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"Liberty's Kids"

January 9, 2013 - Jodelle Greiner
Good shows never go away, they turn up in re-runs: “Liberty’s Kids” is back.

I discovered this animated gem years ago while channel surfing and heard a familiar voice: Walter Cronkite was a news anchor all through my growing up years and I think I’d recognize his voice anywhere. I did a double take when I realized his voice was coming out of the mouth of Ben Franklin — yes THAT Ben Franklin — and was part of a PBS cartoon about the American Revolution. Although a cartoon, the story lines are detailed and involved, and gave a real sense of what people went through during that time. Kids will be able to follow along, but adults will appreciate subtle nuances of the storytelling. Although the series originally ran 2002-2003, it is timeless and the storylines work well now. Check your local listings; it’s now on CBS and should be on a couple of times a weekend.

“Liberty’s Kids” follows three kids — of course — as they live through the American Revolution while working for Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia newspaper. James Hiller is an American orphan and passionate about the Colonies getting their freedom from England. Sarah Phillips comes from England to find her father, who is a major in the British military and is a Loyalist. Their opposing views cause the two teens to butt heads, verbally and in print as both write for the newspaper. Several years younger than James and Sarah, Henri LeFevbre is also an orphan and works at the newspaper doing odd jobs. Originally from France, Henri is adjusting to American life and speaking English. He manages to get himself in trouble in one way or another — usually due to his voracious appetite — but James and Sarah look out for him.

Looking out for all of them is Moses, a former slave who bought his own freedom, and now works for Ben Franklin at the newspaper. Most people associate the fight to end slavery with the mid-1860s and the American Civil War, but slavery was an issue during the 1700s, too. “Liberty’s Kids” shows the Founding Fathers debating whether slavery should be outlawed in the new democracy they were building and Sarah’s disappointment that Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote “all men are created equal” actually owns slaves. Another episode’s storyline included Moses having to go to a Southern state to pick up something for the print shop and needing to carry papers proving he is free, otherwise he could have been captured on suspicion of being a runaway slave.

Historical figures populate every episode: in addition to Franklin and Jefferson, George Washington plays a huge role; others appearing are John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams and their children; James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Paul Jones, Benedict Arnold and others. I learned more about people the history books barely mention, like Margaret “Molly” Corbin, nicknamed “Molly Pitcher” because she carried water to the troops defending Fort Washington. When her husband was killed, Molly took his place and manned a cannon. Deborah Sampson served as a soldier during the war, as did other women. Deborah enlisted under a man’s name, was found out and honorably discharged. James Armistead was a slave who volunteered to be a spy for the Colonists; he served in the camp of British General Benedict Arnold and General Lord Charles Cornwallis, gathering information and relaying it back to General Lafayette. (You can find out more about these and other historical figures online.)

The kids are present at many historical events, including battles and political meetings, some well-known, others not; and the series does an excellent job of not only showing the highlights of history, but the everyday life of the Colonists. In our time, we view America’s independence as a foregone conclusion; back then it was uncertain at best. They were feeling their way along, doing something that no other nation had done. To watch the process is not only educational, it gives you an appreciation for what our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) went through to build our nation.


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