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Toy Fair 2014 kicks off with Alicia Keys

The 111th American International Toy Fair got underway at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this morning with Alicia Keys cutting the ribbon, then holding a press conference regarding her interactive children’s app The Journals of Mama Mae & LeeLee, and “Mookey,” the latest addition to the series.

Alicia Keys at Toy Fair
Jim Bessman

The app, which centers on the story of the young LeeLee and her wise grandmother Mama Mae, was inspired by Keys’ relationship as a young girl with her own grandmother, to whom she turned for advice and guidance.

“It helped me release the confusion,” said Keys, “the feelings I kept inside from [when I was] a very young girl. We want to make sure [children today] have the access and opportunity to see a wide variety of issues that they’re dealing with and going through, and see an array of places and cultures and religions and styles. We all live in a big world with so many different types of who we are. But we all experience and go through the same things in school and in our home enviroments. It’s important to show that life is complex—and that you’re not alone here.”

Developed by Keys and Bento Box Interactive, The Journals of Mama May & LeeLee relates the adventures of eight-year-old LeeLee, who is transformed into a bird by a magical locket. With the guidance of her grandmother Mama Mae she develops courage through new music, locations, cultures and friends including, in the initial episode “Blue Moon,” a seven-year-old Native American girl form the 17th Century.

Aimed at ages 6-9, The Journals of Mama May & LeeLee features complete stories, games, and music including six original songs by Keys. Activities include exploring LeeLee’s enchanted 3D bedroom, answering 365 "Daily Challenges" and writing original stories in the user’s own journal, and playing and composing on a virtual piano. The app further focuses on social, emotional and cognitive development, and “Mama Mae’s Pillars” of authenticity, empowerment, exploration, the intergenerational and international, and self-confidence.

“Mookey” is the second episode of the app series, following “Blue Moon.” In it, LeeLee finds the courage to stand up to and prevent bullying through Mama Mae's inspirational tale, which also introduces users to the music, instruments, colorful festivals and culture of India.

“It speaks to me,” said Keys, “the colorfulness of this world. It shows there’s no limit to how we relate to the same thing—which is a really important part of this.”

She said that her original music is “all authentic” in that it was written in collaboration with “beautiful Indian musicians.”

“When my son was born, I wanted him to hear songs and sounds from different people,” she said. She added that forthcoming episodes would “never be confined” by place or even time.

“We may go to the future, the past, bring you around the world,” she said. “There will constantly be new places to discover.”

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