Reading & Literacy

Move Over, Big Bird: ‘The Lions’ Is Ready To Hit PBS Stations

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 29, 2000 2 min read
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After children outgrow Big Bird and his friends at “Sesame Street,” few other TV programs are around to help them through their first years of school. But now, some of the creators of that long-running public-television series are hoping that a new show and new characters will fill the gap and build reading skills in children ages 4 to 7.

“Between the Lions,” a daily half-hour series featuring music, animation, puppetry, and live-action video, is scheduled to have its premiere on Public Broadcasting Service stations throughout the country next month.

It will bring skills-based lessons and read-aloud adventures to life using popular children’s stories.

“In the 1960s [when “Sesame Street” was created], there was a real need to get preschoolers ready for school,” said Christopher B. Cerf, a former writer and composer for “Sesame Street” and a co-founder of Sirius Thinking.

The New York City-based production company received a $4.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create the program with WGBH, the public-television station in Boston.

“If there is anything that seems to be needed now, it’s getting kids ready to read,” Mr. Cerf said.

Other public-television programs, such as “Arthur” and “Reading Rainbow,” are geared toward a slightly older crowd and do not explicitly introduce reading skills.

Cast of Characters

The new series is based in a library whose entrance is flanked by two large lions resting on pedestals—á la some of the nation’s oldest public libraries, such as the main branch in New York City. The Lions, a family of puppets that reads bedtime stories together, are led on a series of adventures.

Joining them to present common reading rules are such animated characters as the evil “Un” people, who start trouble by adding “un” to the beginnings of words; the “Re” people, who attempt to make things right again; and Cliff Hanger, an unlucky comic-book hero who uses literacy skills to narrowly escape danger.

Each episode opens with an entire story that encourages viewers to read along. The characters then emphasize key words and sounds and attempt to put them in different contexts. The story is then read again. Each episode also features a short vowel sound— which many teachers and experts have identified as an area of particular difficulty for struggling readers—and uses it throughout the program to make different words.

The program has won praise from at least one observer of children’s television programming.

“Along the road to learning to read, children need practice in gaining skills and understanding context,” said David W. Kleeman, the executive director of the American Center for Children’s Media in Des Plaines, Ill. “In the ‘Sesame Street’ tradition, “Between the Lions” gets them ready to be lifelong readers.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as Move Over, Big Bird: ‘The Lions’ Is Ready To Hit PBS Stations

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