Between modern-day pressures and the proliferation of bullying, the need to build strength and resilience among kids has never been more poignant—at least according to creative execs at The Jim Henson Company. The California–based production company has two book-based series in development—Harriet the Spy and The Kissing Hand (pictured)—that are completely different in terms of style and target audience, but both hinge on themes of independence.
Based on the 1964 book by author Louise Fitzhugh, and originally published by Harper & Row, Harriet the Spy is an upcoming 2D-animated series aimed at kids ages six to 12. Set in the ’60s, the toon follows an aspiring writer who humorously spies on her friends and neighbors.
“I love that we are going back in time with Harriet,” says Halle Stanford, president of TV at Henson. “The 1960s was an ambitious time when the world was in flux, and there was change in the air. Sounds familiar, right? I remember this book as a kid because Harriet was an oddball and aspiring artist, so for me there was an emotional connection early on.”
The idea to bring Harriet to the small screen was brought to Henson by 2 Friends Entertainment’s Wendy Moss-Klein and Nancy Steingard, as well as Rehab Entertainment’s John Hyde and Terissa Kelton, and Stanford and CEO Lisa Henson are now shepherding the project. (While there have been live-action film and TV adaptations of the brand before, Harriet has yet to be animated.)
The company is currently in talks with a comedy showrunner, with the aim of a 2019 delivery. Meanwhile, UK-based Karrot Animation (Sarah & Duck) is on board to animate.
“Karrot has an innovative style, and they are reimagining the look for us,” Stanford says. “Harriet dressed like a boy, wore high-top sneakers and was a feminist heroine, and kids today will dig that about her. I’m very confident in Harriet and her ability to teach children to be individuals.”
Of course, the roots of individuality begin early on, and that’s where The Kissing Hand comes in. The upcoming preschool show based on Audrey Penn’s book series of the same name will use puppets to recreate the world of Chester Raccoon as he goes to school on his own. Echoing the books’ themes surrounding separation anxiety and building self-confidence, the show focuses on emotional regulation.
“It sounds heavy, but it’s important nowadays to give preschoolers content that is super-nurturing,” Stanford says. “I had this with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, kids in the ’90s got it with Barney & Friends, and now Chester will be there to instill these messages. Because kids need it. There are high levels of stress and anxiety in schools, and children have to build coping skills and pay attention to their feelings.”
Stanford adds that live action and puppetry lend a level of intimacy to a production, which is why Henson decided to go this route. The series is currently in the ideation stage, and can be in production as early as this fall.
“We are going to create the cutest balls of fluff to ever come out of our workshop,” Stanford says. “Harriet is already out there practicing resilience, and The Kissing Hand is all about building it.”