PBS Kids presents 6-year-old heroine with ‘Alma’s Way’

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Alma has a dilemma: The 6-year-old New Yorker has tickets to a baseball game on Saturday with her grandfather, but she told her uncle that she would help him with a dance recital that day.

“I promised to help him. I made a commitment,” she said, taking a moment to think about her choices. “Okay, I know what to do.” She announces the news to her grandfather: a promise is a promise. “I totally understand,” he told her. “It’s good to honor your commitments.”

Alma is the lively and thoughtful heroine of “Alma’s Way,” a new PBS Kids animated series set in the melting pot of the Bronx, and featuring an extended Puerto Rican and Biracial family. He’s making his debut this week.

The Fred Rogers Productions series features star designers. It was triggered and produced by Sonia Manzano, who played Maria while also winning 15 Emmy Awards as a writer on “Sesame Street”. And no less that the creator of “Hamilton”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, helped provide the theme song.

“The main overriding hope is that I want children to understand that everyone has a brain and that they can use their brain and think. It is that simple,” Manzano explains.

Designed for ages 4-6, each 11-minute episode tries to help children find their own answers to problems, express what they think and feel, and recognize and respect the unique perspective of others .

In one episode, Alma tries to help improve her mother’s mofongo dish by quietly adding more and more ingredients. But it finally tastes lousy and she needs to clean up. In another, she defends her artistic vision on a mural, and in a third, she finds how to boost her brother’s morale.

“Alma’s Way” doesn’t just take place in the Bronx, it’s anchored there, with authentic-looking homes, multicultural residents, elevated train tracks and honking cars. The series even asked the city’s transportation authority for permission to use a picture of train 6 (and the announcer’s call to “Stay clear of closing doors, if it Please. “)

“I think more specificity just leads to more relativity, because the more real the characters, the more real the characters feel, the more interesting they are,” said Ellen Doherty, executive producer and creative director of Fred Rogers Productions.

Manzano, who also voices the grandmother, wanted it to sound like the neighborhood she knew so well and the people she grew up with. She considered every detail, even Alma’s nose.

“I didn’t want to be perky and turned, I wanted to be round, I wanted to have a little bit of Afro-Puerto Rican in her,” she says. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a Hispanic character who has an Afro-Puerto Rican vibe to her.”

Her voice is provided by Summer Rose Castillo, 9, the daughter of April Hernandez Castillo, an actor with roles on TV shows such as “Dexter”, “ER” and “Law & Order” and was in the film “Freedom Writers.”

Summer Rose made it through the audition, in part by rapping about her school – Manzano thought she had “swag” – and recorded her vocals in a home studio her father built. They live, as they should, in the Bronx.

“It’s hard to find the right actress. We didn’t want someone too skillful, but we wanted someone who could do the job,” Manzano explains. “So she was just perfect.”

Summer Rose says she enjoys drawing, writing and singing. One of her biggest dreams is to meet Miranda. “It’s really important for people to watch ‘Alma’s Way’ and feel like there’s a mirror and Alma looks exactly like them,” she said.

There is music everywhere – salsa, plena and bomba, as well as other Latin genres such as Cuban sound and Colombian cumbia. Miranda was commissioned to write the theme song with Bill Sherman and they came up with a delicious mix of Latin music, hip-hop and rap.

“He can say in four words what it takes for the rest of us 20,” Manzano says of Miranda. “And in the theme song, you have to like the theme of the show.”

In the episodes, Alma often sees adults dealing with a problem – a mother telling her partner that a piece of clothing is too small – and then applying it to her own life after giving it some thought. Or she identifies a problem and works on it.

Doherty says the show is designed to help kids transitioning from Kindergarten to Kindergarten or Grade 1, times when they’re not set in their routines.

“There are a lot more times in the day when they have to figure things out, when there maybe isn’t an adult as present as they were when they were younger. And in those times like that. , we want to help them think about what’s going on, ”she said.

Doherty says she was inspired by two things: seeing an advertisement for a credit card company that stops time made Alma think and reflect on her situation, and “Fleabag,” who defended the fact. to speak to the camera in a confessional manner.

Parents in the show are very human, lose keys or accidentally include a beloved toy in the laundry, but always ready to give a hug. Its creator hopes parents and children will watch together.

“I hope the series is like a good book. When you close a good book, the characters stay in your mind,” says Manzano. “I hope there will be conversations between the parents and the child.”


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