The latest in kids' products
The latest in kids' products -- EW reviews the newest books, TV shows, videos, and music for the younger set
Activity and Game Songs, Vol. 2
The latest in kids’ products
BY KAREN LYNN WILLIAMS
ILLUSTRATED BY CATHERINE STOCK
LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD, $13.95
AGES 5 TO 8
A galimoto is a pull-toy made of scrap wire by African children in Malawi. This fresh, simple, and appealing story tells how Kondi, a 7-year-old village boy, longs to make his first galimoto, and succeeds.
Kondi shows admirable resourcefulness in scrounging the wire he needs: He coaxes a little girl to trade hers (she’s using it to poke an anthill) for a stick, he swaps his knife with a friend, and he keeps his cool when adults scold him as he rummages for wire at a junkyard. By the time all his friends call him out to play in the moonlight, the galimoto is ready.
It’s a slender premise for a story, but it works. For one thing, the lovely, soft watercolors are a revelation of the old-new jumble of contemporary village life: the way kids wear T-shirts with slogans, live in thatched huts, and keep their private treasures in shoe-boxes. The freedom Kondi enjoys, roaming about the village all day, on easy terms with old and young, absorbed in his pursuit, is positively enviable. The finished galimoto — in the shape of a truck — is terrific, too. This understated book lingers in the mind. B+
FIRST THINGS FIRST
AN ILLUSTRATED COLLECTION OF SAYINGS
BY BETTY FRASER
HARPER & ROW, $12.95
AGES 5 TO 8
This picture book starts with a sprightly idea — explaining to children how and when to use 30 familiar sayings and proverbs — and executes it with great charm.
”What to say when everyone is bossy and nothing gets done right” is the caption over a picture of six cantankerous kids making a wild mess in the kitchen. The answer, emblazoned below: ”Too many cooks spoil the broth.” But on the facing page, the same cooks are happily cleaning up, and we learn what to say when ”everyone helps”: ”Many hands make light work.”
The illustrations are filled with energy and witty details, so each one ”reads” like a brief narrative, clearly depicting the meaning of the saying. To children, these nuggets of language may have the tang of oddity and freshness. Best of all is the way explanation, illustration, and proverb are laid out on the page: You arrive at the appropriate saying with the satisfying snap of solving a riddle. A
BY BROCK COLE
FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX, $13.95
Award-winning author Brock Cole’s second novel is a winner: wry, fast-moving, intelligent fiction for young adults.
Celine is a gawky, furiously bright artist of 16. She’s living in a Chicago loft with her 22-year-old stepmother while her father’s on a lecture tour of Europe and her mother is in South America.
Celine veers between supremely confident plans for an artistic future and gloomy self-loathing. She has to gain ”a little maturity,” her father says, if she ants to go off to Florence to paint.
The novel charts Celine’s wavering progress toward that maturity with exhilarating energy, wit, and sharp observation. Since Celine is the narrator, and since her mind shoots off in daring flights of speculation at the slightest provocation, we’re in for a wild, funny ride.
I was particularly charmed by Celine’s cynical addiction to junk television, and by the brilliantly accurate depiction of her relationship with Jake, the little boy next door whom she babysits and whose parents are going through a tempestuous divorce. The grumpy, bantering conversations between Jake and Celine slowly reveal the strong and nourishing attachment felt by these two survivors.
Revelations that could be mawkish — Celine’s bruising littleeflirtation with Jake’s father, her loneliness for her mother — are handled with moving insight and restraint. A
THERE’S A DINOSAUR IN MY BED
CMS RECORDS (914-667-6200) $8.98 CASSETTE
AGES 3 TO 7
There’s a Dinosaur in My Bed condescends to the creatures it claims to celebrate, but at least they aren’t around to be insulted. Kids are a different matter. A truly avid dinophile may enjoy Bed‘s technique of inserting dinosaur names into its 13 otherwise lyrically uninteresting songs. But for most of us, this is just dinosaur tokenism. Like the dinosaurs, it’s dumb and very old.
Musically, Bed is smarter. ”Boogie Woogie Dinosaur” is a takeoff on ”Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” ”Triceratops Bop” features a mellow doo-wop, and ”Stegosaurus Beat” has a catchy Caribbean steel-band sound.
But kids won’t understand the wit of the music, and Bostick’s weak lyrics don’t stand on their own. When she does a sort of reptilian glasnost (”Little Lena speaks no English/She’s a Russian dinosaur”), she sosods foolish. Dinosaurs are endlessly fascinating to most children, but this album probably won’t be. C
THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF AND THE THREE LITTLE PIGS
READ BY HOLLY HUNTER
MUSIC BY ART LANDE
RABBIT EARS PRODUCTIONS/WINDHAM HILL RECORDS (800-888-8544) $9.98 CASSETTE
AGE 3 AND UP
The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs contain, between them, five killings, including the nightmarish wolf’s death-by-boiling-stewpot. I never thought of this as funny — until now. Holly Hunter’s scratchy Southern voice, the witty music from Art Lande, and a hilarious updated script make these stories more charming than chilling.
Hunter’s no impressionist, but she manages some nifty dialects. Her Middle Goat is a Valley Girl Goat; her Troll is a bombastic British bag of wind. And the Wolf, who chases the Three Little Pigs, is part street tough, part Catskills comic. Sample line: ”This is too much, ya little ham hock. I’m comin’ down the chimney, and I’m gonna bite ya so hard it’ll hurt ya parents.”
After ”Gruff” and ”Pigs” (7 and 14 minutes long, respectively), we are treated to nine tunes that build on musical themes from the stories. There’s quality jazz here, and more humor, as in ”Turnip Time,” ”Wolves Are Clever Creatures,” and ”Pigaletto,” a spoof on the Verdi opera of almost the same name.
Lots of kids’ albums appeal to parents as well as kids, but almost none is this sophisticated. A
PBS, PART 1: SAT., MAY 5, 8-9 P.M.
Teenager Luke Novak (Jason Blicker) is as happy as a frozen clam in Canada, where he plays on the hockey team and sees both of his separated parents regularly. Then one day his dad (Alan Jordan) takes a job in East Africa, supervising a mining operation. Suddenly, Luke is a very unhappy clam — until he visits his father in Africa, makes new friends, and sees how wonderful another culture can be.
That’s the gist of this three-hour, three-part Wonderworks presentation. African Journey, produced by the Toronto-based Film Works, doesn’t meet Wonderworks‘ usual high standards of drama and acting, but it looks good and hammers home an unassailable message.
African Journey is set up so that Luke seems, at first, a moody, selfish little creep, initially complaining that his father is leaving for Africa, and then complaining about his difficulties adjusting to African life. In fact, it’s possible to watch the entire first hour of African Journey and conclude that Luke is not someone you want to spend any more time watching.
But as the movie progresses, Luke befriends two African teens — Themba (Pedzisai Sithole) and his sister Tulani (Eldinah Tshatedi). Themba and Tulani live in the impoverished village where Luke’s father is overseeing his mine; they’re poor but intelligent young people working hard to better themselves.
Through Themba and Tulani, Luke learns not to be a self-centered brat. African Journey is heavy-handed and predictable; it is also so earnest and so pretty to look at that you can’t get really annoyed with it.
The remaining segments of African Journey will air on May 12 and 19, at the same time. C
THE CLASSICS SHELF
ACTIVITY AND GAME SONGS, VOL. 2
CMS (914-667-6200) $8.98 CASSETTE
AGES 3 TO 7
There’s a decidedly ’50s flavor to Tom Glazer’s Activity and Game Songs, Vol. 2. This makes sense; in the ’50s, it seemed that a third of the children’s records came from Glazer, another third from Burl Ives, and the remainder from everyone else.
Of the 13 pleasant songs here (recorded at a ’70s concert), most are such staples as ”I Know an Old Lady . . .” and ”This Old Man.” The tunes are old, but the words aren’t always — Glazer sings an irresistibly irreverent parody (”From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of PTA/We will fight our teachers’ battles with spitballs and with clay”) and his famous paean to pasta, ”On Top of Spaghetti.”
The kiddie-friendly reworking of ”On Top of Old Smokey,” inspired when Glazer’s son came home from school singing ”On top of old Khrushchev, so fat and so wide,” is what Glazer will always be known for in spite of a long and distinguished career as a folksinger.
He surely deserves better than this low-quality recording, which sounds as if it was taped by someone sitting in the 15th row of a school gymnasium. Nor does it help that the kids in attendance talk over the introductions and sometimes the songs. C