Battle Creek

Wimee the Robot to help celebrate National Reading Month at Willard Library

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series. 
BATTLE CREEK, MI — Wimee the Robot will close out a monthlong series of activities at Willard Public Library celebrating National Reading Month.
In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, March is designated as National Reading Month — a month to motivate Americans of all ages to read every day, says information on the America’s Charities website.
Two or three times each year, Willard brings in children’s book authors. Typically these published writers are already established, says Tynisha Dungey, Director of Youth Services and Community Engagement for Willard Public Library.
“They have to meet our collection development standards and the content has to be relevant,” Dungey says.

Michael Hyacinthe, creator of WimeeThe creator of Wimee, Daniel “Michael” Hyacinthe, checked all those boxes and more, she says. His appearance at Willard’s downtown branch will begin at 11 a.m. on March 30.
“I like how his books focus on early literacy skills and his use of rhyming and adjectives,” Dungey says. A bonus, she says, is that Hyacinthe lives and works in Grand Rapids. “We can touch him and see him in the community and at the library and what he’s written is something everyone can relate to.”
Hyacinthe was on the library staff's radar after he brought a three-month entrepreneurship and acceleration program for military veterans to Battle Creek in September. Known as the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur – Lab (MVE-Lab), a cohort of veterans were guided by mentors, including Hyacinthe, who supported them as they worked to hone or launch their small business start-ups.
A veteran who served as a U.S. Navy Seabee, Hyacinthe says he could have benefitted from such a program had it been available when he was getting his company Wimage, LLC up and running in 2018. Based in Grand Rapids, Wimage (short for Words to Images) is a children’s media and technology company with a portfolio that includes the live-action “Wimee’s Words” show featuring Wimee the Robot. The show is produced in Wimage’s Grand Rapids studio and is currently airing on PBS television stations in 30 states reaching about 60 million homes.
The relationship with PBS led to a three-year book deal with Harper Collins Zonderkidz book division. The first book was “Wimee Creates with Vehicles and Color," and the second book was "Wimee Learns about Money." A third book will be released at a later time. 
“Every book is written so that it is a springboard for multiple concepts, multiple discussions, and Stephanie (Kammeraad) is a master at bringing these ideas to light and allowing the reader to stretch their imagination,” Hyacinthe says in an interview with the School Library Journal. “And the illustrations by Mattia Cerato are beautiful and vibrant. There’s so much for the reader to notice in them.”
During that same interview Kammeraad says, “Back when I was teaching, some of my favorite books to share with kids were the ones that had more than one way to engage with them. It was important to me that the Wimee books included lots of different educational elements that were also enjoyable, and that therefore enticed kids and teachers to return to them again and again.”
Stephanie Kammeraad, Wimee author, signs a book.The initial books released, authored by Kammeraad, were already on the shelves at Willard Library before Dungey became aware of Hyacinthe’s multi-faceted offerings that include a partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create a series of 10 cartoon animations with Wimee and Friends designed to educate children using social-emotional learning and with a focus on topics such as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), justice and fairness.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum also collaborated on the animations.
“We’re working on the animations and have three completed,” Hyacinthe says. “We’re going to be screening them in various cities including Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, New York, and Los Angeles. They also will be available on Wimee’s YouTube channels.”
The Wimage development pipeline is a digital game for children that will enable them to use Wimee as a companion who will help them learn how to laugh, love, and live a healthy life. Hyacinthe says this format is being created through generative AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Finding his place
A self-described “serial entrepreneur” and native of New York, Hyacinthe moved to Grand Rapids in 2010 to be closer to family. After leaving active duty military service in 2005, he says he was trying to figure out what would come next for him.
Wimage, he says, began as technology that converted words to images. But, he wanted to create a face for the app he’d developed and for that, he needed to look no further than his church where he met Master Puppeteer Kevin Kammeraad.  
“Kevin and I met at church,” Hyacinthe says. “I told him about the technology app and that I wanted the app to be a robotic character. Together we created Wimee the Robot.”
Kammeraad is the puppeteer and the personality of Wimee which was created in Hyacinthe’s basement before the move into the 1,200-square-foot studio in Grand Rapids.
To gain exposure for Wimee, the two men would travel to schools with the technology and the puppet.
“When we created the Wimage app we wanted to create a character that was futuristic and would be the face of creativity and visualization. We knew it had to be robotic characters because our future and our world is moving towards AI and a robotic focus,” Hyacinthe says. “I think we’re ahead of our time. We had an earlier mindset of creating and inspiring kids to see their words become images and that’s when we built Wimee, a robot with the personality of a young kid.”
Hyacinthe and Kammeraad, who is married to author Stephanie Kammeraad, wanted Wimee to have a personality that is empathetic, curious, and loyal, all of the traits they knew parents would want their children to be able to replicate.
“Kevin being a masterful entertainer and educator makes sure that Wimee’s personality has those character traits that we believe kids should have in order to be good citizens,” Hyacinthe says.
As the show developed, evolved, and improved, the team expanded, Kevin Kammeraad says.
“Jim Dague, aka ScribbleJim from the children’s band ScribbleMonster, joined the team from his home south of Chicago. We first had him on the show weekly as a musical guest, but I consider Jim a musical and creative genius, so we asked him to take on a much more involved level of creating and producing the show. These days, he’s pushing us forward in dramatic and intentional ways.”
Although the show, now entering its fourth season, has other characters, Hyacinthe says Wimee is the one being heavily promoted. The front part of the Wimage studio houses a retail shop stocked with Wimee merchandise such as books, toys, and apparel.
Never one to stop reaching for what’s next, Hyacinthe says, “We are building a media and technology company similar to what Disney is in a smaller capacity.”
The Wimage team is rounded out with animators and producers.
The growth of the company and Wimee’s popularity speak to his universal appeal and the lessons he shares.
“He is a robot that can engage with kids on multiple topics like money, bullying, empathy, kindness, creativity, and technology,” Hyacinthe says. “Kids see Wimee in themselves as a person who’s learning growing and figuring things out. Kids need to know how to use technology for good and Wimee is that companion that will help kids learn in an age of technology.”

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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.