What children’s books do you remember most fondly? Are any of them connected to your favorite kids’ TV shows?
My latest Arthur and Barney research obsessions have done a lot of things for me as an anxious adult. I’ve always loved these shows, but I’ve started thinking more about how immersive they were. I’m not sure if I ever made it to see Barney on stage (gasp!), but I know for a fact that I saw Arthur around 2001 at a local performing arts center in my hometown. I also know that I loved reading any Arthur, Barney, Big Bird, Franklin, and Little Bear books I could get my hands on (and before I learned to read, I growled at my parents to read to me…seriously).
In some cases, like with Arthur Read and his family, characters and their worlds were books before they were shows. In other cases, characters began as television stars (like Barney) and then got a hefty amount of books and other merchandise in the marketplace.
I’ve read a few thoughts on the commercialized Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s. I wasn’t around, but I buy the idea that kids’ toys and the toys’ half-hour animated programs functioned as a unit. I understand that The Children’s Television Act of 1990 sought to regulate the commercialism in kids’ programming. The Act required “the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prescribe standards for commercial television broadcast licensees that limit the duration of advertising in programs for children to a specified number of minutes per hour.” (Bolding mine.)
I see a direct correlation from the over commercialized kids’ TV of the 80s to the more educational choices of the 90s, but even those of the 90s still afforded children plenty of opportunities to ask their parents for more toys or books or games.
That’s okay with me because I loved the books filled with characters I could see everywhere. Folks like Franklin, Arthur, Barney, and Barbie (yes…even Barbie) were just a few figures that I valued as imaginary companions. By elementary school, I read Mary-Kate and Ashley chapter books to complement all their videos I watched. I honestly think that all the picture books and early chapter books might have shaped the way that I read now. To this day, I try to imagine a text as vividly as I can, kind of like a movie. That always made fiction fly by once I got older, and it helps bring nonfiction stories to life for me now.
Not every book I cherished had a connection to a television show or movie, but I felt like taking a little trip back in time to remember those shows/books/songs/toys that were connected. If you’re interested in reading more about the mechanics of synergistic children’s programming in the 1980s and early 1990s, I highly recommend The Business of Children’s Entertainment by Norma Pecora. She truthfully writes, “Children must be recognized as consumers before their role as ‘audience’ can be understood, for central to the growth of a child audience is the concept of the child market.”
I was part of the child market. So were you. Children’s media dates well past the decades I’ve mentioned, even if it was less pervasive, and children’s media is obviously a huge slice of the entertainment pie today.
As fun as it is to pull back the curtain on the methods of entertaining kids 20+ years ago, it’s important for me to remember that I wasn’t thinking about any of that in my early years. I was comforted at the thought of watching my fictional friends on TV, listening to their soundtracks, playing their computer games, and reading their books all day.
Did you have a favorite character that popped up in your books, shows, CDs/cassette tapes, or first computer games? I want to know! For my husband, it’s Thomas the Tank Engine. Who is it for you?