For 30 years in public television, Somervillian Marisa Wolsky has been able to focus on her raison d’etre: making educational content fun for kids. Her latest project has proven to be one of her most popular: the interactive “Scribbles and Ink” drawing app, based on children’s books by author and illustrator Ethan Long.
“Children’s television has always been a passion of mine,” says Wolsky, an executive producer at WGBH. “I wrote my thesis in college about Sesame Workshop and ‘Sesame Street.’”
At the time they met, WGBH had been working with Long on another project. Long introduced Wolsky to his “Scribbles and Ink” books, whose titular characters—Scribbles the cat and Ink the mouse—had adventures that prominently featured making art. She liked them so much that WGBH licensed the books with the idea to produce a TV show. Most of Wolsky’s work as a producer focuses on STEM projects (those that teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,) but she was drawn to “Scribbles and Ink” precisely because art comes naturally to the PBS audience, which is mostly ages 4 to 8.
It was pure serendipity that PBS was looking for a new project in which video and gaming were integrated, and Wolsky realized that “Scribbles and Ink” would be a perfect fit. Forty other people applied to work with the PBS team, but Wolsky and Long were awarded the opportunity.
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. In fact, Long says, it was a lengthy and occasionally frustrating process getting from acceptance to final approval, and he credits Wolsky’s perseverance for making sure the app actually happened.
“In my mind, I had quit a couple of times. I was tired of waiting,” he says. “Marisa talked me down off the ledge a couple of times, told me this is just how it goes. Then PBS bought it, and now it’s online and it’s pretty amazing.”
Since its introduction, it has become the most-played game in the PBS Kids Games App. It can also be played on the PBSkids.com website. Young artists guide the duo through four different stories, where they get to create a rocket ship and throw a party, among other activities.
“I’m encouraging imagination and I just wanted it to be subtle,” Long says of his creations. “I wanted them to have a world that looks like it was drawn.”
Wolsky admits that she is not an artist herself, but that she wishes more kids would pursue drawing without thinking about how others will see their art.
“You’ll notice young kids have no problem drawing. With great abandon, they’ll draw,” she says. “But at some age, usually lower elementary school, they get self-conscious about drawing and the kids who feel they aren’t talented stop. And it’s really sad!”
Wolsky and Long’s journey in encouraging creativity isn’t over yet. PBS was so pleased with the results and engagement that it has ordered a second season. Long says he is excited that his characters will get to continue interacting with young artists through four new stories. And after that? Your imagination’s the limit.
The Scribbles and Ink app is free and can be used online at PBSkids.org or downloaded through the PBS Kids Games app.
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