I'd forgotten how prevalent commercial characters are on young children's backpacks, lunchboxes, and clothing. The handful that I'm familiar with come from Sesame Street and Disney, although even there I'm fuzzy on some of the newer ones. Fortunately, the important Disney icons in the classrooms I'm assigned to seem to be of the princess variety (Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, and Beauty), or Cars-related (Lightning McQueen). I've seen all those movies, so I'm good there.
I've heard of shows like Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, and Sid the Science Kid, but that's about it. This is what I learned from my research (both reading and watching):
- Dora the Explorer is about a bi-lingual Latina girl and her friends--Boots the Monkey, Backpack, and Map. Another main character is Swiper the Fox, who's always trying to steal Dora's things. In each episode Dora has an adventure, which is divided into several sections, and the episode always ends on a positive note. The show is interactive; all the characters ask questions and viewers are encouraged to respond back, and the viewers are invited to participate in the adventure through movement.
- Blue's Clues is a mix of animation, live-action, and puppetry. There's a live-action host, a bright blue puppy named Blue, and Blue's friends. In the show, viewers enter into a computer-animated storybook world to help solve puzzles. Just like in Dora the Explorer, the characters in this show break the fourth wall and ask questions they want the viewer to answer. This show hasn't produced any new episodes for a few years, but it still seems to be popular.
- Sid the Science Kid is about a group of four-year olds: Sid and his friends Gabriela, Gerald, and May, along with Susie the teacher. Sid is always trying to figure out why things work the way they do. The show is based on a preschool science curriculum, and every episode is built around a specific scientific theme or concept. The show uses computer-generated puppets, and is produced by Jim Henson Productions. [Somehow that just seems right; all the time I spent watching Sesame Street decades ago has come full circle.]