Scott Neumyer is the author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town. He's a publicist for Click Communications as well as a writer and photographer. You can reach him on Twitter and at www.scottwrites.com. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. You can read his Raising a Cinephile column every other Thursday.
The first time I heard of Super Why! was before The Wiggle Bear was even born, and I must admit to laughing it off pretty quickly. The title sounded ridiculous enough ("What does that even mean?" I asked myself) and without a little one running around yet, I didn't give the show a second thought. But you know the story from there... My wife and I decided to expand our family to three, The Wiggle Bear came into our lives nine months later, and we started watching wall-to-wall cartoons and preschool shows just about every minute of the day. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little on the amount of TV time we exposed Wiggles to, but we did watch a lot of television and finding new shows outside of the Disney and Nickelodeon universe can be a bit of a challenge for new parents. That's when we stumbled across Super Why! Playing on PBS Kids one morning. We decided to give it a chance and, before the twenty-four minute episode was over, The Wiggle Bear had four brand new animated friends that we, as parents, were more than happy to let her spend time with.
Premiering in 2007 on the PBS Kids network, Super Why! is a CGI cartoon that follows the an animated group of four characters that must use their literacy powers to solve problems and help "save the day." There's the lead character Whyatt (younger brother of Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Red (from “Little Red Riding Hood”), Pig (from “The Three Little Pigs”), and Princess Pea (from “The Princess and the Pea”). Every episode sees the group exploring books in Storybrook Village (Whyatt usually gets a message on his "Super Duper Computer" to alert them that their services are needed) and solving fairy tale mysteries after transforming into their superhero counterparts. Pig becomes Alpha Pig (with "Alphabet Power"), Red becomes Wonder Red (with "Word Power"), Pea becomes Princess Presto (with "Spelling Power") and Whyatt leads the group as Super Why! (with the "Power to Read"). There's even, technically, a fifth member as the viewer turns into Super You (with the "Power to Help"). It's all pretty exciting and turns reading into an adventure as the team uses their powers to fix fairy tales and save the day.
If it all sounds a little cheesy and simplistic well... it is. The show is clearly geared for the preschool crowd, but that's one of the things I adore about it. There are a lot of preschool cartoons out there that attempt to guide little ones to the path of reading, but there are none quite as adept as Super Why! Where other programs introduce words, letters, and sounds, Super Why! actually breaks everything down to the letter, then the word, then the phrase, and finally the entire story. The difference is hard to describe, but it's pretty clear when you watch the show. You can actually feel the active learning process taking shape. It is, in my humble opinion, the very best way for kids to begin to learn the fundamentals of reading and actually fall in love with words, stories, and books. The only thing better might be reading together with your child, but as far as televised entertainment goes, Super Why! is the tops in the literacy education category.
Wow, I may have actually just made the show sound a bit dry. You're probably sitting there wondering if your kid is actually going to dig this show or nod off after the first few minutes. I know. I know. I blabber on about education and literacy and I automatically make the show sound like the television equivalent of watching paint dry. Well, fear not, Super Readers! Super Why! is a twenty-four minute bundle of fun for kids and even has some entertainment value for the parents that remember their fairy tales well enough to enjoy a whole new take on them.
Don't believe me? Trust me. The Wiggle Bear loves her Super Why! so much that, when she received the Super Why! costume last Christmas, she proceeded to wear it pretty much all day (photographic evidence has been provided below... isn't she adorable?!). She cheers on her superhero friends, pretends to fly when they do, and even plays the Super Why! game on my iPad. Yup, she's way into it and it's clearly helped with her letter and word recognition at the tender age of nearly-three.
If you're looking for a show that doesn't fall under the Disney or Nickelodeon banner, you'd be hard pressed to find something as fun, engaging, and educational as Super Why! It's a treat for both kids and adults, and is probably the best literacy learning experience your kiddos will get (outside of school). Give it a try!