Cosmic Cubs Club is a labor of love that has had its share of challenges, but the space-themed website, which was developed by a mother-daughter team, is well worth the effort, its creators say.

Fairfield resident Ann Kennis, 52, shifted careers in her early 30s from modeling to toymaking. She introduced Space Bears, a line of plush toys which came from different planets through her small business Space World. An initial production run of 1,200 quickly moved, and she had thousands more produced in China for distribution to planetariums and specialty stores.

Nearly 20 years later, in the midst of battling a breast cancer diagnosis, Kennis began thinking of bringing back the Space Bears through a collaboration with her 13-year-old daughter, Alex. Rather than create plush toys as before, Ann decided to pursue a website.

"That's what the kids want these days," she said. Alex was a fan of websites Toon Town and Webkins, and the pair thought of creating a website that featured the interactive fun of those sites and new, better Space Bears.

Realizing a game developer would be needed, Ann hired Left Brain Games, of Torrington. At that time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost all her hair from chemotherapy treatments. She went to the initial meeting wearing a wig.

"My husband, Jeffrey, couldn't believe it," Ann said about her willpower. "I just felt I had to do it. I was really self-conscious about the wig and tugging on it, and then just told them what I'd just been through. They were like `Whoa.'"

Even through therapy, Ann attended meetings once a week to work on all the elements, and by fall 2010, they had a good working model of the website.

Paul and Cindy Wentzell, who helped to design the website, worked from prototypes to create illustrations of the Cosmic Cubs and did all the information sheets, space quizzes and other text elements. The site's target audience is boys and girls ages 4 to 12, but with a focus on girls between ages 5 and 10.

Features include the kids' ability to customize their own cub, learn about the solar system, engage in space trivia, decorate their spaceship, create stories and play games. Unlike their ancestors, the Cosmic Cubs are bears that travel to planets, and each has a favorite. The leader of the pack is Ertle, who loves Earth. Others include Sammy from Saturn, Marvel from Mars and Merky from Mercury. Luna, who likes the moon, is one that girls seem to favor; it is white with a pink costume, Ann said.

"We created potential ideas for what could be games, but Mom came up with the ultimate ideas," Alex said.

"Girls like to collect and decorate, like in Webkinz. We developed a lot of accessories," Ann said.

The final part of the process was how the site would be funded. Looking at other models, Ann decided to make it subscription-based, with terms of one month, six months or a year.

The website officially launched Nov. 23 and Ann and Alex's hopes for success are high. They also hope to get schools involved and have had initial interest.

"The site, particularly the story-making aspect, is unique and educational, and I think that's our point of differentiation," Ann said.

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