Judge David Johnson learned a lot from this DVD. The history of Kwanzaa. The story of Duke Ellington. The way Ella Fitzgerald was able to magically ride musical instruments through the night sky.
This disc has a dream.
For the socially conscious four-year-old in your family, Scholastic has put together a sampling of educational stories, headlined by the man himself, Martin Luther King Jr. The rest of the stories are tied together by the theme of "the African-American tradition," and are more educational than entertaining. At least I think so.
• "Martin's Big Words"
This nine-minute story covers the highlights of MLK's life, starting with his boyhood, hitting all the big points of his civil rights activism, and finally closing with his tragic death. Mixed with the original text and the attractive illustrations are actual quotes from his speeches.
• "John Henry"
Well, right off the bat, this story earns points for its kick-ass narrator. The lengthiest of the batch, "John Henry" clocks in at over 18 minutes, and is told primarily through the vintage pan-and-scan over the still image method. For those who forget, the folk tale chronicles the contest between a steam drill and John Henry, a stud of a miner. It's man vs. machine as the two square off in a race, tunneling through the mountain. Yeah, JH croaks at the end, but dude went out with style.
• "Seven Candles for Kwanzaa"
This one is just a straight-up piece of animated teaching, as the program runs through the meat and potatoes of the Kwanzaa holiday. There are some helpful subtitles for some of the bigger words, not that a five-year-old will be using them any time soon. But it's nice that they're there.
In the extra features bin, you'll get two more stories, each a robust 15 minutes. Black musicians get the spotlight here, the first "Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of the Vocal Virtuosa" and the second, "Duke Ellington." Andrea Davis Pinkney wrote both stories, and Brian Pinkey illustrated them. My favorite part: when Ella Fitzgerald flies through the city night on a magical trumpet.
If you want to expose your young'un to some solid African American history, and illuminate the tradition and notable players in that history, this is the disc for you. While I didn't find the stories particularly engaging (the Kwanzaa one's a snoozer), Scholastic is obviously after a different goal with this collection. Instead of sharks and cocker spaniels playing together, you get a serving of valuable history.
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