May 11, 2006



 The Maze Garden at the Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum’s Web site calls The Maze Garden a “one-acre, living puzzle of hedges and other plants” and reports that it contains “a half-mile of twists and turns.”  From a ground-level perspective, it looks less like a green roller coaster and more like rows of shrubs, with brown gravel pathways in between. Still, my daughters, ages 6 and 8, were excited about the idea of winding their way through.

It proves a great excuse to spend time outside in a beautiful setting but definitely not enough to sustain a visit to the arboretum. After 20 minutes or so, our girls were both ready to move on. Fortunately, the Children’s Garden is right next to the maze, and there’s enough to amuse those under 10 for a couple of hours.  Tadpoles in the Wonder Pond were a highlight for my two.

To get to the maze, head inside to the Visitor’s Center and to your left for the maze entrance. Before plunging in, you might want to set a few ground rules. We started out all together: daughters in the lead, Mom and Dad behind. Our competitive kids quickly began bickering over which way to go. We paired off, each parent following one leader, and the experience became more fun. The maze also includes a 12-foot-tall lookout tower around a Sycamore tree, where a parent might station themselves for a view of multiple kids, though there looked to be a few blind spots in the perspective.

My 8-year-old enjoyed the focused challenge of getting out of The Maze once we’d gotten in. My 6-year-old lost interest faster—“my feet are tired!”  Dead ends, or “hidden plant rooms” as the arboretum calls them, provide consolation prizes in the form of benches and educational signage: “Which signer of the Declaration of Independence grew lilacs in his garden at Monticello?”

My kids’ only maze complaint—the hedges should be taller, to make the paths feel more secluded. I’m thinking Mother Nature might help the Morton Arboretum with that in the next few months. Linda Downing Miller

The Maze Garden is at The Morton Arboretum. 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle. Free with arboretum admission.  (630) 968-0074,

 “Akeelah and the Bee”

“Akeelah and the Bee” is a delightful and positive film with meaning for parents and children–giving us reasons to hope. KiKi Palmer is outstanding as an 11-year old girl who lost her father to gun violence when she was 6 years old. Akeelah deals with her grief by using the gift her father gave her, his love of words. Akeelah and her father played scramble often, so whenever she thought of him she would spell, and it would make her feel better.

Akeelah has lost interest in school, missing classes and not turning in assignments. The inner-city school she attends lacks the basics from books to adequate classrooms to motivate pubescent pre-teens, especially Akeelah.

Akeelah’s teacher learns purely by accident that without any effort at all Akeelah can spell. Her teacher suggests she enters the school’s spelling bee. Initially, Akeelah wants nothing to do with it, fearing ridicule from her peers and a reluctance to represent her school, which she feels has failed her. But Akeelah’s curiosity, competitive spirit and a chance to go to the National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. spur her on. Akeelah wins her school’s spelling bee and secures her chance to go to the next level but needs her Mother’s permission to move forward. Angela Bassett gives a powerful performance as Akeelah’s mother, a woman so consumed with her husband’s death and new responsibilities as a single mother that she cannot see her husband’s spirit in Akeelah.

Akeelah is fearless as she walks into her future armed only with determination and faith in herself.

My only criticism is the way the whole community rallies around Akeelah, taking time out of their day to study with her, even the local drug dealer. That one ingredient is slightly too unrealistic for me. Even in that instance the message behind it is heart-warming; one little girl transforming a community with the National Spelling Bee. Wouldn’t that be magnificent?

Akeelah arouses many emotions that will evoke conversations between parents and children on hope, dreaming, succeeding against the odds and daring to be different. Kimberly Bradley


“Poseidon” If you hear “There’s got to be a morning after,” and you automatically think Maureen McGovern, rather than birth control pill, you were probably eagerly awaiting the remake of the 1972 disaster film, “The Poseidon Adventure.” But think twice before you take the kids. That’s why we did not grade this film, because it is not appropriate for many kids despite the PG-13 rating.

It is not like the original. Yes, a rogue wave capsizes a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, just like the original. And yes, only a small group of plucky passengers get that you have to go up to survive. But there is no Shelley Winters here. No sappy stories. It’s fast-paced, chair-gripping and intense. It’s got a lot of great special effects and it’s not a horrible action film—but those good special effects make it the stuff of nightmares if you are a kid.

So I think it would be more appropriately rated “R.” There is death, bodies, burning, bodies, drowning, bodies, blood and more bodies. As an adult, it didn’t seem gratuitous but more in keeping with the story. But as a parent, it made me want to cover every kid’s face with my jacket—even my 14-year-old son, who loved it but was disturbed by a few scenes. But perhaps that had more to do with the fact that we saw it on the I-MAX screen at Navy Pier. Bottom line: If you are looking for a family adventure movie, this is not it.  Susy Schultz


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