Beat the winter blues


The holidays are over and the days of hard-core winter are here. If you are lucky enough to take a vacation on a beach somewhere, or will decamp to your ski chalet for fun on the slopes and hot chocolate après ski, good for you. But if you find yourself with kids underfoot and cabin fever, this month’s video selections will keep peace in the family.

I offer suggestions that go beyond watching and into the realm of fun-filled interactive viewing, with magic tricks, cooking fun, the adventures of a little bear and sign language.

LITTLE POLAR BEAR: THE DREAM OF FLYING, not rated, $14.98 DVD; ages 2-6.

Lars the polar bear takes a leap by crossing from his snowy domain into the forest. Adults will need to suspend disbelief when it comes to the improbable geography, but the entire family will enjoy this adventure. Lars and his new friend, brown bear Lea, are in charge when his parents become ill. They set off to fetch medicine and end up having to save themselves and others from animal trappers. This DVD has equal measures of challenging adventure and fun, especially when it comes to helping a puffin named Yuri learn how to fly.

Sylvia says A: At a time when too many videos are sidetracked by trying to be too hip or clever, this is a sweet and solid video for children.

IT'S A MAGIC-AL WORLD, not rated, $19.99 DVD,; ages 3 and up. 

Magic Al has a bit of celebrity cache: his press material brags that he’s entertained the children of stars, from Jerry Seinfeld to Robert De Niro. I knew those names wouldn’t mean thing if the DVD did not deliver. But it does deliver as Magic Al makes newer and classic tricks look easy.

Magic Al Garber is a professional and it comes across in this production. He and Yikes the Rabbit star in this story of putting on a show to save a magic store after the owner falls ill. The story is based on a one-man play the magician starred in a few years ago. The DVD is engaging and looks good even though high production standards can be difficult for magic shows without network level budgets.

Sylvia says A: As winter rolls on this is a good one for youngsters to watch. They can try a few tricks from Al and maybe take a field trip to your local library for more magic tricks.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: COOKING UP FUN, not rated, $14.98 DVD; ages 4-9.

If your name is Strawberry Shortcake or Apple Dumpling it’s easy to believe that you know your way around the kitchen. This addition to the Strawberry Shortcake series serves up a full menu of fun. The two sweet stories don’t break new ground but are what fans seem to want from a character that has been around for awhile. Apple Dumpling suffers from the too-little-to-do-cool-stuff syndrome until she learns how useful she really is and how important it is to be responsible. In part two, Strawberry and crew come up with a cooking show on"berryvision.” The dishes get all messed up, so do sensitive feelings, and it takes a reality check to bring things back to order.

The DVD comes with an activity book that can brighten up a winter day with cookie parties, basic kitchen safety rules stickers and a music video for the cooking show. The stories are cute, the messages are positive, but the icing on the cake is the recipes.

Sylvia says A: If you try the cookie recipe, save a few for me.

SIGN AND ABC, not rated, $19.50 DVD,; ages 2 and up. 

I’ve covered sign language videos in the past, but I think this is a genre well worth revisiting. The best thing about this production is the use of talented deaf performers to teach the alphabet. But viewers will also have fun learning signs for more than 80 words and playing the game based on finger spelling.

This is a great teaching tool for people who are hearing or deaf, from children to adults. But entertainment is not sacrificed on the altar of education. The kids are cute and Antoinette Abbamonte and John Kinstler are talented actors from the deaf community. The producer of this video shares this reviewer’s and Chicago Parent’s philosophy that children under 2 should not watch videos and makes it a point to ask parents to observe this guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics and others.

Sylvia says B: Give babes under 2 a lovely audio tape of songs or stories when you are looking for a helping hand. If your young one is 2 or up, have fun with Sign and ABC.

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

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