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‘A Sense of Belonging’ for Hispanic Children, With Puppets

Standing outside a home, Romina Puga paints endangered animals, plants a garden, hosts guest experts and talks about the news. She is joined by two friends: Coco, a puppet shaped like a coconut, and Maya, a plush pink puppet.

Maybe most important, Ms. Puga is as likely to speak in Spanish as in English.

Those are scenes from “Club Mundo Kids,” a TV news show debuting April 10 on Televisa and April 11 on Telemundo, aimed at young, first- and second-generation Hispanic children in the United States, where the large Hispanic population is growing, diverse and often underrepresented in television and in movies.

“There is very little content being created that is speaking to U.S. Hispanic, Latinx children and telling their stories,” said Ms. Puga, the show’s 31-year-old host. “The younger generation doesn’t really have anyone breaking things down and talking directly to them in a way that is digestible.”

Latinos make up the largest minority group in the United States, accounting for 18.5 percent of the population, and more than one in four newborns are Latino, according to the Pew Research Center.

But only 4.5 percent of all speaking characters across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018 were Latino, according to a 2019 study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Broadcasters have occasionally tried to reach young Hispanic audiences, often with cartoon programming like Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer,” about the adventures of a young animated Latina and her friends. In 2016, the Disney Channel introduced “Elena of Avalor,” an animated series praised for featuring Disney’s first Latina princess. Univision has “Planeta U” a Saturday programming block of animated and educational programs aimed at children ages 2 to 8.

And for decades, “Sesame Street” has featured Rosita, a blue bilingual puppet from Mexico.

“Club Mundo Kids,” in contrast, puts real people in front of the camera, including a host, children and guest experts, and makes a point of talking to children ages 6 and up about Latino life in a real-world context.

“It’s a real opportunity to meet Spanish-speaking kids where they are and to help them build language and reading skills, like ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Reading Rainbow’ has been doing for decades in English,’’ said Jason Ruiz, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame.

He added that the show, possibly alone among programs for children, “will be symbolically important for giving Spanish-dominant kids a sense of belonging by having a show aimed directly at them.”

Hosted by Ms. Puga, a former ABC News correspondent, the series features a mix of live-action and animated segments that explain topics like where food comes from and why there are so many Spanish dialects.

Ms. Puga said the show combines elements of the 1990s children’s programs that she watched growing up Chilean-Argentine in Miami, but with current trends, themes and explanatory segments. In an episode about agriculture, for instance, an animated cornstalk named Miguel Maíz explains how some foods act as fuel for our bodies, and Ms. Puga says the different Spanish words for corn (one being “maíz”).

And in each episode, children can ask Ms. Puga and guest experts questions that relate to the show’s topic — like, why do our stomachs hurt after eating too many sweets?

“Kids will see they can interact, they can be part of the conversation and that it’s also their world,” said Isaac Lee, an executive producer of “Club Mundo Kids.” Mr. Lee said he wanted to create a show where wanted Latinx kids and their friends could get accurate news and information about the country and the world in a way that reflects their realities.

The goal, he said, was an “entertaining and engaging” program, said Mr. Lee, a former chief content officer at Univision and now the head of the production company Exile. The pandemic pushed filming into the backyard of a home in the Los Angeles area, but producers are using the setting to encourage children to go outside.

Ms. Puga said she hoped the show would “spark curiosity and promote empathy and understanding for other cultures — all while having fun, of course.”

Advocates of greater diversity in the entertainment industry praised the trend of media companies trying to reach Hispanic children with educational content that keeps them anchored in their heritage while building cultural bridges through bilingualism.

One Latina advocate, Beatriz Acevedo, said the show provided an opportunity for parents who want their children to stay connected to their culture through language.

“Hopefully ‘Club Mundo Kids’ will showcase the rich diversity and intersectionality of our Latinidad that the younger generations in our community desperately need to see,” said Ms. Acevedo, who has produced children’s programs and is a founder of LA Collab, a group that promotes the advancement of Latinos in the entertainment industry.

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