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All About Between the Lions

WARNING: This TV program contains talking animals, magical books, and extreme silliness that may not be appropriate for adult audiences!

As every parent knows, it's a jungle out there if you don't know how to read. Literacy is a serious issue, but a highly-acclaimed PBS children's series, BETWEEN THE LIONS, makes learning to read a laughing matter with a menagerie of colorful characters and a zany mix of songs, stories, skits, puppets, animation and live action. The series premiered in April 2000, and is now in its sixth award-winning season on PBS (check local listings).

BETWEEN THE LIONS is named for a family of lions -- Theo, Cleo, Lionel, and Leona -- who run a library like no other on earth. The doors "between the lions" swing open to reveal a magical place where characters pop off the pages of books, vowels sing, and words take on a life of their own. This daily series uses a variety-show format to give young viewers fun and creative opportunities to learn about language, phonics, vocabulary, and sentence structure. The backbone of the series is a comprehensive literacy curriculum geared to beginning readers ages four to seven. Developed with reading and literacy experts from across the country, the curriculum emphasizes both the pleasures and the value of reading, as well as the skills needed for learning how to read.

"We know that kids learn from what they see on TV and that high-quality, educational television like BETWEEN THE LIONS expands children's vocabulary, increases visits to the library, teaches letters and sounds, and inspires its viewers to read more," observes executive producer Judith Stoia. "But kids will just say BETWEEN THE LIONS is a lot of fun. And they're right!"

BETWEEN THE LIONS introduces viewers to the many places they are likely to encounter the written word: in stories, letters, notes, articles, poetry, reference materials, computers, signs, recipes and songs. An unusual cast of characters -- Theo and Cleo, the lion librarians with a ravenous appetite for literature; their mischievous and amusing cubs, Lionel and Leona; a hyper-logical computer mouse named Click; a curmudgeonly, talking bust of the library's founder, Mr. Barnaby B. "Don't Call Me Buster" Busterfield III; a pair of dissident pigeons named Walter and Clay; a world-renowned therapist specializing in the treatment of ωlong-word freakoutω and other literary disorders, Dr. Ruth Wordheimer; soulful singing sensations, Martha Reader and the Vowelles; and a synomym-spouting dinosaur named Heath the Thesaurus -- helps transform the sometimes confusing process of learning to read into an entertaining adventure for young children and their families.

Each thirty-minute episode of BETWEEN THE LIONS features regular appearances by a lineup of animated characters, too. There's a brave chicken named Jane, who scratches warnings like "scram" and "run" into the dirt just in the nick of time to save her friends from impending peril while helping them hone their reading skills. The evil Un people go around adding "un" to the beginnings of words just to start trouble, while their noble counterparts, the Re people use their more constructive prefix to put things right again. Cliff Hanger, the unlucky comic book hero, uses quick thinking, his trusty survival manual, and, yes, literacy skills, to narrowly escape danger, only to end up back where he began, precariously hanging from a cliff.

The format of the programs is based on a "whole-part-whole" teaching approach, which many reading experts recommend as a way to combine the most effective whole language and phonics-based reading strategies. Each episode opens in the library and introduces the "whole" -- original stories, familiar fables and folktales, poetry or some other source of engaging text read aloud by the lions -- which triggers an adventure (or misadventure!) for the characters.

The "whole" then leads into a variety of playful "parts" segments featuring original songs (showcasing top talents like B. B. the King of Beasts and Tammy Lionette), music videos, limericks, tongue twisters, slapstick, parodies, and celebrity cameos that introduce phonics skills critical for beginning readers. Ultimately the library characters pull all the pieces together in a retelling of the opening story with a new twist, giving viewers a chance to revisit the key words and sounds in a meaningful context.

BETWEEN THE LIONS' head writer, Norman Stiles, has his own unique way of describing the process of combining so many parts to create a complete kidωs show thatωs both educational and entertaining. "The segments are woven together, Monty Python style, with an irreverently comic yet warm sensibility, producing a cardigan-like variety show that is silly yet cozy, and that doesn't shrink from the use of ridiculous metaphors or strong detergents," says Stiles.

BETWEEN THE LIONS is more than just a television show. The companion Web site (, scheduled to launch along with the broadcast premiere on April 3, 2000, is a critical companion to this cutting-edge literacy series. Young Web surfers can subscribe to The Paw Print, a free e-mail newsletter, play interactive games, download print materials, read and write stories, hear song clips and view video segments from the show, and get suggestions for great books to check out of their own libraries. Updated weekly, the site also includes special sections of resources for parents and educators.

The series and the Web site are supported by an extensive national educational outreach campaign designed to rally families, teachers, librarians, literacy organizations and community leaders around the goal of helping kids learn to read. Fifteen national organizations that helped shape the BETWEEN THE LIONS outreach initiative will play a vital role in carrying out project activities. These Founding Partners include:
* American Association of School Librarians
* American Library Association
* Association for Library Service to Children
* Center for the Book, Library of Congress
* FamilyEducation Network
* First Book
* Friends of Libraries U.S.A.
* Girls Scouts of the U.S.A.
* International Reading Association
* National Association of Elementary School Principals
* National Association of State Title I Directors
* National Coalition for Literacy
* National Center for Family Literacy
* National Center for Learning Disabilities
* Reading Is Fundamental, Inc.

BETWEEN THE LIONS outreach activities include the Designated Reader Campaign, which reinforces the message that children should be read to every day; a Guide to Early Literacy; a video for parents; Book Cubs, a project with Reading Is Fundamental to create reading clubs, and community workshops offered in partnership with the American Library Association for parents and caregivers to increase literacy and library use.

The BETWEEN THE LIONS team is committed to making quality television available to all children. Each episode is accessible to blind and visually impaired viewers through WGBH Boston's innovative, Emmy Award-winning Descriptive Video Service (DVS). The series also is closed captioned by The Caption Center at WGBH for viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

BETWEEN THE LIONS is produced for PBS by the award-winning team of WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd., two experts in the creative union of educational goals with laugh-out-loud children's television.

Sirius Thinking, Ltd. is an educational entertainment company. Cofounders of Sirius Thinking, Ltd. include John Sculley, former CEO of Apple Computer and PepsiCo; Christopher Cerf, founding director and editor-in-chief of the Children's Television Workshop's Educational Books, Records, Games and Toys Division, as well as a Grammy and Emmy Award-winner for his musical contributions to Sesame Street and The Electric Company; Michael Frith, former executive vice-president and creative director for Jim Henson Productions and former editor of Dr. Seuss's Beginner Books at Random House; and Norman Stiles, eleven-time Emmy Award-winning head writer of Sesame Street.

WGBH Boston is the source of one-third of all prime-time programs on PBS. The children's programming team includes vice president Brigid Sullivan, responsible for developing some of PBS's most successful children's series, including Arthur; ZOOM,Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego; and Long Ago and Far Away, and Emmy Award-winning executive producer Judith Stoia. whose credits include an array of documentary, drama, comedy and public affairs specials for PBS, including The AIDS Quarterly with Peter Jennings, The World According to Us (three women's comedy programs) for Lifetime, and After School Specials for ABC.

The BETWEEN THE LIONS production team includes veteran WGBH executive producer Judith Stoia, Sirius Thinking executive producers Chris Cerf (creative producer) and Norman Stiles (head writer), supervising producer Beth Kirsch, and series producer Carol Klein.

BETWEEN THE LIONS is funded in part by a Ready to Learn grant from the United States Department of Education through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support has also been provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Park Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and the Institute for Civil Society. National corporate sponsorship is provided by Bright Horizons and Chick-Fil-A.

Between the Lions
The six-time Emmy Award winning BETWEEN THE LIONS, produced by WGBH, Sirius Thinking, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, has recently premiered ten exciting new episodes on PBS KIDS. Click here for details!

Sirius Thinking, Ltd. has received multiple Emmy and Grammy awards. Click here for a full list of awards won by Between the Lions.
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