"I'd rather stick a pin in my eye than try to create a series after Sesame Street," Sonia Manzano recently told The New York Times. And yet, the actress and writer who played Maria on and wrote for that show has now debuted a new series called Alma's Way on PBS Kids for which she serves as creator, executive producer, writer, and voice actress.
Aimed at children ages 4 to 6, Alma's Way is inspired by Manzano's childhood growing up Puerto Rican in the Bronx. It follows the adventures of the confident 6 year-old Alma (whose name means "soul" in Spanish) as she learns to think through solutions alongside her friends and family, which includes her veterinarian papi, music teacher mami, and little brother Junior. Manzano herself voices Alma's Granny Isa.
Produced by Fred Rogers Productions, the new animated series features a theme song written by Bill Sherman and Lin-Manuel Miranda and spotlights some of the ever-present Latino sounds of the neighborhood, like cumbia and salsa. It also includes varied aspects of Latino culture, from food to language—fitting for a show created by a performer who broke ground portraying one of the first Latino characters on national television, on Sesame Street. Alma spends time with Afro-Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican American, African American, South Asian, and white friends and family, as well as a cousin with cerebral palsy, showcasing the diversity of the Bronx.
"Sesame Street did everything," Manzano told The New York Times. "I mean, how do you top that act?" But she hasn't let that stop her from opening a new chapter to explore in children's television, with Alma's Way.