It's hard to believe, but it's true. A new school year is upon us. It is always a bit bittersweet to say goodbye to summer: We reflect on days at the beach or in the garden, but we also have regrets about the things we did not find time to do. This year I was happy to join many families on a late-night bike ride downtown and to spend more time with rapidly maturing kids and my 5-and-fabulous niece. But the warm days must once again draw to a close, and I hope that this month's selections will help ease the transition from the pursuits of summer back to the classroom.
I hope you enjoyed every second of your summer, and I hope you enjoy the year-round opportunity for fun and learning from a storytelling grandpa in "Jakers," a Christian-focused superhero in "Veggie Tales" and a trio of stories on the magic of numbers.
CHICKA CHICKA 123 AND MORE STORIES ABOUT COUNTING, not rated, 2006, $14.95 DVD; ages 2-6.
I like the look of this sequel to the original book and video, "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," and the additional stories that come with it. "Chicka Chicka 123 and More Stories About Counting" has great music, vibrant colors and patterns all used to teach-you guessed it-the basics of counting. In the title story, numbers race and chase each other around and take on a battalion of bumblebees. More sophisticated concepts are covered in two other stories featuring a diverse and adorable group of kids known as the Cheerful Willing and Helpful team. The story gives kids a sense of what big numbers really mean-how many kids it takes to reach the moon and how many goldfish is a million (they would fill a stadium, if you'd like to know). In the third feature, the team learns about denominations of money.
Sylvia says: A+. Count on this video for hours of pleasure. Take a tip from me, and use it to motivate a young viewer to start (or add to) an old-fashioned piggy bank.
VEGGIETALES: LARRYBOY AND THE BAD APPLE, not rated, 2006, $14.98 DVD; ages 4-8.
OK, I admit it. I feel like I'm one of the last people around to check out a VeggieTales video. I guess the hype in the early days of the series made it, to my taste, seem like too much of a forced medium for its particular message. But I stand corrected. "VeggieTales: LarryBoy and the Bad Apple" is cute, funny, well made and suitable for a broad audience. Parents who are sensitive about who provides religious messages to their children should note that "what God wants for you" is mentioned, but not in a heavy-handed way. The plot is based on a universal moral message, and the action and writing are clever.
Temptation comes to town in the form of a sassy bad apple who has a rollicking song about her plans, a musical bit that kids and adults will enjoy. She's mean, her eyeshadow is green and she is an awesome villain. Her efforts to trick the people of Bumblyburg expose the vanity of the mayor and the weakness of our hero, LarryBoy.
The DVD is sure to win new fans if, like me, you're giving it a chance for the first time, and offers bonus material that old fans will especially appreciate.
Sylvia says: A big B+. This is comic candy for anyone interested in clear writing, above-average songs and a moral center.
JAKERS! SCHOOL DAYS IN TARA, not rated, 2006, $14.98 DVD; ages 2-6.
Eddie Murphy set the bar high when he played the voice of fast-talking sidekick Donkey in "Shrek." Veteran comedian and producer Mel Brooks jumps right over that bar in a stellar turn as the voice of a busybody sheep in the "Jakers" TV and video productions. Brooks provides comic relief as Wiley the Sheep, but the real heart of "Jakers" is the telling of family stories. My niece Avery really enjoyed this production, featuring a wise Irish grandpa ("grandpig," strictly speaking) and his curious and rambunctious grandsons. Grandpa Piggley entertains the duo with tales from his childhood and the pals he played with in Ireland in the 1950s. Grandpa and his pals exclaim "jakers!" in the way that kids these days might call something awesome. His thoroughly modern grandsons get a kick out of the adventures, including one about relying on a smart salmon rather than doing homework. This video offers children the sweet pleasure of learning that someone who is older once had a childhood with its own fun and mischief.
Sylvia says: A+. If you don't have a kind grandfather in your world, Grandpa Piggley will do nicely.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.