Author Archives: Brian Boone

CD Review: Quest for Zhu (Music From the Motion Picture)

Two years ago, Zhu Zhu Pets were the hottest toy of the Christmas season, the 2009 version of Tickle Me Elmo, or Cabbage Patch Kids, and, as such were so popular that they were, ironically, impossible to find. Oh, Zhu Zhu Pets are, it is my understanding, robot hamsters that make little robotic hamster sounds and they squirrel around on the floor and burrow into plastic tunnels that you can buy for them to burrow into.

They’ve spawned. Satisfied with their dominance of American popular culture for a while, the Zhu Zhu Pets want more. More! This week, the Zhu Zhu Pets begin their multimedia empire in earnest. They’re going to have a float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And on that float will be pop singer Savannah Outen, a YouTube star and Radio Disney sensation. Outen will be singing songs (with Zhu Zhu Pets and 130 hand-picked young singers) from the Zhu Zhu Pets new animated movie The Quest for Zhu, which stars a bunch of Zhu Zhu Pet characters singing familiar, kid-friendly pop and rock classics, along with originals by Outen and American Idol finalist Thia Megia. And that’s the music part of the media phenomenon: the soundtrack to Quest for Zhu.

I know, I know. Likable, chubby, CGI rodents with high pitched voices performing “What I Like About You,” “Celebration,” “Let’s Groove” and “ABC.” Yes, I know. It’s…familiar. But song choice is important. The Chipmunks, in their latest incarnation, which is what matters to you, the parent of a child, are horrible. The boy Chipmunks are smug and crass. The girl Chipmunks are sexed-up, lazy girl stereotypes. I’d much rather hear the Zhu Zhu Pets sing “ABC,” a song originally sung by children, to children, then hear the Chippettes tell their boyfriends to put a ring on it. Plus Outen and Megia have nice voices, and know their strengths: there’s nothing wrong with innocuous kiddie-pop, and something musical for kids to have of their very own.

DVD Review: Caldecott Favorites featuring “The Snowy Day”

Because you can only interestedly read Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings” to your toddler or silently prop up Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day” only so many times, Scholastic Storybook Treasures has released a massive DVD set of filmed adaptations of a bunch of classic, Caldecott Medal-winning or nominated children’s book classics. Well, adaptation isn’t exactly the right word. They’re pretty much stills of the books with gentle transitions from one page to another with warm narration by celebrities. In other words, these are books-on-DVD.

And they’re wonderful. The three-disc set of video storybooks (available Nov. 22) is a great wind-down tool for a holiday-crazed little one. It includes 20 stories, most based on Caldecott-honored children’s books. Named for 19th century illustrator and children’s publishing innovator Randolph Caldecott, they wouldn’t be here if the images weren’t child-beloved and visually stimulating. None live up to the honor more so than “The Snowy Day,” probably the most famous and treasured picture book ever. Scholastic captured Keats’ book in that it’s just as gentle, beautiful, and quiet as the book, or a real snowy day.

“Snowy Day” leads off a whole disc of Keats stories, which also includes “Whistle for Willie” and “Pet Show.” The second disc is all animal stories, including “In the Small, Small Pond,” and the wonderful cap-thieving monkeys of Esphyr Slobodkina’s “Caps for Sale.” The third disc: all duck stories. Special features: Spanish versions of a lot of the stories, and open-captioning, or as its encouragingly called, a “read-along” option. It’s three and a half hours of classic, innocent, warm toddler books, video versions of a great early library.

Either your kids will recognize and enjoy these video versions because they know the books, or the videos will make them want to read the books, which you probably have already. Or you should have already. Why don’t you own “Snowy Day” or “Caps for Sale”?

CD Review: The Chickadees, The Froggy Hop

There’s a lot of mindless kids’ music out there, the kind of stuff that makes me question why kids’ music is even a separate genre unto itself. The ridiculous, corporate, often brand-promoting junk with a carefully contrived mix of barely educational messages and hollow silliness prepared by people who have never met a child, the reason why I mostly just let my kid listen to whatever music I listen to, minus the songs with inappropriate material.

The Chickadees, thankfully, are not that kind of kids’ music. It’s a passion project from singer/songwriter Mary Karlzen (who had a great album come out in 1995 called Yelling at Mary) who, has followed the career path of other indie rock cult faves Dan Zanes and Ralph Covert and gone into kiddie entertainment. Karlzen’s approach is more than just good music kids can call their own—the Chickadees (a fairly clever name, as the band is entirely female) profess an environmentalist message. All kids are inherently environmentalists; they love animals and they love being outside. Pop culture and entertainment can help solidify those feelings, and that’s what the Chickadees aimed to do with their second album, The Froggy Hop.

It’s a pleasant country folk romp, a good fit for songs about being outside. The Froggy Hop has two main themes: how animals are amazing (“Tiny Little Caterpillar,” “Animal Babies”), and save the planet, kids (“Planet Protectors,” “Reduce, Recycle & Reuse”). A little didactic? Sure, but you can’t be subtle about important stuff with pre-schoolers. In that regard, the Chickadees are like Rage Against the Machine, except friendly, approachable, and concerned more with pollution than Zapatistas.