When founding MarMooWorks in March of 2012, I never dreamed Christopher Counts The Constellations, the first of five books, would inspire sky gazing among children and adults. "Ms. Mary," a third-grade boy said, "on the way home from hockey, I told my dad I could see Jupiter. He stopped the car and said, 'You're right, that's Jupiter.' I've never done that before, but I'm going to keep doing it.” Nor did I imagine the story and its interactive app would capture the attention of a university animation artist. Together, we enlisted for college interns and co-created a Virtual Reality Learning Program where “players” become Christopher, mount Pegasus, and embark on a galactic journey.
Neither did I think this first book would lead to a collaborative venture with Karen Rzepecki, Founder and CEO of Mason Jars. What began as a conversation in a small office on a cold November afternoon evolved into reCAP Mason Jars Kids Explore kit: a bug jar, magnifier, glow-in-the-dark cap with handle, and the chapter book, Goin' Explorin'. Our goal: to encourage children to step away from the screen and into nature. Like Christopher, Sir SR is an explorer who uses the constellations as his guide when getting lost. Although the book is not about entrepreneurship, it serves as metaphor for two entrepreneurs taking risks: an artist and engineer combine their talents and create, not just a story or a bug jar, but an experience.
In February 2015, the So-Mar Dance Company showcased how “Reading Takes Flight,” the MarMooWorks tagline, when they premiered "Of Heroes, Serpents, and Stars” during theBeyond Words IV Dance Festival, at Mercyhurst University. Their choreography wove together Christopher Counts The Constellations, A Hero at Three, and A Hullabaloo of Hippos: A Lollapalooza of Language from A to Z, the first three books from MarMooWorks. Beyond Words, an annual dance festival in partnership with SafeNet, raises awareness about domestic violence and commemorates the life of Jeni-Lyn Watson, a Mercyhurst University dance student slain by a former boyfriend. I cried at each performance: the young woman’s death; the continual need to raise awareness about domestic violence; professional dancers wanting to use my children’s stories as part of this festival’s repertoire; and seeing the fruition of my belief that reading begins with movement.
Amidst these highs, I have to admit running a small start-up has been a struggle, one that has made me wonder, What in the world were you thinking when you tossed caution to the wind and started a business featuring books and companion pieces? Started a business at the ripe-young age of fifty-six? The Entrepreneurship Interstate route MarMooWorks has followed looks more like a hurdler’s running track than it does a Google or Rand McNally map. The red balloons don’t signify “You are here,” but “This is where.” This is where you’ knocked over the first saw horse and scraped your shins; this is where you winced when cleaning the cuts. The scabs are reminders of my mistakes. In a world where “angel” investors search for gazelles, a.k.a., “Profit Margins,” bursting into speed and leaping tall building in a single bound, what did I do? Try out for The Long Jump.
Despite my studying Plato’s Phaedrus back when enrolled in an Institute of Higher Learning, my Passion to promote literacy, interactive reading, and a love for learning and language at a young age outdistanced Reason. Does that make MarMooWorks analogous to “Divine Madness?” Perhaps. Am I, as Founder, the charioteer desperately steering two horses, of opposite temperaments, towards Enlightenment? Go that right. Promoting literacy assumes promoting learning, education, wisdom. Do the hurdles seem like the Plato’s “black horses” capable of stripping off wings? Most days. On better days, they’re only Clydesdales.
So, in this 4th year, I still need strengthening exercises to generate the same energy, commitment, and passion that drove me to embrace “Divine Madness” and found MarMooWorks. These exercises come in many forms: mentors; jaw-dropping reviews comparing my writing to Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss; parents sharing stories about their toddlers saying, “Pip-po-potamuses” and being able to identify Perseus; an Erie kindergarten teacher, while swamped with end-of-the-year duties and testing, taking the time to write: "Your books bring out the best in all the students. The children listen, laugh, are not afraid of the big words — to try to use the big words — and want to read and write more.”
Children are my physical therapists, showing me new ways to strengthen and lengthen muscles. Last summer, while working with the children enrolled in the Reading Literacy Program at the Bayfront NATO Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center, I watched storytellers emerge from little bodies; express similes through dance; and write their stories. This past spring, grade-schoolers read, reviewed and suggested revisions for When the Camel Sneezed. It is a better story because of them.
In June, Early Connections preschoolers chanted parts of When the Camel Sneezed. They created “beastly” body puppets; danced to Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals; loved saying, “Henri Rousseau and didgeridoo”; and created a “Rousseau” Animal Kingdom mural. At the end of July, older Early Connection friends will be reading Christopher Counts The Constellations and sections of Goin' Explorin'; gazing at Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights”; dancing to Gustav Holst’s The Planets; writing original stories; and creating their own galaxy.
Although these “exercises” have not raised the Profit Margin, they have reaffirmed my belief in the importance of MarMooWorks. Learning something new involves risks, a daunting task. The same holds true for children faced with decoding symbols to decipher meaning and navigating through fog (or, euphemistically, S.T.E.A.M) to arrive at “Learning.” This is reason enough for sweating out my mission, scrape my shins on yet another hurdle, and work at letting words linger on the tongue, swirl around the mouth, bounce “like spilled rubber balls,” and sneeze Ahh Ahh Ahh Choo!
MarMooWorks is more than a business; it is a culture — a way of life where people encourage, nurture, and celebrate life-long learning; go exploring; imagine possibilities; engage the creative spirit; measure success by attempts taken, not by scores or dollar signs; and, like Phaedrus, learn to practice and master art to lay the foundation for a literate and civilized society.
Mary Arete Moodey/Founder & Creative Director of MarMooWorks