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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum -- inspired by the best-selling kids book series Ordinary People Change the World -- is an animated series about three friends who discover a hidden museum where they can be transported back in time to meet important people from history when they were kids. The central idea is appealing, and parents will like that kids are learning about history, as well as the diversity of the historical celebs featured. Many people of color are spotlighted (George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman), as are women (Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie). But the show plays loose with actual facts (was Carver's biggest challenge protecting his garden from rogue soccer players?), which is puzzling for a show about history. Parents may want to watch along and share their own knowledge. The show doesn't have any iffy language or mature content, save for sequences in which the friends travel through time, which is depicted as rushing dangerously fast through a landscape with objects that look like they might hit them. Themes of curiosity and perseverance are illustrated with segments that spotlight how important it can be to think or do things differently than the mainstream.
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What's the story?
Inspired by the best-selling kids book series Ordinary People Change the World by author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos, XAVIER RIDDLE AND THE SECRET MUSEUM follows everyday kids Xavier, Yadina, and Brad through amazing adventures. You see, the trio has discovered a mysterious unknown museum beneath a famous city science museum. Down there, they can travel back in time and space to meet real-life inspirational figures like George Washington Carver, Albert Einstein, and Harriet Tubman when they were kids to find out what ordinary skills they used to impact the world in an extraordinary way.
Is it any good?
As an appealing "you can do anything!" adventure cartoon for kids, this animated show is moderately successful, but its tendency to play fast and loose with historical facts is puzzling. The idea of a secret world that lies beneath our ordinary one is a time-honored literary and cinematic setup, so the subterranean museum that Xavier, Yadina, and Brad have discovered beneath a regular science museum is a cool entry point into the trio's adventures. It may even spark imaginative fantasies for young viewers, already seeking Narnia in closets and Platform 9 3/4 in train stations.
But the series' many historical inaccuracies are odd for a show that clearly wants to make history come alive for kids. "Go for it!" is an unlikely motto for Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937, and she certainly didn't complete her solo Atlantic flight as a grade schooler, as Xavier Riddle depicts. George Washington Carver did have a secret garden as a child, in which he learned important lessons that impacted his career in botany, but it's a real stretch to imagine him having to defend plants from renegade soccer players in 19th century Missouri -- and the show seems to overlook his importance as an activist for ex-slaves and champion of sustainable agriculture, instead boiling his messages down to "take care of plants and you'll take care of the earth." Parents who let their kids watch may want to supplement the lessons learned.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the characters of Xavier, Yabina, and Brad. Are they good role models? How are their characters differentiated? Which one is the oldest? Which one gets the trio into the most trouble?
Kids: How is your impression of the world shaped by what you see on TV or in movies? Have you ever changed the way you view something because of something you saw on TV? If so, when? How can we use this power of the media to influence positive change?
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