Even as a preschooler in the seventies, I was painfully aware of the lack of images of color on children's television. Aside from Franklin – Charlie Brown's boy, the sister in Josie and the Pussycats, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and the brief stint that was the cartoon version of the Jackson Five, black animated kids tv characters were basically absent back in the day. I wanted to walk up to that tv with a burnt sienna crayon and color the rest of the Peanuts in.
And I wasn't so sure things were different today, until I spent after a few months of paying closer attention to exactly who was popping into our tv room each day. Much to my surprise, I was delighted find these new friends (who my four-year-old claims to have known for years):
Program: Little Einsteins
Network: The Disney Channel
This boy would make DuBois proud. It's too bad his mommy and daddy had to make a fuss so they'd let their baby into the gifted program when child has at least a 200 IQ.
But it was well worth it so rest of us could see the first animated African American intellectual on TV. The program introduces culture and high art to preschoolers at a level they'll understand. Still waiting for some jazz music and a Bearden or two...something (please!). But when my four year old walked into the Philadelphia Museum of Art and correctly identified a Van Gogh, I knew they were on the right track.
Show: Shanna's Show
My friend's husband complains about it because he thinks Disney's too racist to give Shanna her own full length show (right now it's an interstitial.) But I'm not mad at it. Shanna's Show is adorable. Along with little brother Shane, Shanna takes viewers with her on a journey through their colorful imagination. I love the way she's so ambitious, often dressing up as a doctor, teacher or ballerina. And just recently, I picked up several adorable Shanna's Show story books (on sale for a buck each at Michael's for some reason, but you'll never hear me complain about that).
Network: PBS Kids
Clementine is a lot like her best friend Caillou. But with a lot more hometraining.
Name: Tasha, Uniqua, Austin, Pablo and Tyrone
Program: The Backyardigans
Network: Nick Jr.
Okay, now come on. They might not look it, but with names like these, you can't tell me those Backyardigans aren't black. At least three of them. This brilliant program takes children from allbackgrounds on a journey into the kind of fantasy play that happens in every little kid’s mind. They’re epic, musical fantasy adventures, preschool-style, fresh from the minds of three kids whose imagination reaches far beyond their backyards. And the best part is the music, which includes everything from jazz to claypso to hip hop. It's sad when as a parent the only song playing in your head sometimes is the themesong from one of your kid's shows. But it's not nearly as bad when it's this. You can visit with Janice Burgess, sister genius behind The Backyardigans right here.
If your kids are anything like mine, you've known most of these characters for quite some time already. But if anyone was going to give them the props they deserve, it would have to be OKP.
Let me know if I missed anybody!