- By Grace Huseth For the AJC
Skipping out to the mailbox and looking for a recent letter from your pen pal is becoming a memory of the past. You may even receive fewer and fewer holiday cards each year. The joy of letter writing and anticipation of snail mail is returning to kids, thanks to a professional pen pal, Ben the Rooster.
“I like letters and the feeling associated with handwritten notes. Writing letters and cards is a personal touch of friendship,” said Ben’s pal, Jason Sosnovsky.
Children who write to Ben picture him as a fully plumed rooster, yet the man behind the feathered mask is Sosnovsky. The attorney turned pen pal has been writing kids all over the United States under the pseudonym of Ben the Rooster since September 2016, fulfilling his own childhood dream of being a children’s author. This holiday season, artwork from Ben’s holiday postcard correspondence will be on display at the High Museum of Art from Dec. 5 through Jan. 7, making a colorful mosaic on the walls of the children’s section.
During the year, Ben the Rooster spends his days on the farm sending and answering mail for kids from pre-K through second grade. Ben’s pals in homes and schools receive postcards from Ben twice each month. Each bundle of mail contains an illustrated postcard from Ben himself, detailing life on the farm, and a request for his pals to reply based on the subject of Ben’s card.
Youngsters can then send their own stories and illustrations to Ben using the stamped, addressed reply postcards the rooster supplies. For example, Ben recently told his pals about a trip to the museum to see dinosaur fossils, and he asked his pals to write back about their favorite dinosaurs and draw a picture of a dinosaur on a provided postcard.
“Kids love receiving mail; Ben’s primary purpose is to channel that excitement into an activity encouraging literacy, creativity, and friendship among early learners,” Sosnovsky said.
In one of his latest postcards, Ben asked his friends for advice: He has received many postcards with beautiful artwork, but he’s confused about what to do with it all. One pal suggested Ben create a book, another that he host an art exhibit. Inspired by the kids, Sosnovsky partnered with Steven Carse, founder of King of Pops, to participate in the company’s Pop Art showcase of local artists. Shooting for the stars, Sosnovsky contacted the High Museum for an indoor venue, and his wish came true with a monthlong exhibit of art from Ben’s pals housed in the children’s section of the museum.
The postcards featured at the High’s Pop Art installation come from a special classroom activity Ben the Rooster provides to elementary schools with a special focus on sharing holiday excitement. Ben wrote to classes about how “jazzed” he was for the holidays, the dishes he plans to make and his tradition of sending an annual holiday card. He drew the card himself, and now asks students to create their very own card in a reply. This month, elementary school teachers continue to sign up for the holiday card activity, and Ben receives new postcards from young artists daily.
Sosnovsky is raising a future pen pal for Ben the Rooster.
“My daughter, Sofia, was born on Oct. 14,” Sosnovsky said. “She’s a bit young to be a pen pal, but I’ve definitely started reading to her. I’m sharing some of my childhood favorites — ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl and ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein.”
Professional correspondent for a rooster is not something Sosnovsky thought he would be doing. The Atlanta native grew up in Marietta and became a real estate attorney at Arnall Golden Gregory. He then switched gears by managing Atlanta’s Switchyards Downtown Club, a startup hub and co-working space, which exposed him to the entrepreneurial world.
“There was a creative and entrepreneurial energy I wasn’t able to use,” Sosnovsky said of his time as an attorney. “Ben the Rooster is the perfect mix of writing and being creative, while running a business.”
After some research on pen pal services for kids, Sosnovsky couldn’t find another pen pal correspondent like Ben the Rooster. He got to work, found an illustrator, Rocky Roark, and sent out his first postcards. Over the months, Ben the Rooster has shared adventures, like taking a spaceship to Mars, to discussing everyday life like bath time and being sick with the flu. The assortment of friends on Ben’s farm, including Stacy the Cow and Lamar the Frog, teach kids the beauty of diversity, inclusion and learning from others.
Ben makes many friends by creating free classroom activities, which teachers have been using in their language arts curriculum. One of Sosnovsky’s goals is to provide the Pen Pal Unit to classrooms free of charge, especially to those in Title I schools. Last year, Ben the Rooster was supported by community partners who donated over a thousand subscriptions. This year, Sosnovsky has added a stationery brand to try to top that number. Ben’s Paper Shop sells products designed with art from Ben’s pen pals and donates 50 percent of profits back to schools.
“There are a lot of kids who will learn to read and write through access to many great activities, and there are a lot who don’t have access to as many,” Sosnovsky said. “I want Ben to be available to all kids, and especially those that need more fun, engaging educational activities.”
As he prepares for the holiday exhibit, Ben the Rooster is careful to read each postcard and respond to both the letter and artwork. As always, he wishes every pen pal a sunny day and encourages them to write back soon.
BEN THE ROOSTER
Ben the Rooster Holiday Postcards at the High
Dec. 5, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $14.50 age 6 and up; free: 5 and under. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4400, www.high.org.
To get involved
Teachers can sign up to receive Ben’s Holiday Pen Pal Unit at popart.bentherooster.com.
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