Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books We Love: “Keep Our Secrets” by Jordan Crane

Book Review by Maggie Hames
Keep Our Secrets is both a high- and a low-tech wonder. Utilizing the new technology of thermographics, the book’s illustrations are heat-sensitive. Black portions, when rubbed with your fingers or warmed with a blowdryer, reveal full-color illustrations underneath. As a child would see it, the book can conceal and reveal secrets. On the low end of the techno-scale, this book demands to be held (warmly) by the reader. There is no e-book equivalent to this. I’d even call it the anti-e-book. It’s a precious object that needs to be handled to be appreciated. It’s a magical book of wonders.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

“War Horse” Directed by Steven Spielberg

Film Review by Jack Silbert
In my lifetime, there have been many notable horse movies: International Velvet, Black Stallion, Phar Lap, Sylvester, and Seabiscuit quickly come to mind. And I didn't see ANY of them. Why? Horses are for girls! (Though I did think Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken was an awesome title, and I used it as the chorus of a song I wrote. I didn't write a song, just a chorus.)

Three’s A Charmer: Disney’s “The Three Caballeros”

Disney’s Seventh Animated Feature – 1944
Having seen The Three Caballeros as a child, a college student, and a fully-grown adult, I can confirm that it has more layers than you may think it does. For the kids, it’s got simple, silly visual humor and music that will get their little feet moving; for adolescents, it’s just weird enough to get them texting “LOL” and “WTF” to their friends on the other side of the room. Now that I’m a grownup (and an artist/educator to boot), I see that the folks at Disney managed to make a mostly respectful, informative celebration of Latin American culture that’s a lot more engaging than that description makes it out to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It’s Elmo’s World—And That’s Fine By Me

Documentary Review: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey directed by Constance Marks
How does a puppet (and for that matter, a puppeteer) get to be a superstar? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall, according to the old joke. You PRACTICE. And Being Elmo makes it plain no one belongs on Sesame Street more than Kevin Clash, and he got there through talent, hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to confront his own natural shyness. Being Elmo takes us from Clash’s humble, “wrong side of Baltimore” life, growing up on the banks of a polluted run-off of the Cheapeake Bay to the happiest street in the world. It’s a coming home of sorts; a journey that began for Kevin even before Jim Henson created Sesame Street back in 1969.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

You (Kinda) Rock!

Television Shows We Love: The Fresh Beat Band on Nick Jr.
The Fresh Beat Band follows the fortunes of four “teenagers” who are students at music school and members of a pop band known as (you guessed it) The Fresh Beat Band. Other friendly characters in their wholesome, candy-land neighborhood greet them as a group, as in, “Hi, Fresh Beats!” They even have a Prince-like alter ego. You can correctly refer to them as “the band formerly known as The JumpArounds.” This show is a live-action, welcome alternative in the cartoon-heavy world of pre-school television.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Simply Moo-velous Books!

Books We Love: Cows Can’t Quack and Cows Can’t Jump 
by Dave Reisman with Illustrations by Jason A. Maas
What do you call a grumpy cow? Moo-dy.
What do cows do for fun? They go to the moooo-vies.

Hey—those jokes goes over like gangbusters with the toddler set. Why? Because kids love cows. Not sure why. Maybe “moo” is the easiest animal noise to make when they’re learning to talk or maybe it’s the way long car rides are made bearable by “cow spotting.” But I challenge you to find a toddler who doesn’t love cows, whether or not they’ve ever clapped eyes on one.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Music We Love: “Tumble Bee” by Laura Veirs

Music Review by Jack Silbert
When I first heard Laura Veirs back in 2004, her haunting voice uttering the words “The fate of Kurt Cobain, junk coursing through his veins ….,” my immediate thought wasn’t, “Ooh, I can’t wait for the children’s album!” But I did instantly become a fan: Her smart lyrics and spare sound spoke to me pretty directly. When I saw a photo, I was definitely hooked. The glasses, lank hair, inscrutable expression—this is the stuff of indie-geek crushes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vocabulary Building Ideas for Reluctant Readers

Readers, new and experienced, often run into difficulties when they aren’t familiar with the vocabulary used in their reading. They may be able to decode the words (sound them out) but if they don’t know what the word means, they’re going to have problems.

Running into unfamiliar words occasionally is a good thing – it’s what helps us grow as readers. Running into them repeatedly makes us want to just set the book down … permanently.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Child’s Guide to SMiLE

Music Review by Jack Silbert
On the day of its long-awaited release, I posted a photo of the Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions
online. My friend Maggie commented, “Is this by any chance a kid’s book?” Certainly, Frank Holmes’ legendary unused-for-44-years cover art has an undeniable childlike quality. It’s as if we’re welcome to enter the old-timey country store where smiles are for sale from who else but grinning proprietors. Good vibrations, indeed.