by Barbara Sherf
A family vacation to Mexico coupled with a midlife crisis produced a third bilingual children’s book in 18 months by Springfield Township resident Cynthia Rafetto Kreilick, founder of Morning Circle Media. Her 24-year-old daughter, Alyssa, a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, illustrated the book with colorful acrylic depictions of “Calaveras” or skeleton-like figures commonly seen in Mexican folk art.
Kreilick, 52, who began her career as a journalist, moved into early childhood education and then produced programming for children’s television and educational exhibits for the Please Touch Museum, said she was captivated by the iconic Calaveras while sitting in a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende last year with her husband and two grown children.
“I looked over and there were these little skeleton people confined in boxes,” Kreilick said. “I was feeling the effects of a whopping midlife crisis and days later, the story of “Lucha and Lola!” came to life as I wandered the paths of a cactus garden in the hills of San Miguel.” Kreilick said.
“Lucha and Lola!” Is the story of two Calaveras who take a road trip by motorcycle to remedy their midlife crises. The combination of friendship and travel transforms them and they return home ready to embark on new adventures.
“Sometimes trips are triggers for change,” said Kreilick, noting that she had a high paying job teaching childcare workers proper diapering and hand washing techniques, as well as curriculum development and business administration. “It was a wonderful job, but it had become very mechanical. I felt like I was in a box, withering away, and I didn’t want to die in that box, so I knew it was time to make a major shift in my life,” she said. “Once I created Morning Circle Media, the books came streaming out of me because I had been deprived of using my creativity for so long.”
First came “Slide!” in which young readers are encouraged (in English and Spanish) to coast down the best slide in Philadelphia. “Slide!” features Smith Playground’s signature attraction, the 150-year-old, giant wooden sliding board. Alyssa took the photographs for the first book.
Next came “The Gingerbread Gift,” a delightful tale (in English and Spanish) about a gingerbread man who builds a gingerbread house in the forest for his best friend.
And now “Lucha and Lola!” Originally designed for children, the book is also geared toward adults facing issues of change.
“People are buying the book for adult family members, particularly women who can relate to mid-life issues after they’ve raised their children,” she added.
With a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Oreland native initially went into journalism, covering the education beat for a local newspaper in Lansdale. She soon got the urge to be in the classroom, and did so for several years before her children were born. The couple moved to Massachusetts and started their family. Kreilick went back to that time period when thinking of a name for her new company.
“Morning Circle is the time in the early childhood education world when students and teachers gather to greet each other, read stories, sing songs, and to discuss the plans for the day.”
When her children were young, Kreilick signed up for a local cable television class in Peekskill, N.Y., that taught volunteers how to produce their own television shows.
“I loved the medium and did a weekly show in which we talked about issues facing parents with small children, videotaped field trips, and brought what I had learned about early childhood education to a larger audience,” she noted.
When they moved back to the area, Kreilick worked at the Please Touch Museum, where she did educational programming, teacher training and exhibit design. Kreilick had the opportunity to work directly with prize-winning author Maurice Sendak, author of “Where the Wild Things Are.” She then transitioned to WHYY’s public television station doing short segments on topics like Kindergarten Readiness and How to Select a Daycare Center.
“It was a creative paradise,” she recalled of her time at these places. “It was amazing to work for both of these organizations.”
She always had a love of language, having been influenced by her grandmother, who introduced her to the French language at the age of 2.
“Her name was Inez Dorsey and she would sit with me by a bookcase near my bed and coach me with French flash cards. I remember loving being so close to her and sitting on the carpet and her encouraging me to learn the words,” she said, noting that she attended Germantown Friends School and graduated from Germantown Academy “where the Latin and Spanish teachers continued to nurture this interest.” My world is infinitely richer because of the languages I can speak and the cultures I can interact with,” she added. In addition to English, Kreilick speaks Spanish, French and Russian.
Her husband, T. Scott Kreilick, was a longtime chairman of the Black Horse Inn preservation project in Flourtown and is the incoming president of the Springfield Township Historical Society. By day, he heads Kreilick Conservation, a firm specializing in the conservation, restoration, and preservation of monuments, sculpture, statues, architecture, objects, and industrial artifacts.
“He’s been very supportive of this new venture,” she said.
Kreilick’s 22-year-old son, Raymond, an entrepreneur, and daughter, Alyssa were both graduates of Springfield High School. While Alyssa had several art teachers who encouraged her along the way, it was a part-time job at O’Doodles Toy Store in Chestnut Hill that helped her move toward majoring in art.
“I was exposed to a really intelligent and creative group of co-workers and the customers who were encouraged to be creative and supportive of the store. Owner Fran O’Donnell was a great boss and he gave us a lot of freedom to be responsible and run the shop,” she said, noting that she had a particular affinity for arranging how the store looked and setting up displays of merchandise.
“That’s something most artists don’t learn early on, but I was fortunate to have learned the retail and business side of the business at a young age,” Alyssa added.
As for working with her mother on the book, Alyssa had only positive things to say.
“It was really cool,” she said. “I feel very lucky that we ended up getting along very well over the entire process. This was the most time consuming and ambitious project I’ve taken on so far and it gave me a real love of storytelling.”
The mother and daughter team launched “Lucha and Lola” near the Day of the Dead holiday at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia.
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that focuses on the gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember loved ones who have died. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts.
The mother and daughter team also did a book signing and puppet show for an audience filled with youngsters at Musehouse in Chestnut Hill just as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down.
“People actually came as it was starting to rain on that Sunday night. I was very happy to see the support and the number of children there,” said Alyssa.
For more information or to order copies of the books, go to www.MorningCircleMedia.com.