From Scholastic, the premier name in children's literature, comes video
adaptations of five picture books, just in time for Christmas.
If you have kids, you may be looking for a good DVD to pop in the player of
your minivan for the annual trip to your parents' house at the
holidays—The Little Drummer Boy …and 4 more holiday stories
would fit that bill nicely. It provides a selection of holiday-themed stories
written over the past 45 years, with some engaging illustrations and lively
readings that should keep the little tykes from asking, "Are we there
yet?" I'll go through them individually:
• The Little Drummer Boy
Here we have the familiar
Christmas song of a boy who traveled to Bethlehem for Jesus' birth, and having
no gift to bring, played his best song on his drum. It's basically shots of
pages from the books, with no animation (like a Ken Burns documentary), while
the smooth vocal styling of John Jennings does justice to the song. The
illustrations are detailed and muted, and should keep kids' attention for the
five minute duration.
• Merry Christmas, Space Case
This is a story of
young Buddy McGee, a boy who met a talking spaceship ("The
Thing"—not to be confused with John Carpenter's The Thing,
which would be entirely inappropriate for your wee ones) at Halloween and became
friends. The Thing promises to come back for Christmas, but Buddy's parents
abruptly decide to go to Grandma's house instead. Buddy leaves a note, hoping
The Thing will see it and find him. At Grandma's, Buddy is tormented by the
twins next door, and in an effort to show off tells them about his friend from
outer space. This just about gets Buddy beat up when The Thing doesn't show up,
but the pair are eventually reunited, and The Thing takes care of Buddy's
tormentors in short order. It's unfortunate that Buddy doesn't find a way of
dealing with the bullies other than having his own bully push them
around, but it's a cute, well-animated story read with vigor by Christopher
Lloyd (Back to the Future).
• Sam and the Lucky Money
Ming-Na Wen (E.R.)
reads the beautifully illustrated tale of Sam, a Chinese boy who is given four
dollars of Lucky Money to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Told he can spend the
money on anything he wants, Sam's mother takes him shopping. While he's tempted
by sweets and toys, some of which he cannot afford, Sam starts to think his
money worthless, until he realizes how much of a difference it would make in the
life of a kindly homeless man he meets on the street. While it's not animated,
the art is absolutely stunning, and the story's final moments are quite moving.
This is my favorite of the group.
• The Tomten
The Tomten, a little troll who looks a
bit like a mini-Santa, comes out on cold nights when all are asleep, visiting a
farm and speaking to all the animals in a language they can understand. While
it's a very simple story in which not much happens (it's a poem, so this is
allowed), narrator Owen Jordan's voice could lull an insomniac to sleep. I could
listen to this guy read the phone book and be out in ten minutes. The
illustrations are well done, but the age of the film (it's from 1961) shows; not
likely something that would bother younger kids, though.
• The Twelve Days of Christmas
Similar to the
titular story, this "bonus" is the popular song with illustrated
accompaniment. It seems to be more panning shots over the pages of a book, with
some basic animation added in for flair. Catchy, this one'll get stuck in your
head for days.
My wife, a grade 3 teacher, says The Little Drummer Boy …and 4 more
holiday stories would be well-enjoyed by kids as young as two, and as old as
seven or eight. It features an English subtitle track, listed in the Features as
"Read Along," that will allow kids to do just that, learning a bit
about reading and writing in the process. It's also on an auto-play loop, so
it'll start back up about 30 seconds after hitting the main menu, so you
shouldn't have to hear too much "Play it again!" here.
There's not that much to it, but all in all, it's a worthwhile addition to
your kids' collection, and one you might just catch yourself being drawn in by