Eileen Clarke reviews a remake of a classic on DVD. Plus: a ''Popular Mechanics'' video for kids, and Tina Jordan on two grade-A books

By Eileen Clarke
August 10, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Heidi: Kobal Collection

Eileen Clarke reviews a new ”Heidi” on DVD

DVDs

Heidi
(2005, 104 mins.)
Based on the 1880 book by Johanna Spyri, Heidi tells the tale of a poor orphan Swiss girl (In America‘s Emma Bolger, maintaining her Irish lilt) who is first unceremoniously dumped on her hermit grandfather (the formidable Max von Sydow) and then, just when she’s begun to defrost the old coot, gets uprooted again to be a companion to Clara, a wealthy girl from Frankfurt who is in a wheelchair.

Kids will be fascinated by the relationships Heidi forms — with Peter, the jealous goatherd who doesn’t think reading is important; with her granddad, who teaches her how to make cheese and who in turn softens up; and with Clara’s grandmother (Dame Diana Rigg), who teaches Heidi how to read and protects her from the nasty housekeeper Mrs. Rottenmeier (Geraldine Chaplin).

Overall, this is a lovely story for everyone, despite a few quibbles (the young actors could have used a bit more direction, especially in the scene where Heidi scolds Peter for nearly slapping a goat). The ending is tidy in a satisfying, not annoying way, especially considering there’s quite a bit of drama beforehand involving a cliff-hanging moment (literally) for little Heidi and a miracle for her friend Clara. A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 5 and up

Popular Mechanics for Kids: Lightning and Other Forces of Nature
(2006, 88 minutes)
Get a lot of ”Why does that happen?” and ”How does that work?” questions from your little ones at home? This series can provide a lot of the answers: from how to build an igloo (the snow can’t be too hard or too soft) to why tornadoes form (slower, warmer air meets faster, colder air, and voilà) to one tidbit my 6-year-old son likes to throw around: If you want to be completely safe during a lightning storm, don’t do the dishes or take a bath (aha!, electricity is conducted through water). Fun for you: Spot the fresh-faced Elisha Cuthbert (24), who was hosting this TV show back in 1998, before she was so much as a twinkle in Keifer Sutherland’s eye. B+EC
Recommended ages: 6 and up

Books

Max’s Words
By Kate Banks; illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Max’s brother Benjamin collects stamps, and his brother Karl collects coins, so Max wants to collect something too. Though his brothers ridicule his choice, he decides to collect words. As he cuts them out from newspapers and magazines, his pile slowly grows. Writes Banks, ”When Benjamin put his stamps together, he had just a bunch of stamps. When Karl put his coins together, he had just a pile of money. But when Max put his words together, he had a thought.” And before long, a magical thing happens: Max has found enough words to create a story. It isn’t just Banks’ story that captivates; Kulikov’s illustrations are truly special too. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 4-8

The Runaway Dinner
By Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
When a hungry little boy named Banjo sits down to tuck into his dinner, the most amazing thing happens: His sausage, who is named Melvin, hops up and runs away, followed by the plate and cutlery and even the peas and carrots and french fries (”being French, of course, they had names like Francois, Fifi, and so forth”). There’s no subtext, no messages here; Runaway Dinner is simply one of those rare, wacky tales that will make both kids and adults laugh out loud. ATJ
Recommended ages: 3-6

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