Happy the Birthday Bird: Interview with Author and Entrepreneur Monica Goodson

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Happy the Birthday Bird is an adorable book and toy set that was developed by a North Carolina family and inspired by birthday celebrations. “Happy the Birthday Bird” is a character that practically leaps off the page with personality. The book is imaginative and extremely interactive. It is filled with action prompts so children can interact with the character and, with each turn of the page, feel as if he is responding to them. Rarely has a character in a book come across as so defined—not merely cute and kind, but also fun and with a definitive personality that is a hallmark of a talented creator/writer.

Happy is the brainchild of Monica Goodson and CD Strong (also known as Zippy) who created the character for their son, Mylen. At the age of eight, Mylen woke up so excited about his birthday (and the chocolate chip pancakes his mother was making in honor of the occasion) that he started dancing around the house. Noticing that Mylen’s dance including arm flapping moves, his father proclaimed that he “looked like a birthday bird.” And so, the concept for Happy was born.

Since its launch in February 2020, the book and toy have received much praise. Goodson and Strong have backgrounds in corporate information technology fields and they put this to good use: the book includes an original and cheerful one-minute-long “birthday song” that can be listened to on a smartphone via a QR reader.

The book starts out with an introduction to Happy who explains that he is of the birthday-bird species, comes from the land of TuYu (a clever play on the words “to you”), and exists to help children celebrate their birthday every year. Happy tells of his life growing up with two loving parents and a pet frog named Jumper. Yet Happy was born with an underdeveloped wing and flying with one wing smaller than the other was very difficult. Unless he could fly, Happy could not get a license to be an official “Birthday Bird” and help make children happy. He never gave up on himself and eventually earned his credentials with help from his magical yellow balloon friend, Pop, who is a fantastic flying assistant!

The origin story of resilience is cute and appeals to adults and children alike. Yet the book’s interactive aspects are where it’s true magic lies. The second half of the publication is dedicated to pages that children (or parents/guardians) must fill out about themselves, their birthdays, the presents they got, the places they went, and the people they celebrated with. There is also room to include photos of birthday cakes and parties…for years on end. Hence, this book is truly designed to become an object of traditional use (although there is nothing stopping kids from playing with Happy all year long).

The Happy plush toy that comes with the set is incredibly impressive. A remarkable feat of fabric pairing and design, it includes an array of colors and cloth textures that will delight children of any age. It is obvious that a lot of work and planning went into the crafting of Happy and the result was a high-quality and delightfully cuddly toy.

Monica Goodson recently discussed Happy and her hopes for the future of the brand.

Meagan Meehan (MM): This book was inspired by your son so how do you typically celebrate his birthday?

Monica Goodson (MG): Birthday celebrations are big in our household. Birthdays in our household are like Christmas where our son eagerly anticipates his big day and he frequently inquires about his birthday cake and presents days leading up to the day. Creating traditions around our son’s birthday and celebrating his special day has always been important to us. On the morning of each birthday he wakes up to a house that’s been beautifully decorated with simple, festive and fun decorations and a special breakfast which usually consists of homemade chocolate chip pancakes. Every year he has a birthday dinner party with his family where we indulge in his favorite foods and the celebration ends with his favorite homemade cake which is always some variation of chocolate.

MM: How long did it take to write the book and come up with the character of Happy?

MC: It took a little over two years for us to complete the entire project which consisted of writing the book; designing, developing and manufacturing the plush; composing our two original birthday songs, and creating Happy the Birthday Bird short animated video.

MM: How did you decide on the look of Happy?

MC: During our research phase, we visited different types of stores (specialty toy, gift, mass retail, department and craft stores) online and in person to study the features, fabrics and feel of plush that were on the market at that time. We sent pictures of plush to our product development team and noted the various features that we liked about each plush. Our toy designer and illustrator used our input as well as the product development team’s industry knowledge and expertise to create 4 or 5 sketches for us to choose from. We reviewed the sketches individually and as a group and selected the Happy that appealed to the majority of the team.

MM: Happy has one wing smaller than the other, so what inspired that characteristic and its subsequent effect on Happy’s flying ability?

MC: During a time when bullying is at an all-time high, we thought it would be important to show children that it is ok to be different because we do not live in a perfect world. We believe it’s important for children to learn about inclusion and acceptance at an early age. It was imperative that we show our young audience that we’re all unique and oftentimes uniqueness leads to greatness. Happy’s smaller wing hampered his ability to fly which encouraged him to become creative and seek alternative solutions in order to learn how. Through encouragement and support from his family and friends, he eventually found a way to fly which was to rely on his friend Pop the Balloon to give him the extra lift he needed. It took him longer to learn because he had to work harder and overcome his physical challenge but, eventually, he overcame his obstacles with grit and the help from his family and community in order to follow his dreams.

MM: How long did it take to get this book and plush produced and what was the process of finding a factory to collaborate with like?

MC: It was imperative that the factory we use had experience working with small manufacturers and could produce the book, plush, retail packaging and shipping boxes in house or manage outsourced factories to produce some of the product. All of the factories had to be reputable with a history of producing quality products. Our product development team, which consisted of toy industry experts, assisted us with finding a factory to collaborate with. They contacted 4 different factories, provided a detailed description of our product and requested quotes from them. Our team of knowledgeable experts selected factories they had previously worked with in the past or factories that someone from the toy industry inner circle had worked with previously. Eventually, one of the factories emerged as the clear winner. This factory was responsive to all of our questions, open to price negotiating, and had the overall best prices.

MM: How did your careers in technology help you create and promote “Happy the Birthday Bird”?

MC: The roles we held during our careers in technology involved troubleshooting, paying close attention to detail, customer support and working with sales people. All of these skills were vital while creating the product, during the production and continue to be vital as we promote the product. During the product development phase, there were a myriad of design discussions and changes, book changes, reviews and edits as well as problems to solve and work through. Although we had no experience writing a book, creating a toy, music or animation, we had the requisite skills gained from our technology careers to guide us along the way.

MM: What was the toughest part about designing and launching this brand?

MC: The toughest part about launching this brand was COVID-19. My partner and I had just returned to NC from the New York Toy Fair on Feb 26 and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our full product shipment so that we could have a big product launch. We were planning to have a big birthday celebration launch, attend kid events and an industry trade show in order to get exposure for Happy. We received the product on March 6 and a few days later states around the country including NC started declaring states of emergencies and shortly thereafter the stay at home orders followed. The big birthday celebration we envisioned to kick-off our product launch was no longer a priority because the world as we once knew it was changing. All of the in-person events were cancelled. We contemplated if we should proceed with selling on our website or waiting for a while. Ultimately, we decided to move forward because we knew parents were seeking other ways to celebrate their children’s birthdays because traditional birthday parties were being cancelled. Prior to COVID, the trademark research was a tough part of launching this brand. At one point during the process, we considered abandoning our original brand name and finding an alternative. We had numerous calls and email exchanges with our patent and trademark attorney before deciding to proceed with submitting our application with our original trademark name.

MM: This book is so personalized. So far, what sorts of reactions have you gotten from consumers?

MC: The response has been overwhelmingly supportive. Children of all ages have embraced Happy’s magic and fallen in love with the story. They find the plush soft, comforting and fulfilling. Adults like the book’s positive message about overcoming obstacles and appreciate that they can create new memories with this new tradition for many years to come. They love that the product provides a way for kids to feel special on their birthday especially during this pandemic when birthdays look different. We receive many compliments about Happy’s quality craftsmanship and the beautiful illustrations used throughout the book, on the packaging and even the shipping box. The positive support has exceeded our expectations.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for Happy in the near future?

MC: Below are the ultimate goals for Happy. Some of these goals are in the near future and some are intermediate to long term goals:

  • partner with venues offering birthday parties and nonprofit organizations that provide birthday celebrations for children experiencing homelessness and for families in-need
  • develop the other characters from the book into plush figures
  • expand our product line
  • expand our distribution channel to specialty gift and toy stores
  • license our brand
  • Produce an animated series

MM: In the future, might Jumper the Frog come out in plush form?

MC: Yes, we plan for Jumper and the other characters from the book to come out in plush form.

MM: What is coming up next for you?

MC: We’ve recently started our music publishing company and are in the process of putting our original birthday songs into online stores and streaming services. Also, we have some school book readings and fairs scheduled for the near future.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

MC: When we came up with the idea of Happy the Birthday Bird, we thought it would be exciting for kids to have a tradition where a special, magical birthday character visits each year to help celebrate their birthdays. Just as kids anticipate the arrival of Santa during Christmas, we want children to anticipate the arrival of Happy around their Birthday.

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To learn more, visit the official website of Happy the Birthday Bird.

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IG – @happythebirthdaybird

Twitter – @Happy_TheBird

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Youtube – Happy the Birthday Bird

Prepared by – Monica D. Goodson, Co-creator