Recently, while writing an article about things I missed from my childhood, I wrote a section about PBS Kids shows. As I wrote, however, a realization washed over me. There were simply too many shows with too many things to talk about for a measly little section to do it justice. I needed a whole new article to accurately depict the weird and chaotic world that was PBS Kids. There are so many bizarre but really good shows that no one ever talks about! In fact, sometimes, I look back on some of them and wonder if they were real or just a fever dream conjured up by my young brain. (Is anything real?) Without further ado, here is part one of my top nine PBS Kids shows.
9. Lomax the hound of music
First up, here is Lomax the Hound of Music! I simply had to talk about Lomax first because I loved this show as a kid, but I never hear anyone talk about it or mention it anywhere! Lomax the Hound of Music is about a dog named Lomax who loves music and travels on a steam train called the Melody Hound Express. He travels with his friends (a cat named Delta and their human friend Amy) as they travel through the United States and learn about and sing songs from different music styles.
There were a lot of songs, all bops, but my personal fave was “John, Jacob, Jingelheimer, Schmidt.” It was so catchy. I still catch myself singing it sometimes! No wonder everybody couldn’t stop singing it in the episode it was featured in. I mean, that would totally be me in that situation. I loved learning and singing all the new songs, which were different folk songs from the United States. The theme song was also a total bop, and still lives in my head rent-free years after I stopped watching the show. A fun fact about this show was that part of it was shot at the Essex Steam Train in Essex, Connecticut! And as someone who used to go to the Essex Steam Train a lot when I was little, I find this very cool.
Now, let’s talk about a show that I’m sure everyone knows, thanks to all the memes: Arthur! But in case you’ve somehow missed it, let me explain: Arthur is about an eight-year-old anthropomorphic aardvark named Arthur who lives in Elwood City with his parents, his annoying but also iconic little sister DW, his baby sister Kate, and his dog Pal. Arthur is well known for the sass. I mean, between Arthur, his friends, and DW, there were some savage roasts flying around, including, but not limited to, Francine telling Muffy she looks like she shops in the dark, and Arthur telling DW that her face looks like a watermelon except for the bad haircut. All the savage roasts on Arthur really influenced this generation’s sense of humor. They make this show enjoyable to watch even as a grown-up.
Another thing that Arthur has become well-known for is the multitude of memes from it. So many moments from that show were total moods. And boy did the internet pounce on them. We have Arthur to thank for many famous memes, such as the clenched fist meme, the “this sign can’t stop me because I can’t read!” meme, and the library card meme. But despite all the memes, what I really appreciate about Arthur is how it didn’t shy away from talking about tough issues like cancer, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how to talk to a friend who has lost a loved one. I appreciate all these episodes, but especially the last one, because I feel like how to properly help grieving friends is not talked about enough. I mean, it can be hard for other people to know what to do in such a sad situation, and it can feel so awkward. So I really applaud Arthur for conveying that message to a young audience.
Oh, and did I mention its ending? Arthur went on for a whopping 25 seasons, from 1996 to 2022. It felt like that show would never end! When Arthur was going to end, I was curious how they were going to end it. I mean, how on Earth do you satisfyingly end a series that has been going on for 26 years? Somehow, they did it. The episode flashes forward 20 years later, and we watch some of the main cast reconnect as grown-ups. Even though some of their career choices aren’t what I would have thought they would have done, they make sense, like Buster being a teacher, given his scholastic aptitude. I also liked how the ending came full circle with Arthur being an author who is writing a graphic novel based on his childhood. He reads to his friends a story about how he got his glasses, which was the first episode of the show! This finale was the only finale to ever make me cry because it signified an end to my childhood. I mean, I grew up with Arthur. I’ll end by saying thank you to Arthur. Thank you for teaching us kids some devastating insults, for providing us with some iconic memes, and most of all, for teaching us important lessons we will never forget.
7. word girl
Next on the list, we have a show that’s responsible for expanding the vocabulary of our generation: Word Girl! This show has experienced a resurgence of popularity on the internet as of late, which it deserves because it was so funny, entertaining, and well-written. I still enjoy watching it now and I’m an adult. Word Girl is about a 10-year-old girl named Becky who has a secret: she’s actually a superhero named from the Planet Lexicon! As a baby, she crash-landed on Earth after sneaking onto a spaceship. She was adopted by Tim and Sally Botsford, who provided her alter ego: Becky Botsford.
In the present, Becky must balance her normal life with her superhero responsibilities and keep the city safe from bad guys. And boy, are there a lot of them. The villains she fights are definitely an outlandish bunch: for starters, we have Toby McCalister III, a charismatic English boy genius with an obsessive crush on Word Girl, and a specialty in building gigantic, destructive robots. We also have Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy, a guy with a sandwich for a head. But the most tragic villain of all is Dr. Two Brains. Why is he tragic? Originally, Dr. Two-Brains was Dr. Steven Boxleitner, a kindhearted scientist who was a friend and mentor to Word Girl. He taught Word Girl most of what she knew about how to be a superhero. Tragedy struck for Dr. Boxleitner during an experiment with rodents, where his mind fused to a mouse. He became doomed to an insatiable hunger for cheese, and a life of crime to obtain said cheese.
So how does Word Girl defeat all these villains? Well, Word Girl has several superpowers she uses to keep the supervillains around her in check: Flight, Super-Strength, Super-sonic speed, Super-hearing, super-natural reflexes, but most importantly of all, her impressively advanced vocabulary. She can define any word at a moment’s notice. She could probably defeat a villain just by intimidating them with her superior vocabulary.
In addition to keeping the villains of the city in check, Word Girl must keep her identity as a superhero secret from everybody she knows and loves. Not only does she have to keep villains from wreaking havoc and keep her city safe from crime, but she also has to keep up her normal life and her responsibilities. She has to fight all these villains BY HERSELF, and can’t tell anyone about it. It’s a burden she must carry alone. I could go on and on about Word Girl, but we’d be here until I graduate. Suffice it to say, it’s a really good show.
6. Between the lions
Speaking of words, let’s talk about another show that was about words, and reading: Between the Lions! I loved this show when I was little because I loved to read. Between the Lions is about a family of four lions who run and live in a large library called the “The Barnaby B. Busterfield III Memorial Public Library.” There’s Theo and Cleo Lion, the parents, who have the best relationship of any parents in a kids show. There’s Lionel Lion, their seven-year-old son, who is obsessed with “Cliff Hanger” books. Finally, there’s Leona Lion, their four-year-old daughter who is curious about everything and is learning to read.
Every episode, the lions read a book to the audience: sometimes it’s a picture book, sometimes a fairy tale or folk tale. Sometimes they even transport inside the book via their computer mouse friend Click dragging and dropping them inside it. Click can also drag and drop objects inside the book to the real world, which was always a very chaotic time. Being a patron at Barnaby B. Busterfield the III Memorial Public Library would never be boring, that’s for sure. In addition to the lions, several other colorful characters frequent the library. There’s Heath the Thesaurus, the library’s thesaurus who is also a giant dinosaur (get it?). There’s Barnaby B. Busterfield III, a cantankerous rock statue who is the founder of the library, who lives in the library dome and is constantly pestered by two pigeons named Walter and Clay. There’s Arty Smartypants, a puppet that is pure nightmare fuel. He’s a jumbled-up mess of a puppet and wears these giant overalls he called his “smarty pants.”Despite how scary he looked, his song “Dance in Smarty Pants” was a total banger.
In addition to the regular story, each episode had tons of little sketches and segments. This is where it gets funky, in case it’s not funky enough already. For example, there was a segment called “Magic Time with the Great Smartini.” In it, Arty puts two to four words in his pants (FBI open up), then says a magic word, and does a magic dance until he forms a compound word. There’s also “The Un-People,” who like to go around undoing things and generally wreaking havoc, until the heroic Re-people come around and Re-do things. There also was “Martha Reader and The Vowelles,” which was a parody of motown music, where three colored lips with satin gloves and wigs would sing a song about a particular vowel, which introduced me to motown music. If this all sounds insane to you, that’s because it was! This show was a fever dream. It was never boring, that was for sure. It taught me so much and stayed in my head long after I stopped watching it because it was just so dang weird.
That’s part one of the top nine PBS Kids shows from my childhood. (If I wrote all of them right now, you’d be here all day, I have a lot to say!) As you can see, PBS Kids had a lot of weird and bizarre shows, but I still enjoyed them! I still have plenty of other shows to talk about, so don’t tune out just yet!