The Questions Around Arthur

ArthurI like to think of myself as a connoisseur around a few highly important topics.

Certain books and authors, sure. The Beatles, definitely. Classic jazz, I’ve taken the classes. Nerd films like Star Wars? I have three lightsabers in my house, thank you very much.

But here is the thing- over the last few years I feel like I’ve added a new one to my list.

PBS Kids.

Yes, I am now an expert on PBS Kids and I feel I have the power (nah, not just the power, but the knowledge) to back it up, to say what is working and what is not on the lineup of shows PBS gives to our little ones.

There are the shows I love (Wild Kratts [which I wrote an entire post about here], The Odd Squad, Word Girl, and Daniel Tiger [a post here]); there are shows I like (Curious George, Peep and the Big Wide World); there are shows I think that need a lot of help (Sesame Street, I’ve written a few posts about them, but I would like the writers to stop and consider this: parodies don’t work when the audience doesn’t know the reference; all you are doing is negatively impacted their future enjoyment of the work being parodied- mind blown, eh?); and finally shows I think are awful (Clifford and Caillou). I’ve seen them all. I’ve been to the mountain, climbed it and returned with my tale.

Yet, there is one show I truly cannot put my finger on. My opinion changes every time I watch it. Sometimes I feel love for it (real love), and others I shake my head wondering what the writers were thinking.

It’s like leftover night for dinner, when sometimes things taste great and other times you just wish you ordered pizza.

I’m talking about Arthur, based on the books by Marc Brown, one of the great mainstays of PBS Kids, airing now for over 20 years. A show that has grown so vast since it started—with characters, subplots, etc.—that an encyclopedia around the world would not be unheard of. That is the show Arthur, and honestly, I have no idea how I feel about the residents of Elwood City.

Yes, It is my television broccoli. Continue reading

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Dealing With Children Television…

Daniel Tiger's NeighborhoodThere are times I wish I could really turn my critiquing mind off. Put it aside until later or when I am reading a book or watching something more sophisticated.

I can’t.

It’s a curse, and I feel it as a curse each time I sit down to watch TV or a movie with my kids. And while I may have no problem sitting with my kids on the couch, pretending to laugh at the obvious joke, a part of me is screaming to nitpick… nitpick everything!

And many times they deserve it! Come on, The Care Bears: Welcome to Care-A-Lot is just asking for it! It’s like those blasted bears are just teasing me!

Which makes this blog a godsend in many way. For here, without my kids knowing, I can take on the things that they love with abandonment. Here I am free.

I’ve written a few times on this site about different kid shows. Many times my focus is on PBS Kids or shows that attempt to educate. While I’m all for education on TV, sometimes odd choices are made under the guise of education, sneaking in what I consider lazy writing under the idea of a lesson. (Yes, I am talking to you the makers of Sid The Science Kid).

Here are six links (and new thoughts) to some of my old (and fun) kid entertainment television articles that you may have missed. Continue reading

Growing Up in the Neighborhood: Mr. Rogers to Daniel Tiger

Mr Rogers and DanielThe Then

I had a spare grandparent. And this grandparent visited me every day, was interested in what I was doing, asked me questions, talked to me about my feelings and told me the coolest stories that involved a land of make-believe…

He also taught me how crayons were made.

For many, it was always easy to make fun of Mr. Rogers and his show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but I never could. Even as an adult, I look back on it fondly. Yes, I loved Sesame Street, Saturday morning cartoons, Donald Duck, Looney Toons, but Mr. Rogers spoke to me… directly to me.

I think one of the reasons I felt so close to the show is that my grandmother was a very popular kindergarten teacher. No, popular doesn’t do it justice, she was a celebrity in her hometown. When we would visit stores together we would have grownups of all ages approach her to say hi and give a hug. And my grandmother, with a skill I cannot imagine having, could always see the child behind the older eyes. She never got a name wrong, never.

When I think back on conversations with my grandmother, it always feels a lot like how Mr. Rogers speaks during the show. That patience. That unblinking interest. That humor that seems to hide behind the wink and smile. Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, January 2013

It's freaking coldI blame my book.

I haven’t done a post like this since October (October!), and really the only big change I can point to, besides my new obsession with Doctor Who (see number 2, below), is Permanent Spring Showers.

But now the online challenge/novel is completed and the poetic/prose epilogue goes up on Friday, so I’ve no excuses. I have got to take this on again, give my monthly insight into my brain, or at least my daily life.

One of the things I have always aimed for in these posts (and most posts) is honesty. Don’t laugh! Seriously, for a fiction author that is hard to do. Do you know how easy it would be for me to create a character of me? My wife points it out to me all the time when my little “exaggerations” enter a real life story. Usually we are at gathering with friends and I start to talk about something that happened (usually around my kids who are a lot more entertaining that I am), and she will do this thing with her eyes and after a few minutes, she will finally have to interrupt, explaining that what I said was not exactly true.

Well, it was true in a way, right? Okay, nevermind, here are my five things for this month: Continue reading

Nine Thoughts on Turning Five

My wife was in labor for 22 hours. 22!

It started the night before and I was deep in sleep when she broke the news we needed to leave for the hospital NOW. I was so deep into it that it took almost a minute of her waving at me, as I stood dumbfounded, that we needed to move.

I drove so slowly to the hospital, my wife was getting frustrated. I wanted everyone to be safe, I even avoided the highway, worried about drunk drivers.… Yes, it was a Sunday night, but someone could be drunk on a Sunday, right?

Once we were there my wife’s suffering began as future parents after future parents went in the delivery room before us. Finally, I had had enough. There are only a few times I can remember that I got all “extreme,” but this was one of them, as I confronted the doctor and nurse in the hallway. They said there were two ahead and I corrected them, without blinking, no, my wife is next… After five minutes of arguing, my wife was being prepped and ready to go.

One of my most vivid memories is of my son’s birth. When we first heard his cry, my wife turned to me, her mouth open in surprise, tears streaking her happy and tired face.  Then they showed him to us. His face was bright red from the screaming. I asked politely (and very overwhelmed) if I could see him; they of course said yes. I stood over him consoling him. At the sound of my voice he immediately stopped crying and then rolled on his side towards me.

You don’t forget things like that… Continue reading

I Love PBS

Sometimes I feel guilty when I write something.

It happens. I am only human, but whenever I write an editorial it is coming first and foremost from a good place. Usually my negativity, when it is presented, is because I believe there are better ways that things can be done (the bad in a way acting as an introduction to me explaining why I am giving the advice in the first place). I have never written a negative post for the sake of attacking. I’m not wired like that.

Basically, I just want to put in my two cents … Which, in a way, is the entire point of having a blog, right?

I’ll get to my apologies in a bit.  Let’s start with the love…

I would estimate that when it comes to TV, PBS makes up 85 percent of all of the television my family watches. From PBS Kids in the morning (my son loves Super Why, Dinosaur Train, and especially Wild Kratts) to History Detectives, Masterpiece Theater, Great Performances, Ken Burns documentaries… Well, the list can go on and on and my DVR is full of just that one station.

Yes, PBS owns my DVR. Continue reading

Dear Wild Kratts, You Guys Are Awesome

PBS Kids has always been a good idea in theory. It’s the follow through where things get a bit muddled.

Each of the shows seem to have their own agendas (besides the obvious of keeping the production company working), and many times I wonder if they do involve educating my children. Even Sesame Street has problems with its obsession around showcasing celebrities (that, let’s be honest, children don’t care about) and in the end only seems to teach kids the importance of pop culture. Wonderful. Thanks.

And who knows what Arthur teaches except how not to get along with your sister.

I’ve written about my issues with the shows before (I wrote about Thomas the tank Engine and Sesame Street for a parenting site), so I really don’t need to continue my rant here. There is just so much ranting you can do about kid shows until you come off sounding a bit, well… odd; even to your understanding family.

I don’t want to be that guy. No one wants to be that guy.

Which brings me to what I consider one of the highlights of the PBS Kids lineup, the stellar Wild Kratts.

Why do I like this show above all of the other ones on TV today? Simply, my four-year old son learns from the show and that is just wonderfully awesome. Continue reading

Fighting the Power Rangers… and Losing

I am an entertainment parental snob. Which means, I am NOT about to just put anything on the TV to entertain my child like some parents do.

Yes, other parents I am silently judging you right now… OK, maybe not silently.

Oh, yes, there is a bar for me and children television, and I expect a show or movie to reach it; because, frankly, I want my kids to enter the world of the arts (books, movies, music, etc.) with an idea of what is aesthetically good and enriching, what is bad, and what is just generic noise. And, hopefully, in other words, I will have 12-year old kids someday who will consider books like Harry Potter over books like Twilight.

So even before my first child was born I had a list in my mind of starting points of what I was going to do my utmost to avoid; a partial list would include:

  • Barney
  • The Wiggles, or any facsimile of it
  • Anything related to princess and fairies
  • All Dreamworks animation films (especially any film related to that horrendous green creation named Shrek)
  • Power Rangers Continue reading

Doubting Thomas… Thomas the Tank Engine

An editorial on Thomas the Tank Engine and PBS Kids is up at Green Spot Blue.  Here is part of the introduction of the article:

 It all starts so innocently. 

     And it always begins the same. Thomas the Tank Engine, we all (parents and children alike) get indoctrinated via the cute little wooden railway toys.

     They are so fun and who doesn’t like putting the tracks together! My son and I always like to lead the track under furniture, but that is just us, I’m sure.

     Oh, the toys are expensive and really we parents should’ve taken that as the first warning sign to run for the hills. (Seriously, when did 15 dollars for a little wooden train make economic sense?) And like Scientology with their free personality tests, Thomas inches you forward subtly until finally, your child is sleeping in a bed covered with Thomas sheets, your TV is running episodes every day and you can’t get that blasted theme song out of your head (both the version with lyrics and without).

     I’ve been there, fellow parents.  And like an alcoholic at AA let me tell you there are better life style options out there for you (and your kids). Because when you really step back and look at Thomas and its show and its message, it’s all… well… smoke.

T0 read the rest of the article (where I also give  some suggestions on how the show could be made better and more educational), please click here.

Peep! Peep!