Month: January 2014

The Story of How Pete the Cat Became Part of The Wonder-Shirts Family

One day James Dean went to an animal shelter to adopt a cat.

He knew he didn’t want a black cat. He thought they were bad luck.

Boy was he in for a surprise.

He tried to play with the kittens that were up for adoption, but only one would play with him. It was a scrawny black kitten. James Dean took him home and named him Pete.

Pete became James’ muse. James began to paint Pete. Prolifically paint Pete. Beautifully, wonderfully, creatively, obsessively paint Pete.

James became a local celebrity by painting Pete. People purchased his paintings at art fairs and James developed a strong local following. Many people tried to pitch ideas for writing children’s books with Pete as the main character. None of them seemed right.

One day Eric Litwin, a local songwriter, wrote a song about Pete the Cat. Pete’s ability to be a muse expanded from art to music and a book was born.

The book was a success and it caught the attention of a big publishing company. Eventually James’ wife, Kimberly Dean, began to write the Pete the Cat books.

Now there are so many Pete the Cat books, I can hardly list them all.

So you tell me. Are black cats good luck or bad luck? I’m going with good luck.

Or maybe Pete the Cat would say, “There’s no such thing as good luck or bad luck. It’s all good.”

Just like James Dean, and so many others, we too have fallen in love with Pete the Cat. In a sense, we too have brought him home. We’re happy to have him be part of our Wonder-Shirts family.Here’s the very first Pete the Cat t-shirt we have for sale. It’s not yet available on our website. However, if you are at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference you can stop by booth #414 and pick one up. You can also say hello to Larry, our founder and Vice President. Do you remember him from the last blog post?

From Kidstamps to Wonder-Shirts: All For the Love of Books

Larry spent his life around books. From haunting libraries as a child and young adult to being an English major in college to getting an MLS and being a school librarian and public library administrator.

In the late 1970s, when his kids were very young, he tried to remember the toys he had played with “way back when” and the only thing that came to mind was a set of circus-themed rubber stamps that he played with constantly.

At the time, Larry was employed by a large public library system to review children’s and young adult books. He came up with the idea of having prominent children’s illustrators create rubber stamps that librarians, teachers, and parents could use to promote reading with kids.

He called the company Kidstamps and issued the first catalog in 1981. From that germ of an idea he and his team built a company that eventually employed more than thirty people and produced rubber stamps, t-shirts, paper bookplates, and mugs, but all using the same idea: employing (at that point) more than eighty of the world’s best illustrators for children, including such big names as Maurice Sendak,  to create products that instilled a love of reading in kids.

In 2002 he gave Kidstamps to his employees, and he retained the t-shirts and apparel product lines. He re-branded as Wonder-Shirts. It was a much smaller company and one that he could handle by himself with one other employee. It stayed that way until he sold it to Wonder-Shirt’s current owners in 2012.

Can you relate to any aspects of Larry’s story? Let us know in the comments. Now you know a little bit more of our story. We’d love to hear more of your story too.