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The latest in kids' products

The latest in kids’ products — EW reviews the newest books, TV shows, videos, and music for the younger set

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The latest in kids’ products

TELEVISION

MOTHER GOOSE ROCK ‘N’ RHYME
DISNEY, THUR., JUNE 14, 6-7:20 P.M.

If executive producer Shelley Duvall’s Mother Goose Rock ‘N’ Rhyme is a disappointment, it’s at least an entertaining one. Bursting with bright colors and sassy performances, Mother Goose looks great and features a cast that any network would envy — Jean Stapleton, Little Richard, Teri Garr, Howie Mandel, Garry Shandling, Paul Simon, even Pia Zadora. These stars appear as nursery-rhyme characters in a musical with a very loose plot: Mother Goose (Stapleton) has disappeared from Rhymeland. Her son Gordon (Dan Gilroy) and Little Bo Peep (Duvall) travel across Rhymeland trying to find her. Along the way, they meet characters like Jack and Jill (Shandling and Garr), Humpty Dumpty (Mandel), and Little Miss Muffet (Zadora). They all joke and sing and dance. When Shelley Duvall oversaw the marvelous Faerie Tale Theatre a few years ago, she managed to present classic stories with great fidelity to their original texts while maintaining a playful air. For lots of younger viewers, Faerie Tale Theatre was their first exposure to these fables, and the care and accuracy that Duvall brought to them was admirable. Duvall hasn’t been as meticulous with Mother Goose. Most of the time, the nursery rhymes are recited only in snatches, or not at all. Then, too, the big-name stars spend a lot of time making fun of their own characters and each other. Older viewers may find this hip and knowing, but the sarcasm is lost on children who want to love these creations. With so much pop culture around that sneers and derides, do we need more? Still, the acting is good, the music by Van Dyke Parks is pretty, and the art direction is beautiful. One wishes, however, that children would walk away from this show with all those nursery rhymes spinning in their heads. Mother Goose is intended as the first in a series of such shows; maybe future editions will be truer to the spirit of the rhymes. B-

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GOLDENGROVE
BY JILL PATON WALSH
FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX, $3.50 PAPERBACK; AGES 11 AND UP

Every summer, Madge travels to Goldengrove, her grandmother’s lovely house in Cornwall, England, to spend the vacation with her cousin Paul. And every summer, Goldengrove, the sea, and her happy companionship with Paul are blissfully the same. This summer, though, life begins to change irrevocably. Madge, on the edge of adolescence, falls tremulously in love with Gran’s visitor, a bitter middle-aged man whose blindness arouses Madge’s tenderness and romantic generosity. Paul, feeling abandoned, is angry. Then Gran reveals an astonishing family secret; Paul and Madge learn they are more than cousins. Jill Paton Walsh is one of England’s most distinguished novelists for young adults. Goldengrove, first published in 1972 and now reissued in paperback, is an intensely lyrical, subtle, and wise novel. It draws you into the trance of summer by the sea, and then pierces you with the mingled loss, giddiness, and sensual awakening of childhood’s last summer. With its delicate, evocative prose and sensitively drawn characters, Goldengrove is a perfect bridge to the challenge and rewards of adult literature. A

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MORE BUGS IN BOXES
BY DAVID A. CARTER
SIMON & SCHUSTER, $11.95; AGES 3 TO 6

A bright blue big-mouth bug practically leaps off the page and waves its feelers at you; some finger-pinching purple pickle bugs poke their alligatorish snouts out of an orange box and snap their jaws in rhythm like synchronized swimmers; brown basketball bugs bounce around in their yellow box with cheerful insouciance. These bugs in boxes may be slyly trying to teach kids their Colors — mighty odd colors, too, including fuchsia and olive drab. But really, this snazzy pop-up book is just plain Technicolor fun, and the lack of real content is the book’s only drawback. On each double-page, bold black letters ask what kind of bug is hiding in the box. Lift the lid and find the answer. There’s no rhyme or reason to it — all the bugs are imaginary, arbitrarily colored, and charmingly inoffensive. (Even the most insectophobic parents won’t have to shudder when the flaps are lifted.) The clever paper engineering and the bright design are the real stars here. Another plus: Those chomping, snapping bugs are so sturdily made that they should still be strutting their stuff after many readings. B+

VIDEO

THE LAND BEFORE TIME
MCA HOME VIDEO, $24.95; 69 MIN.; AGES 4 AND UP

Things aren’t looking too great for the dinosaur population. Food is scarce, and there are violent, unpredictable earthquakes. The young brontosaurus Littlefoot, his mother, and his grandparents are setting off for the Great Valley, where things are more peaceful and food and water are plentiful. But Littlefoot’s mother has a grisly battle with a tyrannosaurus rex; that, combined with a furious quake, is too much for her. In a heartbreaking scene, she dies. Littlefoot gets separated from his grandparents, and he is left to find his way to the Great Valley without them. (The theme of a young animal losing its parents and having to become independent before its time is a common one in kids’ movies; Dumbo and Bambi faced similar crises.) One element that makes this story appealing is that the characters are distinct and sympathetic. Littlefoot, especially, has emotional integrity. His response to his mother’s death is a true one: He goes from denial to anger to guilt and finally to sorrow. It is hard not to care for him. And there are some thoughtful, compelling details. ”My tummy hurts,” Littlefoot says as he grieves quietly. Accompanying Littlefoot on his way to the Great Valley are four other young dinosaurs: Cera, a contentious triceratops; Ducky, a cross between a duck and a brontosaurus; Spike, a low-energy creature; and Petrie, a high-strung dinobird that offers the story’s comic relief. They protect and console one another. The animation in this Spielberg/Lucas production, directed by Don Bluth, is creative but not nearly as vivid or sophisticated as that of Spielberg and Bluth’s An American Tail. The messages of this story-that we should ”listen to our hearts,” that people can help one another through difficult times, that cooperation works better than contention — are positive and uplifting. Because The Land Before Time is so full of hope, you probably won’t mind if your child — like mine — wants to watch it again and again. A

MUSIC

THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE
JODIE FOSTER AND VAN DYKE PARKS
WINDHAM HILL RECORDS (800-888-8544) $9 CASSETTE; AGES 4-10

A humble, innocent husband, a shrewd shrew of a wife, a moral that’s about as subtle as a dump truck. . . . The Fisherman and His Wife is a pure and conventional fairy tale. Narrating, Jodie Foster is pure and conventional, too. She applies her talents to the material so successfully that after a few minutes, we forget who’s talking and simply sink into the story. The story is long — more than 26 minutes — and ultimately anticlimactic. It’s about the perils of asking too much, and the danger of getting wishes fulfilled too easily. You can see the end coming a mile away. But it’s told well, in the vivid, excessive language of fairy tales (”The sea. . .was all black-gray and came heaving up from the depths and had a foul stench”). And the 23 minutes of incidental music that follow are wonderful. Fanciful, baroque, and beautifully overdone, Van Dyke Parks’ score is truly the musical equivalent of this fairy tale. A-

THE CLASSICS SHELF

FLAT STANLEY
BY JEFF BROWN, ILLUSTRATED BY TOMI UNGERER
HARPER & ROW, $4.95; AGES 6 TO 10

Stanley Lambchop, a cheerful boy, has been squashed flat by a falling bulletin board. ”Gosh!” says Arthur, his little brother. ”Stanley’s flat!” ”As a pancake,” says Mr. Lamb-chop. ”Darndest thing I’ve ever seen.” ”Let’s all have breakfast,” Mrs. Lambchop says. That’s how deadpan things are in the Lambchop household. Flat Stanley was first published in 1964, and it seems to have lost none of its droll appeal. In fact, it’s better than ever in this new paperback in a slightly larger format, with more space for Tomi Ungerer’s sprightly, cartoonish drawings. After his accident, Stanley is four feet tall and half an inch thick. Once he gets used to his strange condition, he discovers all sorts of benefits. He can slide under doors without bothering to open them, he can soar above the park on the end of a kite string held by Arthur, and he can have an extremely cheap trip to California to visit a friend: His parents merely slip him into a large envelope — with an egg salad sandwich on thin bread and milk in a slim cigarette case — and mail him. The Lambchop parents are so matter-of-fact and Stanley is so good-natured that his predicament offers the pure delight of nonsense. The narrative tone is brisk, optimistic, and invigorating: slapstick with a straight face. A

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