Melissa Mohn interviewed by Peggy Brown, a Loyal Subject of the Peaceable Kingdom
I am a loyal subject of the Peaceable Kingdom. I like it here. People are cooperative, the aesthetics are charming, and there are plenty of warm fuzzies to go around. In recent times, PK has been annexed by the nation of Mindware, and because of this, I would like to share this interview with Melissa Mohn, Peaceable Kingdom’s relatively new benevolent leader.
PB: How has it gone since taking over the helm of the realm of Peaceable Kingdom?
MM: It has been quite the ride! It was so very clear to from day one that people love this brand. So, there was a lot of pressure not to mess it up! I’ve been very lucky to work with a team of dedicated artists, inventors and developers that love and care about the brand, too. At nearly two years in, I feel like we’ve created some great new products – we’ve maintained what people know and love about the brand, but sprinkled in some newness too. I’m proud of what the team has been able to accomplish.
PB: I’ve been in this industry most of my life – kinda fell into it as I was avoiding job offers at a tractor manufacturer and a toaster factory. Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
MM: I started my career in early childhood: first as a preschool teacher and then I spent some time at the Minnesota Children’s Museum as the art and science specialist. I loved working with young children--there are few other jobs where when you arrive in the morning, you are greeted with cheers and hugs from tiny and adorable humans. But after 10 years of working directly with young children, I was ready for new challenges. I hung up my finger-painting apron and looked for a new career where I could utilize my background of working with young kids. That led me to the toy industry. I started with a toy manufacturers group that represented over 50 specialty toy lines, from there I moved to a stuffed animal company, which has led me to Peaceable Kingdom. All of my experiences along the way help me with what I do every day for Peaceable Kingdom. It’s a great fit and I love it. (And I’ve found that being a former preschool teacher gives me a lot of street cred!)
PB: I get that – there’s virtually no experience we can’t apply somehow to this universe. It’s rich, though it’s still pretty tricky. What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
MM: Know your audience! Peaceable Kingdom’s main focus is on cooperative games for young children – mainly 2 to 6-year-olds. Play your games with young kids! Find a 3-year-old and see what they think. Hang out with some 4 or 5-year-olds and play through your prototypes a few times. I’ve worked with young kids for many years, and just when I think I know what they’re capable of, they throw me a curve ball. Plus, young kids are beautifully blunt. If they don’t get up and walk away if your game isn’t fun, they’ll straight up tell you that it’s “bowing.” (My son had trouble with his “Rs” so “boring” came out “bowing” which I heard plenty of times.)
Also, I’m always looking for games that are fun for a wide range of ages. So, if I’m looking at a game for 3-year-olds, I’ll bring it home and have my 8-year-old play it. Knowing that families play our games, I strive for games that are enjoyable for a wide range of ages.
PB: Solid advice. What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
MM: Work Hard. Be Kind. Ask Questions. No Whining.
PB: I would offer that sage advice to every subject of every kingdom, and the earlier their stage in life, the better. I like to quote Tom Hanks from A League of their Own with, “There’s no crying in Baseball!” - but you pretty much have that covered more succinctly. My childhood was informed by such advice and was colored by the creativity that percolates when you don’t have much money, but you have generally good access to art supplies and permission to use the good scissors, and you have a family who backs up your ideas, no matter how ‘creative.’ What was your life like growing up? Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
MM: I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the neon-glow of the 80s. There was a lot of lip-synching to Cyndi Lauper songs with orange yarn on my head and air guitar to Let’s Go Crazy. My older sisters and I would catch fireflies in mayonnaise jars and create synchronized swimming routines with deluded dreams of being in the Olympics. I had all the glitter and glue my heart desired, and a lot of freedom and encouragement to be creative. It was a great time. I have my loving, funny and patient parents to thank for that.
PB: So you put your kids to work playtesting, eh? Smart. Tell us more about your kids.
MM: I have two boys: Drake is 10 and Griffin is 8. Being a parent is such a wonderful, tiring and humbling trip. The other day Griffin told me “you look tired, Mom” but then recently he told me “that hat you’re wearing makes you look joyful.” Drake and I have conversations about the meaning of life. The other day Griffin bought a glue gun with his own money - he’s so excited to wield the power of hot glue! I recently taught Drake how to use a spreadsheet, and it made his ordered and methodical brain so happy. It’s so much fun to watch them grow and change and to nurture their interests and talents along the way.
PB: I believe kids hold many answers – we need to listen to them more. They just tell it like it is. A kid might come out of the blue and say, “I know you’re in the middle of making dinner, but I think you oughtta play the cello.” And there would be wisdom in that. What are your thoughts on this?
MM: I recently took cello lessons. And I’ve added that to the list of things that I want to do when I have more time (we all have that list, right?). I’ve already picked my stage name: Yo-Yo Ma-Ma
PB: I encourage you to figure out a way to get more time because that would be a worthy endeavor, regardless of your stage name, though maybe you should try Yesperanza Spalding. But then you’d have to switch to the stand-up bass. I digress. What hidden talents do you have beyond the cello?
MM: I’m surprisingly good at tongue twisters. I can say Unique New York 10 times very fast. Try it! Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York.
PB: I would give that a shot but I just burned my tongue on my coffee, and it huthts. I think the Peaceable Kingdom brand and philosophy, much like music and charming artwork, is intrinsically important now more than ever. How do you imagine the brand navigating and leading in these fraught times and into the future?
MM: It’s overwhelming to make sense of it all. I try to focus on my small corner of the world and adding in kindness. And that’s my approach to the Peaceable Kingdom line, too. We work to create products that have meaning – and can help young children practice kindness and cooperation. And starting with young children gives them a lot of time to practice, and gives the rest of us hope for the future.
PB: Perfect. If everybody would give that a shot, the Peaceable Kingdom will grow into a global superpower. And that would be a great place to live. Thanks Melissa for sharing your insights and wisdom, and we very much look forward to what comes out of PK in the future.