|To tell you the truth, I’ve always had a bit of trouble with the name I gave this column: “Viewed and Reviewed.” One doesn’t just “view” a book, after all, in order to “review” it. Reading requires more intense activity than that. But today, the title really works, for it’s not a book that’s on my agenda, but the latest tv series for kids on PBS. Does it feature a monster who devours cookies? A sweet-talking big yellow bird? No, it ‘s Word Girl , otherwise disguised as Becky Botsford, a mild-mannered 5th grader who just happens to possess the strength of a superhero souped up by a fabulous vocabulary. Dedicated to fighting crime, Word Girl sports the requisite super-hero history. Born on Planet Lexicon, she arrived on Earth when her spaceship, piloted by Captain Huggy Face, landed on Earth with a crash. Unlike Superman’s adoptive parents, though, Becky’s mom and dad, who found her on their doorstep reading a newspaper, are clueless about her special powers.|
They know she could do crossword puzzles and had aced the entire dictionary by fthe time she was two, but that she and crime-stopper Word Girl look remarkably alike seems to have escaped their attention. According to its creators, this new animated series aims to enrich kids’ vocabularies and, in the process, foster better reading comprehension. As Sesame Street does for younger viewers, Word Girl  also aims to close the gap for those who don’t grow up in language-rich environments. Spoofing familiar super-hero, crime fighting plots, each episode introduces four new vocabulary words in a series of comical contexts conveyed via brightly jazzy animation.
Now I’m an English professor with a degree in education. You might think that in a utopia of my own fashioning, kids would expand their vocabularies from reading and conversation with literate adults who don’t talk down to them. And you’d be partly right. But I also believe that visual literacy, the ability to view, analyze and understand the images that bombard them (and us) from their earliest moments, is just as important a skill for kids to master as reading well. In fact, it’s a form of reading well. It’s also an obvious fact that visual media are seductive and extremely powerful. The people at PBS know this and have a proven track record at putting this power to positive use. Let’s hear it for them and for Word Girl. If your local PBS outlet doesn’t yet carry the show, rattle their cages until they do. It’s guilt-free television for parents that’s actually fun for kids, who may or may not realize how much they’re learning as they follow the adventures of Becky’s alter-ego. It also doesn’t hurt that this superhero is a girl.