You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out the elementary appeal of mysteries — just ask any kid who has ever tracked Waldo’s whereabouts or wondered where in the world is Carmen Sandiego. With that in mind, Children’s television workshop has created Ghostwriter, an excellent new weekly sleuthing series that uses the irresistible mystery format to solve one of the most difficult riddles in modern education: how to teach even the most reluctant 7- to 10 year-olds to love reading and writing.
CTW keeps the level of intrigue up with a variety of tie-ins to encourage kids to read and write after an episode ends. They’re given Ghostwriter’s address (Smithtown, N.Y. 11745) and told that he would love to hear from them. The show also publishes a free, puzzle-packed mini magazine and puts out a syndicated newspaper game feature to keep kids hot on the trail of strong reading and writing skills. And Bantam Doubleday Dell will soon offer a series of 12 paperback books based on the Ghostwriter team.
Ghostwriter’s the name and writing’s the game of a helpful spirit who communicates in writing with a gang of school-age detectives he befriends. No Brady Bunch, the three boys and three girls on the Ghostwriter team are ethnically diverse, streetwise kids. There’s karate devotee Jamal (Sheldon Turnipseed), lively, petite Gaby (Mayteana Morales), her creative older brother, Alex (David Lopez), video buff Tina (Tram-Anh Tran), sensitive guy Rob (Todd Alexander), and outgoing Lenni (Blaze Berdahl). Together, they crack all sorts of cases, from who burned down the local video store to who stole money from classmates’ backpacks.
From the opening rap-music theme to the trendy celebrity guest stars, Ghostwriter is urban and hip — director Spike Lee appeared in a recent four-part episode as a secret agent working for Cosmic Comics. The comics company sponsors a scavenger hunt, leading the gang to crisscross Brooklyn. To win — and appear in the company’s superhero comic, Hoodman — they must decode written clues hidden in a series of comic-book drawings. That’s challenging enough, but then another contestant tries to throw the team off the track by cheating. Now the Ghostwriter gang must not only decipher the clues of the scavenger hunt, they must deduce the identity of the cheater and figure out a way to stop him.
This carefully crafted show sends a message of self-reliance to kids without being condescending. The young detectives don’t doubt that they will solve the mystery, and they simply persist until they do. In the scavenger-hunt episode, for example, they misinterpret the first set of clues and rush off in the wrong direction. Disappointed but undaunted, they rethink the problem in time to get to the right place before dark.
The many-part mysteries are challenging to solve, and kids may want to watch an episode more than once to understand everything. Conveniently, each week two 30-minute episodes are aired back-to-back, giving young fans a chance to catch up on a missed episode or review the written clues in a show they’ve already seen.
In addition, between episodes is a segment called, ”Do the Word Thing,” that urges kids to keep their own Ghostwriter notebooks, and shows them how to make their own lists of suspects, evidence and clues.
There’s no doubt that students of all reading and writing abilities will love this show, and that their parents will be pleased with the educational boost they’ll reap from it. Ghostwriter producers say they wanted to ”make the printed word exciting and relevant to children.” Mission accomplished. A