"I don't know why, I must have been thinking alphabetically because aardvarks popped into my head and then he wanted to know his name," Brown says. Thinking alliteratively, Arthur the aardvark was born. Then his son asked him to draw him a picture, "and the thing that stood out for me about aardvarks was their nose... So this story became about his nose being a problem."
So much of a problem that Arthur considers getting a nose job:
Arthur tried on all kinds of noses.
Marc Brown thought he had a good story on his hands. His publisher did too. Arthur's Nose was followed by Arthur's Eyes, Arthur's Valentine and 18 more books before the tales launched a TV show—20 years later.
With its infectious opening theme song, "Believe In Yourself," written by Judy Henderson and Jerry DeVilliers, Jr and performed by Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers, Arthur made its debut on PBS on Oct. 7, 1996.
True to Brown's vision, the menagerie of kids in Elwood City—3rd grader Arthur, his often ruthless little sister D.W., Buster, Binky, Francine and the rest quarrel, tease, get in trouble, and fear what they don't understand.
"Our kids are not perfect on Arthur because kids in the world aren't perfect," says Carol Greenwald, who's been the executive producer of the TV series from the beginning. "If they can see other kids on the screen making mistakes and going the wrong way, but then kind of figuring it out and working it out, it's really helpful."
Diverse characters and experiences have been a constant on Arthur. In the first episode, "Arthur's Eyes," the titular mammal learns he needs glasses. Francine calls him "four eyes." The other kids laugh, except for Buster. "Some people need glasses to see, Francine. Big deal," he tells her.
For Greenwald, the reaction to "Arthur's Eyes" was a revelation. "Quickly after it aired, I started getting mail from kids who were blind, saying it's so meaningful for us to see a show about someone wearing glasses," Greenwald remembers. "And I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I mean, if we can reach these kids by just showing somebody wearing glasses, imagine if we had a blind character.' So we created a blind character." Her name is Marina and, through her friendship with Prunella, young viewers learn what it's like to navigate the world with vision loss.
Arthur's writers and producers introduced Carl, a character on the autism spectrum. Binky has food allergies. George has dyslexia. When Buster learned he has asthma, a then 6-year-old viewer named Katerina Daley took notice. "Growing up as a kid with asthma, I had never seen anyone on TV like me in that way before," Daley says.
Today, Daley is a list writer for the website Screenrant. She also works for The Arc, a non-profit that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. "I jokingly refer to myself as a disability advocate since kindergarten," she says. Daley combined her interests in the Screenrant listicle, "10 Things From PBS' Arthur That Were Way Ahead of Their Time."