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PBS Program Looks at Life From a Dog's Point of View

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The Public Broadcasting Service has taken its dog-eared copies of classic literature and turned them into an amusing new children's-television series designed to promote reading.

"Wishbone" features a Jack Russell terrier who imagines himself as the lead character in such stories as Ivanhoe, The Canterbury Tales, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. The live-action half-hour show airs weekdays at various times on PBS stations.

"I always found it fun to think about life from a dog's point of view," said Rick Duffield, the creator and executive producer of the show. "I became intrigued with the idea of a dog thinking he is the hero" of classic literary tales.

"Wishbone" joins two other prominent PBS children's series in trying to turn television--which critics say undermines children's imaginations--into a tool to promote reading and literature. "Reading Rainbow" with actor LeVar Burton is now in its 13th season, while "Storytime," which features celebrities reading children's stories, is in its third.

A Classic Canine

The first 40 episodes of "Wishbone" cost $20 million, according to PBS, a sizable investment for a half-hour show on public television. Each show finds the dog opening a book in his suburban home, where a contemporary storyline parallels that day's classic tale. His human family can't hear Wishbone's comments and wisecracks, but the literary characters he meets in his daydreams do and treat him as a human.

The goal is to introduce a target audience of 6- to 11-year-olds to the basic stories, even if they are still too young to tackle reading "Faust" or The Count of Monte Cristo.

But Mr. Duffield said that he received a letter from a school librarian in Ohio who had children clamoring for copies of Oliver Twist after it was featured on the show.

"Will they make it through the book? Who knows?," he said. "But the book will be something of perceived value to them. And the story will become familiar to them. What we are trying to do is cultivate the appetite for reading."

Doris Simpson, the show's director of educational research and a veteran teacher, believes many young readers are not imagining the stories in their heads.

"Adults who love to read really experience the story," Ms. Simpson said. "That's what seems to be missing in a lot of children's reading."

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