Jack’s Big Music Show
(Noggin, Mon.-Fri. at 1 p.m.; weekends at noon)
You might think of this as TRL for toddlers, minus the hair gel and $200 dungarees. Jack, the main puppet on this live-action musical extravaganza, is an all-around nice guy who seriously likes to jam. Together with his pals Mary, Mel, and Prudence, he explores many instruments and genres of music, and introduces a whole lot of rollicking music videos. Tune in and you’ll get who’s hot on the kiddie charts at the moment: Laurie Berkner, Dirty Sock Funtime Band, Lisa Loeb, Justin Roberts, AudraRox, and Music for Aardvarks. And the show has gotten a celeb following, no doubt because of their offspring.
In the Feb. 2 episode, there’s Jon Stewart (Brunk Stinegrouber of the Groundhog News Network, in a nifty earflaps hat) trying to coax a frightened Gertrude the Groundhog out of her home. Gertrude gets a little inspiration from the Schwartzman quartet, but it’s not enough. Not till Jack and his friends sing a song about the first day of preschool (”I Can Do It!”) does she muster the courage to face the press, who want to know if she’ll see her shadow. There’s also a special ditty from Steve Burns of Blues Clues fame, along with the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd, ”I Hog the Ground,” (Cuz I’m small/And I’m brown/And I hog/And I’m brown.) that contains a guitar riff the Ramones would be proud of. A Feb. 10 show is set to feature Curb Your Enthusiasm star Cheryl Hines as Sudsy Bubblestein, a professional dog washer and stylist.
So to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in kids’ music today, not to mention nurturing a love for all different types of music in your child, look no further than Jack’s place. A- —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 2-6
(PG, 86 mins., 2006)
Boog, a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) who’s taken care of by a park ranger (Debra Messing), has it pretty good: eight square meals a day, plus snacks, and a nice, soft comfy bed in the garage. It’s not until he rescues a mule deer (Ashton Kutcher) who persuades him to raid the Punimart for slurpees and other sugary snacks, that Boog gets banished to the wilderness; and it’s then he realizes he is really up a creek with no idea how to hunt for fish. Or climb a tree. Or do anything that real bears are supposed to do. It’s only by banding together with some fellow forest residents that Boog realizes he needs others to survive hunting season. Will he take the easy way out when his owner has a change of heart? The real star of this movie is not the voice talent, but some pretty awesome animation — just watch the articulation of Boog’s fur waving in a scary roar in the opening sequence. B —EC
Recommended ages: 4 and up
Diary of a Worm…And More Great Animal Tales
(45 mins., 2007)
This short film, based on the picture book by Doreen Cronin, makes clear that there are both upsides to being a worm (you don’t ever have to take a bath or visit the dentist) and downsides (you can’t chew gum or ride a bike), and kids will be able to relate to this wiggly creature complaining about homework and parents. The other charming tales in this Scholastic Video Collection include ”Anatole,” a smart mouse who uses his discerning tastebuds to land a job telling a French cheesemaker what’s lacking in the Camembert and the Rochfort, and ”Frog Goes to Dinner,” a live-action short in which the only spoken word is stop — yelled by a boy trying to save his reptile from becoming an appetizer in the fancy restaurant he was dragged to by his parents. B+ —EC
Recommended ages: 3-7
Ben 10: The Complete Season 1
(Not rated, 286 min., 2007; Also on the Cartoon Network, Mon.-Fri. at 4 p.m.)
It’s no newsflash that a show about a 10-year-old boy who turns into aliens and battles baddies is going to be really cool to an eight-year-old. The real surprise is that it’s also pretty cool to that eight-year-old’s mom. When winsome Ben Tennyson embarks on a summer vacation with his Grandpa Max and cousin Gwen, he has no idea what kind of adventures lie ahead. Ben’s life changes when he discovers an alien object called an ”omnitrix” (it’s like a watch) that falls from the sky, attaches to his arm, and gives him the ability to turn into one of ten different aliens with names like HeatBlast and Upgrade. Ben has to take on other creatures who are out to either get the omnitrix or just cause general mayhem.
Ben and Gwen have a fairly fractious relationship, pulling pranks and calling each other names like ”dweeb,” but they look out for each other when things get tough. There are little lessons scattered throughout (family looks out for each other, don’t be a glory hound, etc.) but they don’t interfere with the stories. Special features (a drawing lesson, commentary on the season finale, and a sneak peak at the second season) are light; but with its catchy theme song and action-packed 30-minute shows, the 13 episodes of the Cartoon Network series are more than engaging enough to make up for it. A —Abby West
Recommended ages: 6 and up
Crime Scene Detective
By Carey Scott
When my kids were little, there was nothing they liked more than playing detective. I was always wringing my brain to come up with mysteries around the house they could solve (though there were some, of course, they could never crack, like when I said, ”See if you can figure out where all the missing socks go!”). Now, from DK, comes a book that will satisfy almost every budding investigator. Divided into crime types (arson, forgery, etc.) by colorful tabs, and illustrated with vivid photos, it explains exactly how police officers search for clues — and then gives readers a chance to solve some made-up crimes themselves. It’s also studded with interesting facts and how-tos (kids learn how to make a cast of their own shoeprints, for example). At the very end you’ll find a brief history of forensics and a basic, but very good, glossary. A —Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Old Penn Station
By William Low
It’s hard to say who will like this book more: Grown-up lovers of trains and New York City architecture, or their children and grandchildren. Low’s beautiful, vibrant paintings, tinged with a vintage sort of sadness, evoke the heyday of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the building of its majestic Manhattan station, which stood for only 50 years before it was demolished to make way for Madison Square Garden. As much as I love the book, I question whether the inclusion of minute historical detail works in a book meant for small children (will they remember, or care, that Penn Station was designed by McKim, Mead & White?) Still, this is a minor quibble. A- —TJ
Recommended ages: 3-6
Ralph S. Mouse, Runaway Ralph, The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Books by Beverly Cleary; Audiobooks read by B.D. Wong (unabridged; 2 hours each)
Parents needing a book on CD for a long car trip couldn’t do much better than these three Beverly Cleary classics about the adventures of an intrepid young mouse and his miniature motorcycle. As read by Broadway actor Wong, the books lose none of their charm or wackiness. They’re silly enough to keep kids entertained for hours, without making the adults who have to listen grit their teeth (and any parent who has listened to kids’ audiobooks knows what I’m talking about). Cleary’s books have been in print for decades, but they neither read — nor sound — dated. A —TJ
Recommended ages: 5-10
Want more on kids and reading? Click here for books editor Tina Jordan’s latest Confessions of an EW Parent column.