Saturday, September 19, 2009

Promotion Redux

Just a little more information about the review promotion that I wrote about in the last post! We will also be offering a $50 Amazon gift certificate to the video review that we judge to be the most creative, or that utilizes PenPal Notes in the most inventive manner. Can't wait to hear from you- please contact me at

Monday, September 14, 2009

Great Promotional Offer!

Have you used a PenPals series with your child? We would love to hear your feedback, and are offering a $10 Amazon gift certificate if you post a video review of our product on our Amazon site. Alternatively, if you would like to write up a traditional review/comment on either the Amazon store or our website, we can offer you a $5 Amazon gift certificate. Not bad for just sharing your experiences using PenPal Notes!

New to PenPals? In that case, we would love to send you a free series of your choice in exchange for your feedback.

Contact for more information!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking Shortcuts

Hey all! It's been a little while, but we've been in a bit of a transition mode here- business has been really picking up, and as school has started up once again, I am no longer working full time. I'll still be around, just not in a full time capacity!

Anyway, I thought I'd use this post to talk about taking shortcuts and poor quality work. PenPal Notes recently submitted our product for review with the iParenting Media Awards Program, a subsidiary of Disney and a product evaluation service. We entered PenPals (and paid $250 for the submission!) not to win, but to benefit and improve based upon the reviewer comments. Their website states that submissions receive:
"Three outside evaluations (evaluation sites may include: an expert, a family and a childcare setting);
Review by the iParenting Media Awards Executive Committee;
A snapshot of the evaluator feedback from the three outside evaluator sites."
The description above led us to believe that the feedback would be quite comprehensive, but what we in fact received was three short, careless sentences that showed no real understanding of PenPal Notes- indeed, they did not even look as if they had been proofread. With these concerns in mind, we then attempted to contact iParenting multiple times, and did not receive a response until nearly a week later. Several emails back and forth later, it is clear that they still do not really understand that there was a problem, or that we expected something more than three sentences when paying quite a hefty submission fee!

This tells us that when only minimal effort is put into something, as with iParenting, the results are second-rate. We here at PenPal Notes emphasize diligence and hard work, and hope to pass these lessons on to kids!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Origin of a Name

Back when PenPal Notes were being created, Pappu and his team had a little debate over what to name the central character. Pappu was pushing the name Tej, after his son, while others argued that the name was too foreign and would lead to difficulties in pronounciation. Well, we all know who won out!

Pappu believed that naming the panda 'Tej' would speak to multiculturalism and diversity. In Sanskrit, 'Tej' means 'radiant' or 'bright'!

We have since discovered that Tej is the name for honey wine from Ethiopia- talk about international appeal! Check it out to the left.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

U of C Graduate School of Business and PenPal Notes!

PenPal Notes is being used as part of a class project for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business! Students in a class called Power and Influence in Organizations are focusing on PenPals to analyze issues of social influence. PenPal Notes put a new twist on education and connection to children- they impart just 1 fact, and are not relegated to what we commonly think of as academic time (indeed, they originated off of the idea of educational notes at lunch- an occasion traditionally reserved for relaxation and leisure!) We are confident that absorbing a single nugget of information at a time is a valuable educational tool. In addition, we believe that there is space for learning at lunch or any other time, and that learning can be made fun and easy.

Keeping all of these issues in mind, the University of Chicago MBA students will be considering how to promote behavioral change- how to get parents to adopt this new method of education! PenPal Notes provide a perfect study for how to change all the ingrained habits that tell us that books are the only medium through which knowledge is gained, and that the longer the book, the better. We know that PenPal Notes don't fit easily into established categories- Is it a book? Is it education or fun?- and we can't wait until they come back with their conclusions!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quantity or Quality?

The New York Times recently featured an interesting article about the state of museum-goers today. Watching tourists taking in the sights at the Louvre, Michael Kimmelman comments on how few people actually took the time to really examine a work of art. Instead, most people glanced at the wall labels and moved on, trading in quality for quantity. He continues,
"At one time a highly educated Westerner read perhaps 100 books, all of them closely. Today we read hundreds of books, or maybe none, but rarely any with the same intensity."
I believe that this speaks precisely to the premise behind PenPal Notes- less is really more. Originating with the idea of building upon the traditional lunch note, it quickly became apparent that giving children a single fact at a time helped with information retention. This concept has become our guiding philosophy, and children are able to really take their time and digest the information at hand. While books are of course important for any child's education, PenPal Notes provides something different- just 1 fact a day. This means that this 1 fact can be read, contextualized and discussed thoroughly, a practice that is all too often lost amid our busy, modern lives!

Monday, August 3, 2009

New series in the works!

We here at PenPal Notes have some very exciting news! We will be starting work shortly on two new series, Discover India and Discover China, and are looking for some help. First off, and most importantly, we need someone to write either of the two series! Do you know anyone who you think would do a good job? Are you yourself interested? If so, feel free email to for more information. We are also looking to create a new animal friend for Tej- any suggestions? We would love your input, and look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Check out some of Tej and Pappu's lunch notes!

"do you know when the great spinx was built? Today will be a great day. Do you want to get ice cream tonight. You are just like the great spinx to me and lia. When I am older I will be the spinx to you and papu. Love Tej"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Video Interview with Tej!

Hey guys, I recently interviewed Tej about PenPal Lunch Notes, and you can check it out below! This was Tej's first video interview, so he starts off a little shy, but warms right up in no time. We talked about his general impressions, his favorite facts and tested him on specific information. Tej completed Meet the U.S. Presidents 3 months ago, and while he had trouble on some questions, I was pretty impressed by what he was able to retain. By relating associated information, Tej could recount specific dates and minute details- George Washington's years in office, Teddy Roosevelt's childhood asthma, Truman's middle initial -facts that I didn't even know!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I’m Emi, I’m interning at PenPal Notes for the summer and I’ll be keeping this blog for a little while! I’m originally from Brooklyn, I will be a junior at Vassar College come this fall, and my favorite PenPals series is Dinosaurs Days.

Enough about me, the real reason that I’m posting is because I am going to be using this blog to interview PenNotes customers, and share their experiences and tips with you. And my first interviewee is none other than Pappu Panda, the creator of PenPal Lunch Notes!

PenPal Notes requires commitment from parents, and Pappu has discovered that the key is in consistency- consistency in giving the notes and asking follow-up questions on a daily basis. Working with Pappu, I know firsthand that he and his son Tej have short attention spans, and these notes allow them to digest a concise fact every day and to engage in some father-son bonding. Like anything worth its while, making PenNotes a success takes time, patience and creativity, but the results say everything- Tej's writing skills have improved, he is now a repository of all sorts of interesting facts and he loves spending time on it!

How did you use your PenNotes? Did you put them in your child’s lunchbox or come up with other creative strategies?

Because Tej's school provides him with lunch, Pappu Panda instead slips PenNotes into Tej's backpack, tucks them in the bathroom mirror in the morning, or just simply hands them to him- PenNotes can be used anywhere, anytime!

If you used more than one series, which one was your favorite and why? Which series was your child’s favorite?

Pappu and his family family have used 3 series thus far: Meet the U.S. Presidents, Discover Africa and Traveling Taste Buds. Everyone's favorite was Meet the Presidents- perfect because the material was age appropriate (Tej is 7), it imparted good lessons about leadership and Tej's interest was already piqued because of Obama!

Most importantly, this series worked because the entire family was committed. In the beginning, Tej wouldn't read the entire PenNote, or would read the personalized message on the back before reading the front. To encourage Tej to read the note in its entirety, Pappu Panda created various incentives. Now, 2 months after completing Meet the Presidents, Tej is still able to answer questions about important dates in presidential history!

What was the hardest part about using PenPal Lunch Notes, for you or your child?

Though Pappu Panda initially forgot to give out a note every day, he realized that it was his responsibility to make the experience fun- so he added stick figures and sudoku on the back. Pappu also read the PenNotes thoroughly, made sure that Tej read the entire note, and then provided questions. While a little tough in the beginning, recently, Tej has been asking where his daily note was!

Do you feel that your child’s skills in reading or communication have improved since using PenPals?

Absolutely, a daily fact that is contextualized and socialized really works! Tej's teacher noted that his sentence structure needed improvement, so Pappu had Tej write to him. Upon encountering writer's block, Pappu gave Tej examples, imposed a time limit and asked him to use a key word from the PenNote in his own message. Over the next month, Tej's writing skills did improve, and by imparting 1 fact/day, Pappu Panda could make sure that Tej really understood the content of the notes!

Furthermore, once the PenNotes were contextualized, Tej started incorporating the information into his daily life, even quoting Abraham Lincoln's "Whatever you are, be a good one" from Meet the Presidents.

Do you have any additional tips or strategies?

Pappu Panda made PenPal Lunch Notes interactive, colorful and fun- now, PenPals are a solid part of Pappu and Tej's daily routine!

I hope that was helpful and interesting! We will be posting more interviews shortly, as well as a video post starring Tej himself. If you are interested in having your own interview featured here, we are giving out Amazon gift certificates or PenPals products up to a $48 cash value. Please contact me at for more information!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Starting the PenPal Notes Challenge with Tej

Finally... after 4+ years of working on my pet project, PenPal Notes Series have arrived... all 21,000 boxes (7 series x 3000 packs)!! They look absolutely great and I am one proud Panda (though I would have preferred to be a Pappu Lion or Tiger... but Panda it is)

With all sorts of activities to promote and sell the product underway, and me constantly talking up the learning and connecting benefits of our education lunch notes, I recently reflected that while I am the INVENTOR... I am NOT an active user of the product!! My excuse... Tej no longer takes lunch from home since the British School does such a great job with their lunch program (all you can eat.. and they even serve sushi... we can't compete with that with our daily peanut butter jelly sandwiches). The only problem... we advertise Penpal Notes as "lunch time, bedtime... ANYTIME"

In short (very rare for me...cause i am one talking panda), I decided to start the ANYTIME giving of notes with Tej two (2) weeks ago, beginning with the "Meet the US Presidents" series.

Over just the 2 short weeks I have learned that a bit of creativity and training has been required for both Tej and I to make this work, have fun, and for the learning part to happen. I wont lie... it was a tough start... it felt like KUMON!! I had to figure out what to write as my personal message, try to contextualize it to the message on the note, find a surprise place to put the note, and then remember to talk about it later. My first big lesson... you don't talk about it... they don't reeeallllly read it!! So I started talking about it.

What seemed like a chore to start with, is now coming more naturally. I am discovering great spots to put the notes (ex: bathroom mirror for a morning message, my back pocket with the note almost falling out when i pick him up from school) and being creative with my own messages.

Tej and I are having fun and the learning retention is so phenomenal (because its ONLY ONE (1) fact and it gets so much time and attention that retention is inevitable) that I decided to blog my personal experience and experimentation with PenPal Notes: Education Lunch Notes, starting with Meet the US Presidents.

Pappu Panda

PS- I am using the Amazing Animal Series for the morning bathroom notes because they are 1 liners and fun for the morning.