Her mother has read it. Her daughter has read it. Soon, Drew Barrymore and Olivia Wilde might read it. “It” is Roopa Weber’s new children’s book Messy Penny®, and copies can be found on Amazon through www.messypenny.com, in some Chicago toy and book stores, and most prominently, in gift baskets for attendees of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards and the Academy Awards.
The protagonist Penny the Peacock has received a lot of exposure in recent weeks, and Weber says she has family, friends, friends of friends, and her strong liberal arts education to thank for that.
“It all came together in the right ways,” said the Class of 1992 alumna, who works full time as senior vice president at Chicago’s Ariel Investments.
As a hobby, she first wrote the story to teach her daughter Olivia about the true meaning of beauty — that it’s not about what you look like on the outside; it’s about how you feel on the inside.
“It was a great avenue for me to communicate to her how she should feel about herself and what she should really value,” Weber said.
Weber was inspired by her mother who instilled all the right values, but she also received encouragement from her mother-in-law to publish the book. So, four years later she did, under her own publishing brand Karma Kollection LLC®.
The timing, Weber said, was perfect. For one, she found the perfect illustrator, Manda Szewczyk, with whom she had worked in the past on other projects. She also received support from people in her life who offered her advice or introduced her to someone else who could help — including a public relations executive who arranged for her book to get into the hands of celebrities and other attendees of the SAG Awards and Academy Awards.
“I’ve been so struck by how generous and supportive people have been,” she said. “Even though the children’s book world is tough to break into, I kept getting signals along the way to keep going.”
And keep going, she shall. Weber plans to turn Penny’s story into a series of books, each with a message about self-esteem. A wide-eyed Penny, with her turquoise feathers and innocent grin, joins Weber on her book talks and signings — in the form of a four-foot-tall cardboard cutout. Penny merchandise is in Weber’s evolving business plan, too.
Even though Weber chose finance as a career path, she says she appreciates her Lake Forest College education and its emphasis on writing more and more as she discovers new possibilities for herself.
“It’s portable. It can go anywhere,” she said of her liberal arts education. “Writing is an invaluable skill—it doesn’t matter if you’re in business or medicine, being able to communicate is one of the keys in life.”
She also credits the College and its reputation amongst employers in landing her first job at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and later Ariel Investments, where she has worked for over 16 years.
“There is no doubt that Lake Forest College opened up every door I came across and I am so grateful,” she said.