Growing up, Andi Green, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, experienced emotions that she didn’t quite understand, but she found solace in drawing monsters that let her express her feelings freely. Yet she never imagined that years later, her drawings would be a lifesaver for so many children worldwide. As author and illustrator of the WorryWoo Monsters, Andi has created a world of quirky characters like Wince, Squeek, and Fuddle who take kids on a journey of self-awareness and say, hey it’s okay to feel this way. Educators and mental health experts took notice, and the books and plush doll series has since morphed into an evidence-based social and emotional learning program that helps children (including her own) better understand how to embrace their emotions of anger, worry, frustration, and fear. We caught up with the mom of two to talk about how her monster drawings were her teenage lifeline, the reason why social-emotional learning should be taught in every classroom, and the unique Hudson County mom-owned businesses she makes sure to support post-quarantine.
The Worry Woos is such an interesting and necessary concept for kids dealing with emotions–how did you create it?
I’ve always loved to draw, and I loved more than anything to read children’s books and comic books. As a child, I thought that feeling lonely meant there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until I started to draw out the emotions that I was able to understand them more and accept them for what they were. In high school, I experienced bullying, and during this challenging time, drawing these characters became a lifesaver for me. I continued to draw my characters through college, and shortly after graduating, I exhibited my “monster” art, in New York City. I received such a positive response from it that I decided to turn what I had once called “The Monsters in My Head” into a series called The WorryWoo Monsters.
What made you turn the series into a line of children’s books and plush characters?
In 2007, I was working in advertising and saw there was a hole in the market for products that talked directly about feelings. I wanted to create children’s books and a tangible character to go with the books so kids would feel less scared of these complicated emotions. At the time, as a Creative Director, I realized I had all the abilities to create a book on my own, and it clicked—I could do this. Publishing companies were interested in my monster “art,” but they weren’t interested in talking about feelings head on. So I decided instead of changing the concept of the stories and watering down the importance of each feeling, I started my own company. Looking back, I never imagined it would become my career. Whenever I wonder if I made the right choice, I look at the feedback I’ve received over the years of how a WorryWoo has helped a child through a difficult time, and it reminds me why I keep doing what I do.
Tell us more about The WorryWoos series and how they are unique.
We’ve pivoted from a series of children’s books, plush characters to an evidence-based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program used in schools, homes, and mental health facilities nationwide as well as in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The earlier students learn about their feelings, the more they can recognize and sympathize with how others feel too, and this becomes a valuable learning tool to help teach kids emotional understanding. What makes the WorryWoos so unique are the characters themselves– they let kids know they are not alone. Each WorryWoo tackles a complicated feeling and puts a positive spin on topics that don’t have easy answers. Instead of making stories about the experience of the feeling, I create stories that allow kids to meet the feeling itself and have them go on the journey with the character. I also hand draw all of my books, which is an important part of the process to me. I want the reader to be able to see the textures and strokes from pens and brushes because art has always been an outlet for me to express and manage my feelings. With the program, we’re incorporating SEL into the general classroom, as well as in Art, Music, and Drama classes. My goal with The WorryWoo program is to have kids expressing their feelings throughout the day in creative ways.
So many businesses have had to make changes during the pandemic and pivot their business plan. What changes have you made?
I have had to make significant changes during the pandemic. Most of the work I do outside of creating books and characters revolve around speaking engagements, author visits, and workshops, which have been canceled for now. Because of this, I had to pivot to an online format, which for me, is not the norm, but has become a big part of growing our SEL program. The world is feeling a lot of anxiety right now, and the Free Resource area on our WorryWoo site is there to give kids and parents ways to deal with these emotions. It has allowed me to give back to all the families and educators who have been using The WorryWoos. We have been creating videos, as well as doing live readings and demos on our Facebook page, to help implement social and emotional learning during this uncertain time.
As a mom, what do you hope your child(ren) will learn from you and your business?
I hope my kids learn that you can turn something you love into a full-time business if you work hard and don’t give up. They love to watch me work and draw, and seeing them draw their own characters makes my day. They are so young, but they have an amazing ability to express themselves. I hope this is something they have learned through The WorryWoos and something that will help them as they grow into young adults.
What local businesses have you been supporting now?
Worry Woos is based in Jersey City, so I support a lot of other local places there and in Hudson County, especially women and mom-owned, ones. Some of my favorites are Bambino Chef, Republic of Pigtails, Free to Be Mindful, Jersey City Ballet, and Doody Free Girl. The ladies that own them work so hard to support their communities and each other—they are all worth checking out!
Do you have any advice for moms wanting to start their own business?
Like parenting, running a business is a rollercoaster ride. It is incredible, but do your homework before you begin and trademark everything. It may cost more at the beginning, but it is well worth it down the road. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help—I started my business thinking I need to do it all on my own, but it was thanks to all the fantastic people I have met that I have been able to get to this point. And I will add, the mompreneurs in my life have been some of the best sounding boards I could ask for. I am beyond thankful for all of their advice and lending an ear when times were tough.