Creator and executive producer, Sonia Manzano, sat down with Los Angeles Times recently to talk about one very special guest star appearance in the new season of Alma's Way. Read more below and check out the full interview here. 

"When “Alma’s Way” returns for a second season on Monday, 6-year-old Alma Rivera (voiced by Summer Rose Castillo) and her younger brother, Junior (Neo Vela), will meet a very special former resident of their Bronx neighborhood — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The series comes from creator and executive producer Sonia Manzano, who played the beloved character Maria on “Sesame Street” for more than 40 years. Like Sotomayor, Manzano grew up in the Bronx and the series is based on her childhood. “We jokingly refer to each other as ‘the other Sonia from the Bronx,’” Manzano says about the Supreme Court justice.

The judge makes an appearance in a special two-part episode that kicks off Season 2. In the first segment, titled “Justice Sonia and Judge Alma,” Alma learns that solving disagreements is a judge’s job. In the second segment, “Justice Sonia and Umpire Alma,” Alma learns how to “call it like I see it” when she fears she has made the wrong call about a kickball game."




Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work in children’s television. 

I have always loved performing. When I was young, I’d read books out loud to myself in my bedroom, giving different voices to all of the characters as if it was a one-woman show. I’d sing on my backyard swing set. I did a lot of theatre in high school, but the idea of making a living as a performer was not seen as realistic by the people in my life at the time. I became a radio/TV/film major in college, but I also performed in student films, was in an improv troupe, sang in various groups, wrote comic essays, and also took courses in storytelling, creative drama, and children’s theatre. 

I’d always been a fan of “Sesame Street” when I was little but it wasn’t until I watched it between classes in college that I saw the Muppet style of TV puppetry as a way to combine all the things I loved (character acting, singing, improv, writing, storytelling, TV production), and a medium in which I could play many, many different characters of any type without it mattering what I looked like. Once I had this epiphany, I spent most of my time building odd-looking puppets and teaching myself TV puppetry… and took to it immediately. It’s a complicated but incredibly freeing way to perform. 

The thing about TV puppetry of this kind is that most of the programs that use it are in children’s television, but all those children’s theatre, creative drama, and storytelling courses gave me an incredible knowledge base in that area, and they still inform the work I do, even as children’s television continues to evolve. 

Describe your role(s) on Donkey Hodie. 

I have many roles on Donkey Hodie: I play Duck Duck, Harriett Elizabeth Cow, Mama Panda, Doc Skunk, and a few other surprise characters coming up in Season 2… and when I’m on set and my characters aren’t in the scene, I sometimes assist the other puppeteers by manipulating their character’s arms or feet or helping them handle certain props. 

I’ve also written a handful of episodes, including “Growing the Ungrowdenia,” “Panda Hodie,” “Good Dog School,” and “Being Bob Dog.” 

It’s fun to get to do so many different things on the show on any given day. And I really love it when two of my characters are in a scene together. I’ll perform one character the way I usually do—by doing the voice and physical manipulation simultaneously, and then I’ll also perform the voice of the other character while someone else (usually Mel Campbell) puppeteers it, matching the lip-sync to my vocals. It’s a tricky challenge but I always enjoy it. 

I love playing all of these characters, even though each puppet has its own unique challenges in terms of manipulation, but Duck Duck is officially my favorite puppet character that I have ever played in my 30-year career. 

Did you watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up? If so, how does it feel to work on Donkey Hodie now? 

I definitely watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and not just because I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where Fred Rogers is our hometown hero. That show was very important to me growing up, and according to my family, I had a crush on Mister Rogers as a toddler. Apparently I would hold my baby bottle up to the TV and “feed” him. Even at an early age, I knew that food is how Italians show love. 

Working on Donkey Hodie is extra special for me because we shoot it in Chicago, which is where my alma mater, Northwestern University, is. It was at Northwestern that I realized I wanted to pursue puppetry as a career, and it was a puppet project I produced with my dorm-mate friends that led me to meeting David Rudman, who recommended me to audition for The Jim Henson Company. 

After years of working on Sesame Street with David and Adam Rudman, I was so lucky to be invited into the Spiffy Pictures universe and get to work on projects like Jack’s Big Music Show and Nature Cat. Spiffy was the first company to let me write for them, and it was my first Donkey Hodie script that got me my Writers Guild card. 

At first I was a little unnerved by the idea of playing a legacy character like Harriett Elizabeth Cow, but when I saw how she was being redesigned with that fabulous hot pink hair, and reimagined as a boldly confident artist and inventor, rather than the prim schoolmarm I grew up watching, I was inspired to honor her past — as well as my Pittsburgh roots — by giving her a Pittsburgh dialect. This was also inspired by rewatching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as an adult and being struck by how thick Chef Brockett’s “Yinzer” dialect really was. I have a KDKA “Pittsburgh: Someplace Special” T-shirt from 3 Rivers Retro that I like to wear on days when I perform Harriett. (I recently got another “Pittsburgh: Someplace Special” Bicentennial shirt from Yinzylvania that I’ve worn on set as well.) 

I also show my Northwestern purple pride on set every day. My microphone is mounted on a modified Northwestern ball cap. I happen to stay near the Northwestern campus when we’re in production, and I love taking walks on my old stomping grounds when I can. And even though I honestly didn’t think about Northwestern purple when I first played her, it just felt right to give Mama Panda a big Midwest heart. 

Donkey Hodie is already an incredibly wonderful show to work on because of all the fun we have bringing these characters to life, and especially because of our glorious cast and crew, but having these personal connections to the show makes it truly special. 

Do you have a favorite episode of Donkey Hodie? 

If there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I don’t have one favorite of anything… I tend to have multiple favorites of things, and in terms of Donkey Hodie episodes, I really love “Art Show Today,” “Lavender Lights,” “Swoop-a-rino,” and “Bye Bye, Book.” But there are so many great episodes coming up in Season 2 that are in the running to become my new favorites! 

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

Most of the things I like to do are directly related to my career in some way, so sometimes it’s hard to tell when I’m not working! But I do enjoy playing the New York Times word games on my phone, relaxing at home in New York City with my husband, Craig Shemin, while we watch mostly classic TV and movies, and taking long walks that usually culminate in some sort of delicious meal or treat (preferably ice cream)! 




Fred Rogers Productions has been awarded a PNC Foundation grant to support Alma’s Way, its newest PBS KIDS series, through PNC Grow Up Great®, the multi-year, bilingual early childhood education initiative that helps children from birth through age 5 develop a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime. The $1.3 million grant from PNC Foundation to Fred Rogers Productions supports the development of Alma’s Way engagement activities as well as ongoing support for “Be My Neighbor Days,” the signature community outreach initiative for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. 

Season 2 of Alma’s Way, created by actor and writer Sonia Manzano, premieres September 18 on PBS KIDS.

“PNC Foundation is a valued supporter of educational programs for young children, and this grant for Alma’s Way will enable us to continue to fulfill our goal to provide enriching content and experiences for children and their families,” said Paul Siefken, president and CEO, Fred Rogers Productions. “We and PNC Foundation share a common goal of meeting the needs of kids where they are, and we look forward to continuing to serve our communities together.”

“When Fred Rogers Productions shared the Alma’s Way concept with us, we knew we wanted to play a role in bringing this important learning opportunity to young children,” said Sally McCrady, chair and president of PNC Foundation. “Investing in early education is a powerful way to create a meaningful difference in the communities we serve. That’s the driving force behind PNC Grow Up Great, which has been making an impact across our footprint for nearly 20 years.”

Alma’s Way focuses on critical thinking, responsible decision making, and self-awareness and features Alma and her friends navigating life’s adventures in the Bronx. Since the series’ premiere in 2021, it has been developed into successful educational digital games, launched a publishing program with Scholastic, and has been nominated for an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Writing for a Preschool Animated Series, among other notable and prestigious honors.

The PNC Foundation grant supports a range of Fred Rogers Productions programming and campaigns, including events that take the series’ educational and pro-social themes directly into local communities across PNC’s footprint for hands-on activities and fun for young children and their families. The grant also affords a variety of educational awareness efforts, such as custom-branded video content that will be aired on linear TV; pre-roll-on PBS KIDS streaming platforms, including the video player and the free PBS KIDS Video app; and recognition on the PBS KIDS YouTube channel.

About PNC Foundation

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group (, actively supports organizations that provide services for the benefit of communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture. Through PNC Grow Up Great®, its signature cause that began in 2004, PNC has created a bilingual $500 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

For more information, visit




"Memories from our childhood are an interesting thing. Often we remember a sound, an image or a feeling. The memory embraces us and transports us back to another time.

Can a TV show stir visceral memories like that? When the PBS children’s series “Donkey Hodie” returns for a second season on Aug. 14, it’s going to try. The puppet-based series, which streams on PBS Kids and is broadcast on PBS affiliates, is a joint production of Fred Rogers Productions and Spiffy Pictures, and it follows the charming adventures of Donkey Hodie (played by puppeteer Haley Jenkins) and her best friends, Purple Panda (Frankie Cordero), Bob Dog (David Rudman) and Duck Duck (Stephanie D’Abruzzo). Donkey Hodie lives in the land of Someplace Else and is the granddaughter of the original Donkey Hodie from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the groundbreaking children’s series that ran from 1968 to 2001."

Honoring the legacy of Fred Rogers is at the heart of what we do, and we are so excited that Trolley is joining Donkey and her pals in Someplace Else.

Read the entire article from the Los Angeles Times here.




Describe your role at Fred Rogers Productions.

I have the privilege of managing FRP Writers’ Neighborhood, a career development and mentoring program for emerging BIPOC writers. I oversee the daily logistics – the application and selection process, organizing the in-person and virtual workshops, and the implementation of the program. I love helping coach the writers and seeing them grow as a result of going through the fellowship.

Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work in children’s television.

I’m a native of Pittsburgh and an identical twin. I’ve always loved the arts, culture, and entertainment sector, which led me to study music business/management as an undergraduate and arts, entertainment, and media management in graduate school – I want to run the show instead of being the show. I like helping talented, creative people shine. I’ve worked in digital production in the music industry, managed front of house at various performing arts centers, and ran an arts internship program at an Ivy League college before boomeranging back to my hometown to work at FRP. Children’s media is a new world for me, but I was so excited at the opportunity to expand my knowledge and manage a pilot program that I hope will ultimately make a positive impact on kids and families. Plus, I like launching new initiatives.

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up? 

Growing up I liked watching TV more than reading. I loved learning life lessons and exploring how other people lived through TV programs. While I enjoyed watching Sesame Street (I had a cousin who made a guest appearance on the show), I also liked watching Spider-Man after school, Saturday morning cartoons, and TGIF shows such as Family Matters, Full House, and Boy Meets World.

What do you like most about working at Fred Rogers Productions?

I like working with smart, kind people. It’s great to work in a collaborative, team-focused environment.

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

I enjoy hanging out with my twin sister and family. I like listening to music, watching TV, going to the movies, taking long walks and bike rides (when it’s warm outside), and traveling. I’ve been to 32 states but want to check all 50 states off my list. Also, I really want to explore Europe and Australia.

Favorite summertime activity?

I love going to free outdoor concerts and good ice cream.

Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work in children’s television.

I am a Puerto Rican musician and composer based in Boston, MA. My main instrument is the cuatro, a five-double string guitar traditional to Puerto Rico. The cuatro has led me to some amazing opportunities: attending Berklee College of Music and graduating as the first Puerto Rican cuatrista; performing nationally and internationally with my original music project; doing workshops and residencies with organizations such as the Met, Chicago Philharmonic, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many others; and recently, having the amazing honor writing music for children's television. It all started because of Alma's Way and their desire to honor and showcase the traditional sounds of Puerto Rico as part of the soundtrack of the series, which has then led to other writing opportunities.

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Sesame Street.

Describe your role on Alma’s Way.

My role on Alma's Way is to compose the music of the series alongside Asher Lenz and Stephen Skratt. I also support the production as a consultant, giving feedback and context on Puerto Rican traditions, culture, slang, and music. Additionally, I work with the digital team on creating some of the music for the video games on

What is your favorite episode of Alma’s Way

My favorite episode of Alma's Way is "Alma's Nochebuena" because we got to showcase so many of the traditions I grew up celebrating, especially parrandas!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When I'm not working, I love to be around nature: going to the park with my dog, hiking, and paddleboarding.

Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work in children’s television.

I am originally from England and moved to Toronto, Canada five years ago. Since childhood, I've loved drawing and copying my favorite cartoon characters. I remember telling a teacher when I was only five that I wanted to be an animator and so when it came to choosing a university, I didn't have too many doubts. When I graduated in 2010, the world was going through an economic recession and prospects for getting into animation looked slim. I spent quite a few years in various jobs, from theme parks to retail to bar jobs. One day I realized unless I broke free of that cycle I wouldn't ever get to where I wanted to be. I took a risk and quit my jobs and spent a year trying to improve my skills and take commissions where I could. My family and friends were so supportive, and it is because of them that I was able to refocus. I was offered a position as assistant art director at a studio opening up in Manchester, and I have been working on different projects ever since.

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?

It is hard to pick a favorite, but I always watched Dumbo on repeat when I was little. Something about the simple story and the appealing characters meant it was on loop when I was a toddler. I also loved shows with animals, like the animated series The Animals of Farthing Wood, which follows a group of creatures that are displaced from their forest as the humans move in.

Describe your role on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. What is your favorite episode?

As art director, I am lucky to work with amazing artists every day, which is a treat. I help guide the look of the show and make sketches and concepts of new characters and locations. What is fun about this role is getting to see every stage from visualizing the script all the way to animation where I help guide any lighting and effects in post. Collaborating with all the different departments is what I like about art direction.

I think one of my favorite episodes is 604A, "Daniel Goes to Day Camp." I appreciate how the characters slow down to interact with the insects they find along the nature trail and how Daniel imagines being the size of the grasshopper. I think it has a message for adults and children alike about being mindful and noticing the world around us.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When I'm not working, you will probably find me in the woods or by a stream taking photos of birds. In Toronto, we live on a great migration route for birds so any chance I get I am outside cycling with a camera to see what I can see. I love discovering the world and the nature we have on our doorstep.

9 Story Brands and Fred Rogers Productions are pleased to announce a licensing partnership with new children’s outdoor company carter joey™ for the beloved children’s series, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Rights granted include children’s outdoor backpacks, patch packs, and adventure blankets within the U.S. and Canada. The first carter joey™ x Daniel Tiger products will launch later this year and will include a Sling Pack backpack and a patch pack that correlates with episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

“We are thrilled to partner with carter joey™, an exciting new startup on a mission to inspire families to be intentional with their time and be active, not busy.” said Kyra Halperin, Co-VP of Consumer Products for 9 Story. “carter joey™ will help families play-out the learning themes of the series in their own backyards and bring the important themes to life off-screen.”

"We are delighted to have the honor of partnering with such a well-established and wholesome brand like Daniel Tiger," said carter joey™ Co-Founder, Damon Claus. "There is great synergy between how Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood teaches children valuable life lessons and how carter joey™ encourages the same audience to be adventurous in their approach to learning."

"We are excited to work with a fellow like-minded, Pittsburgh-based brand to bring Daniel Tiger to children and families in a new way," said Matt Shiels, vice president of Business and Legal Affairs at Fred Rogers Productions. "Daniel and his friends model fun and adventure outdoors, and carter joey™ is a natural partner to bring that element to life."

After premiering in 2012, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is now in its sixth season on PBS KIDS. The series is co-produced by Fred Rogers Productions and 9 Story Media Group and animated by 9 Story’s award-winning animation studio, Brown Bag Films. 9 Story Brands holds worldwide licensing rights. The property has 50 licensees on board including Jakks Pacific (toys), Simon & Schuster (publishing), Crayola (coloring), Isaac Morris (apparel), Tonies (audio toy), Waloo Products (sporting goods), and more.

Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work in children’s television.

I'm from Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. Watching television was a big part of my childhood. Fred Penner, Mr. Dressup, Under the Umbrella Tree, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were a few of my favorites when I was younger. I continued to love television as I grew up, and, after studying accounting, I decided I wanted to work in television. I went to school for broadcast and film at Centennial College, which led me to children's television, and I've loved it ever since.

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?

My favorite tv show when I was growing up was Exosquad. I enjoyed the sci-fi experience and futuristic look, but the greatest part of the show was that it didn't talk down to kids. It taught me that people can grow, change, and accept others.

Describe your role on Odd Squad.

I am the Post Production Supervisor at Sinking Ship Entertainment, the production partner for Odd Squad. My job begins from production and goes right through to delivery. I'm responsible for ensuring that filming, editing, vfx, audio, and delivery go smoothly. It's a great position because I get to work with people from every stage of the series' progress. I work with amazing teams of people who all love what they do, and we all want the best show for our audience.

What is your favorite episode of Odd Squad?

My favorite episode of Odd Squad is from Season 3, "Music of Sound." I enjoyed getting to work with the Soundcheck team and the idea of getting the band back together. The documentary style of the episode was also a lot of fun.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When I'm not working, I enjoy writing, hiking, watching my favorite shows, keeping up with friends, and playing board games.

Fred Rogers Productions, the iconic children’s media organization behind multiple Emmy®-winning PBS KIDS series, has formed the Writers’ Neighborhood, a five-year initiative focused on identifying and supporting new and emerging writers from underrepresented racial groups as they build careers in children’s media. The eight-week program aims to help hone the skills and broaden the experience of talented creatives who better represent the increasingly diverse audience for the company’s own hit series, like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Alma’s Way, and Donkey Hodie, as well as that of the broader children’s media industry. In the wake of its successful pilot in fall 2022, Fred Rogers Productions will accept applications for the program’s second cohort from May 1 to May 15.

"Many writers in children's media are freelancers, so we designed the Writers' Neighborhood with a dual focus of developing your craft and building your career," said Ellen Doherty, chief creative officer, Fred Rogers Productions. "Knowing how to write a good story or develop engaging characters is a completely different skill set from finding work, asking for and understanding feedback, or cultivating relationships, and we want to help our fellows gain experience on all fronts."

The Fred Rogers Productions Writers’ Neighborhood will welcome eight fellows per cohort as they learn to be intentional in their writing process, determine context for a series when they are not on a production staff, and interpret and take notes, among other important skills, including how to find and secure jobs in the field.

Beyond the eight-week program, Fred Rogers Productions will offer additional mentorship connections and opportunities to engage in industry activities and events. Many of the fellows who participated in last year’s pilot program are now writing episodes for series currently in production at Fred Rogers Productions.

Fred Rogers Productions will host an application information webinar on April 27, 2023, details for which can be found on LinkedIn.