What if the family dog ate alphabet soup by mistake? Susan Meddaugh answered her 7-year-old son’s question by writing a book, Martha Speaks, which has now become a PBS show about the talking dog. PBS hopes it will teach challenging vocab—"diminish," "concoct," and "courageous" are on the list—by integrating them seamlessly into stories.
Funded by a $72 million federal grant, Martha arrives as more ESL kids attend US schools and research shows that vocabulary is "the single greatest predictor of academic excellence," one Martha adviser said. Now 40 half-hour episodes of Martha will join PBS' lineup of recent reading shows. For Meddaugh though, it's still about story: "And they're character-driven stories," she said. "If there are lessons . . . that's fine."