2023 has been a surreal year for children’s author Stephanie Kammeraad, who also acts as part-time director of children’s ministry and administration at the North campus of Madison Church, a Christian Reformed church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
In January, Kammeraad and her husband and coauthor, Kevin, lost their beloved 18-year-old son, Carlos, to an accidental drug overdose. Carlos struggled with mental illness and addiction as a teen but had been in rehab around the time of his death. Tragically, the drugs he took were laced with fentanyl—something that happens “far too often,” according to Kammeraad.
But there was joy in 2023 as well: On July 18, the couple and their co-creator Michael Hyacinthe saw the release of their first nationally released book, Wimee Creates with Vehicles and Colors (Zonderkidz).
“This year my worst nightmare happened and my dream (of being an author) came true,” Kammeraad said in an interview. “July 18 was the release date chosen by the publisher one year before the book came out—they had no idea about the significance of the day.” That date is Carlos’ “Family Day,” the anniversary of the day he was adopted.
For the Kammeraads, who live with their sixteen-year-old, Mac, God was in the details of the release date. “It felt like Carlos was a part of our big day,” she said.
Wimee, the loveable robot featured in the book and the star of the PBS Kids show Wimee’s Words, was dreamed up a few years ago during the pandemic shutdown.
“Michael and Kevin worked together to create this robot character,” Kammeraad said. “Then they started taking Wimee into preschool classrooms, and he was a hit, inspiring kids to be creative with rhyming and wordplay.”
Soon the trio of creatives was bringing their vision to life on television. The first episode of Wimee was filmed in the Kammeraads’ attic, but PBS quickly distributed it to stations nationwide. A subsequent collaboration with Zonderkidz birthed two book series: Wimee Creates, for ages 3-6, and Wimee Learns, for ages 4-8. (Wimee Learns About Money will debut on January 2, 2024, and is available for preorder.)
“We hope Wimee will inspire kids and be a springboard for their own ideas,” Kammeraad said. “What fun and silly things can they come up with out of their own brains?”
In Wimee Creates with Vehicles and Colors, children learn about shapes, colors, rhyming, and imaginative wordplay. Vibrant illustrations accompany simple rhyming sentences, such as “A green wagon wheeled behind the blue dragon” or “A purple balloon bumped against the red baboon.”
The book ends on an active note: “Go make things that are from you!”
Both the book series and the TV show cultivate the Kammeraads’ vision that children “can be producers of content, not just consumers,” Kammeraad said.
As she produces content for the show and books, Kammeraad reflects on how God gifted her to do this work. “God has given me the ability to be creative,” she said. “He has wired me to be an educator and writer, and I glorify him by inspiring kids to be who they were created to be.”
Though many days are overwhelmed with grieving their son, Stephanie and Kevin are thankful for the “creative outlets that push us forward.”
“We trust him with all of it, with the writing of our story, even in the hard,” Kammeraad said. “Some days it feels really good and beautiful and fun, and some days it is hard, and we are going through the motions. But we are grateful for the doors he has opened for us, and we just keep walking through them.”
About the Author
Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Man., lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. The author of 15 books, she is the Mixed Media editor of The Banner. Find her on Instagram @thebooksellersdaughter or on her podcast Eat Like a Heroine.