Videos to junp start your imagination By Jennifer Mangan‘How could you weigh a giraffe?” Selma Wasserman asked some elementary-school-aged children. The professor of education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia was trying to tap into their creative thinking—and she found a wellspring of creativity. “I’d get a big truck, and fill it with food that giraffes want,” one boy replied after some thought. “Then I’d weigh the truck. Then I’d hide inside of it and call, ‘Here, giraffe. Here, giraffe.’ When he got inside, I’d slam the doors and weigh the truck again.”
When a child’s imagination is nourished and encouraged, creative problem solving is just one of the wonderful results. Drs. Jerome and Dorothy Singer at Yale University have found through their 20 years of research that “children who engage in pretend play smile and laugh more, have longer attention spans and more satisfying relationships, and are less aggressive than children who do not know the joy of make-believe play.”
The following videos are good for budding “imagineers” and—I emphasize—their parents. You might hear some grumbling from the older children if you have them sit through a few of these, but they really are great family viewing for all ages. Not only could we all use a dose of this good stuff for our own “child inside,” but we can also nourish their creativity by initiating some pretend playtime together. A child’s imagination won’t necessarily grow from watching these videos, but you’ll come away with the motivation to start the process.
HOP TO IT, 2003, $12.99 VHS, $19.99 DVD; all ages. I sure wish Stanley was around when my 17-year-old was learning how to clean her room! Stanley, alias Animal Boy, messes up his room and his parents promise him his favorite dessert if he cleans it up before dinner (a questionable negotiating tactic, according to my personal Great Big Book of Parenting). Stanley is overwhelmed with the mess and wants to find “something” else to do it for him. So he consults the book that provides all his answers—The Great Big Book of Everything.
Although Stanley begins each story thinking about which animal can bail him out of whatever situation he’s in, it’s his imagination that ignites the creative problem-solving process. In “Hop To It,” Stanley chooses the kangaroo to clean his room because of its roomy pouch and ability to get around. When that doesn’t work, Stanley gets the idea to act like a kangaroo using a sock as his pouch. In the end, Stanley realizes he cleaned up his room all by himself by using his imagination.
In another episode, titled “The Big Spill,” Stanley accidentally spills his cereal on the floor and he doesn’t know how to clean it up. (He considers the vacuum cleaner, but says his mom and dad wouldn’t want him to do that—yea, Stanley!) This time Stanley thinks of an anteater to do the job. The Great Big Book of Everything explains how anteaters eat, which helps Stanley pick the right household item to clean up the mess safely. I want Stanley to live at my house.
HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON…AND MORE HAROLD STORIES 2003, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; all ages. There are three new titles joining the Scholastic Video Collection. Sometimes I assume, at least with children’s classics, that if it’s a good story, it’ll be good on film. Not always. Some books translate better than others do. Such is the case with “Harold and the Purple Crayon…And More Harold Stories.” One would think a boy who can draw himself in to and out of amazing adventures with his magic purple crayon would make a phenomenal cartoon. It has the right ingredients—imagination, adventure, and mystery, but it’s dull, drab and terribly unexciting. Perhaps Harold needs another crayon in his crayon box.
PETE’S A PIZZA…AND MORE WILLIAM STEIG STORIES, 2003, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; all ages. On the other hand, the second new Scholastic release, “Pete’s A Pizza…and More William Steig Stories,” is chock-full of creative story-telling, eye-catching animation and graphics, and lots of imagination. In the title story, “Pete’s A Pizza,” Pete’s in a bad mood because it’s raining outside. His dad picks him up, puts him on a table, and says, “It’s time to make a pizza.” Imagination and creative fun follow as Pete’s dad pretends to make a pizza with Pete as the main ingredient. He kneads the dough inducing giggles galore, tosses and twirls the dough and adds the toppings of oil, cheese and tomatoes (water, shredded paper and checkers). The pizza is ready for the oven, but wait, how can a pizza run away? Pete runs around the house giggling as his dad chases him and when the pizza is finally captured, it gets hugs and kisses. As a parent, this was heartwarming to watch. Imaginative playtime is integral to a child’s healthy, emotional well being. Watch this one with your child.
Included in this DVD is the remarkable animated story “Doctor De Soto” in which a mouse-dentist takes care of animals who aren’t a threat to mice. How does a wee mouse work on a giant cow’s sore tooth? In rubber boots and a raincoat, of course. There are many creative ways in which the doctor and his wife administer care to a barnyard of animals using pulleys, ladders and other equipment, but the most creative procedure comes when the doctor decides to help a hungry fox who needs his tooth pulled. It’s no surprise that “Doctor De Soto” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
MISS NELSON HAS A FIELD DAY…AND MISS NELSON IS BACK, 2003, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; all ages. The third in the Scholastic series is “Miss Nelson Has a Field Day…and Miss Nelson is Back.” After watching Stanley’s “Hop To It” and “Pete’s A Pizza,” I wanted Miss Nelson to be fired. This compilation of stories offers nothing more than a nebulous, inane Saturday morning cartoon. I am offended that the principal is portrayed as stupid in every story and that none of the children respect him. The humor is an ill-bred attempt to humiliate authority figures while placing emphasis on kids misbehaving in school. We’ve got enough incidents in our schools without another cartoon perpetuating the problem.
TUCK EVERLASTING, 2003, Rated PG, $22.99 VHS, $29.99 DVD; ages 11 and up. For older kids, I recommend “Tuck Everlasting” to get the imagination juices flowing—or at least get them talking. The preview in the theaters portrayed “Tuck Everlasting” as merely a story about young love, but it’s far richer than that. Teenager Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) is longing for a world outside the confines of her overprotective mother and backyard fence. Against her parent’s wishes, she goes into the woods and gets lost. She sees a boy drinking from a spring and asks if she can have some water. Startled by her presence, Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) refuses her request and takes Winnie back to his parent’s (Sissy Spacek and William Hurt) home in the woods where she learns a powerful secret. Because the story is too good to reveal, I suggest you watch this with your kids. You won’t be disappointed, for it will muster up deep conversation about the story’s moral issues and the choices we make in life.
Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 15, 12 and 11.