Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories Supervising Producers break down the creation of PBS Kids' new short-form series

PBS KIDS is launching Donkey Hodie bedtime-themed short-form episodes on its official YouTube channel
Donkey Hodie: Hee Haw Hannah and the Dinos, Illustration by Dave Pryor - credit: Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions
Donkey Hodie: Hee Haw Hannah and the Dinos, Illustration by Dave Pryor - credit: Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions /

Looking for a entertaining way to put the kids to bed? The team behind the PBS Kids' puppet/live-action series Donkey Hodie is bringing you a brand new short-form series titled Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories.

Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories features 6-7 minute episodes that are made to accompany a child’s bedtime routine. The series features familiar faces such as DuckDuck, Bob Dog, and of course, Donkey Hodie, who read bedtime stories directly to the viewers to help calm your kids down before bed. The series is heading to the PBS KIDS YouTube channel on May 27.

Donkey Hodie takes place in land of Someplace Else, just north of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, making it a spinoff of both the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood television series and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. It is currently in its second season with new episodes airing starting on Jun. 7. This is the second foray into digital from the creators of Donkey Hodie. They also recently launched a free video game titled Cousin Hodie Playdate.

The Parent Watch sat down with Kristin DiQuollo of Fred Rogers Productions, supervising producer and developer of Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories and Caroline Bandolik, VP of Production for Spiffy Pictures who also served as a supervising producer for Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories to get the inside scoop on the series!

The Parent Watch: What was it like to create Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories?

DiQuollo: Well, it's super fun. It's hard not to have fun working on Donkey Hodie! We knew we were going to do a short-form series as part of our second season of Donkey Hodie and were brainstorming what kinds of things to do. We were actually filming an episode in which our character Duck Duck was reading a story about the Rainbow Tree to Donkey and Cousin Hodie. It had beautiful illustrations done by one of our series illustrators and graphic designers, Dave Pryor. We wanted to do more with stories - we had that little inkling!  Also, I personally love when we're in the character's bedrooms. They're so cozy and cuddly, and it's just such a different vibe from the energy of the series. We had the idea to put those two things together. Creating Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories in a short format was perfect because these bite-size videos are things that kids and parents can use as part of their own bedtime routines.

Bandolik: When we were thinking about the production of the new series of short videos, we knew we wanted to get it done in a short amount of time. So we basically came up with a concept featuring one character. We would set up the bedrooms and film two stories in a day. As Kristin was saying, we wanted to make sure that we could feature each character's bedroom. This concept really worked well for us because first we see the character in the episode and then we cut to the book. It was a really simple idea that we knew would work for our digital shorts!

Aside from helping young kids go to sleep, what do you think parents and caregivers can get out of this themselves?

Bandolik:  I'm a brand new parent. I have a six-month-old son, and I'm learning very quickly how important routine is. For bedtime especially, anytime you take one of those steps out, it throws everything off a little bit. This series really shows [that] each character has a little bedtime routine - doing their stretches, singing their little song, reading a story. That calms them down for the day, and then they can go to bed. As a first time mom, our routine is bath, bottle, bed. The other day, I thought my son was okay to go straight to bed, but he didn't take a bath, and that threw everything off. That bedtime routine is so important, and I think Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories will help parents and kids get into a routine to calm down before they go to sleep every night.

DiQuollo: We worked with our advisors on exactly what Caroline said, because routines get changed, sleep habits shift, and parents are looking for tips or ways to help get their children back into that routine or into a new one. Even though our stories feature our childlike pals, we think that the format that Caroline described is also a model for parents. They could look at these stories and use them as a tool in their own routines with children.

Congrats on being a new parent. Obviously, [your son is only] six months old, but this series is something to look forward to, too. This is a "watch-later on when they're older."

Bandolik: I'll be using these in a few years.

What was your experience like, overseeing this production and the different elements of it?

Bandolik: This was a lot of fun because Kristin and I got to work really closely. There are obviously a lot of moving pieces, and the scripts for the series of shorts were a little different than the ones for the main series.  Our writers had to write a children's book in a short period of time. I think, Kristin, it was your idea to basically have our writers just write out what they wanted to see in the illustrations. That was the starting process. 

DiQuollo: We got some ideas for things from the Donkey Hodie series itself. We've already established that Donkey has a hero, Hee Haw Hannah, and she reads Hee Haw Hannah books. What a perfect opportunity to actually tell Hannah's story! We had other ideas like that, and goals we wanted to meet in terms of the kinds of stories. We thought it would be fun to do a nursery rhyme, so we did an adapted nursery rhyme. I loved 'Lift the Flap', and 'Hide and Seek’ books when I was younger, and we have a ‘Hide and Seek’ story. Then we let the writers go, after we gave them certain parameters. What we got back was so amazing! The writers were really inspired and thought it was really fun. They had a lot of bounds to work within because we said, "You've got simple text and 12 pictures, go write a story."

Bandolik: Then from there, Kristin and I got the fun job of picking illustrators. We knew we wanted to work with Dave [Pryor] for sure on one of the books, but it would have been a lot for him to do all of the stories. There were so many illustrations! We were able to reach out and work with other people that we've always wanted to work with and bring different styles of art into the show, which was really neat to do.

DiQuollo: This was a chance to bring in different art styles and have each one of these stories really look and feel different.

That's what I admired most about it. I was able to screen, and I really enjoyed "Hee Haw Hannah and the Dinos." It was just a great introduction to seeing all those different styles come together. 

DiQuollo: We each had designers who we knew we wanted to work with, who we were excited to bring into the Donkey Hodie fold. We also worked to scout some new illustrators, too - people we hadn't worked with before. For instance, Fred Rogers Productions has a Writers’ Neighborhood program that helps emerging writers gain experience. One of the fellows that we had a couple of years ago is actually a super talented illustrator, too. Her name is Aleesha Nash. We were able to work with Aleesha on ‘Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories: One Tiny Day’. Caroline, I know you were excited to work with Jenny.

Bandolik: Yeah, we've worked with Jenny Blicharzfor years but never in this capacity. I was excited as soon as the idea for the series of shorts came up and Kristin mentioned making some bedtime books. I immediately thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do something different with Jenny. She did ‘Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories: Pauline Loves Purple’. It's fun to work with new people all the time. This was another opportunity for that.

DiQuollo: In terms of what it was like to produce and oversee this, there were so many challenges in this project because we knew we had a timeline and had a budget to stick to. It was a fun puzzle figuring out how we could blossom creatively within those parameters. We're just super proud of where it ended up.

Bandolik: Also, everyone loves seeing ‘Someplace Else’ at night! Our grip and electric department and our director of photography love lighting at nighttime. This was a good challenge for that. Plus, who doesn't want to see where Duck Duck and Bob Dog and Purple Panda sleep?

DHBS_06_Purple Panda's Night-Night Countdown_Illustration by Taylor Annisette Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions-6
Donkey Hodie: Purple Pandas Night Night Countdown, Illustration by Taylor Annisette - credit: Courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions /

DiQuollo: That's a good point. We introduce a brand new location in the short form series. We built Duck Duck's bedroom for these shorts, which we hadn't seen yet in the series. So viewers will be getting their first glimpse at Duck Duck's bedroom, which is very fun!

Is there a specific character that you love that is your favorite, that you're more partial to than others?

DiQuollo: I think Duck Duck is probably most similar to me in personality, but that doesn't necessarily make her my favorite character. I love all of our characters. I love Bob Dog's energy and impulsiveness, I think, because it reflects something that I want to work more on in myself. Purple Panda is just warm and fuzzy. Donkey is loving, and she's the best of everyone because she has plans but she can change them. I don't really have a favorite!

Bandolik: This is the one show where I don't have a favorite character because they all just complement each other so well. I feel like I'm a bit of each of them. I definitely have some Purple Panda in me, but the producer side of me might be more like Duck Duck. Okay, if you were going to give me four plushies and I had to pick one, I'd probably pick Panda!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Donkey Hodie Bedtime Stories premieres May 27 on the PBS KIDS YouTube channel.

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