News Article

A Fab Four

A children's choir singing Beatles tunes? ''All Together Now'' offers winning renditions of moptop classics. Plus a clever baby's journal, an Alice Hoffman novel, and a surprising DVD suggestion

''All Together Now'': a worthy Beatles tribute CD for tots

CD/BOOK

All Together Now
VARIOUS ARTISTS (LITTLE MONSTER)
(available exclusively at Barnes & Noble or at bn.com until its wide release next year)

Even with the recent spate of hip musical offerings for tots, the very idea of a Beatles tribute album performed by a children's choir is enough to make classic-rock diehards and Gen-X parents sputter ''Hello, Goodbye'' in unison. Yet this thoroughly winsome 11-song CD, produced by indie-rock tunesmith Kevin Salem, has enough spark and sass to make John Lennon proud. (Lest we forget, the late Beatle enlisted the Harlem Community Choir to provide cooing vocal support for that holiday chestnut ''Happy Xmas [War Is Over].'')

Besides recruiting a bracingly saccharine-free kids' quartet, Salem tapped a passel of alt-rock vets (Marshall Crenshaw, Steve Conte of the New York Dolls) and up-and-comers (Rachael Yamagata, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy). The young 'uns sing out with verve on ''Hello, Goodbye'' and ''Birthday''; elsewhere, Susanna Hoffs and the re-formed Bangles inject a tangy tartness into ''Good Day Sunshine,'' and Yamagata's throaty near-whisper adds a wistful overlay to George Harrison's exquisite ''Here Comes the Sun.''

Replete with chunky percussion and gently burbling keyboards, the brawny but unobtrusive arrangements hew closely to the original orchestrations — but kid-friendly flourishes (barnyard animals on ''Birthday,'' handclaps on ''Good Day Sunshine'') juice up the proceedings while evoking the Fabs' sonic experimentation. If only the accompanying booklet of poems matched the album's pizzazz: A better producer than versifier, Salem slips into clichéd homilies like ''a frown's just a smile upside down.'' Such clunkiness is more than offset, however, by the captivating illustrations. As an educational bonus, the book offers up bite size info nuggets on the Liverpool lads (i.e., The foursome first called themselves the Quarrymen, after Lennon's high school). Minor caveats aside, this ''Magical Mystery Tour'' might just be your moptops' ticket to ride. A–Ben Spier
Recommended ages: 3 and up

DVD

For Your Collection
Cinema Paradiso
(R, 123 mins., subtitled, 1989)
This might not seem like an obvious choice for a column about entertainment for wee ones, but when this disc passed my desk recently (a new collectors' edition with a director's cut), I recalled the fond memories I had of watching little Salvatore Cascio and thought, why not? So, like most DVDs in this space, it got roadtested at home. Yes, I realize it is rated R, but before you call child authorities on me, let's get all of the ''questionable'' elements in this fine film out of the way. In one of the films shown at the Paradiso (the town movie theater which Salvatore all but lives in), we do see a woman lying face down with a bare bottom, and there are quite a few chaste kisses in the films that the priest promptly edits by ringing his handy bell. What may worry parents more are the one or two occasions Salvatore's mama slaps him upside the head; or when a teacher gives a good earpulling to one little math-challenged Guiseppe. Salvatore does take a drag on a cigarette. And one mezzanined moviegoer does quite a bit of spitting on top of the heads of those below him; there's also the use of the word asshole, for those who can speak Italian or read English. Those considerable warnings aside, a film about a little boy's love for movies, the bravery he shows in rescuing his mentor Alfredo, the Paradiso's projectionist, from a fire, and how one's passion can become one's life purpose, can easily transcend any language or age barrier. Isn't that what movies are supposed to do? I won't put a recommended age on this one, but my six-year-old son loved watching it, and seeing a little boy just like him — one who was in love with movies. —Eileen Clarke

BOOKS

A Journal For Baby's First Year
by Eric Carle
I don't usually like licensed books, but I liked the Green Eggs and Ham cookbook a few weeks ago, and I like this keepsake, too. (If only there had been more like this when my own kids were born, instead of all the pink and blue beribboned fluff.) It's a simple, utterly charming baby book, decorated with the bright, Matisse-like colors and animals of Carle (of The Very Hungry Caterpillar fame). It's small — not meant for parents who obsessively want to chronicle every second — but there is plenty of room for all the highlights and milestones of a child's first year. ATina Jordan

Incantation
by Alice Hoffman
Spain, 1500: For Estrellla deMadrigal, 16, who lives in ancient village in Aragon, the world begins to crumble one sultry summer day: ''I was out in the garden when I smelled something burning. Not lime flowers, only pure bitterness. Cores, rinds, pits. That was the way it started.'' Estrella thinks that she is Christian, but discovers her family is in fact Marrano — secret Jews who risk their very lives lest their religion be discovered. As a single kiss sets in motion a betrayal by her childhood friend Catalina, Estrella relates her coming-of-age in a spare, moving tale that could just as easily be set in the 20th century as the 16th. This is a wonderful book, less about history than universal truths, though it is not for precocious young readers (Estrella witnesses her mother's burning, for example, and her brother's torture). Hoffman, best known for her adult fiction (Practical Magic) has certainly ventured into YA territory before (Aquamarine), but never with such stunning results. ATJ
Recommended ages: 12-15

Originally posted Nov 08, 2006