Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Republicans versus Sesame Street

...And all of PBS, PBS KIDS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, essential grants like the tremendous Ready to Learn grant that was announced over the past few weeks, and other government support of public media--and hence a large portion of children's media in this country. And those grants, btw, don't just go to organizations like CPB but to private production companies as well; Wildbrain just received a joint five-year grant with Chicago's WTTW, for instance. (Read here for more on all the amazing projects the grant will be funding in the upcoming years.)

Public broadcasting has always been controversial in America; Sesame Street had political opponents from the right since its very inception, when public broadcasting emerged as one of the great achievements of President Johnson's Great Society. And conservatives have essentially kept up the drumbeat against it, even while raising their children on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. And now in the wake of Juan Williams' well-earned dismissal from NPR for inflammatory comments against Muslims the Fox News contingent of Republicanism is at it again, calling for complete defunding of programs like NPR and CPB, claiming them to be elitist and therefore a waste of tax-payer money. (Is Sesame Street really elitist? because it's elitist to aspire to basic literacy? Then so is every well-meaning privately-funded children's show, unless you want everything to turn out like SpongeBob Squarepants. I guess in their book that show is populist.)

This is normally a politics-free blog, but a lot's at stake next Tuesday--and this doesn't have to be a left-right issue anyway. Still, public broadcasting isn't at the top of the list of public awareness, and it's probably not in real danger of dissolution, but the audacity of the Fox commentators and the supposition that the marketplace will provide for media--children's or adult--that is in the best interest of society rile me. There would be no children's media industry today in this or any other country without public funding; and it's continuation is essential to ensure a check on private profiteering with our children. (I really think PBS helps keep the private stations honest, away from being 24-7 toy and junk food commercials.)

So let's rally to restore a little sanity and let the country know that, for conservatives and liberals both, removing publicly funded television from the air is no more viable an option than, say, privatizing the FCC. And keeping public funding going will neither impose elitism on poor American viewers or drive out of business private companies like Disney and Viacom--or even the little guys like Wildbrain (who just might get a grant!). Don't let Fox News become the voice that defines American media, especially for our children. And please check out Timothy Karr's Huffington Post article on the same topic.

Oh, and also watch the Grouches' opinion:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Love My Hair

I just caught up with this Sesame Street video written by Joey Mazzarino that's apparently already gone viral. Check out this ABC story about it. It's great to see such small simple videos having such a tremendous impact, and that's one of the things that Sesame Street does best.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scott Traylor on Virtual Worlds & Education and Media

I only recently became aware of 360KID, an interactive product development firm that also features a great blog about all things children's media, especially online, gaming, and other interactive media. After I added the blog to my blogroll on the right here the CEO Scott Traylor very graciously contacted me and let me know about two presentations he recently gave. I've been focused for quite a while on children's literature and traditional media--i.e. television--and it's just within the past five or six months that I've started trying to get equally up to speed on interactive media. So these presentations, though brief, were fantastic for me and I wanted to pass them along.

The first was given at Engage Expo earlier this year. It's called "Virtual Worlds for Kids" and is full of some great statistics about what online worlds kids are joining, the advertising and merchandise tie-ins that get them there, the age demographics, etc. Some surprising stuff for me.

This second one is from the EdNET Conference held in Boston last month. Scott is speaking to educators about his perspective as both an educator and consumer product developer: his ninety-second Digital Data Smack Down, starting around 3:40, is worth repeat viewing for educators, commercial producers, and parents alike. Check it out!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon news

The other day DreamWorks announced that they'd be making a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon. Now today they've followed that with the announcement of a television series set to premiere in 2012; if I remember right the film will come out that summer as well. Read KidScreen's brief article about the new show. MTV wrote about both announcements.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dora the Explorer lawsuit

This is kind of interesting. I suppose it's a blessing we don't see more of this kind of thing in children's media, but heaven knows there's a lot of money floating around.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Countdown to the Hub

After over a year of buzzing it's finally upon us: The Hub will launch this Sunday, 10/10/10, and it's time to take a little look at what the initial offering will be. The website is already up, of course, so you can check it out at I'm just looking at the line-up there, rather than in any industry or trade journals (although Wikipedia has a long potential list), and it looks like the expected Hasbro content but with a good mix of other things, both from the back catalog (HIT's rolling back out Fraggle Rock, for instance) and new productions. So this is what we have:

A revamped version of one of my favorite shows as a kid, Pound Puppies. I used to love to watch this and to play with my own Pound Puppies even more. The licensing and merchandising should be gangbusters; I know it was, more than any other show except maybe G.I. Joe, at my house in the 80s.

Which brings us to G.I. Joe Renegades. What connection it has to the feature film I don't know, for better or worse, and it looks like it's been recast with the Joes being outlaws fighting to prove their innocence by facing off against a large corporate Cobra. Maybe it's the post-Enron or Halliburton version? An interesting twist--will it supply sufficient toys and coolness to hook the modern boy's 6-12 demo?

And speaking of retooling old 80's toons after a big screen version, there's Transformers Prime. I think it's very possible that the first Transformers film rivals The Last Airbender for Worst Film Ever Made, so in this case I'm hoping the producers aren't sucked in by all that Michael Bay nonsense and follow the lead of Avatar's creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and create a cool new series without any relation to the feature film. (For news on that new Avatar show go here.) Transformers was equally cool at my house in the 80s as G.I. Joe--I spent my school hours designing new Transformers, my recesses pretending to be Transformers, and my afternoons watching or playing with my Transformers. There's so much coolness here--I'm really crossing my fingers for this one.

Other remakes include My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures; expect to see others soon, I suspect.

Then there are some other cool shows; I'm most excited about the documentary-based Meerkat Manor--I think it's always fantastic when kids watch nature documentaries, like when I took my daughter to see the original Meerkat Manor feature film a couple years ago as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. As you can read in my blog about it, it was a little scary in parts for her at that age but overall was excellent, and I loved it (you have to be amenable to giving animals names and attributing human emotions to them). This is an example of Discovery Kids' influence on The Hub (well, I think it was actually on Animal Planet, but it comes from the same gene pool, I think), and since that's one of my favorite kids' TV stations (perhaps I'll get to write it an epitaph before it goes) I hope there's a lot more where this came from.

There's also The Twisted Whiskers Show, Dennis and Gnasher, a game show called, appropriately, Family Game Night, another called Pictureka! (with hidden pictures), the anime action show Deltora Quest, Dan Vs., and Cosmic Quantum Ray, a sci-fi action comedy perhaps in the mold of something like TMNT. Overall a great line-up, one that lays to rest fears that the Hub would just be the Hasbro Network.

It will give those of us interested in kids' TV (including kids) a lot of new material to watch. The Hub website also has a channel locator to help you find it on your own television. It looks like the more mature material, including reruns of shows like Family Ties and Happy Days, should make this a good nostalgic family channel. I haven't found any mainstream press reviews as yet, just the trade press stuff on the business developments that I'll forego re-posting here, but hopefully the station's invention will lead to a bit more critical scrutiny of kids' TV. We're making it through the recession and broadcasters are becoming a bit more daring with new content, I think, and Hasbro's and Discovery Kids' commitment to television as a delivery medium shows a lot of faith that it will remain viable for a long time to come, even in a 24-7 on-demand liquid media environment. Children's media will continue to evolve online, but this is a huge development for it on the television, and as a parent I hope it will be worth spending some time there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Word World eBooks

There were some great kids' events in NY this weekend. We went to the falconry show in upper Central Park and had a wonderful time--thanks to everyone who put it on, and I hope you found your runaway hawk! Or, flyaway hawk, I suppose. (It's kind of cool, actually, because a wild redtail hawk spooked the captive bird; it's cool because the redtail population is so resurgent in the city.) Afterwards we walked west past the Seinfeld diner to Grant's Tomb, which was nice to teach a little Civil War history to the six-year-olds.

Then on Sunday right here in Ft. Tryon Park, a three-minute walk from my apartment, was the annual Medieval Festival. This event always looks like a lot of fun but it would be a lot more fun if they would hold it on a Saturday so that those of us who keep the sabbath on Sundays can attend and even spend a little money. Not that they're hurting for attendance, but it just bugs me that every year our daughter begs to go and even when we do walk through with her it just makes her sad that she's not able to spend any money or skip church meetings to stay the whole time. It just makes it not worth going into the park at all, and it riles me that so many events are held on Sundays when so many families are not able to attend (and religious observance isn't an aberration; there are really a lot of families who keep the sabbath--and I do recognize some do it on Saturdays).

Anyway, that's a tangent, because I was going to say that even though I'm still iPhone-less Saturday after the falconry show a friend was showing me the eBook app he has for his kids but which features some subpar literature, in his opinion. But that family is a big WordWorld fan fam, so I wanted to note for their sake and everyone else's that there's a new WordWorld eBook application for all kinds of different devices, iPhone and iPad included.

My schedule hasn't permitted me time to check it out, but I have strong confidence in anything associated with WordWorld. It should be top-knotch, with some good phonics skills built in amidst the narratives and production design. Here's a bit of the press release, from a couple weeks ago:

NEW YORK, September 16, 2010 - Just in time for the 2010 Back to School season, Don Moody, creator of the three time Emmy™ Award-winning television series WordWorld is launching a new, free eBook library available online now and on iTunes in October--for iPhone and iPad. WordWorld has been demonstrated by a U.S. Department of Education funded study to improve early literacy skills. WordWorld’s eBook library extends the learning lessons introduced in the television series.

The WordWorld eBook library consists of five dynamic educational WordWorld stories. Children may read the eBooks on their own, be read to by a caregiver or have stories read aloud to them by the eBook narrator. By clicking select words in each eBook, children build words and watch letters “morph” into WordFriends™. A Caregiver Guide accompanies the eBooks, providing caregivers and educators strategies to maximize the tool’s educational effectiveness.

“Children and [the WordWorld] eBooks are a match made in educational heaven!” says Linda Labbo, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. “Words come to life on screens in unique ways that invite children to interact with stories, characters, and language. The interactivity scaffolds children’s attention and provides age appropriate prompts that ensure an entertaining and educational experience.”

The WordWorld eBook library supports the curriculum delivered through the WordWorld television series. It provides the groundwork upon which emergent readers can build early literacy skills. Each eBook promotes story comprehension, age-appropriate vocabulary, rhyming, print awareness, phonological sensitivity and letter knowledge.