Sonia Manzano

Sonia Manzano

David Gonzalez/Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions
Alma's Way

A scene from PBS KIDS series Alma's Way.

Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions
Alma's Way

A scene from PBS KIDS series Alma's Way.

Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions
Fill 1
Fill 1
January 18, 2022
In The Mix

Sonia Manzano Goes Back to the Bronx

A Sesame Street legend sets her own kids' show in the New York neighborhood of her youth.

Kiko Martinez

After starring on PBS's Sesame Street for forty-four years, Sonia Manzano thought her work in educational children's programming was done.

PBS and Fred Rogers Productions, however, had different plans. Linda Simensky, until recently head of content for PBS KIDS, asked the Emmy-winning actress — who'd left Sesame Street in 2015 — if she would create a new animated children's program based on a Latinx family.

"I never would've thought to create a kids' show," says Manzano, who has kept busy on Nickelodeon's animated The Loud House and its spinoff The Casagrandes, as well as NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. "After Sesame Street... how do you follow that act?"

Having wrapped her long run as Maria on the iconic series (now in first-run on HBO), Manzano planned to focus on writing children's books and YA novels. She'd already published a few during her time with Sesame Street, like No Dogs Allowed! and A Box Full of Kittens, so she'd thought writing would remain her creative outlet during retirement. The opportunity from PBS KIDS, however, was too intriguing to pass up.

The new animated series Alma's Way, which Manzano created and cowrites, follows the adventures of Alma Rivera, a proud and confident six-year-old Puerto Rican girl who lives with her family in the Bronx. In each episode, Alma must use her critical-thinking skills to make important decisions. For example, in one episode, Alma must choose: will she go to a baseball game with her grandfather or will she perform in a dance recital, as she'd promised her uncle?

"I want [children] to know that they can use their minds and think," Manzano says. "I want them to know that their mind is a place of refuge."

Manzano used her imagination a lot as a child, and the stories in Alma's Way are based on her own experiences growing up in the South Bronx. "When I was a kid, our neighborhood was in turmoil, and I would go into my head to escape," she says. "I'd think of how to solve problems and test my skills. I think doing that really saved me."

In elementary school, a teacher once made her sit in a corner and face the wall for talking too much. She spent that time choreographing dance routines in her head. "I found myself pointing and skipping my feet under the chair to create a ballet in my mind," she says. "The power that kids have to do things like that is what I'd like to share with the Alma's Way audience."

Manzano makes a point of sharing elements of Latinx culture with young viewers; the show features Puerto Rican food, traditional dances, colorful street art and plenty of characters using Spanish words.

"If you're insincere, kids can smell that a mile away," she says. "So we're putting out as authentic a show as possible. The Bronx is in the house!"

This article originally appeared in issue #12, 2021, of emmy magazine under the title "Back to the Bronx."

For more stories celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, click HERE.

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