Tanner Stransky reviews ''Cheetah Girls 2'' on DVD. Plus: Worthy enviro concerns on TV, and four great books for your young ones to read

By Tanner Stransky
Updated January 04, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

”Cheetah” and ”American” girls on DVD


The Cheetah Girls 2
(96 mins., 2006)
Three years ago, young girls everywhere were introduced to the Disney Channel’s teenage, teetering-on-stardom musical foursome the Cheetah Girls — Galleria (Raven-Symoné), Chanel (Adrienne Bailon), Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan), and Aquanetta (Kiely Williams). In their second outing, the young divas have finished junior year and face the prospect of a long-distance summer — Chanel in Barcelona with her mom, Galleria in Martha’s Vineyard (it’s a hard-knock life, right?) and so on. But being separated from your Cheetahs is so not Cheetah-licious, and the enterprising quartet craft a plan to tag along on Chanel’s Spanish adventure to compete in a ”new voices” festival. After mastering the New York scene, the Barcelona competition is their chance to break big.

With themes of friendship and girl power (and several catchy pop ballads focusing on those ideas) similar to the first movie, big challenges await the girls. Barcelona’s many distractions — shopping and fashion, sightseeing, boys, and competing Spanish singing sensation, Marisol — prove too much for Chanel, Dorinda, and Aquanetta. Galleria, who keeps her eye on the prize, has to make a hard decision after sensing the others’ waning dedication. Weathering the series of road blocks, however, the girls end up giving one of many dazzling performances together. Complete with a sing-along version and music video that tweens will love, the disc also features ”Cheetah Tips: How To Be Cheetah-licious.” Don’t worry, though — these won’t make over impressionable girls into shallow pop stars. The advice is all pure, just like the Cheetah Girls. In addition to a few fashion and makeup pointers (the stars tell girls less is more), the four role models talk about the importance of friendship, girl power, and diversity.

At the movie’s end, the winner of the competition is never announced — but it simply doesn’t matter. To them, it’s all about being together and doing what they do best — singing — because, as Raven-Symoné shares in the Cheetah-licious extras, ”Friends help friends make their dreams come true.” And, in this case, they certainly do. ATanner Stransky
Recommended ages: 9 and up

Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front
(85 mins, 2006)
Based on the American Girl’s Molly book series, this live-action movie introduces two Mollys: one is Molly McIntire, a nine-year-old just tap tap tapping her little shoes off to try to win the Miss Victory title in mid-World War II America, played with remarkable poise and all-round adorableness by Maya Ritter; the other is Molly Ringwald, her devoted mom, who’s taken the big eye stares from Sixteen Candles, added a few treacly maternal looks of concern, and inappropriately plopped them here. But don’t let the latter Molly’s performance sway you from this film. There’re lots of themes in here that’ll make today’s kids appreciate their own lives. Molly and her friends visit their favorite soda shop after school, but there’s no ice cream because of wartime rationing. And one by one, relatives are going off to war — some coming back, some not. Molly’s family takes in a English girl whose home was bombed, and everyone grows up a bit. B+Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 6 and up


A Year on Earth
Discovery Kids, Sunday Dec. 3 at 5 p.m., repeating at 9 p.m.; part two airs Sunday, Dec. 10 at 5 p.m., repeating at 10 p.m.
Three high school students are sent on a mission to study the most troublesome environmental issues of the moment and report back to their peers. In a beautifully shot special, they observe pink flamingos in Kenya, wrestle crocs in Botswana, and chronicle the plight of otters, sea turtles, monkeys, and elephants from Brazil to Sri Lanka. It’s refreshing to see that teens can care about other things besides Britney and K-Fed and Laguna Beach. A noble effort on all their parts — my only quibble would be that it’s almost too much information about too many places, and all the doom and gloom can make one think the world’s ready to crumble. But if it does motivate others, so be it. BEC
Recommended ages: 13 and up


The Best Bake Sale Cookbook Ever
By Barbara Grunes
This one is for moms and dads! How many times have you ever worked at a bake sale at your child’s school? I have, the year I fashioned cupcakes to look like Easter baskets (don’t ask; it involved using a pipe cleaner to form the basket handle and dotting the icing with jelly beans for eggs). If you’re as neurotic as I am, and don’t want to be the parent who sends in a box of Dunkin’ Donuts, then this is the book for you: checkerboard cake, whoopie pies, write-a-message cookies, the works. If only my kids were still in elementary school! But these recipes look so good, I’ll probably make some of them anyway. A-Tina Jordan

The Wandmaker’s Handbook
By Ed Masessa; Illustrated by Daniel Jankowski
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a complete sucker for these interactive books (I love them almost, but not quite, as much as pop-up books). And this one, which seems tailor-made for Harry Potter fans, is especially ingenious. Purporting to be a guide from a master wandmaker, it comes with complete instructions for aspiring young Harrys, Rons, and Hermiones. Mixed in with the ancient-looking histories and instructions (”care and keeping of a wand”) are all sorts of odd little notes written in spidery text. There are envelopes to open, mini-books within the book, and, of course, an actual wand for the young reader to pull out and adorn with crystals and feathers. ATJ
Recommended ages: 7-10

For Your Collection

Charlotte’s Web
By E.B. White
Kids may clamor to see the movie, which is all very well and good, but don’t forget about the beloved book version! HarperTrophy has reissued a particularly lovely paperback edition which includes not just Charlotte’s Web but Stuart Little and — my personal favorite — The Trumpet of the Swan. The book’s a bit hefty, but it’s put together nicely for young readers: the margins are wide and the font is easy on the eyes. It’s hard to imagine a home without at least one battered, much-read copy of everyone’s favorite pig story. —TJ
Recommended ages: 8-12

Jane’s Adventures
By Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
Overlook has reissued a facsimile edition of all the Jane adventures, complete with their marvelous illustrations. I didn’t know these books as a child — they’re British, and I’m not sure how widely they were published here — but I would have loved them. Imagine a vintage Harriet the Spy — a spunky, smart girl saddled with a nutty housekeeper — who finds adventure (and trouble) wherever she goes. That’s Jane. And the stories are droll without being too old-fashioned for today’s young readers. —TJ
Recommended ages: 8-11