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Strong visuals

Tim Levell | 15:21 UK time, Friday, 1 December 2006

When CBBC's Newsround first considered doing a special programme about child poverty, something which affects an astonishing three million children in the UK, the standard documentary techniques were rolled out - undercover filming, moody reconstructions, children showing a sympathetic reporter around their grim surroundings...

Newsround logoBut one of the aims of CBBC is to make television that's engaging for seven to 11-year-olds, and all our recent research shows that bleakness is a turn-off, both visually and emotionally. Children respond best to strong visuals as well as some practical and positive outcomes.

So when CBBC's creative head Anne Gilchrist suggested the idea of using cartoons to tell the children's stories, everyone at Newsround instinctively knew that this could be a very exciting and powerful idea. As far as we know, no one has ever attempted to tell current affairs using animation.

An image from one of Newsround's animationsAnd the result - broadcast online (click here to watch) and on TV from today - is something we are hoping will have a real impact.

Children we've shown it to have really liked the different animation styles, including photo-montage, comic strip and cardboard cutouts. They weren't really expecting a "documentary", but to our relief they've kept watching, and some have even had tears in their eyes by the end.

Most of that is down to the children and their uncompromising stories of neglect, of overcrowding, and of isolation.

An image from one of Newsround's animationsThe show's producer and creative brain, Kez Margrie, spent a lot of time with them, building up their trust and respect, enabling them to talk about their lives with both honesty and dignity. She involved them in every step of the process, from checking the look of their animated characters to agreeing the final edits.

The children are proud of the final outcome. But do you think it works? Would a conventional documentary have been better or more suitable? I'd be very interested to read what you - and perhaps your children - think of it.


  • 1.
  • At 04:40 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Vincenzo Rampulla wrote:

I haven't been able to watch the videos but just from the snapshots on the BBC these stories look both amazing and affecting.

They look so amazing that I hope that schools will incorporate them in their clases.

It is really important that children themselves are aware of the terrible financial and social poverty around them, so much of which is hidden, which affects their class mates/friends/relatives.

They should also learn about how they can make a difference in ensuring that things change for the better.

  • 2.
  • At 04:51 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

It's unlikely that the PC propagandists who abound at CBBC will be able to bring themselves to keep their hands off these animations. So I guess people can look forward to having their children indoctrinated in the BBC worldview with an even more effective means than ordinary TV.

  • 3.
  • At 05:49 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

I think it's a very novel and effective method, which might even work on adults - as people become used to seeing bleak and shocking images you need to find new ways to put the message across. Maybe in a few years time this will be the exhausted method, but roll with it while you can.

  • 4.
  • At 06:56 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:

I looked in on 'Dillon's Story' as a sample of this presentation style.

The visual content was in fact completely redundant from an information viewpoint - this would have been better as an audio-only delivery. The listener could then paint their own pictures of the lifestyle being related.

As far as using animations to convey serious matter to children (big or small!) I think this has a great possibility for the blurring of reality with fiction.

I believe that a better approach would be the use of as real-to-life audio with actual 'still' images of the real circumstance. It would possibly be best if the images were acted rather than actual.

The cartoons convey none of the information. If 'eye candy' is needed, then the putsch probably won't work on the target audience.

I saw the programme on the TV tonight and thought what a strange way to portray the stories - I felt it was a little demeaning. then I noticed my two children, especailly my son who is normally turned off by anything like this. The programme had their full attention throughout and they wanted to engage further after the programme finished too. I've changed my mind completely about the presentation style. Thumbs up

  • 6.
  • At 02:33 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Orville Eastland wrote:

I haven't seen the film, as I live in the US, but animation is an underused way of getting serious points across. A few years back, UNICEF sponsored a series of PSAs, some of which dealt with poverty. (You can see them at: )
Some of these I can still remember seeing years after I first saw them.

Of course, the question now is, once the children have seen this, will it affect anything they do now or in the future to help solve this problem?

  • 7.
  • At 02:39 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Donal wrote:

Why is important for children to be aware of all the wrongs in the world so early? Can we not just let children be children, they will spend many years of their lives being aware of "the worlds problems" with out it being drilled into their heads so early.So children recognise other peoples misfortunes? What would you like them to do about it? Feel guilty? Childhood seems to becoming ever shorter.

  • 8.
  • At 04:03 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Carol wrote:

I think that Tim Levell and the newsround team have done a great job in producing these real life stories. I am a head teacher and I will be discussing with my staff how they can be used, sensitively of course, to promote thought, discussion and action with our children in school. Perhaps we will use them as stimulus for discussion in our Philosophy for Children sessions.
This is not propaganda as one person commented - it is teaching children to develop their thinking and understanding of the world around them.

  • 9.
  • At 09:14 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Meedjadarling wrote:

I think it is a wonderful idea - a chance to report on the real world without the irksome task of needing to interact with the unsavoury parts when you're doing so....

Now you can discuss sink estates, failing schools, and mugging by Heroin addicts without ever leaving the guarded perimeters of a BBC facility.

Perhaps this approach could be used for news gathering in general? Sack the camera crews and outsource the visuals to Asian Cartoonists...

  • 10.
  • At 10:24 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Mike Fuller wrote:

I think this is truely OUTSTANDING work by CBBC. I think they message they are trying to convey comes over very well. I have sat here and, after watc hing them all, been reduced to tears.

I think this is the sort of work that should be shown to adults as well as children! It would work!

  • 11.
  • At 10:10 PM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • S Murray wrote:

I think the "cartoons" are excellent; the slightly surreal animation and often haunting testimony from the children is both a moving and very effective method of getting across an important message about child poverty.

  • 12.
  • At 03:21 PM on 03 Dec 2006,
  • Dr Charulatha Banerjee wrote:

This was a very interesting story to read. A development practitioner who has worked with the poor in the slums of Kolkata especially with disadvantaged adolescents I have found the medium of cartoons, comics very very useful in communicating messages even the most difficult ones very useful. my best experience was when as part of a project whose key objective was to communicate Reproductive and sexual health messages to young adolescents. sex is a very taboo subject in our country -the main hurdle to communicating safe sex and such messages are the parents who do not want their offspring "to flower" earlier than is necessary. the general impression is that such information will be automatically acquired once he/she is married. the young adolescents themselves are very enthusiastic to acquire information and are very curious. the medium of comics was chosen to break this barrier between parents and children. they were brought together at a workshop- mind you these are women many of whom can barely read and write and have very few opportunities for their voices to be heard- and with the help of a specialist facilitator they each parent and child wove a story first around the particular issue that they wanted to seek a solution too and then told the story in simple drawings. the children were given a sesssion the previous day on the basic techniques of framing a comic strip- simple drawings, dialogue writing etc. the women enjoyed the exercise of drawing and that they were able to voice their concerns - the children were glad to participate in a joint exerrcise. These comics have now been reproduced in large sizes and printedin large numbers for use as communication material in the slums. Some very interesting issues were raised - girls vs boys, menstruation myths,ill effects of drug abuse, illeffects of early marriage etc.
this projectwas entitled Life changes project supported by Interact worldwide UK and Comic Relief and implemented by CINIASHA Urban unit of Child In need Institute.
Since then comics has become an important strategy for communicaton in our programmes.

  • 13.
  • At 09:04 AM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • manu wrote:

Splendid !! very creative and informative. I am so much impressed with the content and the way in which it is presented to the audience.
This definitely will help improve the children's view of the world around them in a more entertaining fashion. Full credit to the creators.

  • 14.
  • At 10:56 AM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • Susan wrote:

Those comments above which complain about the "unrealistic" nature of the cartoons obviously have made a snap judgement without looking at the rest of the "Wrong Trainers" section of the CBBC website. The in-depth reports which mix animation with real-life reporting and shots of the children themselves interviewing housing officers and policy-makers is very effective. The animations engage children, and in wanting to find out more about the issue, they see some of the real faces affected by this problem. Well done CBBC.

Why is Child Poverty more important than Adult Poverty? Should people without children be allowed to live in abject squalor?

  • 16.
  • At 01:52 PM on 07 Dec 2006,
  • Melissa Thomas wrote:

Can we create a cartoon describing poverty that is palatable to the aloof and oblivious highest echelons of society, who hoard money that they can't possibly spend in a lifetime or even two, instead of redistributing that wasted wealth to those who so desperately need it?

Course, I wouldn't hold out for tears, they've probably had their ducts removed - crying is so unfashionable.

Is anyone else completely disgusted by the fact that people have to live in poverty at all, with all that is out there in terms of sustenance?

Its sad that we have to create a cartoon to explain this to children. The parents should be sensitive enough to gently ease their children into the real world themselves. I tell my girls time and again how important it is that we share with people who don't have enough, that there are kids out there who aren't going to have a nice holiday and that we should give them some of our things that we don't use. I'm proud to say I am raising two senstive and generous human beings, not my television.

Although - kudos - for the ingenuity. Its sad that it has to be done, but certianly worthy of applause.

I do find it amazing that highlighting the plight of children living in poverty can be described as "PC propaganda" (Bryan, comment 2). I can see how other things we do *could* have that label thrown at them -- but reporting on children whose parents are on drugs or who have to play in rivers filled with rubbish because they have no money to do anything else?? How is that PC? If someone wants to explain, please do.

Thanks for so many other positive comments about these cartoons. Especially Di Smith (5) - that was exactly what we hoped to achieve.

PeeVeeAh (4), you make a good point about the format; this was a TV show lifted onto the web, hence the video, but I agree with you and would definitely like to explore more of those audio slideshow-type ideas.

And Donal (7), who asks "Why is it important for children to be aware of all the wrongs in the world so early?"; this is a good point and I do ask myself this a lot. Preserving the innocence of childhood is really important. But by 7, 8, 9, children are getting aware that it's not all rosy, and that's where we can step in and help explain why, and what they might be able to do about it.

And that's why the web is so particularly suited to this kind of information: if you don't want to know about it, you don't have to.

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