September 7, 2006


  Barney & Friends: Let's Make Music I do not understand the fascination Barney holds for my sons, but each in turn has loved watching the big purple dinosaur. The interest seems to come on around 18 months and disappear by age 3. My 20-month-old is the one currently under Barney's spell, so he was excited to see me open the DVD containing a preview of the new season's shows. I have to admit that he loved what he saw.

For the first time in 13 years, a new dinosaur will join the cast. Riff is BJ and Baby Bop's cousin, a 6-year-old Hadrosaur who is all about music. He sings, dances and even has a head that lights up when he is happy or excited. (I can just picture the slew of accompanying toys to come, which will require batteries to activate lights and sound.) When I first started watching Barney years ago, it seemed that the kids in the park were the ones who moved the storylines forward. Now, the costumed characters seem to take on the central roles.

Riff is part of the season-long agenda to keep music and art at the forefront of Barney's fun. Episodes will incorporate different musical styles and introduce concepts such as rhythm and tempo. Kids will get a chance to experience music influenced by many cultures, including China and Mexico.

The episodes we watched contained standard Barney fare. Baby Bop feels insecure and unwanted with Riff's arrival. Of course, Barney is there to comfort her with hugs, reassuring words and sing-alongs such as "Glad to be Me," "Special," and "Colors Make Me Happy." The songs are familiar and easy for small children to understand. My son was bopping his head while he clutched his stuffed Barney doll.

I appreciate the producers' ongoing attempt to reach out to its multi-ethnic audience. At one point, the kids in the park have a huge fiesta, complete with mariachis and traditional Mexican dances. Seeing positive images from other cultures reinforces Barney's lessons of tolerance and love.

Watch for the new season of Barney and Friends starting Sept. 18 at 11 a.m., and will air Monday-Friday on PBS KIDS, WTTW Channel 11. Alena Murguia


 Brain Quest

My family reviewed the Brain Quest cards for kindergarten and fifth grade. My kids brought them with us to play while we were driving places in the car. It was great. They enjoyed learning the few things they didn't seem to know (the cards offered very intelligent questions; I was afraid that they would be too easy). Turning the questions into games for all of us in the car was a lot of fun. I made sure that the kids were the ones answering the questions, even though they wanted to test our knowledge. The concept of questions on cards was wonderful; it made things really handy, and I loved the variety of questions. I would definitely recommend this product to other parents. Any game that makes learning fun is great.   Brain Quest Kindergarten and Brain Quest Grade 5, Workman Publishing of New York; $10.95.   Kim Johnson Woodridge



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