If you’re a parent hip to children’s entertainment, I’ll give you a quick summation of Fred Penner’s Place: It’s Raffi Moves Into Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. If these reference points don’t mean much to you, here’s the lowdown: Like Raffi, Penner is a bearded, soft-spoken folksinger who performs clever tunes while strumming a guitar. And like Fred Rogers, Penner looks straight into the camera and addresses his young audience directly, chatting with soothing calmness.
To an adult, Fred Penner’s Place might seem derivative, but that’s a reservation that probably doesn’t matter much to young viewers. Penner’s songs aren’t as memorable as Raffi’s, and he’s not as intent on teaching as Mister Rogers is, but he’s a charming chum for children of nursery- and elementary-school age.
Penner’s ”place” is one of the best things about this show: At the start of each episode, the host enters one end of a big hollow log and emerges into a mossy green forest that seems like the coziest, most serene hideaway imaginable.
From this secluded spot, far from the intrusions of grown-ups and older kids, Penner sings and murmurs confidentially. Each show has a little bit of a plot — a team of jugglers wanders into Penner’s place and practices its skills; Fred prepares for a vacation by learning how to pack a suitcase — but this material never takes precedence over the music. Fred Penner’s Place isn’t exciting or innovative, but that’s probably just the way Penner likes it. He’s creating a low-key, no-pressure place where hard-working kids can kick back and relax, and there aren’t many of those places around. B