Popular ‘Slumberkins’ Books Are Now an Animated Series From the Jim Henson Company

The authors say the animated series will feature the same lessons as the books, and preschoolers aren't the only ones who can learn from them.

Cast of Slumberkins

Apple TV+

What started as a mom-made side hustle has turned into an Apple TV+ series. Slumberkins, a new series based on the popular book series, will drop on November 3.

High school friends Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen dreamt up the idea for the book series while on maternity leave at the same time. The two were inspired by their new babies and their work in schools; Oriard was a counselor and family therapist and Christensen was a special education teacher.

"We were seeing an increase in behaviors and expectations around kids and test scores but a lack of support around emotional health and learning," Oriard says. "We thought, 'What if we could get the power in the parents' hands earlier so that kids are more prepared when they come to school?' We thought…we'd go to craft fairs [with our books]."

The duo did start at craft fairs and opened an Etsy shop. The books, which have an accompanying stuffed "Kin," or creature, gained so much steam that Oriard and Christensen had to leave their jobs to keep up.

"The community, other moms, and educators got so excited by it that the traction pushed us forward and led us to where we are now," Oriard says. "We're still pinching ourselves. We were working in schools two years ago, and now we're executive producers on a global TV show."

The pair always hoped to bring the characters to life—they just didn't think they'd be partnering with Apple TV+ and Jim Henson. They started putting on puppet shoes in their friend's L.A. garage and posting them on YouTube. But then they met Halle Stanford, the president of television at The Jim Henson Company, at a conference in 2018. She could relate to the lessons in the story because a family member was struggling with anxiety. Stanford is now an executive producer on the show.

Oriard and Christensen were heavily involved in the script-writing process and development of the TV show, ensuring each episode had the brand's original goal to promote social-emotional learning. The first season will follow four characters voiced by young, emerging actors: Bigfoot (Brayden Morgan), Unicorn (Olive Baity), Sloth (Miles Flack), Yak (Araceli Prasarttongosoth), and Fox (Yonas Kibreab). The big feelings and messages are similar to the book, but Christensen says the new series allows for more character development.

"The storylines go deeper," Christensen says. "They develop more personality, and you meet their family."

Jennifer Hale (Ralph Breaks the Internet) will narrate the series, which will be heavy on affirmations that all feelings are valid, Oriard says. And she and Christensen say these affirmations will often be conveyed through music, another device the TV platform will allow them to utilize. Though Slumberkins is aimed at a preschool audience, Christensen says it will also provide a blueprint for parents looking to help their little ones navigate big feelings, just like the books.

"We [wanted] to make sure the episodes are also these tools parents can use," Christensen says.

It comes at a necessary time. Two years after Oriard and Christensen met with Stanford, the pandemic hit. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 5 kids ages 3 to 17 had mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. But last year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on the youth mental health crisis, stating the pandemic exacerbated it. Though much of the focus has been on teens, Oriard and Christensen say social-emotional learning starts early and at home and hope the series empowers parents.

"I hope people can see and feel the intentionality of each character and the way we look at behaviors, issues, and problems within the series," Christensen says. "I hope that it is not only for kids to understand their own emotions but also gives parents tools to support their kids and themselves. It's a double-pronged approach where we are giving parents tools while inspiring kids."

Implementing Social-Emotional Learning at Home and in the Classroom

Though parents and pre-schoolers are the primary audiences, Slumberkins also reaches out to educators. In February, the brand launched an educational hub for teachers designed to help them bring wellness and social-emotional learning into the classroom. Oriard thinks teachers can also glean learnings from the show.

She offered top tips for teachers and all adults on how to aid in social-emotional learning:

Connection is Key

"[It's important] to meet kids and adults where they are," Oriard says, adding that it's especially crucial now as we continue to cope with the collective trauma brought on by the pandemic.

"Really put connection and understanding the person you are interacting with first," Oriard says.

She suggests getting on their level—physically and emotionally—to build a connection.

Fill Your Cup

Watching a child struggle emotionally is hard for parents and teachers, but sometimes we become so wrapped up in trying to "fix" the emotion that our mental health suffers.

"So often, we focus on kids and their behaviors," Oriard says. "It can be really hard because parents and teachers can be told to sacrifice themselves. That leads to more burnout, guilt, and shame."

And that burnout has been a major contributing factor to a teacher shortage.

"The system is overtaxed," Oriard says. "You can't depend on it to take care of you."

Welcome All Feelings

"There are no good or bad feelings," Oriard says. "Feelings have something important to tell us whether they are coming from a child or adult."

Angry? Sad?

"There's something going on inside of you that you can be curious about," Oriard says. "When you recognize and do that in yourself, it sets an example. "

And the new Slumberkins TV series will continue to lead by example.

"We think for the existing Slumberkins community, they are going to fall deeper in love," Christensen says.

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