Local News

Homewood creator is part of live PBS show for families

The pandemic had a devastating impact on so many individuals, but if there was one silver lining of COVID, it was that it also created opportunities for some that were not there before. 

The shutdowns allowed some people to spend more time with their families, pivot their professional lives to remote work or take the leap to start new businesses doing something they were passionate about.

For Homewood resident Jim Dague, an opportunity landed in his lap that he wasn’t completely on board with initially, but has come to be an exciting part of his career.

Teaching creative confidence to kids

Dague and his wife, Paige, have been Homewood residents since 1988. They are proud parents of three adult children and a one-year-old grandson. 

Jim Dague of Homewood, aka Scribble Monster, is part of the team on Wimee’s Words,
a live children’s program on PBS. (Provided photo)

He received an associate’s degree from Moraine Valley Community College with a focus on education and music. In 2001 he began writing, producing and performing music for children and their families with his band, ScribbleMonster. The books and music led to live performances and creative musical play sessions in classrooms. 

“In addition to performances at libraries, park districts and other special events, I teach creative play music classes at schools with early childhood and special education students,” Dague said.

ScribbleMonster is the main character of his books, which also morphed into a line of clothing, as well. In the books, kids can take an incomplete line drawing and use their imagination to finish it any way they choose. Corresponding T-shirts had the same concept where washable markers could finish a partial drawing and after it was washed it became a clean slate ready for the next idea.

“The goal with my books, T-shirts, music, live performances and now television, centers on what children can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t. By design, this open-ended approach validates each child’s efforts and builds upon their success in developmentally appropriate ways,” he said. “The arts are one of the few opportunities in life where there are no rules. By stimulating creative expression in a non-restrictive format that encourages each child’s own unique creative participation, I strive to build confidence and help inspire the next generation’s creators and innovators.”

The impact of COVID

Some of Dague’s favorite moments have always come from being in a room full of kids and interacting with them through music, so when the COVID shutdowns began, it meant all of his work was put on hold.

“I had like 95 upcoming shows that were now all gone, and frankly, I was depressed about it,” he said.

That’s when his friend Kevin Kammeraad reached out. He had a show in the works that he knew Dague would be perfect for.

“Jim and I have known each other since 2000. I heard his song ‘A Monster Goes Rrraaagh!’ online and knew we needed to be friends. I reached out, we traded CDs, and we’ve been working together and supporting each other’s careers ever since,” Kammeraad said. “So, when Wimee’s Words launched in 2020, I reached out to ask if he’d be on the show once a week.” 

Kammeraad remembers Dague had some misgivings.

“At first, he wasn’t thrilled about working within the format of live video. He kinda came over kicking and screaming because the format wasn’t at first a match for what he does.”

The show is centered on a robot puppet named Wimee. Kammeraad created the puppet and character Wimee the Robot with Wimage founder Michael Hyacinthe to help support the Wimage app. 

The app is a tool to help kids turn their words into images, inviting children to become visual storytellers and designers. Kammeraad and Hyacinthe had been doing workshop programs with kids at schools when COVID arrived and disrupted their in-person visits. 

(Provided image)

With the help of Kammeraad’s wife, Stephanie Kammeraad, a children’s educator and author, they researched, structured, wrote, and produced a show centered on WimeeBy the end of March 2020 Wimee’s Words was livestreaming from the Kammeraad’s attic to various online platforms, co-produced by Wimage and the Kent County Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Kammeraad works.

Dague initially declined Kammeraad’s invitation. 

“I really wasn’t that excited about it at first,” he said. “I was used to walking into a room with kids and families and engaging with them. I had no interest in singing to a computer screen. I was kind of against ‘screen time.’”

A change of heart

Despite his reservations, Dague reconsidered. “Because it was him asking, I agreed,” said Dague. “After the first day, he asked if I had fun. I did. I agreed to do it once a week and then slowly got sucked into doing more and more. And then it became like a puzzle to solve. The question became, ‘Is there a way to take what is traditionally a passive medium and make it interactive?’”

“We want to inspire kids to create, not simply consume,” said Kammeraad. “We want to push the boundaries of how technology can bring us together to make something meaningful.”

The first show aired in late March 2020 and to date there have been more than 500 episodes.

“Kevin and Stephanie graciously allowed me to share ideas and try new ways to engage the audience in play. When we’re online we have the ability to ask our audience for ideas, they can share those ideas in the comments section and their ideas are incorporated into the songs, stories or games we’re playing,” said Dague. “It’s more restrictive than being in the same room together, but we’ve found fun ways to make it work. 

“Viewers have the opportunity to directly interact with the show in real time and see those interactions become part of the show. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty empowering for kids. Kevin and I try to do the same kind of things we would do with a live, in-person show. We present things in ways that are open-ended, so there isn’t really a ‘wrong’ answer.”

While Kammeraad plays the part of Wimee, Dague plays the part of Jim, his “human intelligence” sidekick. He also does a regular segment on the show called “Jim Time” that includes impromptu songs based on the live feedback from viewers.

Evolving into an interactive television show

The show has continued to evolve into one in which the viewer can respond via a device and their response is shown in real time during the show.

“As we continued to work on how to make it truly interactive, and not just something for kids to watch, Jim has since become ‘all-in’ and he’s absolutely incredible at what he brings to the show,” said Kammeraad. “His experience and brilliance in working with audiences in person has now translated into the format of live and interactive television and he’s so good at it 

“He’s also been bringing back lots of what live television for kids used to be, back when he was growing up. He’s now part of providing experiences – though in a whole new way – that he once had. Those experiences impacted his life, and he’s continuing the legacy, so to speak.”

In 2021, the streaming show made its television debut on the Michigan Learning Channel, which is an educational partnership with all of Michigan’s PBS stations. Soon the show was airing on PBS stations in New York, Los Angelas and a couple dozen other markets. Over 50 episodes of Wimee’s Words have been edited for time and produced for distribution to television. 

Breaking new ground

While the first televised shows were pre-recorded, Dague and Kammeraad recently shifted to a live format for television.

They completed a test run of 12 episodes of Wimee’s Words LIVE! for WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids in 2023, officially making it the first live interactive television show for kids. The show officially launched on March 1. For those out of the viewing area, the show can be watched live at wimee.tv/show

A registration process is required to help keep the site secure, but Dague said no information is stored and no names are used in the online interaction. When registering, viewers are assigned an animal and color. So, the child may be assigned as a “blue cow” and that tag would show up along with their comments. 

“Privacy is really a big thing and once answers come in, they go through different filters before answers are brought onto the show,” said Dague.

Kammeraad remembers: “At first, my wife Stephanie was the main showrunner, and Jim was a weekly guest on the show. We knew Jim had more to offer and wanted to see what he’d do when given more space. And, sure enough, he took things to the next level and continues to do so.

“Jim was the driving force behind getting the show to not just be live online, but live on TV with our partner WGVU Public Media. The combination of his creativity and his level of organization is incredible.”

Dague has been extremely happy with the WGVU partnership. “Everyone at WGVU has been amazing. They have helped elevate our production by sharing their expertise with our pre-recorded content, marketing and engineering — getting our home and storefront studios on to television screens.”

There are currently about 60 people directly involved with the production of the live show. “Indirectly there are countless more,” said Dague. “This is truly a collaborative effort with many partnering groups and individuals in the community, not to mention the viewers who help create the show.”

A family show

Dague said it’s hard to peg an age range for the targeted audience because it’s something that really appeals to all ages. 

“To me it’s very much a family show,” he said. “A lot of it is about sharing ideas. In 25 years of doing live performances, I find everyone has an idea and loves to share it no matter how old they are. I would say it is best for probably ages 2 to 9, but grown ups often have just as much fun playing along as the kids do.”

In addition to live broadcasts of the show, past episodes can be viewed on YouTube. Click here to watch a recent episode: Wimee’s Words LIVE – OWLS.

News by email

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Free weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Most read stories this week