Are they Boohbahs? Teletubbies? No — Bop-a-Lots!
Bop Along With the Bop-a-Lots Vol. 1
(DVD/CD, 40 mins., 2006)
The jacket of this DVD boasts that three creatures named Huggy-Bop, Silly-Bop, and Sugar-Bop will help your child ”nurture critical listening skills” and ”exercise kinesthetic dexterity,” while ”awakening in them the same Productive Thinking skills used by the Edisons, Einsteins, and DaVincis of the world.” Well goll-lee, let’s all rush out and buy this one, shall we? What it should have said, simply, is that it takes four familiar songs (”If You’re Happy and You Know It,” ”Old MacDonald,” ”Pop Goes the Weasel,” and ”Rock-A-Bye Baby”) and sets them to different musical styles from around the globe, from minuet to flamenco, from taiko drumming to zydeco — no easy feat. I could see from my little contingent of viewers a flicker of recognition each time they realized a song they knew, even if the instrumentation was unlike anything they’d ever heard. The actual Bop-a-Lots, kind of a dopey cross between a Boobah and a Teletubby (and just as verbally challenged), move remarkably well for beings with incredibly large lower bodies, but are too blah to really grab your attention — I just liked to watch their iridescent wings change color. Better to watch the DVD once and pop in the CD that comes in this package to let your little ones choreograph their own dance moves. B- —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: Infant to 5
Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Smashing Pumpkins
Michael Armstrong (Baby Rock Records)
When it’s time for spaceboys and spacegirls to hit the cosmic hay, this installment of Michael Armstrong’s 19-albums-strong Lullaby Renditions series will certainly make it seem as if today was indeed the greatest day for your little cherub rocker. Unlike some of the other songs Armstrong has given his glockenspiel-and-Mellotron treatment (like tunes by Queens of the Stone Age and Tool), the Pumpkins’ songs already have an ethereal and dreamy quality about them; in a sense, the originals were crunchy lullabies in their own right. The 11 tracks featured here also have a dual appeal: light rockers that naturally lend themselves to the night-night nursery setting (”Today,” ”Tonight, Tonight,” ”Farewell and Goodnight”) and gently patted-down versions of tunes Mom and Dad may have more raucously enjoyed at a college keg party (”Cherub Rock,” ”1979”). And the album is seriously potent — even this over-caffeinated, 30-something, childless indie-rock fan is being blissfully lulled into a nap at his desk by it as he types these words. Speaking of words: Since this, like all the Rockabye Baby! installments, is instrumental, you too will sleep easy knowing there’s no worry that the lyrics to ”Disarm” will contribute to the disaffected youth of tomorrow. A —Jason Adams
Recommended ages: All
Girl Authority (Rounder/Zoë Records)
If you’re looking for a G-rated escape from Kidz Bop, try Girl Authority’s second CD, Road Trip. Your littlest ones will enjoy singing along to pop classics like Madonna’s ”Holiday” and Rose Royce’s ”Car Wash,” as well as new tunes like Christina Aguilera’s ”Here to Stay” or Cyndi Lauper’s ”Shine.” And so will you. Just don’t expect any soaring voices. The group, composed of nine girls ranging in ages from 9 to 14 with cute monikers like ”Fashion Girl” and ”Country Girl,” is basically the tween answer to the Spice Girls. Although vocally they’ve improved since their debut effort (all have starred in Annie at least once), there’s still not one Aguilera in the bunch. But the group is trying to go beyond the just-covers realm by featuring five original songs; ”This Is My Day,” a rock-infused self-empowerment number, is the best of the lot. You might not want to be trapped with these girls for a long trip, but little ears will appreciate quick jaunts here and there. B- —Shanelle Rein-Olowokere
Recommended ages: 3 to 9
Launched in January, babytv.com is perfect for moms and dads who enjoy sharing videos of their little one doing innocuous things, like taking his first step or playing her first game of catch. And unlike YouTube (which features anything from snippets of TV shows to teenagers dancing in their rooms), it allows you to connect with other like-minded parents. The only problem? You’ll be part of a small group. Currently, the site only features 17 clips, including ”Nicholas Crawling on Tile,” ”Nora’s First Birthday Cake,” and ”Jayden’s Bathtime.” And if you’re not a friend or family member, we doubt you’ll be riveted. We just hope none of these are scripted, like YouTube’s infamous ”Lonelygirl15” series — although after watching ”Jayden’s Bathtime” again, we’re not quite sure. C+ —SRO
Great find: the Alex Awards
My middle-school-aged daughter still loves Harry Potter and regularly devours rafts of girly young adult (or YA) books. But she’s a sophisticated reader, one who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird last year. She is ready for different fare, and she recently began asking me for adult books.
Easy enough. I first handed her The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which she loved. (I only found out recently that the book, which I loved too, was originally published as a YA title in England. Its American publisher, sensing broader appeal, marketed it for adults.) Soon after devouring Incident, my daughter moved on to Agatha Christie, then to Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful First Ladies’ Detective Club series. Soon came Barbara Kingsolver and some of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries starring Kinsey Millhone. I tried to interest her in the classics, but she’s not quite there yet. And some of the books I had loved, like Rebecca, struck her as dated and fusty: She wanted no part of them, and told me so, firmly. As I racked my brain for books she would like — and, just as important, for books that would be more or less appropriate for her age — I began canvassing friends and came up with all sorts of suggestions: The Bee Season; A.J. Jacobs’ The Know It All; Angela’s Ashes; The House on Mango Street; Girl With a Pearl Earring.
And then, thanks to Cathleen Brady, director of children’s book publicity at Chronicle, I hit paydirt: the Alex Awards. Given annually by the American Library Association, they are meant to honor adult books that hold great appeal for teen readers (as the ALA’s website puts it, ”the Alex Awards were created to recognize that many teens enjoy and often prefer books written for adults”). Though the ALA technically intended for the award to help librarians — who can have trouble finding books to recommend to your average persnickety adolescent reader — there’s no reason that parents, or kids themselves, can’t use the ALA website. Whether you have boys or girls, whether they like reading fiction or nonfiction, there’s probably an Alex book for them. The 2007 award winners, just announced, include everything from Michael D’Orso’s Eagle Blue: A Team, A Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in the Arctic to Diane Setterfield’s modern Gothic mystery, The Thirteenth Tale. Looking back at previous years’ winners, my daughter and I compiled a list of possibilities for her: Lynne Cox’s Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer; Steve Almond’s Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America; Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.
As regular readers of my column know, I also have a 15-year-old, who wouldn’t in a million years ask me for advice about what to read. So I realize it’s nice to have the dilemma I have now, to have a child who loves books and who wants my help in finding new ones. But I thought, if I’m having trouble helping her — and I’m one of the books editors here! — then there are probably plenty of other parents in the same boat. The Alex Awards are a good thing to keep in mind.