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DVDs and books your children will love

Eileen Clarke reviews ”Duma” and the timeless ”Red Balloon, and Tina Jordan peruses three books for young readers

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DVDs and books your children will love


(PG, 100 minutes, 2005)

This could have been the typical coming-of-age tale of a child befriending a wild animal, especially considering director Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Fly Away Home) has deftly mined this territory before. But this South African story proves to be much more than the beautiful, harsh landscape in which it was shot. Twelve-year-old Xan (excellent newcomer Alexander Michaeletos) encounters an abandoned cheetah as a kit, and with the help of his parents, raises him until a death in the family forces them to move to the city. When Duma (Swahili for cheetah) tries to seek out Xan at his new school, the pair flee to avoid a life of captivity (ah, but whose, really?), taking off toward home on an adventure that is thrilling at times, exasperatingly slow-moving at others. Older children will marvel at Xan’s (and Duma’s) newly honed survival skills, but younger ones may be frightened by a first encounter with an interloper in the desert. In the end, children may even think about a central focus of the picture — that actions have consequences. The film wraps with a predictable yet satisfying finish. B+Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 6 and up

For Your Collection
The Red Balloon
(DVD, 1956, 34 minutes)
This charming, short French film from director Albert Lamorisse follows the story of a little boy (played by the director’s son Pascal) who finds a helium-filled red balloon on the streets of Paris. The pair are inseparable — le ballon rouge is truly a devoted friend, waiting for the boy outside school (you’ll hear a cross schoolmaster forbid it entry), church, and his home (mais non, says maman). Even when some bullies try to steal it, somehow it knows to go back to the boy.

The film has a dreamlike quality that’s incredibly soothing. There is no dialogue, only snippets of background conversation, and the music perfectly coincides with the action (ominous bully footsteps; pensive, it’s-raining-and-grey-in-Montmarte moments). If you enjoyed this simple film as a kid, it’ll be all the more satisfying to see it again with your children. It’s a movie that reminds us what it’s like to be a child, perhaps to be lonely, and to have found a best friend. Half a century and one Oscar (for Best Original Screenplay — how many foreign films with virtually no dialogue can lay claim to that?) later, no collection is complete without it. AEC
For all ages


How to Do a Belly Flop! & Other Tricks: Tips & Skills No Adult Will Teach You
By Marc Tyler Nobleman and Dave & Joe Borgenicht (HarperCollins, $5.99)
Kids are probably lining up for this new paperback from the guys who brought you the inestimable How to Give a Wedgie!. Yes, some of the grody stuff is in here, but this is more of a handbook adults will like: There are instructions for hosting a backyard carnival, hatching a monarch butterfly, skipping stones, making your own movie. Good for summer fun, and written in kidspeak, too. A-TJ
Recommended ages: 7 and up

Between Mom and Jo
By Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown, $16.99)
Nick has two moms: his birth mom and her longtime partner, Jo. He grows up a happy little boy, content with his odd menagerie of pets (including a three-legged dog), though because of his family situation he’s subjected to playground cruelty now and again, and his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Ivey, does not display his family portrait on Parents Night. But all that is minor compared to what happens when his moms begin fighting and decide to split up. Because Jo never officially adopted him, Nick is suddenly cut off from the mom who actually raised him. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll just say the book ends on an upbeat note; the characters, etched with loving precision and care, stayed in my head for weeks after I finished the last page. ATJ
Recommended ages: 10 and up

Emily’s Balloon
By Komako Sakai (Chronicle, $14.95)
What happens when little Emily gets a yellow helium-filled balloon at a party? She falls in love with it, and wants to play with it, bring it to the dinner table, sleep with it in her bed. Of course, there are complications. This gentle little picture book, with its spare text and calm, quiet, equally spare illustrations, will appeal to toddlers and parents alike. ATJ
Recommended ages: 2-5