Slugterra

Slugterra

Following his father’s death, 15-year-old Eli Shane embraces his destiny to follow in his dad’s footsteps to a secret, subterranean world called Slugterra. Filled with caverns and populated by a colorful array of characters, Slugterra is also home to the sport of Slugslinging, in which players duel using slug-filled capsules they shoot from guns. As the slugs reach top speed, they transform into larger creatures with superhero powers, which they unleash on their opponents. At the end of each face-off, the winner claims the loser’s slug, thereby accumulating an arsenal of varied weapons. But friendly matches are few and far between in a place where the nefarious Dr. Blakk has his sights set on domination, and he mutates the slugs he captures to that end. It’s up to Eli and his fiercely loyal crew to save Slugterra from the terrible fate Dr. Blakk has in store for it.

There are no expressed learning goals associated directly with this series.  It does, however, indirectly convey a few choice concepts which I will cover below.

This show bears a strong parallel to the Pokémon storyline.  They each have main characters who collect mythical animals and train them to fight each other to prove superiority over their opponents.  Additionally, it seems popular for the same reasons.  It appeals to the tween age group of boys at which it is aimed by representing many facets of the superhero genre mythos that is so popular today:  super tech, an important mission to save the (underground) world, and a band of supporting characters to make it a fun time along the way.

The story of Slugterra is definitely age-appropriate for its intended audience, and there are no overt influences of commercialism in the storytelling itself.  The series has become highly commercialized though, due to its being picked up by Disney not long after it was created.  Its Disney association probably raises and reinforces its popularity, but its content does not seem to reflect any obvious relationship.

The plot is extremely formulaic, where each episode revolves around the next slugslinging duel and its attendant challenges and consequences.  The dialogue is modern and engaging, although I wouldn’t say exceptionally witty or clever.  It connects with its target demographic, but it tends to focus more on narrating the story events than developing the characters.  The storyline seems to focus more heavily on the “wow” aspect of the gun technology and fight scenes too, rather than on the characters themselves.

The gun fights, or “slugslinging” are not fatally violent nor are they really comparable to using real guns.  The weapons they use launch living animals at each other that fight with each other only.  There is no overt emphasis on violence or use of guns, and there is only mild creature violence and mild peril in many situations.

Online review:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/slugterra#

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Weird Things Are Everywhere!

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Judy Pancoast calls her music “bubblegum pop for sweet kids”, and this album is a great example of that.  Through the tracks on this cd, she narrates a cross-country tour of the United States that includes all of the weird things along the way.  A 40-foot ball of twine, a fifteen-foot-tall statue of Superman in the city of Metropolis, Illinois, and even an alien from Roswell, New Mexico, make appearances in this fun-filled passel of songs.  Her styles range throughout from cool jazz, to 60’s beach music, to Caribbean swag, and even old-time boogie-woogie, on this cd.

This album is full of educational and interesting (and don’t forget weird) facts about all the places you can see traveling the highways of America.  Her creative segues between songs keep the album moving nonstop and her inventive style keep the listener completely wrapped in the spell of her musical storytelling journey.

Each song is itself a nugget of standalone information and storytelling.  The aim is clearly to promote reading in general and interest in the facts and attractions surrounding the United States’ geography and history.  It is done in such and interesting and intriguing way that listeners find themselves sucked right into her imagination for the ride.  There is no pretense of commercialism involved whatsoever, other than possibly encouraging tourism across the United States.

These are safe, creative songs that do not have any inappropriate content, no subtle commercialism, and no visible aim other than their enjoyment and exploration.  Judy’s music inspires a love for the United States as a home, a place of enjoyment, and a living curiosity. There is a diverse panoply of items and places to see, and she covers most all of them.

Online Media Review:

Weird Things Are Everywhere!: A Reading Road Trip with Judy Pancoast. By: Bange, Stephanie, School Library Journal, 03628930, Aug2010, Vol. 56, Issue 8

Zootopia (2016) on Netflix By Selena McCracken

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Disney brings together another all-star cast to voice animal characters living and working in the real world. They experiment with sometimes subtle, sometimes heavy-handed social commentary about racial relations in our society. They also experiment with a lot of grey area in the development of good and bad character traits. I didn’t think those two elements were done very well. In the moral of the story, Officer Hopps, a tiny female bunny, explains that we all make mistakes, so I suppose we should extend our mercy to the fact that the villain (a sheep) had wool hair, which the adorable leading characters made a joke about touching. Also, I felt that the conflict grew to involve too many characters, and too many twists that children might lose the connection to what is most important in the film. It’s a good, long mystery, which older middle grades are likely to appreciate, but it’s almost too much like a feature “popcorn” film, with a lot of encoded context, to be understood by young children. Most importantly, this film attempts to deal with stereotypes. I can appreciate the analogy to the civilized animal kingdom, and several of the stereotypes which are rather adorably overcome, but attempts by Disney to join these conversations, after decades of endorsing stereotypes, tend to pale in comparison to more realistic narratives. I think the film as a whole can make a fairly significant impact on young children’s awareness about stereotypes, so I would recommend it, despite it’s few flaws.

Source: Best Kids Movies on Netflix 2017
Common Sense Media
Reviews: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/zootopia
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2948356/

Anne With an E Series (2017) on Netflix By Selena McCracken

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This novel-based series about “Anne of Green Gables” has me hooked after one episode. The only consideration is some violence, the extent of which kids around 6 would be able to comfortably comprehend and is imperative to the plot. Ann with an e, an orphan picked up by mistake, endures a heart-breaking journey to make a home at Green Gables. The child actress reads a bit awkwardly, but it quickly dawned on me that she was making me feel the same way Matthew Cuthbert felt with her rambling about “the scope of imagination” the whole drive to Green Gables – a little irritated (at the off-key reading) and a little intrigued by how absolutely adorable she is. Specifically in terms of her resilient strength and intellectual skills. Needless to say, she’s an excellent role model for kids. Other essential themes include poverty and gender roles. A lot of historical knowledge is easily conveyed to the audience in the cinematography, as well. I would highly recommend this show as a good one for the whole family.

Source: Best Kids TV Shows on Netflix 2017
Common Sense Media
Reviews: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/anne-with-an-e
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5421602/

Farmer for a Day

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Help Fiete —the part-time sailor, part-time farmer—harvest crops and take care of his farm! The latest app from Ahoii Entertainment featuring Fiete allows toddlers to experience a day on the farm helping out Fiete and his friends Hinnerk and Hein. Players plant seeds, wash muddy pigs, saw lumber, milk cows, plow fields, and feed the farm kitties all with the touch of a finger in this Parent’s Choice gold award-winning app for all iOS and Android tablets and phones for $1.99.

Fiete Farm’s expressed learning goals are extensive, aiming to help children ages 0-5 improve logical thinking, deduction, concentration, media literacy, feeling of time of day, sense of responsibility, and ability to empathize (iTunes store).  Fiete Farm is a search-and-find game allowing players to freely to explore the farm and chose chores.  Players begin the farm day waking up Fiete and his friends by beeping the alarm until they stumble out of bed. Activities depend on the time of day; collect eggs after the sunrise, feed pigs in the morning, and after all the work is done, players build a campfire for Fiete and friends. Farms scenes have lots of things to see and click on. Players move through the farm by dragging their finger from right to left, the time of day changes as players advance the screen, the sun sets indicating the time. There is certainly a generous helping of humor; when Fiete’s friends nap in the haystacks, players poke them awake.

The Fiete line of apps was created in Germany by two parents looking for intuitive apps for young children. In theFiete series of apps, children join Fiete the sailor on different adventures, in other apps kid play sports with Fiete or travel to tropical islands onboard his fishing boat. Since creating their first app, Ahoii Entertainment has expanded to a series of board books each featuring Fiete in various silly adventures. There are not advertisements in the app, however.  Ahoii Entertainment is a small independent business and does not appear to be heavily influenced by commercial interests.

A sense of responsibility and the ability to empathize are too complicated build in a 2-D world. Fiete Farm is a well-designed app for children to learn deduction, media literacy, time of day, and logical thinking. Fiete Farm relies entirely on visual cues to prompt children, there is no dialogue or written text. A wordless app is age appropriate for 0-5-year olds as it serves early literacy goals of developing narratives skills to describe and tell events fluently. Parent’s Choice notes it can also be used for teaching and practicing languages, for example, teachers or parents could match sight words to elements of the farm. Fiete farm relies heavily on repetition of short activities with each farm day lasting about 10 minutes, ideal for the attention span of young children.

–Lara Miller

Reviews:

Heuscher, Sharon. “Fiete: A Day on the Farm.” Review of Fiete Farm app. Parent’s Choice. 2015.

 

Figaro Pho’s phobias

Figaro Pho faces his fear of giant fish

Figaro Pho faces his fear of giant fish

Everything scares Figaro! From monsters to hiccups to being alone, almost everything frightens young Figaro in this quirky CGI-animated TV series, The Adventures of Figaro Pho. Figaro lives alone with his pet dog built from machine parts in a spikey house with mountain peaks on the edge of a barren cliff. Around every corner lies a phobia and Figaro chooses to stay indoors most of the time, but phobias creep up regardless. Figaro learns to overcome each phobia in wacky, hilarious ways successfully facing his fears each time. In Figaro’s world, unique creepy creatures exist including talking fuzzy creatures with purple leas and monsters with big teeth. Common Sense Media describes The Adventures of Figaro Pho as a gross-out comedy about expanding your comfort zone.

The Adventures of Figaro Pho is an Australian children’s TV series from creator and animator Luke Jurevicius. The first season ran in 2012 and the second season ran in 2015, both seasons are available to stream on Netflix and Hulu. The TV series is advertised for children ages five and up; an appropriate age range. In 2013, Figaro Pho expanded to video games releasing The Figaro Pho: Creatures & Critters. In the video game, Figaro Pho races through alien worlds defeating fears along the way. The app price ranges from free to one dollar. The app is never advertised in the TV series and does not appear to be heavily overly-influenced the commercial interest despite their connection.

The CGI is high quality with sharp, detailed animation. The colors of The Adventures of Figaro Pho are moody purples, greens, and greys.  Figaro Pho would be excellent for fans of gothic animation like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Figaro’s house almost looks like a haunted house adding to the phobia themes. The stories, however, are warm and never scary.

Episodes are short and move quickly with three separate phobia stores packed into one episode. There is no dialogue at all, the action relies on a variety of sound effects and over-the-top expressions and physical action. The absence of dialogue is the show’s standout quality. No dialogue allows kids to focus in on other elements of storytelling allowing them to create the internal script. While Figaro Pho does build narrative skills, theTV series is primarily for silly fun, rather than teaching and learning. Figaro Pho is a great choice for fans of toilet humor and silly stories with monsters. Figaro is a relatable character and can inspire kids to be bold in the face of their fears.

–Lara Miller

Review:

Ashby, Emily. Review of The New Adventures of Figaro Pho. Common Sense Media. 2015.

Monkeying Around: Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunts

Created with the intent to give parents with antsy kids something to do during wait times, Monkey Spot Scavenger Hunts is an app put out by the brand Monkey Bar Collective. It is currently supported by both Apple and Android operating systems, working on iOS 7.1 and higher, and Android 4.1 and higher. The app is “freemium,” or free to download but has optional purchases in-app. The app is designed for elementary-age kids, so ages 5-10. The app is a scavenger hunt game that can be used in different situations, with clues written by the app designers. You get a couple of hunts to start with, and can buy more in the app. You pick your hunt: “Out to Eat,” which you play at a restaurant, “I Can See A to Z,” where you try to find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet, “Detective Story,” where you cast people and objects in roles and clues, and “Zoo Adventure,” which gives you clues to look for in a zoo. You pick a clue from the list, and it asks you to find it and take a picture of it: for example, the “Out to Eat” one asks you for the first clue to take a picture of the menu. Once you take a picture, it is uploaded to the app and is strung together as a little story, like the ones in Instagram. According to the app, the goal of the it is to “engage no matter where (you) are,” and is part of the larger goal of the company, which “specializ(es) in boredom-busting interactive experiences for kids.”

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I find the app to be age appropriate; there isn’t any language concerns or content concerns. Early readers will need to have someone read the clues to them, as sometimes it uses long or complex sentences that may be hard for them to read. However, the directions are simple (most are just “take a picture of _”), so they aren’t hard to comprehend and follow. The app’s structure, as noted by the Madison Library’s AppFinder review, does include almost all the practices recommended for parents to encourage early literacy skills like writing, talking, reading, and playing. While the app does have a fun premise, and helps with early literacy skills, it does have commercial interests in its freemium model and limited available searches. There’s only four available for free; you must pay to access other searches. The review by the Madison Library was glowing, but other reviews, like the one by Common Sense Media, was lukewarm on it, saying isn’t relevant for a wide audience since some of the sets of clues are for high-end entertainment places like art museums.

I find Monkey Spot to have a good premise and would even be something fun to play as an adult, though I find the limited clue sets to be a big drawback, as children may get tired of reusing the sets or may not have access to places around which the sets are developed.

– Colleen

References

Madison Public Library. (2016, August 1). Monkey spot scavenger hunts [Review of the app Monkey spot scavenger hunts]. AppFinder. Retrieved from http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/kids/apps/appfinder?name=Alphabet

Vanderborght, M. (2016). Monkey spot scavenger hunts. [Review of the app Monkey spot scavenger hunts]. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/monkey-spot-scavenger-hunts

 

Long Way North: A Story of Perseverance

One film released last year that was well-received was Long Way North. This was a French-Danish production that was released in Europe in 2015, but dubbed and released to US audiences in 2016. The movie focuses on an aristocratic Russian girl in the 19th century named Sacha. Her parents pressure her as her debut into Russian society grows closer, but Sacha is only interested in the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather, Oloukine, after an expedition to the North Pole went wrong. Sacha decides to strike out on her own and find her grandfather, even though the trip is dangerous and she has little sailing or navigation skills, roping a ship’s crew into helping her. It’s a rough and treacherous trip that teaches Sacha a lot about herself and her fortitude.

The film is rated PG by the MPAA, and the Common Sense Media review of it says it is appropriate for ages 8+ because of some rough (though not profane) language and dangerous situations (Condes, 2016, ). I agree with that assessment, as it does have Sacha in some coarse situations, like working in a public house and getting a couple of leering comments from men. None of them are graphic or explicit, but it is a darker dynamic and social situation than younger children would be accustomed to in their media. There are not any commercial interests as the narrative is not easily monetized or influenced by selling a toy or a company tie-in product. I could not find any merchandise tied to it. The film company that created the movie is small, so it does not have the power or commercial interests that larger media companies do. The plot is a bit standard of “protagonist strikes out on their own to find their destiny,” however it does focus almost entirely on Sacha’s growth as a character and not her love life, which is appreciated in a female-led narrative for children. The artwork, dialogue, and overall production is very high quality, with a stylized hand-drawn look to the animation that makes it very appealing to look at and stands out against the reliance on 3D animation found in most visual children’s media.

Reviews of this film have been very positive; the Common Sense Media review gave it a four out of five stars and said it is “beautifully made” and “has strong messages about loyalty and doing what’s right instead of what’s convenient or easy” (Condes, 2016). The movie also received some award from small film festivals, like winning an award the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Overall it is a solid film highlighting the importance of strength of character and taking chances, and I recommend it.

– Colleen

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References

Condes, Y. (2016). Long way north [Review of the movie Long way north]. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/long-way-north

Long way north website (2015). Retrieved from http://www.longwaynorththemovie.com/

Prune: A Calm, But In-tree-guing Puzzle Game

Prune Game - Title

Platforms: iOS, Android

Cost: $3.99

Intended Audience: Grades 4 and up

Prune is a puzzle game where you plant a tree, and prune it to grow out of the shadow and into the light. The game encourages puzzle-solving skills, as well as helping practice with fine motor skills. The game provides a very relaxing atmosphere with simplistic imagery. I have only played through the first chapter of the game, and there are very few colors, save for the different types of flowers that grow on the tree and the shapes with which the tree can interact.

Prune Game - Image

Prune has won several awards since its release, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Debut Game and Best Mobile & Handheld in 2016. Time magazine named it game of the year in 2015. Do not let these reviews fool you, however. The game can be just as frustrating as any other puzzle game out there, especially when you cannot quite prune the right branch off the tree without cutting the wrong branch.

This leads into my critique of the app. For the most part, the app does deliver what it set out to do. It does provide a Zen-like atmosphere, all while encouraging puzzle solving skills in a beautiful way. School Library Journal has this app listed for grades 4 and up. While the app does suit the age group, it does also require a lot of patience and a willingness to engage in puzzle solving. In addition, the game provides very little help, usually in the form of an overlay that shows you the motion for how to grow a tree and then prune it. The game does not provide any instruction and assumes the player has some idea of what is going on and where to go. Lastly, the menu can be confusing as well. In this menu, there are three button: an ‘x’ button, a camera button, and one that is a circle with a filled-in semi-circle inside of it. While the camera button makes sense (it lets you take a picture of what you worked on), the other two buttons can be confusing at first glance. The ‘x’ closes the menu, while the last one takes you back to the home page. All of these factors can be frustrating for some kids, as they may want clearer instructions and a more understandable user interface. However, this is an excellent game for the independent child who wants to figure things out for themselves and don’t necessarily rely on explicit instructions.

– Teshia

School Library Journal Review: http://www.slj.com/2017/07/reviews/meditative-gaming-prune-touch-and-go/

Developer’s Site: http://www.prunegame.com/

Camp Discovery: Learning Games for Autistic Children

Camp Discovery - Title

Platforms: iOS, Android

Cost: Free

Intended Audience: Autistic children in Pre-K and up

Camp Discovery was developed by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) as a way to help kids with autism develop social skills, as well as help them learn about a variety of topics, such as letters, numbers, and emotions.

In the game, there are 5 areas for children to choose from, however Enoki Ridge is currently in development. The first is Camp Discovery, which teaches the basics about topics ranging from colors to actions, and it even includes a section dubbed ‘Community Helpers,’ to help children become familiar with community members, like the police, all while practicing their matching skills. Pebble Cove, which teaches more of the basics, like Camp Discovery, but includes different topics, such as gender or comparing numbers. Pointy Peaks has covers more advanced topics, such as handling money and sound discrimination. Finally, Pine Tree Point also covers some advanced topics, such as using a calendar and phonetic awareness, but much of this area is still in development.

Camp Discovery - Preference Assessment

For the most part, the app does a good job of teaching kids about the different topics included in each section. Young children and older kids with difficulties learning certain topics can feel comfortable playing around with the different games, without fear of getting a wrong answer. In addition, the app does a good job catering to its young autistic audience by allowing the child to go through a preference assessment. This assessment sees what sounds and images the child prefers to hear or see, and uses those to reinforce correct answers in a positive manner. School Library Journal even mentions that it helps autistic children not shy away from first responders, a behavior that many autistic children are prone to do, which puts them in more danger.

I have two issues with this app. My first problem is that, outside of the mini-games, it’s not very young child friendly and much of the app heavily relies on either having an adult nearby or for the child to have patience. The games that are available on the app have to download first. This can take up a lot of time, especially for a child who is excited to play a game. In addition, you can only download one of the games at a time. My second issue with the app is that it is absolutely made for a tablet or iPad. This game is not meant for phones, which can be troublesome for the poorer parents who cannot afford a tablet.

– Teshia

School Library Journal Review: http://www.slj.com/2014/04/technology/applications/free-new-game-apps-support-autistic-children/

Developer’s site: http://campdiscoveryforautism.com/