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Archive for September, 2010

Animal Wow’s Two New Books Promote Kids-Pets-Safety Messages

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

AnimalWow_books.jpgAnimal Wow creator Larry Kay credits — what else? — his dog with his interest in the enterprise focused on pets, children and safety. But putting it all together into a kid-attractive package owes success to Kay’s background in children’s media, where his film credits include Muppets Treasure Island and Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds.

“Kids have so much to gain from being around pets,” says the proud companion to Higgins, a golden retriever. It’s a truth Kay discovered only recently, having previously been self-admittedly “career obsessed” and concerned that having a dog would impinge on his independence. “But I found a greater connection and greater sense of purpose.”

This realization coincided with an entrepreneurial urge, and when he learned (through research on the Centers for Disease Control, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA websites) that 400,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms each year for dog bites — with most of the attacks from the family’s or a neighbor’s pet — Kay’s purpose crystallized.

Good habits, positive values and life skills are the benefits children gain from their relationship with their pet, and Kay developed Animal Wow to foster those outcomes. Along with amazing real-life stories of pets, the website (http://www.animalwow.com/) includes safety tips on training and interacting with your pet and free downloads of activities and ideas.

Stately Mutt is the Animal Wow host, embodying the playfulness and soul characteristic of Kay’s work. Two criteria he feels are equally important: to not “talk down” to kids, and to make it work for grown-ups. “If parents are enjoying this alongside their kids, that strengthens the bond between parent and child,” he says. “And to be able to talk authentically, the parent needs to like it and be getting something from it.”

Kay’s first Animal Wow project was the DVD Dogs Wow Dogs, which teaches pet safety in an entertaining format of animated adventure complete with special effects and music. And two books are due out in the next few weeks.

October will see the release of The Love That Dog Training Program (http://www.lovethatdogbook.com/), on which Kay collaborated with President Obama’s dog’s trainer, Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz. The program promotes positive reinforcement as the only proper way to train a dog in a family with children. “Children need to interact with a dog safely,” explains Kay, pointing out that reprimanding “may be good for adults, but not so much with kids. If [kids] are reprimanding the dog, there’s more possibility of bringing to the surface a repressed behavior trigger.” Sheep-herding dogs, for example, have a natural instinct to nip at the heels of the sheep and might, therefore, be unexpectedly provoked to nip at the child. As testament to the effectiveness of positive reinforcement alone, Kay cites the success Best Friends Animal Society achieved with most of the dogs captured in the infamous Michael Vick dogfighting case — dogs so cruelly treated they were generally believed to be beyond rehabilitation.

Forever Home — A Story on Dog Adoption is set to follow with a limited release in November. This early reader tells the story of how, “when a homeless dog shows up at the pet shelter, young Jake and Jenny make a difference for many dogs and one unpredictable man.” The book also offers useful tips, from suggestions on puppy-proofing your home to identifying important behaviors to reinforce. Emmy-nominated artist Sam Koji Hale created a unique art style for this book, building puppets and placing them in mixed-media sets that include digital artwork and other built objects. And Kay, with script already completed and visions of a whole series, hopes to take the story from book to DVD next year.

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‘The Secret of Moonacre’ Streets Sept. 21

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

SecretOfMoonacre.jpgEntertainment One has released The Secret of Moonacre on DVD and Blu-ray. If you loved it in the theaters (or if you missed it), now you can enjoy it at home. Especially suited to eight- to 12-year-olds, The Secret of Moonacre is one of the seven titles on the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Search, which invites kids aged six to 15 to compete for a chance to be a recognized film critic for 12 months — attending red carpet events and interviewing stars as well as reviewing new films ahead of their theatrical release for KIDS FIRST! and our media partners. And, like the other six titles, The Secret of Moonacre is readily available in-store at Toys “R” Us (on the special KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Search endcap display) and online at Amazon.com.

The film, adapted from Elizabeth Goudge’s novel The Little White Horse, follows the fantastical adventures of a newly orphaned 13-year-old who discovers a magical, moonlit world when she goes to live with her eccentric uncle at his aptly named Moonacre Manor. The mysterious environs are a huge change from the luxury she’d known in London, but Maria Merryweather (played by Dakota Blue Richards, The Golden Compass) suffers a bigger shock when she learns that the task of saving Moonacre Manor from an ancient curse rests on her young shoulders.

The story offers a safe context for parents to discuss with their children several topics that may otherwise be too hard or scary to express: Who would take care of you if something happened to your parents? What would you do if, instead of your family taking care of you, you found it was you who had to save your family? And in the story, Maria’s uncle (played by the wonderful Ioan Gruffudd, whose film credits include Fantastic Four) treats her dreadfully – opening up the question of why a tragedy can affect someone’s behavior. These are among the talking points developed in the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Discussion Guide.

We’ve developed the discussion guide to enhance your after-viewing discussions, and it’s a great resource if your child plans to enter the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics’ Search (there’s a guide for each of the seven titles). There’s still plenty of time to enter. October 10 is the deadline to submit the written review, and, upon acceptance, KIDS FIRST! will send the applicants instructions for creating a videotaped review that will then be posted on WonderWorldTV.com for public vote — like this one that’s on the site now. Be sure to visit and vote for your favorite critic!

Winners of the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics’ Search will be announced the weekend of Nov. 12 – 14, with festivities that will include the excitement of KIDS FIRST!’s attempt to set a world’s record of one million kids “viewing and reviewing” a single film (The Velveteen Rabbit) with a caring adult.

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‘Age Appropriate’ is Guiding Principle and Structure for Little One Books

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

LittleOneBooks_logo_160x267_1.jpgThe founding inspiration for online store Little One Books (littleonebooks.com) was Joan McCoy and Barney Cohen‘s quest for quality books, music and videos to share with their new granddaughter. The idea percolated for nearly two years before gelling into a purpose, resulting in four years of dedicated development that culminated in last April’s launch of the music-video-bookstore for ages zero to five.

“There are so many classics, we find, especially in the grandparents world,” says McCoy. “People remember books from their childhood and want to get them for their grandchildren.” Which is why Little One Books, while not ignoring the new Disney and “Dora” offerings, is focused more on providing customers “something a little bit different and unusual,” McCoy explains.

And it takes a unanimous two-thumbs-up from both partners for an item to make the select Little One Books list of titles.

With the books, for instance, McCoy explains, the criteria include great artwork and a well-written, compelling story. “We read each book and talked about it,” she says. And the child development specialist for their local library system – the Seattle Public Library – helped them vet their list and understand the behavior of children at different ages.

“Age appropriate” is the common theme among all lines of product. For music, “We want artists who write for children,” explains McCoy, noting that a lot of what’s out there is really for adults but just repackaged for children. Little One Books also carries classical music that’s appropriate for children — works that are not so complicated musically and that feature simpler instrumentation. To this aspect of Little One Books, Cohen brings the experience of his long career in the music business.

And the couple credits KIDS FIRST!’s own Ranny Levy for helping them develop the video selection. Videos must contain no violence, be educational and encourage interaction, such as asking the viewer to repeat words or do some movements.

“Getting good product into the hands of very young children is a passion of mine,” McCoy enthuses. Recognizing that other grandparents (and parents) share that interest, she and Cohen wanted to help them sort through the immense amount of children’s product available. Hence, Little One Books’ select list. “We want to give people choices, but not so much as to be overwhelming.”

And that’s why, also, within Little One Books’ zero-to-five age range, product is organized by specific age. As McCoy points out, there are occasions when people are looking for a gift to give a child they may not know really well — but they will always know the age of the child.

Cohen relates the feedback he received from one customer: “[He] was totally baffled about what to give an acquaintance at a baby shower. … He was dreading shopping, didn’t know what store to go to, and anticipated it would take an hour out of his day. But he went to our site and found something in a few minutes. … He said it was the perfect gift; the person who received it loved it.

“When people tell us they like what they buy or we did something to improve their lives, it’s a real charge.”

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‘Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue’ Streets Sept. 21

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The power of friendship lies at the heart of TinkerBell_20Screening_clip_image002.jpg— that of Tink and her erstwhile captor, the young girl Lizzie, spanning the chasm between human and fairy, and that among Tink’s family of fairies who risk their own safety to rescue her.

Disney has given the film its signature special treatment, with a full complement of catchy songs and captivating animation. In fact, the CGI is a draw on its own merits alone, even for those parents who find the story too simplistic to fully engage them.

For children, though, it’s truly the stuff of dreams — not that they’d want an emotionally absent, ultra-pragmatic scientist for a father (like Lizzie’s, the little girl Tinker Bell ultimately befriends), but how cool would it be to find a real fairy in the garden and keep her as a friend!

It was Tink’s curiosity that put her in the predicament, as she joined with her fellow fairies to gather flowers from the springtime English countryside but got side-tracked by a lonely little girl and an attractive, make-shift fairy house. When Lizzie (voiced by newcomer Lauren Mote) finds the sparkly, shimmery fairy in the little house, she decides to take it home and keep it for her own. Tink (voiced by Mae Whitman — Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) tries to appeal to Lizzie, to tell her how terrified she is, but runs up against a huge language barrier — in fact, all Lizzie hears is the sound of tinkling bells. Pantomime eventually works where words don’t, with some amusing miscues on the way to understanding and, of course, friendship.

Meanwhile, back at fairy camp, the Tinker Bell rescue mission is being planned. Little jealousies are put aside for the bigger goal of saving Tinker Bell and, yes, all of fairydom by preventing Lizzie’s dad (voiced by Michael Sheen — Alice in Wonderland) from adding Tink to his butterfly exhibit.

With some lavish strewing of pixie dust that enables even Lizzie’s well-fed tabby to find footing in mid-air as the kitchen crockery takes flight, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue offers a liberal sprinkling of comedy to counter the moments of suspense and emotional highs and lows as it builds to a very satisfying ending.

Directed by Bradley Raymond, who directed the earlier release Tinker Bell, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment includes the voice talent of Kristin Chenowith (TV’s “Glee”), Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) and Raven-Symone (TV’s “30 Rock”). It’s available Sept. 21 on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Familiar Wit and Whimsy in PBS Kids’ Science Show ‘The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That’

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

catinthehatknowsalotaboutthat_300x289.jpgWith the familiar whimsy that Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” employed to instill in children a love of reading, PBS Kids’ “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” is poised to inspire the innate scientist in them.

In the original “The Cat in the Hat” book, the Cat offered Sally and Nick a diversion from a dreary rainy day. In the TV show, he offers them adventures to learn why, for instance, Nick can’t make honey for his ice cream by glopping an assortment of syrups on it.

“Show Me the Honey” was one of the episodes in the debut show Sept. 6. Characters and the environment they inhabit are rendered in the distinctive Dr. Seuss style, and the Cat even talks (taking on the voice, now, of award-winning actor Martin Short) in the same wise and silly manner as he tells Nick and Sally — what else? — “Your mother will not mind at all if you do.” (But they do always check with her before hopping in the thinga-ma-jigger to seek out the answer to their latest “Why?”)

In “Show Me the Honey,” the starting point is one that children (and, let’s be honest, adults, too) can readily identify with: Nick’s rational child-logic of “If bees can do it, so can I; I just need to find the secret ingredient.” When the Cat takes him and Sally to a beehive, they learn not only how it’s really done (science) but that bees are the only ones that can make it (nature). These aren’t one-track-mind kids, though; there’s plenty of play, too, such as when they follow the bees to flowers and bounce around on the petals.

Shorter sketches break up the longer ones, with quizzes such as “What makes it a bird?” Pointing out that whales sing, too, and that not all birds fly, our hero sums up the solution in a Dr. Seuss-style chant: “The mystery’s solved by The Cat in the Hat. All birds have feathers, and that’s simply that.”

Parents, you’re missing out if you don’t watch this show with your kids. Besides enjoying an entertaining review of scientific facts and relationships you might have forgotten about, you can catch a few sly ones that seemingly are written to go a little higher than three to four feet: the “Show Me the Honey” title, for one, and this response from one of a flock identified as Canadian gees — “How should I know? I’m a goose, eh?”

Produced by Portfolio Entertainment Inc. and Collingwood O’Hare Productions in association with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Random House Children’s Entertainment, Treehouse and PBS Kids, “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” was created in response to recent findings that children graduating from kindergarten are less prepared to learn about science than about other subjects. The series supports young children’s science learning by introducing scientific inquiry skills, teaching core science concepts and vocabulary, and preparing preschoolers for kindergarten and first-grade science curriculum — all in whimsical style. “Dr. Seuss was so passionate about science, nature and the survival of the planet, he surely would have loved that the science-based book series he conceived is being brought to television in such a grand fashion,” says Kate Klimo, Dr. Seuss’ Random House publisher and executive director of development for Random House Children’s Entertainment.

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