A show for your growing gourmet
Chefs A’ Field: Kids on the Farm
PBS; Sundays at 5 p.m. ET
Also available on DVD through chefsafield.com
If you want your child to venture beyond the culinary limits of the chicken nugget, the french fry, or the tube steak, this could be just the ticket. In this series, prominent chefs take their own offspring to discover the sources of the food that they regularly prepare in fancy-schmancy restaurants. So there are trips to central Mexico to discover how the choicest avocados (Hass) are grown; to Sacramento to see the best way to harvest walnuts (it’s more about shaking than picking); to Wisconsin to learn about the lengthy process of making goat cheese.
Shot in high definition, the series does a glorious job of making the viewer feel as though he is there selecting farm-fresh eggs, or wrangling open scallops off Buzzards’ Bay, or sampling just-picked strawberries or any one of the 96 (96!) varieties of tomatoes in Santa Fe. For kids who don’t get the chance to think about where food comes from beyond their local supermarket, Chefs A’ Field provides a marvelous window to dinner’s origins.
Once the foraging is done, the chefs take the kids back to their professional kitchens to prepare meals based on what they’ve gathered. There is nothing more entertaining than watching these masters, who I’m sure are used to barking at sous chefs and other underlings, as they try to juggle reducing sauces and preventing their kids from upturning pots. One chef was importantly explaining how crucial purified water was to making his seven-tomato gazpacho as his daughter took a great swig out of the bottle. And there were lots of cries of ”gnocchi, gnocchi, gnocchi!” just because, heck, the word sounds funny and good when you say it. The satisfying end to each episode comes as the dishes are finalized, and the spoons and forks (and fingers) come out to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It could make even the most hesitant eater want to reach in for a bite. A — Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 4 and up
PG, 84 minutes
What could be more fun (for kids) than a movie about farting, right? This 2002 English movie about an outcast little boy named Peter who has a serious flatulence problem and a dream of becoming an astronaut will engage children; it might also amuse them. But even they will be able to sniff out the gooey sentimental filling of this follow-your-dreams debacle that ends with a heroic Peter flying into space and all his detractors kissing his arse (that’s a word used fairly frequently).
The movie isn’t entirely a stinker. The main actors are doing the best they can with what they have. Rupert Grint, best known as Harry Potter’s chum Ron, is charming as Peter’s only friend. But it’s hard not to be embarrassed for the more established stars here, like Paul Giamatti, who plays a stilted G-man. (I know, I know: The man did come to prominence as Pig Vomit in the Howard Stern movie, but Thunderpants came out just before American Splendor. And Sideways wasn’t far behind. When you know there’s brilliance there, it’s difficult to watch the schmaltz.)
There are inconsistencies and oddities within director Peter Hewitt’s (Garfield) concoction that will puzzle grownups — like the fact that the movie is primarily set in England, yet the recurring news anchor is American, as is the news. Or the turn of events that has Peter convicted of murder and briefly facing a firing squad.
And then there are the harsh words. For a family film, there is definitely a healthy use of variations on damn and arse. They aren’t really salacious; they’re actually spoken with such nonchalance that I doubt they’re considered that big a deal in England. And I’d be willing to accept that if only it weren’t just one of many issues with the movie. D — Abby West
Recommended ages: 8 and up
Younger Kids: The Sneaky Pony series might be my absolute favorite series for young readers, so I’m delighted that books 4 and 5 have arrived. Plum, the sneaky pony, and Keeker, her intrepid young owner, manage to get into all kinds of delightful scrapes on their Vermont farm. In Keeker and the Springtime Surprise, some baby groundhogs cause lots of trouble, and in Keeker and the Pony Camp Catastrophe, the pair avert disaster at Camp Kickapoo. The illos are charming and the text challenging without being overly difficult (ages 5-8). Then, from Kate Camillo (author of Because of Winn-Dixie) comes volume 4 in what might be my second all-time favorite series for young readers, the Mercy Watson books. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to Mercy, she’s an exceedingly large, exceedingly intelligent pig who happens to reside with the Watson family on Deckawoo Drive. Mercy’s penchant for food tends to get her into many difficulties, and that’s exactly what happens in the charming Mercy Watson and the Princess in Disguise, when Mrs. Watson decides to make Mercy a Halloween costume and take her trick-or-treating (ages 6-8). Last but not least, there’s History Dudes: Ancient Egyptians and History Dudes: Vikings, a new series from DK aimed squarely at the 10-year-old set (imagine what would happen if Captain Underpants wrote a textbook and you’ll get the idea). Some parents might be horrified, but I think it’s actually a pretty ingenious and fun way for kids to learn history.
Older Kids: Let’s face it: Harry Potter will be a flash in the pan. Come July 21, every child (and many adults, like me) in the country will be immersed. The fast readers will gallop through in a weekend; the slower ones will take until Wednesday or Thursday. But for the rest of the summer, there’s plenty of other good reading out there. For starters: Madeleine L’Engle. I wrote a few weeks ago about Square Fish’s lovely reissue of one of my favorite childhood books, L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. But I didn’t mention that the other books of the quintet — A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time — were reissued at the same time, all in gorgeous paperback format. I can think of no better books than these to while away summer days and nights (ages 9-15). As far as new books go, fans who loved cheeky teen witch Rachel in Sarah Mlynowski’s Bras & Broomsticks and Frogs & French Kisses will be delighted to have a third installment, Spells & Sleeping Bags, in which Rachel narrowly averts all kinds of disaster at summer camp. My daughters, who love Sabrina, also adore these novels. I myself was captivated by a debut novel from Rebecca Stead, a mystical thriller called First Light: When Peter, 12, accompanies his parents to Greenland, where his dad, a glaciologist, is doing fieldwork, he finds a bright red ring embedded in the ice — a ring that leads him to a tribe of people that live below the snow (ages 9-13). Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Child got a thumbs-up from both me and my kids. The poignant, funny travails of seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood are set against the backdrop of 1967-68: Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy (ages 10-14). Finally, older teens won’t want to miss the new Stephenie Meyer novel, Eclipse, due out Aug. 7.
And then there’s the last, all-important category…
Books for the Car or the Plane: I’ll highly recommend Alain Katz’s Stinky Thinking Number 2: Another Big Book of Gross Games and Brainteasers. How many words can you make out of the letters in the word toilet? Which words, when spelled backward, sound like a lot of poop: Air raid, hot shoe, my leg, or be nice? There’s lots, lots more in this vein — parents will be sick of it after about five minutes, but kids of a certain ages (6-10) won’t tire quite so easily. For new and interesting coloring books, there’s a jumbo 400-page book of nothing but Curious George, called Monkey Business (ages 3-6), and a 275-page Harry Potter Deluxe Coloring Book (ages 6-9). The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Collector’s Sticker Book (ages 6-10) will keep some fingers quite busy too. Finally, the new Smartlab Fashion Studio (8 and up) — which includes a small light table, fabrics, and all kinds of design tips — will entrance budding fashionistas. — Tina Jordan