Imagine the heroine, a fifth-grader Becky Botsford from Planet Literacy, metamorphosing into her alter-ego, WordGirl, and flying to the rescue donning her red-cape and flinging words at her enemies. Her monkey friend, Captain HuggyFace, sure to appeal to the young set, accompanies her on escapades challenging evil counterparts, tongue-tied Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy and word-mangling Butcher. Words like "preposterous" and "cumbersome" flummox them, baffling and distracting them, while she wins another conquest.
The show is aimed at children 4 to 9 years in age. The actors voicing the characters come from improv comedy and shows like Saturday Night Live. Chris Parnell of SNL does the voice of the narrator, Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development does Mr. Big, and Fred Stoller of Everybody Loves Raymond voices for the Sandwich-Making Guy. The program's goal is to be upbeat while reinforcing vocabulary in comic scenarios in the standard cartoon-format that appeals to both tikes and children midway through the elementary grades.
The program's creator, Dorothea Gillim, envisions parents sitting to watch the show with their children and reinforcing the vocabulary lessons. The show originates from a curriculum explained in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, a book authored by two University of Pittsburgh researchers. Its premise is that vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy.
Scholastic, the media mega-star in children's literacy, has plans underway for a book series complementing the show. WordGirl's producers have also explored options like sending a new word a day to children via the Internet or cell phones.
For a preview of the show's companion websites, check out: http://pbskids.org/wordgirl/ , http://www.scholastic.com/wordgirl/, http://www.pbs.org/parents/tvprograms/program-wordgirl.html
View this YouTube Jim Lehrer interview with WordGirl, , or this YouTube preview for the show to be broadcast in mid-September: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLw3ExL18r8
What creative ideas do you have for promoting literacy among young children? Do you agree vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy? Do you think we are facing a literacy crisis in the US? Do you believe a program like WordGirl will bolster children's verbal skills?