I was happy to have found this in a remainder bin in a supermarket. Originally produced in 2002, Liberty’s Kids: Established 1776 features great acting in support of strong historical writing. Nominally intended for 6 to 12 year-olds, the stories include people (Phillis Wheatley) and events (Dunsmore’s Proclamation) that I had to look up. After watching this, I sent them on to my sister’s kids.
The viewpoint characters are two young teenagers: James Hiller and Sarah Phillips. He is American and an apprentice to Benjamin Franklin. She is English and staying with Franklin who is a friend of her family. Also, she is seeking her father, an army officer stationed at Fort Pitt on the Ohio frontier. The third youngster is a French boy, Henri Lefevre, who was indentured to pay off his parents' passage when they died en route. Franklin’s adult worker is Moses, a former slave who worked at skilled trades and market jobs to buy his freedom. His brother, Cato, is still a slave. Cato joins the British Army to earn his freedom, and eventually leaves for Canada with the Tories. This is all very complicated.
We also meet Benedict Arnold, the hero of Fort Ticonderoga (voice by Dustin Hoffman). Arnold Schwartzenegger speaks for Baron von Steuben. Maria Shriver is Benedict Arnold’s wife, Peggy Shippen. Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Michael Douglas, Michael York, Aaron Carter, Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Norman Schwarzkopf, Russell Means, and Warren Buffett also give voice to the characters. Heading the line-up is Walter Cronkite, as Benjamin Franklin, in his last working role.
Liberty is for everyone and the writers take a little of it with the facts, though not egregiously. It is true that John Adams insulted John Dickinson. It is not true that Benjamin Franklin was standing right there when Adams’s attempt at apology was rebuffed.
The worst problems are within the guide for teachers and parents provided on the website, http://libertyskids.com/. There it is claimed that we only have the freedoms that the government gives us. That contradicts the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… “
The Liberty’s Kids website does provide an interesting array of games and activities.
The series garnered several media awards. Walter Cronkite was recognized with two Daytime Emmys for acting. The Television Critics gave the entire series its award for 2003. The Humanitas Prize (Wikipedia here; and homepage here) recognized the writers for two episodes: Marc Scott Zicree and Elaine Zicree for “Common Sense”; and Doug McIntyre for “Liberty or Death.”
The creators, Michael Maliani and Kevin O’Donnell brought their experience from Sailor Moon, Inspector Gadget, Strawberry Shortcake and other popular series. Their ideas were then developed for production by Andy Heyward who grew up in the TV business and bought the production company DIC Entertainment from Radio-Television Luxembourg in 1986. In addition to the many writers who worked on individual episodes, most of the series was the work of Jim Staahl. His credits begin with Sid Caesar and Steve Allen, continue through Mork & Mindy, Charles in Charge, and Young Hercules, and include Second City Theater and SCTV. Jim Staahl was a writer for the Emmy Award series “Teacher’s Pet” from Disney.
The forty chapters run 24 minutes each. The show has aired on PBS, CW, and MyNetwork TV. It still runs on independent stations that want to meet FCC requirements for educational programming. CBS placed it under their labels “Slumber Party” (2006) and “Cookie Jar” (2008). Also in 2008, it ran on The History Channel. In 2012, the series went digital on qubo.
The entire set of DVDs can be found for sale new and used on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites online. Or watch the bargain bins at the supermarket.
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