected at some point in her life versus being an illustrator. I think she could most definitely say she never expected to be an illustrator even moreso than I never expected to be an author! I only knew she had it in her to illustrate because I grew up admiring her old sketch pads from art classes she took as a hobby in college.
Our first book, Oliver Poons and the Bright Yellow Hat, started as more of a mother-daughter project to work on during my recovery than a business. It gave us both something positive to focus on other than my illness. It only turned into a business after we ordered a small test run of books and sold out in the first few months. Then we realized that a project that had brought us happiness seemed to bring a smile to others’ faces as well. We’ve continued to grow since then and are expanding to include additional books and other merchandise.
TCB: Why did you write this book? Did you have a "lightbulb" moment? Describe how this project came to be.
LW: I think I ended up pursuing the project as much as I did because I was struggling facing the fact that I could no longer work a traditional job. I had always loved keeping busy prior to getting sick. Having an illness that kept me mostly homebound and bedridden for a long period of time was difficult for me. I felt I couldn’t contribute to the world in the same way as i could when I was working and was looking for something that I could do with my limited ability. Writing became a creative outlet for me and seeing parents’ and children’s faces light up at the Oliver Poons characters made me feel it was worth pursuing on a larger scale.
TCB: Tell us about the "add ons" to the book - workbooks and educational resources. Do you have a background in education? What inspired this portion of the brand?
LW: My mother as over 30 years in education as a Special Education teacher and Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach. We started learning that teachers were using the book in the classroom to introduce primary-grade students to poetry and rhyme. We had received feedback that it would be helpful to have ready-made worksheets and activities that could also be used in the classroom to address a wide-range of students’ learning needs. We used this feedback to create our 100+ page Pre-K through Grade 2 workbook, which includes activities from alphabet letter writing all the way up to different writing prompts that encourage older students to think about the story in different ways. The workbook is being used by both parents and teachers for home and classroom use.
TCB: What are your aspirations for the Oliver Poons brand?
LW: I’d like the brand to grow to include additional baby and children’s merchandise alongside the books. We’re in the midst of developing more children’s yellow hats, stuffed animals, and an interactive floor game to add to our brand now. We’re putting in a lot of effort to keep manufacturing in the United States as much as possible and would really love to be known as a happy, American-made children’s company that provides parents with positive, locally-sourced products they can feel good about buying.
Our mission statement is "Happy Children. Happy Causes. Happy Careers." First and foremost, we want to make products that bring a smile to children’s faces and also encourage learning where possible. Our brand is nothing without creating products that make children happy.
Our “Happy Causes” aspect relates to our commitment to give back to others in need. We run a variety of programs to donate a portion of proceeds to charitable organizations relating to children and animals. Our new #YellowHatsforCats campaign just launched to help raise funding for animal rescue groups through Oliver Poons purchases. We’re including a directory of all participating shelters on yellowhatsforcats.com. Consumers can click on their local animal shelter to support and the shelter will receive 30% of the purchase. We’ll be promoting the campaign with pictures of cats in yellow hats from different shelters to raise awareness.
Lastly, “Happy Careers” relates to my desire to help others create business amidst personal challenges. My website differentwork.org is set up as a way for people to find, share, and combine their skills to create something new in a context outside the traditional workforce, similar to what my mother and I did to create Oliver Poons!
TCB: What has been the most rewarding part of the whole process for you?
LW: I think the most rewarding aspect has been to see others’ reaction to the Oliver Poons characters. Seeing others smile from a project that brought me joy during a difficult time makes the project seem like it’s come full circle. Having learned a lot of business experience along the way, I’m also really looking forward to being able to help other entrepreneurs who feel the odds are stacked against them. I think that will also be a very rewarding experience.
TCB: Tell us about Oliver!
LW: I adopted Oliver as a kitten from the rescue group, No Kitten Left Behind, in East Hartford, CT. It’s hard to believe he’s now 6 years old! He’s been my constant companion throughout my illness and we’re definitely best friends. He follows me from room to room, sits on my lap while I’m working (he’s even with me now for this interview) and always keeps me company. He has a stuffed bear (we call her Emma) that he carries from room to room and that he used to bring to me when I was stuck in bed. Other than that, he’s a pretty laid back cat. The character Orange Kitty in the book is inspired by the neighbor’s orange cat who Oliver always sees through the window.
TCB: Is the child in the website pics your own?
LW: The child (Fox) is actually the child from the blog The February Fox. He was the first child who officially “reviewed” Oliver Poons! As you can see by the smile, it was a hit! :)
TCB: What's next for you and Oliver?
LW: Oliver is particularly excited about our #YellowHatsforCats campaign to help fund animal shelters so they can save more rescue kitties like himself! Other than that, we’re busy expanding the Oliver Poons brand to include additional children’s merchandise. Hopefully you’ll see the whimsical Oliver Poons characters on books, clothing, and accessories in stores across the country in the near future!