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Arthur Gets an “A” for Adoption

A new, two-part story on the PBS show hits all the right Susan Avery

Talk about adoption or watch wrestling? It’s a no-brainer for “Binky Barnes,” the lovably dim-witted character on Arthur, the long-running PBS cartoon, who finds out that his parents will be adopting a baby from China. He chooses wrestling, and his detached reaction caused concern for his parents—and this reviewer.

Much to my surprise, and delight, the concern was short-lived. The executive producer of Arthur, and his team, did everything right this time. The two episodes on adoption, airing this fall, “Big Brother Binky, Parts I and II,” get the facts right and, equally important, the words and emotions.

Once Mom and Dad explain adoption, Binky is as excited as they are. He joins them on the year-long adoption roller-coaster, and has his own moments of insecurity and jealousy. The boy’s beloved game room becomes his new sister’s bedroom; his mom sews a bai jia bei, a “quilt of 100 wishes,” which is a tradition in Northern China (and something he never had). And right before the big day, he needs the dreaded travel immunizations. “This baby better be worth it,” he mutters, expressing a common sentiment among older siblings-in-waiting.

“The conversations with Adoptive Families had us looking at adoption more carefully. We came up with a story line that felt true to the subject.”

The episodes are a must-watch. Executive producer Pierre Valette put two years of thought and research into these shows, talking to those in the PBS family who’ve adopted or who were adopted. To his credit, Valette also consulted adoption experts, to assure that the story line was both authentic and inoffensive, something that didn’t happen a few years ago. In that misstep, an Arthur episode titled “Dear Adil,” Arthur finds a box of his father’s childhood letters from a foreign penpal. As he reads them, D.W., his four-year-old sister, walks into the room. “Are those from your real parents?” she blurts.

At the time, PBS dismissed concerns from adoptive parents, saying they saw no problem with such a remark. After several discussions with the editors of Adoptive Families, however, Valette understood, and promised to make it right by treating adoption more thoughtfully in the future.

“The conversations with Adoptive Families definitely had us looking at adoption more carefully,” he said recently, in his office at WGBH in Boston. “We did a lot of research and came up with a story line that felt true to the subject and true to the characters, as well. Binky is kind of tough on the outside but very sensitive.”

After putting up with days, and nights, of baby Mei Lin’s crying, Binky cracks in Part II. The boy announces to his parents that his sister is not happy and wants to return to her real home. Scriptwriters to the rescue: “This is her real home,” say her parents. “When we adopted her, we became her family forever.” With Binky set straight, the family goes out for Chinese food, joined by Arthur and his family. Kate, Arthur’s little sister, engages in baby talk with Mei Lin, which, when translated, is a light-hearted venting session about their older brothers.

So we became Arthur fans forever. Thanks to Valette and his team for keeping it real.

“Big Brother Binky” will air on PBS stations nationwide in September.
Check your local listings.

SUSAN AVERY is an adoptive mother and the Kids Editor at New York magazine.

© 2007 WGBH / Cookie Jar Entertainment


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