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Jack and Holly: Brit-Tot Invasion Takes on the Big Boys at Disney
New children’s animation series from Britain offers preschoolers an educational alternative to mainstream programming.
Mainstream programming such as the Baby Einstein series, even with their Disney-sized budget, hasn't been able to provide the quality of content that manages to engage both children and their parents. In response, the team at Blockhouse TV set out to create a series aimed at doing just that – in a way that takes the concept to a whole new level. The educational series, aimed at preschoolers, was first released in Britain last year and is now available to U.S. audiences on DVD and online via Amazon Instant.
The two main characters, Jack and Holly, are English children (or, as some may be quick to point out, two kids that talk like Thomas the Tank Engine). Holly is the big sister Jack never had, and together they make learning fun. They’ve been best friends forever - whenever Jack is looking a little lost and a bit confused, along comes Holly to put Jack right.
The series blends multiple animation styles with live action to create varied programming designed to keep the attention of younger children. Currently, there are seasonal and scientific offerings: Jack and Holly’s Christmas Countdown, exploring the meaning of Christmas with plenty of music; and Jack and Holly’s Cosmic Stories, a collection of seven stories introducing children to the science of space with dreamy exploration sequences and cute, chatty explanations from Jack and Holly themselves.
Jack and Holly was developed with the assistance of teachers, educationalists, and most importantly, focus groups of preschoolers and their parents. Armed with the understanding that children respond far better to peers than to adults, Creative Director Jezz Wright describes their approach: “We realized a few simple but important things: for example, Jack and Holly will speak directly to the children, the viewer – that just doesn't happen on most children’s television, but the kids love it. Jack and Holly will ask them if they understand, and they’re nodding right back.” The process of creating Jack and Holly included testing different color combinations before settling on the versions they use now and using substantial input from children: “All the voices in the series are local children, and they also advised on the vocabulary.”
Keeping parents in the loop was another important component of developing Jack and Holly. As part of a holistic approach to early childhood learning, each series is accompanied by additional materials -- many free to download -- to encourage children to talk about what they have seen and to develop other skills. These materials include a Christmas Countdown workbook and collection of songs; and a Cosmic Stories comic that includes additional stories, puzzles, and facts.
Series producer Julianne Martin explains why this is so important: “Like all concerned parents, we worry about how much time our kids are spending in front of a TV. In 1999, studies showed that typical American & British ten-year-olds spent 38 hours a week watching TV. By 2010, that had gone up to an astonishing 55 hours a week glued to a screen -- that's nearly 8 hours a day, every single day! That's why we developed the Jack and Holly books. After they've watched some TV, get your kids away from the screen and encourage them to do some reading. If you can spend time with them, talking about what they've read and what they've seen, so much the better. It's tough for busy parents, we know, but spending time with your kids is an essential part of parenting.”
Response from viewers in both the U.S. and the U.K. has been extremely positive:
“This is one of the very few series that my preschooler son asks for by name. I thought he would have trouble with it because Jack and Holly speak in British English, but not so at all.” (Christmas Countdown)
“This is a super story and I know it will be a wonderful way to share the magical moments of Christmas through these gorgeous animated characters, Jack & Holly. A must buy for little ones.” (Christmas Countdown)
“I got this DVD for my 4 year old Grandaughter [sic] - she absolutely loves it - an added bonus is the workbook that can be downloaded free from the website and makes it more fun for everyone. Lovely animation, beautifully put together.” (Cosmic Stories)
“My children just loved this and were so absorbed in these loveable characters, they look and sound great. Fantastic for visual learners, making learning enjoyable through visually appealing graphics. This acted as a stimulus to further questions about the solar system and a healthy interest in our universe. The children have started their own book on the solar system and enjoy watching the cosmic stories again and again to collect more and more interesting facts.” (Cosmic Stories)
“We're a tiny team, with a fraction of a big Hollywood studio’s budget,” says Martin, “but we're delivering the sort of original content parents are looking for. It's not necessarily going to make your child a genius, but with careful guidance and interaction from a parent, Jack and Holly will surely engage inquisitive minds.”
For more information please visit:
Web site: http://jackandholly.com/
Screenshots and other images: www.jackandholly.com/
Jack and Holly’s Cosmic Stories
Jack and Holly’s Christmas Countdown
About Blockhouse TV
Blockhouse TV was founded in 2009 by husband-and-
“When our son Cillian was born, we got a lot of educational DVDs, and we were pretty shocked by what we saw. We felt as though programme makers had got lazy, and nobody was creating the sort of things we wanted our kids to watch. We'd both had experience in broadcast, and we decided we could do better. At least, we were prepared to try.”