Stars, farms, and a runaway tricycle: eight great DVDs, books, CDs, and TV shows for your little ones this week -- and one awful Hip Hop Harry

By EW Staff
September 28, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Eight great things for your kids — and one awful Hip Hop Harry


Laura’s Star
(77 mins., 2005)

Finally, an animated children’s movie where there are no sassy animals back-talking, no pop tunes blaring, and no flatulating ferrets. Just a simple story about a girl who moves from the country to the city and has trouble fitting in. Laura can’t sleep at night, and while she is pondering her fate she happens upon a falling star. It has broken one of its legs, and she mends it the best way she knows how — with a band-aid, or ”plaster,” as the English-accented Laura puts it.

She takes the star home and it has a decidedly magical effect on all the animals in her and her brother’s room — a little stardust and they come to life. But Laura, based on the German author Klaus Baumgart’s picture book, does not suddenly become a happy-go-lucky tike after her stargazing experience. It takes a while for her to warm up to the new kids on the block, particularly Max, who follows her on foot and bicycle — the latter in a harrowing scene where Laura tries to catch up with her mother, who has forgotten the bow for her cello performance.

Should she try to hold on to the star, who’s in essence her only friend, or give it back to skies where it is happiest? It’s this kind of quiet, gentle film that will have kids thinking about consequences, getting along with others, and making choices, all with nary a barnyard creature in sight. A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 4-9

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel?and More Stories About Trucks
(50 mins., 2006)
I think there is a special marker on all Y chromosomes that inherently makes its bearers obsessed with vehicles. So to celebrate that obsession, check out Scholastic’s latest video adaptation of classic picture books. From the ambitious Mike Mulligan, who offers to dig the foundation for the new town hall but forgets how he and scooper will leave, to odes to garbage trucks and fire engines, it’s a veritable smorgasbord on wheels. But the real standout is the dialogue-free live-action short extra — ”The Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle” — a quiet charmer that’s reminiscent of The Red Balloon. B+EC
Recommended ages: 3-7


Hip Hop Harry
(Discovery Kids, weekdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
Last week in this space I wrote about a terrific dance show for tweens. Well, here comes one for the preschool set, minus the terrific part. Trying to stuff messages into rap (water is good for you; if your sibling wins, that’s good too; and oh, the library is fun), the result is awkward at best. Now, for the dancing part: in one episode, the kids were split up into two teams and had a dance-off, which was great (especially the twin sisters who competed), except the show declined to actually break down and teach the cool moves the kids were doing. And the host, oversize Hip Hop Harry, was akin to Barney trying to go ghetto. DEC
Recommended ages: None

Let’s Just Play Go Healthy Celebration
(Nickelodeon, Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m.)
If you haven’t tuned in yet to this series, there’s still time to catch the finale, where four fantastic kids show that television viewing and a healthy lifestyle aren’t mutually exclusive. The network tracked Wes, Bianca, Chris, and Ayesha, each from different cities, over the last six months as they sought to improve their health by learning better eating habits and physical fitness routines. They overcame the mental and behavioral obstacles to their healthy goals by taking on roles (barrier breaker, emerging athlete, activist, and health warrior) and by focusing on changing mindsets instead of just dropping pounds. By steering clear of scare tactics (no aged photos that are often reminiscent of mug shots like on Honey, We’re Killing the Kids) and emphasizing having fun, this show has helped inspire almost 150,000 kids to register to take the challenge (to register and maybe become one of the next on-air challengers, go here). And to help drive home the need for an active lifestyle, Nickelodeon will go dark for three hours (12 p.m. ? 3 p.m.) the same day for its Third Annual Worldwide Day of Play. Think kids can find something to do during that time? I bet you they can. A —Abby West
Recommended ages: All


Farmer Jason
A Day at the Farm with Farmer Jason (Kid Rhino)
Rockin’ in the Forest with Farmer Jason (Kid Rhino)

Listening to children’s music can be excruciating for parents — especially once the little darlings find the damn ”repeat” button. But luckily, ”grownup” artists are increasingly taking music-for-tykes side gigs. (Did you know that Farmer Jason is really Jason Ringenberg, frontman of alt-country pioneers Jason and the Scorchers?) 2003’s just re-released A Day at the Farm was Jason’s first album for the preschool set, and with fiddle-and-banjo sing-alongs such as ”A Guitar Pickin’ Chicken” and ”He’s a Hog Hog Hog,” he clearly delights in making four-year-olds giggle. Think of it as a happy Day at the Farm without all the manure and manual labor.

On Farmer Jason’s new disc Rockin’ in the Forest, he gets his rock — and rockabilly — groove on with ”Punk Rock Skunk,” ”Possum in a Pocket,” ”Ode to a Toad” (complete with gypsy violin) and a Grease-worthy ”Moose on the Loose.” Extra bonus: Between toe-tappin’ tunes, Jason’s immensely cheerful, eco-friendly chats (”Wow, what a cool word that is — marsupial!!”) will make parents feel quite virtuous about cranking up the volume.

Day at the Farm: B Rockin’ in the Forest: B+Beth Johnson
Recommended ages: 2-6


Go: The Whole World of Transportation
Now here’s a book: a massive, kid-centric encyclopedia, with 235 glossy pages jammed with photos and details of trains, planes, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, luxury liners, racing sailboats, you name it. There are pull-out pages (like one of the bus depot in New Delhi), charts (I liked one showing the many different kinds of bicycles), and detailed illustrations (including one that shows planes in the night sky, with accompanying text on air traffic control and how it works). Kids can learn about everything from ignition to the physics of hot air ballooning. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 8 and up

Art by Maurice Sendak
Scenario by Arthur Yorinks
Paper Engineering by Matthew Reinhart
This is without question one of the most glorious, intricate pop-up books I’ve seen in a long time. Like many of Sendak’s stories, it features a black-haired, pajama-clad little boy who summons up both humor and bravery to face his fears. The boy — who could be Max’s twin, or Mickey’s — wanders down into a basement where he encounters all manner of terrifying creatures as he searches for his mommy. But when a scary fanged Frankenstein lunges at him, he merely plugs the monster’s fanged mouth with his pacifier. He yanks at a mummy’s wrappings and pulls downs a werewolf’s pants, all with the same insouciant glee. In the end (which has a delightful twist) he does, of course, find his mommy. The delicate mechanisms of this book mean it’s not right for toddlers, who will pull it apart in about five seconds. (Besides, it might actually frighten them.) But Mommy? is perfect for slightly older children, especially ones who love Where the Wild Things Are. A-TJ
Recommended ages: 4-6

A Is for Astronaut: Exploring Space From A To Z
With its bold colors and slightly retro, kitschy feel, this visually stunning alphabet book will definitely appeal to design-conscious moms and dads. Most of the letters have fun definitions: V is for ”Vomit Comet — The NASA plane that makes astronauts weightless and sometimes makes them sick.” And H is for ”Ham, the first chimpanzee in space.” Guess it was hard to find much that started with N, though, since next to Neil Armstrong they’ve had to put the flags of the Netherlands and Norway, both helping to build the international space station. There are about a million alphabet books out there: This one’s great if your little ones are interested in astronauts and outer space. BTJ
Recommended ages: 3-8