The new ''Baby Einstein'': Worth buying?
Baby Einstein: Meet the Orchestra First Instruments
(Walt Disney Video)
I'm a huge fan of the Baby Einstein series. The tapes have been in our house for six years and have seen a lot of wear and tear from three sets of sticky hands. Each new arrival gets played again and again for each of my new arrivals, and watched even by the older children, to the point where when I hear one of Mozart's pieces, I can't help but think, This is the part where the polar bear blows bubbles (or, more honestly, I have 45 seconds left to empty the dishwasher, answer e-mails, fix dinner...). It's safe to say I could pick out narrator Julie Clark's voice in a crowd of mothers at the playground (though I'm sure she would never be yelling at her children).
So it's with a heavy heart that I say Meet the Orchestra is a dud. Or to use the vernacular of the orchestra, it's the pits.
In theory, the idea is great: introduce youngsters to all the instruments in an orchestra grouped by section brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. Add some cute kids holding toy versions of the instruments and some older kids holding the real things (though some should have been told how to hold them), throw in a few puppets, and voilà! But Orchestra takes itself a little too seriously (hmm.. let's ponder the bassoon and the recorder for a moment), and lacks the charm of its predecessors. There are no visual surprises, no monkeys beating drums, no whimsy with music that sounds terribly canned (and isn't music the whole point here?).
This is the series that has launched a thousand copycats, and countless children have been exposed to Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven because of it (thereby increasing their spatial reasoning skills, of course). But the creators need to go back to the pit on this one, and rediscover what makes music fun. EW Grade: D Eileen Clarke
Book by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans (Scholastic, $15.99)
This charming reissue of a 1937 classic features Noodle, a sweet little dachshund ''who was very long from front...to...back, and very short from top to bottom.'' One day Noodle, tunneling through dirt in the garden, comes across a bone, and when he reemerges he finds a small dog with wings a dog fairy! waiting for him.
It turns out, of course, that Noodle has uncovered a wishbone, and the dog fairy is there to grant his wish. Noodle immediately decides he wants to be a different size and shape. But after a trip to the zoo where he questions all the animals the little dachshund decides, of course, that he wants to be ''just exactly the size and shape I am right now.'' A good lesson for little ones about self-acceptance. A+ Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 4-8
The Wright 3
Book by Blue Balliett; illustrated by Brett Helquist (Scholastic, $16.99)
This funny, intelligent sequel to the best-selling Chasing Vermeer once again features the immensely likable detectives Petra, Calder, and Tommy, who are now at the end of their sixth-grade year at the University School in Chicago. This time they're saving a very different kind of art, a Frank Lloyd Wright house slated for demolition and, as it turns out, they're risking their lives to do it. Series books are all the rage among elementary-school kids, so Wright 3 will probably fly off bookstore shelves. When I showed up in my 11-year-old daughter's classroom with an early copy, literally every kid clamored to see it; the teacher had to draw a name out of a pot to see who would get to take it home first. A TJ
Recommended ages: 9-12
Book by Malín Alegría (Simon & Schuster, $14.95)
Estrella Alvarez is turning 15. And on that ''biggest day of her life,'' she'll be feted at the over-the-top birthday extravaganza that her mother and her Tia Lucky have been dreaming about since she was born. But Estrella, who has a scholarship to a ritzy private school far from the barrio where she lives, would rather skip the whole affair. She's mortified by the thought of her new, rich friends attending the celebration; she doesn't want them to see her relatives, or the tacky mariachi band, or worst of all the vile orange chiffon dress she'll be forced to wear. It's only when the celebration is canceled that Estrella begins to understand its real importance, making peace with her mother and her Mexican-American heritage. A- TJ
Recommended ages: 11-15