EW reviews the newest books, tv shows, videos and music for the younger set

The latest in kids products

Uncle Wizzmo’s New Used Car
Rodney A. Greenblatt
Harepr & Row, $13.95
Ages 4 TO 8

Rodney A. Greenblatt, a hot New York artist, has used sizzling jellybean colors and cartoon boldness to celebrate the 1950s suburban joy of buying a new car. The story is simplicity itself:

It’s spring, so Jimi and Jodi hop in Uncle Wizzmo’s car and whiz along the highway to Fleeberville, where Unc will make a deal with Turnpike Larry for a new used car — a finned convertible. On the way home, they all enjoy ice cream cones.

The pictures are a riotous tribute to ’50s thruway landscapes and architecture, complete with cheerful signs, french fry-eating robins at a burger stop, a giant sneaker mounted on the roof of On-The-Go Shoes, and a whimsical assortment of crazy cars for sale, complete with typical dealer come-ons.

The exuberant colors and unapologetic enjoyment of American commercialism will have terrific appeal for the youngest picture-book readers, many of whom seem to adore cars. B+

This Old Man: A Musical Counting Book
By Tony Ross Aladdin
$9.95 AGES 3 TO 6

Ever since kids’ books have had to compete with television, video, and Nintendo, snazzy gimmicks and elaborate packaging have become the order of the day. Sometimes a book itself seems almost insignificant under its flashy trappings of audiotapes, night lights, and Velcro-attached toys. Here’s one book, though, that is definitely enhanced by its gimmick.

”This Old Man” (”he played one, he played knick-knack on my drum”) is a faintly tiresome old counting song. But Tony Ross has breathed new life into it with witty drawings and real music. Pull a tab on the inside cover and you hear a tinkling rendition of the song. The music plays until you push the tab back, and, best of all, it always plays from the beginning. Children can learn the tune as they read the lyrics. (Parent alert: Prepare to be driven mad.)

They’ll also be diverted by the incident-crammed illustrations, culminating in a gloriously silly pop-up of all the characters cavorting on the last page. Particularly enjoyable is the demented-looking little dog who gets all the bones mentioned in the song’s chorus. He is on every page, reveling in his cumulative bonanza with a crazed gleam of joy in his little eyes. The numbers from 1 to 10 are clearly highlighted in the margins, so this book counts as an educational tool as well — a particularly diverting one. B+

ABC Afterschool Special: The Perfect Date
ABC, Thur., April 19, 4-5 P.M.

Like so many Afterschool Specials, The Perfect Date has a moral to impress upon its young audience. Fortunately, this one is so staggeringly familiar — appearances don’t define the true worth of a person — that the intelligent folks who made The Perfect Date have opted to entertain rather than lecture; the result is a sweet, amusing story.

Steven (Richard Murphy) thinks he’s about to embark on the perfect date. A beautiful, status-conscious classmate (Alison Elliott) has agreed to go out with him, primarily because Steven has just become a high school hero for sinking what even he admits was a ”lucky” basket in an important game. To impress her, Steven has borrowed his dad’s pristine new sports car.

But at the last minute the girl jilts Steven for an even more important athlete. Not only that, he puts a big scrape in the side of his father’s car.

Enter the real ”perfect date”: Bernice (Lycia Naff), a gawky, bespectacled nerd who has been dumped by her boyfriend. Out of pity, Steven offers Bernice a ride home; along the way, they have a few adventures, Bernice removes her glasses to reveal a pretty face, and all of Steven’s friends envy his foxy new catch.

This might sound lame, but director Kristoffer Siegel-Tabori has taken Josef Anderson’s seen-it-all-before script and filmed it in a smart, quirky style. He keeps the action moving quickly and doesn’t let the actors get too cutesy, so the ugly-duckling-into-swan theme seems funny and touching, not trite and sexist. Siegel-Tabori even works the rapper Fresh Prince into a funny cameo that proves the Prince can act.

Who knows whether young people will come away having learned an Important Lesson About Life? What they will come away with is a better-crafted piece of entertainment than most prime-time sitcoms. B+

Telephone Tips for Kids
Kids Vids (800-882-9911)
$21.95, 21 MIN.

This video’s cast of Cabbage Patch-like puppets features three kids visiting their Auntie Bella. While she’s in the bath, the kids get involved watching TV and forget their phone manners, committing such gaffes as holding the phone away from their ear and then telling the caller he sounds like a mosquito, and telling another caller that Auntie Bella’s in the bathroom.

So Auntie takes them to the telephone ”doctor,” played by Nancy J. Friedman (identified as ”the internationally recognized expert on telephone skills”). A nurturing type, she diagnoses the kids’ problems (”slow-pokitis,” the telephone ”meanies,” the ”rudes”) and prescribes cures. She also stresses safety measures, such as what a child home alone should say to a caller and how a child can be helped to remember a phone number.

You can’t yet rent this tape, and your child will not want to watch it again and again. The price is high for a one-shot. But it might be just the thing for that child you know who’s suffering from the ”rudes.” A-

”Mommy I Can Learn Myself” Manners
Kards for Kids (800-262-2437)
30 min.; Ages 3 and up

The animated narrators on this tape, Oopsey (a girl) and Billy (a boy), explain what polite children should do in common social situations — when eating dinner out or when Grandma comes to visit.

The problem is that while they do say good manners give you good feelings about yourself, they never make it clear why. And they fail to get across a crucial idea: Good manners are a combination of honesty, kindness, and common sense.

They explain the difference between ”may I” and ”can I,” but that is a matter of grammar, not manners. They exhort children not to ”look at people face to face” when they meet, but shyness is not a matter of manners either.

The childlike drawings are colorful and sometimes charming, but it’s a stretch to call them ”lively animation,” as the jacket blurb does.

And the voices of Oopsey and Billy are downright creepy; Oopsey has a sing-song falsetto, and Billy sounds like a man trying to sound like a 5-year-old by stuffing a sock in his mouth. ”Uch, these voices are yucky!” my son said, clapping his hands over his ears. I suspect the voices might put a child off the tape entirely. I certainly would doubt the validity of what people were saying if they sounded so phony. D

Sing with Me
Roger Rush
Children’s Music Co. (800-955-7529) $9.95 Cassette
Ages 2 TO 8

A 5-year-old singing songs adults like — what could be simpler? This homegrown tape (made by the star’s father, a New Jersey record producer) is not exactly sophisticated, and Roger doesn’t always hit the high notes. But, as the cover notes remind us, ”Children love to hear children sing!” And where else can you find a song list that includes ”Amazing Grace,” ”America,” ”America, the Beautiful,” and ”Puff, the Magic Dragon”?

Roger has a kid voice: high pitched, untrained, and loud. His strong New Joisey accent charmingly underscores the theme of ”This Land Is Your Land” (”from Califawnyah to the New Yawk island”). In ”Swanee River,” it gets in the way. But if he’s not up to the complex nostalgia of this song, your kid will never know it. A cute idea, executed without excessive cuteness. B+

Peter and the Wolf

If Prokofiev’s famous symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf will get kids ready for ”serious” music, then Dave Van Ronk’s jug band Peter will get them ready for Prokofiev. Van Ronk’s adaptation simplifies and condenses Prokofiev’s score. He substitutes homely instruments for classical ones: Strings become fiddles, the flute becomes a pennywhistle. A pamphlet describes jug band instruments and provides scores for the main themes and a key linking the instruments to the voice-over narration. Van Ronk makes the music easy enough for any kazoo player with a little practice to play, or at least to hum.

Naturally, something is lost in the process. It’s as if Prokofiev’s dark Russian woods had become a sunny pasture. But if this score lacks the drama of the original, it keeps the playfulness.

Side Two is basic Van Ronk: traditional tunes (”Mairzy Doats”) and pretty ballads (”Green, Green Rocky Road”), done with hise with hissonality and expression. It’s a bonus; you’ll buy this for Peter. A

The Classic Shelf

Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
Running Press, $12.98; AGES 9 TO 15

”I remember him as if it were yesterday,” narrator Jim Hawkins says about the old sailor who had the map to Treasure Island. ”He came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following him behind in a hand-barrow: a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man and the sabre-cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white.”

Sea dogs, pieces of eight, and 15 men on a dead man’s chest — who doesn’t remember them all as if it were yesterday?

When Jim Hawkins sails on the Hispaniola in search of buried treasure, he thinks he’ll have a quick trip, an easy hunt, and ”money to roll in.” But Long John Silver, with ”a face as big as a ham,” a parrot on his shoulder, and an ingratiating style, is a pirate. The mutinies and derring-do — and especially Long John’s magnetism — keep the excitement going to the very end.

The book’s moral ambiguity makes it a classic: the twists of kindness and villainy in Silver’s character, the shaky goodness of the ”good” characters, and the bittersweet conclusion that treasure costs too much in human suffering.

This edition reproduces the classic 1911 Scribner version of the 1883 story (though its magnificent N.C. Wyeth paintings have an annoying orange tint and, even worse, are clumped together at the ends of chapters). A-