SOURCE: WGBH

June 30, 2008 19:25 ET

"Martha Speaks" Is Unleashed on PBS KIDS®!

New Vocabulary-Based Children's Series From WGBH Debuts on PBS KIDS on Labor Day, September 1, 2008 (Check Local Listings)

BOSTON, MA--(Marketwire - June 30, 2008) - "The letters in the soup went up to Martha's brain instead of down to her stomach. That evening, Martha spoke."

What would happen if your dog suddenly were able to talk? Would your pet be anything like Martha, the charming canine with an appetite for life who will make her PBS KIDS debut this fall?

"Martha Speaks," the new animated series from the WGBH creators of "Curious George" and "Arthur," and Vancouver's Studio B Productions Inc, premieres on Labor Day, Monday, September 1, 2008 at 7:30am and 3:30pm on PBS KIDS (check local listings).

The series stars Martha, a beloved family dog, who accidentally is fed alphabet soup that gives her the power of human speech and the chance to speak her mind to anyone who will listen. "I can't tell you how much fun it is to see Martha become animated on TV!" says Susan Meddaugh, the author and illustrator of the beloved Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book series, who also serves as a creative producer on the show. "She'll speak and speak and speak... but she will have a lot to learn."

"Martha Speaks," produced by WGBH Boston and Studio B Productions Inc (Vancouver), has all the delight of Meddaugh's book series about Martha the talking dog, brought to life on TV and the Web at pbskids.org/martha and built upon a curriculum designed to bolster the oral vocabulary of four- to seven-year-olds. "'Martha Speaks' is a charming series of books, engaging kids and parents with humor, imagination, and fun!" states Chris Bartleman, series co-executive producer, Studio B Productions Inc. "We are thrilled to be partnering with WGBH to bring such a unique property to PBS KIDS."

Each episode features two 11-minute stories (including six adapted from the classic books) that showcase Martha's linguistic abilities and the hilarious consequences they provoke -- all with a goal of engaging kids and expanding their vocabulary.

For example, in one episode, Martha wants to be just like the hero of her favorite book, "Firehouse Freddie," and she introduces kids to the words reality, fantasy, fiction, and imagine. In another episode, when Martha tries to care for an ailing friend, young viewers learn the meaning of remedy, recuperate, cure, and recover. And when Martha decides to find homes for all the dogs in the animal shelter, the audience learns the words deserted, neglected, abandon, and embrace.

"Vocabulary is one of the five essential elements critical to reading acquisition and a key predictor of reading success," says Carol Greenwald, WGBH senior executive producer. "However, by the time children enter kindergarten, a great chasm in vocabulary knowledge exists between disadvantaged kids and their peers -- and the former never catch up. What better way to reinforce kids' knowledge of words than with a talking dog through the context of great stories?"

Over the course of 40 "Martha Speaks" episodes, kids will get to know Martha as an outspoken, honest, smart, confident (no self-esteem issues here!) shelter dog who loves to eat. Young viewers also will meet a girl named Helen, Martha's 10-year-old companion, and the rest of Martha's family and friends (human and canine alike). Martha and Helen are best friends who play important roles in each other's lives. Martha encourages the shy, artistic Helen to be more outgoing and brave; Helen acts as the voice of reason for Martha.

"It's a relationship that any dog lover can appreciate," Greenwald smiles.

"Martha Speaks" not only is a television broadcast, but also a website at pbskids.org/martha and an extensive national outreach campaign, including a cross-age reading buddy program. Furthermore, the award-winning WGBH outreach team is using content from the series to work with a variety of national educational and library organizations, humane societies, and animal outreach groups.

The Real Martha and Her Owner, Author Susan Meddaugh

Susan Meddaugh was a young children's book illustrator when a neighbor, named Martha, found a stray and asked Meddaugh if she could give the dog a proper home (it was decided that the dog would be named Martha as a tribute). Shortly after Martha's arrival, Meddaugh was feeding her young son alphabet soup; he asked what would happen if Martha ate the soup. Would she speak? A perfectly simple question from a seven-year-old got the author/illustrator thinking: What pet lover doesn't wonder what his pet would say if it could speak?

Fast-forward 15 years, and the six books in the "Martha Speaks" series have sold nearly one million copies in the US, been widely translated throughout the world, and enjoyed enormous popular and critical acclaim.

"Martha Speaks" Online

Pbskids.org/martha will extend and reinforce vocabulary learning from the series in an interactive, playful environment, offering games, videos, and printable offline activities. Kids will have the opportunity to play with Martha, her fellow canine companion Skits, and the rest of the gang in activities that engage and entertain. The "Martha Speaks" website also will offer robust resources to help parents and teachers support vocabulary development. PBS Parents (pbsparents.org) will provide series information and educational goals for parents and caregivers. PBS Teachers (pbsteachers.org) will offer educational content to support the series, as well as a video visit with author Susan Meddaugh available to members of the PBS Teachers' community on Monday, June 30.

About "Martha Speaks" on PBS KIDS

"Martha Speaks" is part of PBS KIDS Raising Readers, focused on helping children learn to read, and is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by a cooperative agreement from the US Department of Education's Ready To Learn grant. Additional funding is provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, dedicated to strengthening America's future through education, and by public television viewers.

"Martha Speaks" is produced by WGBH Boston and Studio B Productions Inc. Senior executive producer is Carol Greenwald, who originated the WGBH-produced "Arthur" series for public television and also is senior executive producer of "Curious George." Content director is Dr. Rebecca Silverman of the University of Maryland. Author Susan Meddaugh is a creative producer, reviewing all scripts and designs for the series.

About WGBH Boston

WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcasting producer, the source of one-third of PBS's prime-time lineup along with some of public television's best-known lifestyle shows, many public radio favorites, and a roster of children's programs that empower kids with innovative, entertaining, curriculum-based content. Among the WGBH-produced children's titles: "Arthur," "Curious George," "Postcards from Buster," "Between the Lions," "Design Squad," and "Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman." WGBH is the number-one producer of websites on pbs.org, one of the most trafficked dot-org websites in the world, and a pioneer in educational multimedia and in technologies and services that make media accessible to the 36 million Americans who rely on captioning or video descriptions. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards... even two Oscars. In 2002, WGBH received a special institutional Peabody Award for 50 years of excellence. For more information, go to www.wgbh.org.

About Studio B Productions Inc

Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Studio B Productions Inc, a production subsidiary of DHX Media Ltd., is a leader in kids' entertainment. Studio B is the producer of popular and award-winning properties such as "Ricky Sprocket-Showbiz Boy" (seen on TELETOON and Nickelodeon worldwide), "Being Ian™," "The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers," "Class of the Titans," and "George of the Jungle®," a co-production with Classic Media and seen on Cartoon Network US. In addition to "Martha Speaks®," Studio B will launch "Kid vs. Kat™," an original series with YTV and Jetix Europe, in 2008. For more information, go to www.studiobproductions.com.

About PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO!

PBS KIDS, for preschoolers, and PBS KIDS GO!, for early elementary schoolchildren, are committed to creating the highest quality non-commercial content and most age-appropriate learning environment for children across the country. Only PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! have earned the unanimous endorsement of parents, children, industry leaders, and educators. With additional PBS resources to complement its programming, including PBS KIDS online (pbskids.org), PBS KIDS GO! online (pbskidsgo.org), PBS Parents (pbsparents.org), PBS Teachers (pbs.org/teachers), PBS KIDS Raising Readers services and literacy events across the country, PBS is providing the tools necessary for positive child development. PBS is a nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 355 public television stations, serving more than 73 million people each week and reaching 99% of American homes.

The contents of this press release were developed under a cooperative agreement from the US Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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