Videos suitable for holiday giving

Videos - November 2006


Sylvia M. Ewing

Videos make great holiday gifts for the entire family. As you make out that gift list for friends and family here are a few of my favorite productions from 2006. All receive A's from me, including "No More Diapers," which has been upgraded from my original review and you'll see why.

I wish I had space to include more favorites, but you can refresh your memory and expand your options easily. Just go to back issues and check out the archives for Kid Culture video.

Happy shopping, and happy viewing.

NO MORE DIAPERS, not rated, 2005, $12.98 DVD,; ages 2-4.

Glen T. Bear comes to grips with giving up his diapers. Although I think most babies view a diaper change as a chore at best, Glen digs having his mom sing to him and loves his diapers.

What may be a human's ultimate lesson comes across well in "No More Diapers," which helps caregivers teach toddlers how to use the bathroom. First-time parents will appreciate this approach to potty training with Internet downloads and stickers to reward the child. It's a little commercial but I guess it's also a sign of progress and I embrace the use of technology. This is a sweet and positive approach to teaching this natural function.

Sylvia says: I originally gave this video a B+. I'm upgrading it to an A after William Edwards, son of a radio colleague, proved how well it works. It gives parents like his (Steve Edwards and his wife, Andrea DeFotis) the ability to make potty training fun.

THE BEST OF THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, not rated, 2006, $49.98 DVD; ages 6-14.

If you already know about "The Electric Company," you are as happy as I am about the release of this DVD. If you are unfamiliar with the ground-breaking TV show, I'm happy to turn you to it and, as they say on the show, bring you the power.

This was a series created by the nonprofit Children's Television Workshop, the same group that brings us "Sesame Street." So you know you can expect quality, educational programming that teaches kids their ABCs and 123s. But "The Electric Company" is so much more.

This is a window into a world in which top actors and resources were called upon to teach children. You can see a younger, hipper Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby and hear the voices or see cameos of Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks and a pre-plastic surgery Joan Rivers. Twenty episodes capture the ensemble cast and regular characters such as Letterman, Easy Reader and J. Arthur Crank.

But this is also a window into the world of the 1970s, a time when diversity was more than a buzz word-there are lots of Afros and Farrah Fawcett-esque hair. The production values are fantastic-today we rarely see this combination of live action, sketch comedy and well-known characters such as Spider-Man coming together in one program.

Sylvia says: A+. Put your pennies together for this one. It's worth the price.

SPYMATE, rated PG, $26.99 DVD; ages 8 and up.

I like this movie's style. It's got a smart girl who is into science, madcap sidekicks who are also caring and a dynamic partnership of ace spies, one of whom is Minky the Monkey.

In a scene worthy of James Bond, agent Mike Muggins is saved by his partner, Minky the Monkey. Instead of getting the girl, they fly off into retirement-a life of the circus for Minky and fatherhood and insurance sales for Mike.

When a scientist who is more annoying than evil kidnaps Mike's daughter, the duo is back in action, aided by Debra Jo Rupp (the mom from "That '70s Show") and Minky's friends from the circus. Emma Roberts plays Amelia, the smart young scientist. She is age appropriate and sweet. The weakest character is her idol, a female scientist with a really bad accent and a preordained trajectory to be the love interest of Amelia's widowed father.

"Spymate" features lots of cool gadgets and great scenery from one of my favorite places in the world, Montego Bay, Jamaica. The film also hits Japan and the slopes. There is just enough martial arts action to get the adrenaline going and showcase the acting of the late Pat Morita, but no real violence.

Sylvia says: A for adventure, friendship and fun.

TRAVEL WITH KIDS CARIBBEAN, not rated, 2006, $14.95 DVD,; ages 6-14.

Move over, Swiss Family Robinson. The Roberts family shows us the islands. Whether you are planning to travel or not, this is a fun video. The Roberts' toddlers are clearly real kids who run around in old forts and also throw a tantrum or two. They don't say much, but their presence is important. Pop-ups give interesting facts, like the cost of seaplanes from island to island and details on the African presence in Puerto Rico's past.

This edition of the travel guide series covers Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and more. Safety and affordability played into the destinations featured. Highlights include pirates, old forts and the rain forest.

"Travel With Kids Caribbean" is useful on a variety of levels. The DVD is a cool way to include older kids in planning your next trip or simply a great way to see a different world of blue skies and green water.

Sylvia says: A. This DVD offers a fun and practical armchair journey anytime you want.

Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

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