This is a great opportunity to remind you of some of my favorite productions and give a little more guidance when it comes to which viewers will get the most out of the story.
GALLOP, HOP AND STOMP, not rated, March 2005, $14.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 2-6.
This video gets it just right. With a dozen clever songs, "Gallop, Hop and Stomp" reminds me of the old sing-along tapes I played for my kids when they were small, but with a lot more going on. The mix of computer-animated monkeys, real kids, nature scenes, dancing and crafts is impressive and well done. Maureen Straub, the grown-up host, has a pleasant voice and the kind of child-friendly face that invites trust. The scenes of tigers and elephants make sense as a backdrop for a diverse and adorable group of kids. This is a clever mix of music and activities, and a nice way to encourage children who might be physically timid to let loose and play hard.
THE BOY WHO WANTED TO BE A BEAR, not rated, February 2005, $19.95 DVD; ages 10-12.
As the story begins, snow is swirling everywhere and there is a sense of urgency as a pregnant polar bear slips and slides in a storm, urged on by her mate because they are on the run from wolves. Not far away, in a modest shack, an Inuit woman is home alone, facing the imminent birth of her baby. The polar bear cub is stillborn, and its mother is inconsolable. The human baby is born safely, but his mother’s happiness is marred by the sad sounds carried across the ice.
The keening of the grieving bear reminds the Inuit woman of an old legend, and her heart fills with worry. But her husband, who has returned from the hunt, brushes aside her fears, and they are swept away on a tide of joy … until the bear’s mate is driven to do the unthinkable and steals the baby.
What follows is part logic, part fantasy and all good. We watch birth, death and decisions that can change everything. This is a challenging tale on many levels, as it shows how hard and how beautiful Mother Nature can be. I hope you give it a chance. It is one of the most rewarding tales I have seen in a long time.
VIRGINIA’S RUN, rated PG, March 2005, $14.95 DVD; ages 12-14.
Being a parent is an ongoing search to find the right balance between protecting our young and giving them the freedom to fail—a choice that is particularly hard for this father, played by Gabriel Byrne.
His wife has died in a riding accident and his youngest daughter, Virginia, is single-minded in her love for her horse. She makes a reckless choice while her sister, Caroline, falls into a relationship with the town’s rich brat. Their father is protective but trusts the foundation he and his wife built to see the family through.
This is the best movie I have seen in a long time because it made me really care about Virginia and her family, and it took me to the rarely seen world of Nova Scotia.
TALL TALES & LEGENDS: JOHN HENRY, not rated, February 2005, $12.98 VHS, $14.98 DVD; ages 5-9.
John Henry is one of the oldest African-American folk heroes. Danny Glover plays the steel drivin’ man with dignity and sincerity. This DVD follows John Henry as he is born into slavery on a thunderous night and grows up to be a free man working on the railroad. He races a steam hammer to open up a tunnel in a mountain of rock. As the industrial age looms, he shows that a "natural man" with a 20-pound hammer in each hand can still accomplish more than a mere machine. Alongside Glover, there is a bravura performance by Lynne Whitfield, and Chicago’s own Lou Rawls adds his velvet voice to the story. John Henry and his Irish servant friend, Quinn (Tom Hulce), provide a reasonable way to start to help younger children understand slavery.
Drum roll, please
Kid culture columnists share their favorites from 2005
Most of us could use a little expert advice in choosing just the right movie, music or book for a holiday gift. So we turned to our experts, Chicago Parent’s Kid culture columnists—Sylvia Ewing on movies, Fred Koch on kids’ music, Judy Belanger on books for young readers and Sandi Pedersen on books for tweens—for help. The following are their picks as the best books, music and movies for gift-giving this year