St. Louis-based Nine PBS is partnering with David Steward II’s Lion Forge Animation, the Academy Award-winning creators of Hair Love, on a new multimedia initiative designed to positively represent kids of colour and help close the literacy gap. The epic adventure stories called Drawn In are shared through animated video shorts, print and digital comic books. A website with educational games for kids along with resources for educators and grown-ups will support the initiative’s literacy goals.
Drawn In is a series of epic comic adventure stories following the exploits of four Midwest kids who unabashedly love comic books. Tyler, Nevaeh, Jadyn, and Grace, live and breathe comic books. In every Drawn In adventure, their real-world collides with the comic world when colourful heroes, villains, robots, and other fanciful creatures escape from the comic book’s pages––and the kids must analyse and formulate how to catch and restore them if they hope to save their city from cartoon mayhem! As they pursue the renegade characters, the world around the kids changes dramatically: comic panels become portals, letters become loopholes, sound effects become visible, and illustrations burst to life. In each story, the kids use problem-solving and literacy skills to set their world right again.
Like all shows created for a public media audience, Drawn In promises to educate while it entertains. The initiative was designed to address educational objectives for English and language arts for six-to-eight-year-old kids, using comics to create a bridge between learning to read and reading to learn.
Black and Brown kids will see themselves positively represented in every story from Drawn In through the diverse ethnicities of the characters, their socio-economic circumstances, and different life experiences. Starting locally in St. Louis, with the intention to expand nationally, the initiative is unique in that it was created with deep input from the communities it is designed to serve. The creative team intently listened to a panel of community advisors before any content was written, drawn, or produced to make sure the stories, setting and characters authentically represent the needs voiced by the community advisors.
Family Community Learning (FCL) events are also a key element of the initiative, helping to build a connected community and create a rich and highly engaging story for kids to strengthen their literacy skills and reading comprehension. The initiative takes a multigenerational approach, encouraging co-viewing and co-reading, and providing supporting resources that help families build literacy activities into their everyday lives. Nine PBS has created a framework for engaging families around Drawn In that could be replicated by PBS stations across the country.
A past board chair of Nine PBS, David Steward II is lay vice chair of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). He was the recipient of the APTS Advocacy Award in 2021. Steward II said, “Our partnership with Nine PBS illustrates our commitment to driving change through public media and furthering the diversity of content in the public media landscape on a national level. Drawn In is among the first animated kids’ initiatives with African Americans as lead characters in public media. We’re motivated to ensure it will be a catalyst for many more. Helping others understand the unique role that public television serves in the area of education is something I personally embrace and makes our Drawn In initiative even more gratifying. While advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives, we need to start seeing heightened diversity in programming that is reflective of a diverse society. Drawn In does just that and will be a lot of fun in the process.”
Nine PBS president and CEO Amy Shaw said, “Nine PBS wrote the book on how public media engages local communities around issues that matter to them. For us to execute on the vision that our local community advisors had for the Drawn In stories and characters, it was intentional and imperative that we work with a partner like LFA who are Black and Brown in ownership and leadership. Their team is representative of our target audience, both behind the camera and in front of the camera. It’s a more genuine approach to educate, serve, and transform our community.”
Major funding for Drawn In comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. Major support for the associated community engagement work comes from the Steward Family Foundation. Additional community engagement support comes from Joseph and Sandra Lehrer in memory of Ted Koplar. There are many ways kids and grownups alike can get Drawn In. Educational games, digital comics, and animated shorts will be available on their official website.