Bannanas In Pajamas – It’s Teddies Time!

Age Levels targeted:

2-5

 Background:

 Bananas in Pajamas is an Australian show; a spin-off from a British series called Play School. The show features real people (albeit dressed in costumes) wearing costumes ala Barney, the Bear in the Big Blue House, or the Teletubbies and has hundreds of episodes At this point the show has already been syndicated and many of the titles are available on DVD in multiple languages. The reason for this is that despite its Aussie and UK roots, the program has long since become aired and syndicated in dozens of countries and translated into numerous languages.

The show mixes dialogue and narration with a nice helping of catchy original music and lyrics. The Bannanas are always getting into unexpected scrapes with their mischievous behavior but ultimately manage to extricate themselves while they (and by extension their youthful TV audience) learn a valuable social lesson.

Overview of the show: The twin bananas, B1 and B2, gallivant about in their striped pajamas with their friends the teddy bears. They all have fun and play games while also learning lessons about social interactions and how to treat each other properly making it a perfect show to watch with your kids and discuss how they view the Bananas actions and decisions.

 The Main Characters

B1 and B2 – The title stars of the show, the Bannanas are a pair of mischievous if well meaning bananas who get up to various spirited hi-jinks together with their friends Lulu, Amy and Morgan; the teddy bear family. Sometimes the pranks they pull are at the expense of their friend Rat. The Bannanas, as noted in their theme song enjoy “chasing teddy bears.” However in their eagerness to “catch them unawares” they often cause themselves more mischief than the bears. Bears and Bannanas enjoy singing, playing games, dancing, and having parties among their events. They’re always dressed in striped pajamas which is the source of their name.

The Bananas often come up with ideas which even when they seem good at first tend to eventually highlight a basic flaw in them such as in the clip below where they come up with a plan to replace Lulu’s garden gnomes.

These plans are generally adopted by mutual consent as evidenced by the routine that generally precedes the plan whereby one banana will inevitably say to the other ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ to which the other unfailingly replies ‘I think I am’ before they rush off to try to put their thoughts into actions.

The Teddies – the 2 teddy bears, Amy, Morgan and Lulu aren’t (despite the theme song) generally being chased by the Bannanas (other than on Tuesday which is Teddy the official chasing day) so much as having tricks played on them by the Bananas. The Teddies are generally more sensible than the Bannanas and often help them out of their scrapes though throughout the series individual Teddies themselves often take center stage in the show as a mistake they make affects themselves and/or their surroundings.

Rat (in a hat) – Far from being fun and playful, Rat, (a.k.a. “Rat in a hat”) is a serious business type who owns the local shop. He thinks himself to be quite clever and as such is an easy and fun mark for the Bananas in many of their pranks. He’s quite obsessed with money and the cost of things and obtaining them and the show portrays these traits in a negative manner with Rat’s greed making him an easy target for a prank or otherwise ending up to his detriment.

Types of skills the show teaches:

The show is socially oriented and revolves around the relationships between the characters as they interact in their daily life and fun. Parents can focus with their children on such relationship issues such as trust, honesty and friendship. Quite often one of the characters will make a faux pas by lying or cheating at a game, and will eventually be forced to admit their error. In the course of working through the consequences of their actions a child can see both the process of succumbing to temptations and going astray as well as the process of ultimately deciding to fix the results of their actions.

On the other hand even while showing the error in trying to cover up one’s mistakes the show is also emphatic about showing kids that a mistake in and of itself isn’t a tragedy and can even work out for the best in a way that never would have happened if not for the original mistake such as when the Bananas make a mess of manning Rat’s new TV station.

Having owned up to it they discover seconds later that the off the top of their head song they used to try and cover their bumbling has turned the station into the most popular station in town.

Site review:

Bannanas in pajamas is a typical representative of Australian kids tv shows. The episodes are lively, amusing and fast paced with clear efficiently relayed morals. The episodes are short (outside of the DVD specials most episodes last no more than 5-10 minutes tops) and to the point and easily understood by its target audience. The characters are lovable and parents will feel relaxed about their kids watching it with no fear of inappropriate content.

The show is especially good for parents wanting to focus with their children on specific social and moral lessons as the show always focuses on relationship issues like friendship, fairness, greed, honesty, cheating et al. Most importantly it teaches kids about the importance of owning up to one’s flaws and mistakes and endeavoring to correct them and the error in thinking one can cover up one’s wrong actions from those affected.

My kids review:

My kids enjoyed this show a great deal but for the most part only within the age appropriate years (as opposed to some other shows which they’ll still go back to even once they’ve outgrown the target audience age) but at the target age they really liked it a lot. They were fascinated by the Bannanas accents (while not all the preschool TV they attached was American the majority was and the different pronunciations and occasional word usage different from American usage caught their fancy). They particularly enjoyed the episode about the wish fairies as did I since after all if there are wish fairies then my claim to them that there’s such a thing as the tooth fairy became perfectly logical. J At times even after the appropriate age a Bannanas episode would be brought in for reference purposes (it’s just like when B1 and B2 couldn’t decide whether to etc.”) between themselves.

 Anecdotal:

My kids were each into this show at a younger age. The theme song is very catchy and they loved singing it and sometimes changing the words. Even we, the parents were guilty of this at times replacing the lyrics with a song about the child who was into it and what we wanted him/her to do so that they would then do it.

 Similar shows

 Barney, Bear in the Big Blue House

The Magic Schoolbus – A Reason to Stay Home

Age Levels Targeted:

5-12

Background:
The Magic Schoolbus is an animation version of a successful series of books. I actually discovered the books first back in my days managing a second hand bookstore. One of the advantages of working in a bookstore is that you have first shot at all the new merchandise as it comes in (of course one could also call this a disadvantage as you can find yourself spending your salary in a hurry). In the case of the Magic Schoolbus books I literally had to grab myself any ones I didn’t have yet before putting them on the shelves because parents would snatch them the moment they went on. While the books are excellent, it seems to me that the animated series actually improved upon the books, covering a lot more ground in greater detail than the books while leaving it just as child friendly.

Overview of the show:

The series is based on a very unusual third grade class at Walkerville Elementary school. The students themselves are a perfectly ordinary all-American class such as you might find anywhere in the US. The student body is a cross section of religions, races and colors with a range of scientific knowledge. What’s so unusual about this class is the one who conducts it: Ms. Frizzle.

Ms. Frizzle is the science teacher we all wish we’d had in school for pretty much any subject. While she may often dress and act strangely it’s regarded as being delightfully eccentric rather than laughable. Because what Ms. Frizzle has is a school bus. This isn’t any ordinary bus. The bus is magic and can shrink, grow, change form and do all sorts of other things as necessary to facilitate Ms. Frizzle’s in depth field trips.

The series action all centers on Ms. Frizzle’s field trips. These are hardly state board of education approved or the kind of trips you or I had in school. Ms. Frizzle sees every question her students ask as ‘inspiration for investigation’ (ok I’m not sure she ever uses that actual line but with her tendency to use rhyme exclamations it’s the kind of thing she would say and with the sheer number of times I’ve watched it with my kids just thinking of her has obviously taken its toll on my speech). She challenges the kids by literally bringing them into the process or situation they’ve asked about. Thus they learn about the planets by having the bus become a spaceship and taking a tour of our solar system.



They learn about how honey is made by becoming bees and saving a hive and learn about heat because without it they’ll freeze in the arctic.

The series is highly entertaining as a kid’s science series. However while it is aimed at the 5-12 age bracket, it can be of valuable use for all ages. I’ve heard of it being used in high school and even college and I learn things from it as an adult. The scientific information it imparts is solid without factual mistakes or ‘dumbing down for the kids’ sake’. Kids interested in understanding how the world works will adore this show. My kids are always asking me to get them more. This is an ideal show to get your kid started on understanding their universe.

The Main Characters:
The Bus
Yes, the bus, though it never speaks is a character on the show. It has its own personality and communicates with Ms. Frizzle. It’s not precisely anthropomorphized most of the time but it does often seem to be petlike. In one episode it actually becomes a bear and goes off in the city foraging for food. It is capable of becoming any type of craft necessary as well as some things that have no relation to any kind of machine.
Valerie Frizzle
‘The Frizz’, Walkerville elementary’s star teacher is the teacher we all wish we’d had in school. Quirky and eccentric with her red hair and outrageous outfits, she makes frontal lessons seem an affront. She’s always taking her students on field trips to go investigate phenomena that have arisen in daily life so that, for example, when Arnold wants to know why his hot cocoa has gone cold she takes the class to the arctic to learn about heat and cold and when Ralphie gets sick she takes the class for a field trip inside Ralphie’s body to learn about how the body defends against sickness.
Voiced by veteran actress Lily Tomlin, Ms. Frizzle’s origins are maintained as a teasing secret throughout the series. We do have hints dropped about her past careers here and there such as finding out that she used to work in recycling and that she toured with her own band for awhile. We also learn about her family as she’s regularly quoting them. In one episode we even find out that she had an ancestor pirate who used to take people on field trips on his magic galleon. But she’s clearly not in her first year at Walkerville elementary as we learn when a student from an older grade says ‘she took us on that trip last year’.
Liz
Liz is the class mascot, pet and at the same time Ms. Frizzle’s assistant. She goes on many of the class trips with them and often drives the bus herself and is on occasion left by Ms. Frizzle as the substitute teacher. In one episode she is actually the star as the children learn about lizards.
Outside of that episode Liz doesn’t add much educational value to the series but does provide endearing comic relief which keeps kids coming back (and thus exposing them to the rest of the show) so her value may be more than meets the eye.
Dorothy Ann
Dorothy Ann, whose last name we never learn during the series, is the class brain and resident bookworm. She’s always doing research on any subject that comes up and is often the catalyst for Ms. Frizzles field trips either because she can’t find the necessary information or because the information she finds seems implausible or at odds with someone else’s (usually Carlos’ or Ralphie’s) claim. At this point, Ms. Frizzle tends to decide that the class to discover the truth for themselves. While noone discounts the importance of book learning, the series makes it clear that books can often take you only so far and that books alone without your own experience won’t give you the whole picture. Dorothy Ann finally realizes this for herself in the episode “The Magic School Bus Blows its Top” where she loses her schoolbooks but then is awakened to all the facts she’s managing to learn through experience when she doesn’t use her books as a crutch.



Arnold while often the one whose curiosity is the cause of field trips (such as the trip to the arctic inspired by his dismay over where the heat from his no longer hot cocoa’s gone) is the one member of the class seemingly not too keen on the trips. Yet despite this, he’s clearly happy to be in the class and proud of having gone on the trips after the fact as is clear from the bragging about it he’s clearly been doing about it to his cousin Janet that she reveals to us in the Lost in Space episode. While Arnold’s Judaism is generally not a huge issue in the show it does play a part in the holiday special episode when the class decide to give up seeing the Nutcracker Suite showing they’d planned on attending in order to be with Arnold on the first night of Hanuka.
Phoebe Terese
Phoebe’s rolein the show is to keep reminding us how different Walkerville elementary in general and Ms. Frizzle’s class in particular is from what one would expect at most schools. Throughout the series whenever anything incredible happens Phoebe always notes that ‘in my old school we weren’t allowed to…’ anything from going inside a chicken’s egg to turning into salmon.
Phoebe is an exceptionally shy soul as we discover when she’s given the starring role of the class play in the ‘gets planted episode

Ralphie Tennelli
Ralphie is the class jock which is emphasized by the baseball cap he wears and his constant references to sports. In class he mostly tends to daydream about such things as hitting the winning homerun but he enjoys the field trips as much as anyone else, especially in the episode where the class learns about friction while trying to play baseball in a world in which there is none.

Carlos Ramon
Carlos is the class clown who always has a groaner of a pun or joke for any situation. His corny jokes are always sure to elicit a “Car-los!” from his groaning classmates. We discover in the “going batty episode that he gets this from his father whose similar jokes elicit a “Mr. Ramon!” from his fellow parents. Carlos serves as an antithesis of Dorothy Anne, preferring to use his hands, mind and intuition to come to conclusions as opposed to her research style.
Wanda Li
If Carlos is the antithesis to Dorothy Anne, Wanda plays a similar role to Arnold. The class’ spunky Chinese tomboy is always gung-ho to seek out and make new discoveries regardless of the risks. Wanda’s an interesting combination of soft and hard, loving the ballet and caring about her friends on the one hand, while engaging them in debate and challenging them not to be afraid on the other hand.
Keesha Franklin
Keesha is the sarcastic class skeptic and plays the foil to Ralphie who tends to have his head in the clouds.
Tim
The class artist, Tim can usually be found sketching away at something (usually a picture of one of his classmates engaged in the class’ adventures. He’s a quiet boy who rarely plays a central role of any kind in the series. The one exception to this is the episode in which the class helps him deliver honey from his grandfather’s honeybee farm.

Janet Perlstein

I hesitated as to whether or not to include Janice as a major character. She’s not really a member of Ms. Frizzle’s class and only appears in a limited number of episodes. However she tends to be a major character whenever she is in an episode and she’s mentioned so often even when not there that I figured I’d include her.

Academic skills the show teaches:

The show encourages scientific and analytical thinking, stimulates curiosity and encourages innovative thinking. Although Ms. Frizzle clearly always has the answers to the problems herself, she often lets the kids work their own way out of the situations the bus has landed them in. Thus for example in the episode The Magic Schoolbus gets Planted where Phoebe is turned into a plant and must reason through the process of plant growth in order to grow into a beanstalk on time to do the school play proud


Social skills the show teaches:

The show encourages cooperation among peers. It fosters respect for each others ideas and being willing to consider that one’s own preconceived notions may be wrong or flawed. And of course it encourages kids to consider that their teachers may have a wealth of knowledge and interesting things to teach them which in these days of almost automatic disrespect for teachers is a valuable lesson unto itself.

My Kids Perspective

My kids have all adored this show. Even my daughter, whose been enjoying it in kindergarten and is a real science buff (this is a child who in the 3rd grade created a 41 slide powerpoint presentation on the periodic table on her own initiative and delivered it to her class) still enjoys the show as she approaches her teens and my 3 year old is mesmerized by it as well though he doesn’t really understand what’s going on yet (just enough to say he wants the ‘magic school BUS’ emphasis on last word his). They also enjoy the books of the magic schoolbus which parallel the various episodes so that one could say it inspires reading as well.

Site Review
The Magic Schoolbus is one of the best shows out there for introducing kids to science. It is very in step with a major philosophy of this site which is that even within the school framework children learn best through seeing and experiencing the subject matter that needs to be absorbed. Ms. Frizzle is a teacher who clearly understands this.

One of the show’s major characters, Arnold, is probably best known for his line “I should have stayed home today.” As a kid I remember that there were educational shows, such as The Magic Garden, that I felt were worth staying home for and at times I’d even fake sickness to watch them that were worth staying home for to the extent that I even once skipped a scheduled morning school trip to an ice cream factory in order to have a chance to be home in the early afternoon and watch the show (ok so maybe I wasn’t completely your typical kid).  The Magic Schoolbus is just such a show. Hopefully your kids love of learning will encourage them to want to spend time in school rather than staying at home watching TV. Of course you could have the best of all worlds by just buying the shows. But if your kids are at home for whatever reason this is the kind of show you want them to be watching.

Anecdotal: in my daughter’s kindergarten, part of the birthday party festivities required the birthday child and their parent to provide an activity for the kids. Most of the kids would do some simple activity like reading a story or makinga quiz about the child. Not my daughter! She decided she wanted to have everyone perform the volcano experiment based on the episode the Magic schoolbus blows its top. So the kids all got cups of baking soda and materials to pour into it to try and find what would and what wouldn’t cause an explosive chemical reaction allowing them to blow up a balloon.

Similar shows: Beakman’s World, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Sid the Science Kid, Cyberchase, Mister Wizard

Liberty’s Kids – A Revolutionary Concept

Age Levels targeted: 7-15

Background
Liberty’s Kids is a PBS kids show that originally ran in the 2002-3 season before being replaced by Cyberchase, the math program I reviewed awhile back. It was later run in syndication in various places.

Liberty’s Kids tells the story of America’s birth as a nation through the eyes of three young reporters who work for Benjamin Franklin in his newspaper business. In this respect it’s reminiscent of the old Peanuts series This is America, Charlie Brown, the 1960s series The Time Tunnel, and even the Warner Brothers series Histeria!, all of which I intend to review in the future.

An animated series, Liberty’s kids features numerous celebrity voices led by Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin. Other notable actors who lent their voices to the characters of the series include Billy Crystal, Ben Stiller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone.

There were plans in the works at one point for a followup series on the US civil war but as of this time those plans have yet to come to fruition, which is a shame as its handling of the Revolutionary war period is so well done.

Overview of the show

From the Boston tea party, at which the first rebel blow is struck by colonists dressed as Native Americans, the series follows the events of the revolution, constantly placing our heroes at the heart of the action. As reporters for Franklin’s newspaper, they try to objectively report what they’re seeing and learning though often struggling with their own personal subjectivity and previously held assumptions.

The characters are constantly coming in contact with famous figures of the revolution at a time when they’re engaged in playing an integral part in the events of the struggle against England.

The Main Characters

Sarah Phillips
Sarah is a kindly but opinionated young lady of fifteen years of age who travels by herself to America from England in 1773 just as the events that will develop into the revolutionary war are beginning to unfold. She has come to search for her father, a British officer who was last said to be in the Ohio area.
Sarah is hosted by her mother’s good friend, the already famous inventor and writer Dr. Benjamin Franklin. With a potential war looming between her mother country and America Sarah decides to go to work for Dr. Franklin’s newspaper in order to balance out the reporting she feels is too one sided in favor of the Americans. Coming from an upper class English social background Sarah begins the series as a staunch loyalist, faithful to king and country. However as the series progresses and Sarah becomes more acclimatized to her surroundings she undergoes a reevaluation of her opinions and realizes that not everything King George does is right and the colonists aren’t always wrong, eventually adopting the revolution as her own cause and America as the place where her future lies, as we can see below in this clip from the episoide ‘The Great Galvez’

Sarah, it is suggested throughout the series has a developing relationship with James. At first they are constantly at loggerheads; the faithful loyalist and the hotheaded patriot. But as Sarah falls for America so she appears to gain affection for James who stands for a belief in a independent America. Ultimately, Sarah’s whole family ends up in America as Sarah completes her metamorphosis from English monarchist to independent Republican.

James Hiller
James Hiller is an orphan boy that Dr. Franklin has apprenticed to himself in the print shop. James is a fierce believer in the colonies campaign to gain their independence and this tends to inform his writing, making for a highly subjective point of view. This is the case to such a great extent that Sarah decides to stay on at the print shop as a reporter primarily for the sake of balancing out James subjectivity.

James attempts at all times to be the leader, the ‘man of the group’, displaying a protectiveness of the younger Henri and of Sarah who despite being older is a woman at an age before women’s rights have come into mode. It’s shown throughout the series that he bears a certain romantic fondness for Sarah which is likely returned beneath their external philosophical squabbling about the war.

In the course of his experiences reporting for Dr. Franklin, James is forced to deal with facts about the revolutionary side that aren’t always to his taste. Presented with certain truths he, like Sarah, learns to question and reevaluate his initial assumptions. While he never loses his patriotism, he does become aware of harsh realities that patriotism brings with it such as the tendency of some people to feign patriotism as an excuse to commit evil indiscriminately. By the time the series ends, James has plans to start his own newspaper which will carry an objective view of events without being blinded by overconfident zeal.

Henri LeFevbre

Henri is the young sidekick of the group, a figure greatly reminiscent of Moki, the nomad sidekick in Hanna Barbera’s Children’s Bible series.  Henri left France for the colonies with his parents but they died on the trip over and Henri was exploited by the captain of the ship he traveled in who overworked the boy until Moses and James rescued him, sneaking him off the ship and hiding him at Dr. Franklin’s place where he became a worker in the print shop. Although he already speaks French, Dr. Franklin insisted that he learn to read, speak and write in both his native tongue and English. Despite this, Henri’s greatest desire throughout the series is for a family of his own to replace his deceased parents. He bonds with his friends at the print shop and one could certainly argue that they establish a family unit with him as the little brother. Ultimately, he becomes the ward of the Marquis de Lafayette, France’s liaison to the Continental Army and therefore perhaps the most important, and certainly best known, French figure of the American Revolution. Lafayette takes Henri back to his native France but not before he’s had a good grounding in theories of democracy, individual rights, and the importance of independence.

Henri’s youth and innocence tends to get him entangled in all sorts of scrapes from which his friends then have to extract him. On the other hand his diminutive stature is often useful to the trio in getting to places to which an adult could not gain access. As with Moki, whose limited knowledge of history and Bible allow Derek and Margot to provide background in those areas,  Henri’s innocence with regard to the war is a useful device the show has for allowing Sarah and James to explain the events unfolding to the tv audience in a natural way. As time goes on Henri begins to grasp the importance of the war and in the episode ‘James Armistead’ even becomes a member of the continental army’s drum and bugle corps.
Moses
Moses is a native African brought to America by traders and sold as a slave. His metal forging skills, however, combined with a lenient southern master, allowed him to buy his freedom and escape the Southern states, making his way northward till eventually he arrives in Philadelphia. In the episode ‘Yorktown’ we learn that Moses’ brother had not been as lucky. He does manage to escape slavery, but only by joining the British army to fight against the colonists.


Moses’ great intelligence has allowed him to learn to read as well, making him a useful worker at Dr. Franklin’s print shop.

Moses, as the always present adult figure (Benjamin Franklin is often not present, being called off to other parts of the country and even abroad on business and political ventures) keeps a responsible eye on Dr. Franklin’s young work crew, especially the mischievous Henri with whom he feels a bond of kinship based on their mutual experience of enslavement (Moses in the South and Henri by the captain of the ship that brought him to the colonies).

Moses’ greatest wish, a plan revealed only to Dr. Franklin, is to set up a coeducational school for children of all racs and colors where he can teach them the importance of human dignity and freedom. Moses sees his work at the print shop as a springboard for fulfilling his aspirations on several levels. Firstly, it will allow him to save the funds necessary to understake such an ambitious venture. Secondly, it gives him an environment in which to put his educational theories into practice, molding young minds to understand the importance of human dignity and personal independence. Most importantly, however, is that the minds in question are those of young up and coming newspaper reporters who as they come into their own will write the opinion pieces that will shape the way the infant nation thinks about freedom and human rights.

Academic skills the show teaches
The main academic lessons to be learned from this series are obviously in the field of history; specifically American and 18th Century History.
In addition to this however there are other academic advantages to be drawn from the show. Firstly, of course is Geography. The characters move around to different places in the colonies and thus learn the history not just of the time and situation but also of the places that played a relevant part.
In addition, the show introduces to children skills such as critical thinking and the art of debate and offers them topics of discussion upon which to hone those skills. Often the characters themselves carry out a debate but that doesn’t mean your child won’t find their job complete and you may well find them ready to weigh in on either side of the argument.

Social skills the show teaches
This show is a goldmine of lessons in social interaction at two levels. First there are the interrelations among the fictional heroes of the show. The characters constantly look out for each other, and get each other out of dangerous situations. Their regular disagreements on various issues, contains valuable lessons in conflict management. Generally, despite being in disagreement they manage to mutually come to an accepted state of disagreement from which your kids can learn that just because two people hold conflicting views on an issue, even an important one, it doesn’t mean that they can’t remain friends. At other times, they do get carried away in anger at each other. However, the subsequent reconciliation teaches kids the mature approach to conflict resolution. They learn that it’s important to be a big person and admit when you’re wrong and reflect on why you reacted the way you did. They also learn the problem with jumping to conclusions about people and their actions. Things aren’t always as they initially appear and that an entire story can change seen from a different perspective or with additional information.  This clip is a case in point

Then there are the social lessons to be learned by the events of the revolution themselves as issues of self preservation conflict with loyalty to one’s nation and people have tough choices to make. Weighty issues such as the meaning of freedom, the morality of slaveholding and basic human rights are debated giving your children room to weigh in with their own opinions on these issues. In addition, semi-fictional events are portrayed (by semi-fictional, I mean events that didn’t necessarily take place as portrayed in the show but are the kinds of things that happened at the time) which create room for debate.

Site Review

Liberty’s Kids is a well thought out series, perfect for introducing the Revolutionary War to your kids. The animated format and compelling personal stories of the heroes are on a simple friendly level that captures one’s attention. At the same time your kids are introduced by the heroes to the complex political machinations setting the war in motion and the ideals driving the American cause. While the target audience is 2nd9th graders, adults stand to learn a lot from this series as well and this is one series you’re likely to enjoy watching with your kids for your sake and not just for theirs.

My kids review
My kids enjoyed this series, especially my oldest son who responds particularly well to history programs. My daughter who tends to prefer science, was slower to get into it but once engaged in the program was keen to go on watching episode after episode. Both were disappointed when they found out that the program had come to an end. Then I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d read there were plans for a similar program about the civil war and as it has yet to come out they’ve been reminding me about it ever since.

Anecdotal
One of the delightful things about this show is the opportunity to see historical figures interacting with each other and seen through the eyes of others. When we watched the program this reminded us all of our visit to Franklin Court in Philadelphia, the home of Benjamin Franklin during his lifetime and now a tribute museum to his life’s work. One of the most enjoyable things for me as a kid there, and now for my own kids, was the phones there. There is a large hall in which there are rows and rows of phones and a ‘telephone directory’ with the ‘phone numbers’ of all sorts of famous individuals who interacted with Franklin during his lifetime. Watching this program, according to my kids, was ‘like having those phones come to life in a story’

Similar shows
This is America, Charlie Brown, Once Upon a Time…Man, The Time Tunnel, The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible, Histeria, Little House on the Prairie

Beginning Between The Lions

Age Levels targeted:

3-6

Overview of the show:

Between the Lions is a PBS puppet show designed to encourage reading by employing a plethora of different styles all aimed at dealing with a given episode’s linguistic and social topics. Similar to Sesame Street, the main action in the show focuses around the adventures of a family of lions living in a library (hence the pun is both on the saying ‘reading between the lines’ and the famous lions at the entrance to the NYC public library).  Between scenes, kids are treated to a variety of segments which repeat throughout the series though only a limited number of them will be used in any given show.  Though serious and professional, the show is also highly humorous and adults will enjoy it’s clever spoofs and references even while the kids enjoy the age

The Main Characters

The main characters in the show are the lions themselves.

Theo – the father of the family, Theo always tries to take the opportunity to teach his kids lessons using books. These books then also become the basis for the show’s other educational goal which is teaching whatever sound is the theme of that show. For example in the episode ‘little big mouse’ he reads the kids Aesop’s “the Lion and the Mouse” and words like “little” are taken from the story in the in between segments in focusing on the short ‘I’ sound.   Theo is intelligent and well meaning but sadly often suffers from a typical recurring motif in the world of television which is to make the male dumber than the female. I could go into this at length (and perhaps will in some later piece) but it’s tangential here

Cleo – the mother of the family Cleo is the brains of the bunch and multi-talented as we find out in an episode where she goes to a class reunion and we find out how good she is at such diverse skills as hunting and swatting flies with her tail. As with Theo, Cleo is always reading books to her children (indeed being a designated reader is an important theme of the show and even has its own advertisement at the end of each episode).

Lionel – the big brother of the family. Lionel loves to tease his sister Leona but actually loves her and looks out for her. This tension provides us with quite a number of episodes in which lessons are learned about family and how we treat others.

Leona –  the little sister.  Leona fills the role of the inquisitive learner and in some sense is the one with which young children will most identify. She learns from everyone and everyone is eager to teach her, her parents lovingly and Lionel  from different motivations at different times. But this doesn’t mean Leona’s by any means dumb. Quite the contrary and on quite a few occasions she ends up showing up her older brother such s in the episode farmer Ken’s puzzle in which Lionel keeps lording it over Leona that she’s too young to play a computer puzzle game he’s trying to solve and can’t. In the end Leona solves it and when Lionel, flabbergasted asks her how she’d done it she very primly tells him she wouldn’t know as she’s too young leaving Lionel sputtering in confusion.

There are a host of very important minor characters such as Click the mouse and Heath the thesaurus but I’m hoping to take them up in another later post. If I forget, someone please remind me :- ).

Types of skills the show teaches:

Highlighted Sounds – All the action in every show employs a focused use of the sound being taught in that episode.  For example an episode teaching the “ea” sound might focus on a story in which teaching or meat figure prominently and the “ea” words that can be used when discussing them.

Repeated Vocabulary – new words are used over and over in various contexts so as to familiarize the viewer with its use through employment in different contexts.

Definitions – The characters are often made to appear ignorant of a particular word or topic in order to enable another person to explain it to them.  Usually the questioner is one of the Lion Cubs, especially Leona, but not always.  Similarly, the explainers are usually the adult lions but Heath the Thesaurus often fills that role and Dr. Ruth does the same in her “word freakout” segments.

Printed Text – words often appear in writing on the show either for the viewers as screen text or on signs.  This allows your child to see what the word looks like while they simultaneously hear it pronounced.

Stories – children are introduced to literature by including stories in many of the episodes and having the action revolve around that story.  This also helps boost one of the programs main themes which is to set up a designated reading session for your child.

Songs – It’s no secret what an excellent mnemonic device a good song can be and Between the Lions features many songs designed to teach children rules of language wrapped in a catchy tune. Indeed the two adult lions, Theo and Cleo, even have “secret identities” as singing sensations BB King of Beasts and Tammy Lionette. But before you panic (oh no, am I going to be hearing him sing some TV show theme over and over) I should note that the songs are often quite enjoyable for adults too (ok I’ll admit it – many of them I know better than the kids and are even more likely to begin singing them than they are).

Social Interaction: Between the Lions is constructed much like its PBS predecessor, Sesame Street. There is a main story that runs through each episode featuring the puppets and often humans broken up by various segues that range from the animated to puppets to live people. The segue segments don’t necessarily connect to the main story but all connect to the main academic lesson of that show (for example “the oo sound” or the “short a”). Beyond the academic side of it, however, the story itself almost inevitably deals with a social problem or personal issue that needs to be resolved over the course of the show. Simply by watching on their own, most kids are able to understand the issues under discussion, however if you watch the show with your child you can take care to expand upon the lesson being taught. Discuss the issue being raised, consider all possible answers, find out what your child’s approach to the problem would have been. They can often surprise you with both their insightfulness and their original perspectives on the issue.

Site review:

This award winning show is a must for all preschoolers and that’s the reason that out of the well over 100 shows I plan to deal with on the site over time, I chose to begin with this one.  The show is wonderfully fashioned so that it mixes many elements and achieves just the right balance between them. Children will enjoy it for the stories and songs and jokes at their level while parents will find the allusions to and takeoffs of things within the adult sphere (such as a potato detective who does a perfect Phillip Marlowe impression, a segment on jousting knights which takes off on both Wayne’s World and Sir Gawain of King Arthur’s table

and Dr. Ruth Wordheimer who instead of treating human mating issues here deals with monkey vocabulary problems) amusing and the songs catchy for them as well. Both the social and the academic sides of the show are age appropriate and relevant to all kids.

My kids review:

My children absolutely adored this show to the extent that one of my youngest son’s first 2 word combinations was “watch lions!?” (in fact he got to be quite a bully about it for a time) If I had to pick the 3 shows that contributed most to my kids early linguistic development this would definitely be on that list, if not at the top. Another advantage of the show is that because it spoofs so many other programs on various levels, anyone, from child to adult, can enjoy it at their own level.

Anecdotal:

I’m sure everyone’s familiar with those birthday cakes where a photograph is scanned on to a page that’s placed in the middle of the cake, often of the child. My kids love those and one of the earliest pictures my daughter chose for her nursery birthday party was the cast of “Between the Lions.” Naturally her classmates were very impressed to see all those cool lions (I believe Theo may have been wearing sunglasses for his pose). Her nursery teacher was more impressed when I explained to them that this show (with which they were previously unfamiliar – maybe they don’t have the show in South Africa, I don’t know) were the reason she was reading words a year before any other kid in the nursery new their abcs.

Similar shows: Leapfrog’s Talking Words Factory Series, Sesame Street, Super Why, Electric Company