Gustafer Yellowgold: A modern-day Dr. Seuss?
Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World
(DVD/CD, 30 mins.; 2007)
I never did the whole children’s music thing. Never regularly listened to Raffi; never appreciated the musical stylings of the Wiggles. Nope. Our children, now six and eight, listened to the same eclectic music my husband and I did, and had only the briefest of baby-TV flings with Teletubbies, Barney, and Boohbah.
But now we’re all thoroughly entranced by the animated story of a little yellow creature with big eyes and a very sunny outlook, set to the most infectious original songs. The simple, yet beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations in the DVD Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World introduces you to the pointy-headed Gustafer, who came from the Sun, now lives in Minnesota, is friends with a pterodactyl, and has an eel and a dragon as pets. Yes, the minimal visual style serves songs well, with titles like ”Mint Green Bee” and ”Rocket Shoes,” and whimsical lyrics (I jump on cake from up above / I step on pie so warm and lovely / It’s mine to punt, vanilla bundt / All freshly baked, I’m on your cake).
But I submit to you that Gustafer doesn’t count as children’s music. The DVD, which runs the lyrics across the bottom of the screen, and includes a karaoke-style sing-a-long feature as well as a bonus CD, is the creation of illustrator/singer/songwriter Morgan Taylor. And it’s like he’s tapped into some pleasure center in the brain — both adult and kid. The hard-to-define music, which has been compared to the Beatles, the Flaming Lips, and Matthew Sweet, is just absurdly appealing. And what Taylor, who’s been dubbed a sort of modern-day Dr. Seuss, has accomplished isn’t children’s music — it’s family music. A —Abby West
For all ages
Noisy Nora…And More Stories About Mischief
(DVD, 45 mins.; 2007)
Is there a case of middle-child syndrome in your home? Put a little balm on the situation with this DVD’s first story, based on Rosemary Wells’ 1973 tale of a mouse who’s anxious to get her parents’ attention. ”Father was with Kate / Jack needing burping / So Nora had to wait” ends a familiar line. But nothing Nora does — banging the windows, knocking down chairs, or flying her brother’s kite (down the stairs) — makes them notice her. That is, until she decides to hide, and then things get awfully quiet. Other tales in this Scholastic disc, based on best-selling books: John Burningham’s charming ”Cannonball,” about a homeless pooch who helps keep a circus clown from getting the boot; and Jules Feiffer’s ”Munro,” an Academy-Award-winning animated short about a four-year-old who gets drafted into the army. A- —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3-7
Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, Volume One
(DVD, 88 mins.; 2007)
There are many lessons a kid can learn from the Fantastic Four comics’ first family, and all of them are rooted in their day jobs blurring with their domestic lives. That collision plays out effortlessly in this lighthearted animated series (which debuted last year on the Cartoon Network), an engaging manga-and-CGI confection that prevails where Marvel Comics’ big-screen Fantastic Four travesty of ’05 failed. Here, Mr. Fantastic, his wife Invisible Woman, her brother the Human Torch, and their buddy the Thing — all united by cosmic-ray mutations — are at once emboldened by their superhumanity and gently rebuked with reminders of their all-too-humanness. In one episode, the evil Dr. Doom body-swaps with Mr. Fantastic, and we learn that his most effective strategy to attack our unsuspecting heroes is by launching…personal affronts. In another, the team must forgive Mr. Fantastic for hiding a secret before they can unite to tame, then rescue, the Incredible Hulk. Each tale gently nudges forth a moral (of compromise, tolerance, and honesty), only at a steep price. For about $15 for four episodes without any extras, you’re looking at roughly $3.75 per show. The series: A-; this DVD: C —Nisha Gopalan
Paleo Sharks: Survival of the Strangest
by Timothy J. Bradley
Using meticulous text and even more meticulous illustrations — based on fossil records — Bradley explains not just how prehistoric sharks looked, but how they acted and what they ate. I’ve always thought of sharks as pretty darn scary, but let me just say, today’s sharks seem like mere goldfish compared to the spiny, spiky creatures that roamed the seas hundreds of millions of years ago. A nice touch: Bradley includes a list of further reading at the end of the book. A —Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 8-12
C is for Caboose: Riding the Rails From A To Z
Designed by Sarah Gillingham
This fabulous alphabet book — created by the same publisher behind A is For Astronaut — has a sepia-toned feel, packed as it is with old photos of trains and train equipment and brightly colored vintage illustrations. I wish that some of the letters had better corresponding terms: ”K is for Knuckle Coupler”, for example, with its silent ”K,” will be a difficult concept for most kids. For adults, C is For Caboose is a work of art meant for the coffee table; for the nursery-school set, it’s a fun book of train pictures. BTJ
Recommended ages: 2-5