Wendy Lattimore is a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based mom who was having a hard time getting her son to read. He was struggling to read on his own and even when she would try and read to him, she just couldn’t get him to enjoy the stories. She decided to get creative, and the result is her business Sunny The Mail Snail. Sunny is a fictional snail character who writes weekly letter to kids telling them about his silly adventures and the places and animals he visits. During the pandemic Wendy has found increased interest in Sunny the Mail Snail, as children stuck at home find these weekly letters as a source of comfort, adventure and joy.
Lattimore’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
My son was a struggling reader and not interested at all in reading books. He wouldn’t sit still for me to read to him and would get really overwhelmed when trying to read a book on his own. I grew up with my nose in a book and felt I “traveled the world” through my adventures of reading and I wanted the same for him.
Dismayed and determined, I decided to try a different route. Maybe, just maybe, he would be willing to read in a different context. So, I created this fictional character, “Sunny the Mail Snail” who had crazy adventures delivering mail to animals around the world. He had a best friend, Bluebird, who flew him where he needed to go. He wrote letters back to my son, Tucker, about his silly adventure every week. The key was sending them often enough that he stayed excited and full of anticipation, so I sent him a letter from “Sunny” every week. It worked! He literally waited on the porch for the mailperson to show up with his Sunny letter and ran in the house to read about Sunny’s next adventure. It worked so well, I decided to polish them up and share them with kids around the world. Not only has it helped kids work on their reading skills but Sunny now offers so much more. Now, kids get a cute Sunny the Mail Snail plush, a letterbox to store their letters, a wall poster to see where he goes and a letter every week! Kids feel so important getting their own mail and they quickly find a friend in Sunny. It is a long-lasting gift that kids will remember for a long time.
Success is instilling a love of reading, learning, imagination and helping kids around the world feel important. One of my favorite reading quotes is “It is not true we have only one life to love, if we can read, we can live as many lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”― S.I. Hayakawa. That’s what I feel these letters provide to kids, a weekly glimpse into the big wide world of geography, animals and adventure. I want kids to dream of going to Africa one day to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, to camp under the stars in a desert, to scuba dive in the Caribbean. If kids are laughing, dreaming, reading and learning then that is success to me. And, it’s such a joy to get mail. I am successful in spreading joy and I love it.
To date I feel most successful in filling a void during this pandemic. Kids are stuck at home without access to libraries, friends and fun. Sunny has become a faithful friend, week after week, giving kids something to look forward to regardless of whether they can leave the house or not.
I just received an email from a parent that defined my success, “Lane LOVED getting these letters in the mail each week. It really brightened her day, which was wonderful during this difficult time. She hasn’t been able to see her friends during the pandemic because we have some high-risk individuals in our family and Sunny became her friend. She made up games to play with Sunny and her other stuffed animals. She drew pictures for Sunny. She sleeps with Sunny most nights. It’s a really wonderful experience!” That is exactly what I was hoping for and that makes me feel very proud and successful. I think about the bored and lonely kids who really, really, need a friend and Sunny has become their friend during a difficult time.
Trying to grow and start a business while working full time for someone else has had many challenges. Leaving the house for your other “job” when you want all your time dedicated to your own venture. I have one foot in the “I need insurance and a steady paycheck” world and the other foot in the “let me go out on a limb and devote all my time to my own business” world. I need to take that second leap of faith to give my business my all, but it’s hard to take that risk without fear and worry. I get up extra early and work extra late to get to spend time on growing my own business and I know that the scales will tip in my favor to go at it full-time soon. Plus, I feel like it’s been so hard to spread the word about Sunny the Mail Snail and what a great gift this is. I am not so great at social media and can’t afford a big marketing agency so it’s been slower and harder than I thought to scale and grow.
My mom is my greatest role model. She worked two jobs as a single parent raising two girls on her own. She lived paycheck to paycheck her entire life and did that so we could have all the things we needed. Her sacrifices and determination to support us are a driving factor for me now. I see how hard she worked for us always putting her own needs aside. She helps me with the letters now and really enjoys it. I really want her hard work to pay off for generations to come. My two boys see how hard I am working at both jobs too and know they too will remember how hard parents work for their families.