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12-Year-Old Fan Of Jazz's Monk Is New 'Dora'

One of the most popular characters in toddler television has a new voice: Twelve-year-old Caitlin Sanchez has taken over the title role of Nickelodeon's bilingual animated adventure series Dora the Explorer.

"The show first came out when I was about 4 years old, and I watched it ever since," Sanchez tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "So I guess, you could say, Dora was part of my childhood."

Sanchez, a resident of Fairview, N.J., is in seventh grade and is home-schooled. She takes over from Kathleen Herles, who had the role for eight years and is now in college.

Sanchez, like Dora, is both Latina and bilingual.

Speaking of the challenges of playing Dora, Sanchez says she repeats each line over and over again, and the producers pick the version they like best.

They pick "the most exciting, loudest" one, she says. "But sometimes, you know, Dora has a great heart, and she's good at being sweet and subtle and ... Dora has many different colors."

Sanchez began acting when she was 8. She first appeared in commercials and then moved to television, where she has appeared on shows such as Law and Order: SVU. She has played the piano since she was 5, mostly playing jazz, but she also likes Latin music.

"I love John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, and great vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday," Sanchez says.

Sanchez explains Monk's appeal: "He has this really unique style. He kind of hits the piano really hard. And I love his offbeats.

"Sometimes he goes on-beat; sometimes he goes off. He's full of surprises."

Sanchez says she wants to continue acting and is optimistic she won't be typecast because of her Dora role.

"I guess it's easier because I'm just the voice behind her," she says. "Nobody really pictures me. ... Other actors are doing it, like Emma Watson in Harry Potter. She's doing a lot of independent movies and everything. Everyone seems fine with it."

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