Songs of the Baobab

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Songs from the Baobab:  African Lullabies & Nursery Rhymes is a beautiful collection of 26 songs and rhymes sung in various cultures throughout Africa.  There are several playground and nursery rhymes also included.

This is a spirited collection of songs and rhymes appropriate for children from preschool to second grade.  The book opens with illustrations of children, animals, and people in community with one another – especially mothers with children.  Each page introduces lyrics to the songs and rhymes in English and the title of the song and its country of origin is highlighted.  In the middle of the book, there are lyrics for each song in the original language as well as an English translation.  There is a brief explanation of the song below its translation, and small illustrations dot the margins.  At the end of the book, there is a map of Africa with the various countries notated, and an explanation of the languages of each song and the areas of origin.  Each of the songs from the book is included on the accompanying CD.

These are not typical lullabies.  Several of these songs are lively, not like the gentle and sober songs often thought of as lullabies.  One such song is “So diyara” a song from the Ivory Coast which means, “The Joyful House.”  This song features three women singing to a sanza and celebrates marriage and family.  The song “Uélé molibá mákási” is a lovely and gentle song from Congo and is akin to what most people expect to hear sung as a lullaby.  Part of the appeal for this song is that a child’s voice leads and ends the song.  That small, sweet voice sets the tone for the rest of the lullaby, and though it is sung in Lingala, it is easy to imagine an English speaking child learning the repeated verses with ease.

Songs from the Baobab does not contain any advertisement or inappropriate content.  I would have no reservations making a recommendation of this book to a parent for lullabies for their children.  In School Library Journal Review, Beverly Wrigglesworth of the San Antonio Public Library in San Antonio, Texas wrote, “This excellent production will be a boon to units or programs on Africa as well as multicultural studies.” I wholeheartedly agree with her recommendation, but I would go as far as to recommend this volume to any parent and child at any time.  These songs would be fitting in any lullaby programming or rhyming story time.

Songs From the Baobab – The Secret Mountain

School Library Journal Review

Eiyana Favers

Adventure Time – Cartoon Network

Adventure Time

With an opening that brings to mind an animated version of the game Candy Land and a 90s video game, Adventure Time is a Cartoon Network series developed for children ages 10 and older.  The adventure changes with each episode, but the feature of the plot is that Finn and his dog Jake venture throughout the land of Ooo and take on a new adventure in every new location.  The pair often comes upon a new foe and must fight and use small weapons or magic to move on to their next adventure.  While the purpose of this show is clearly to entertain, there are moments where  lessons are imparted.  Finn and Jake, along with new characters they meet along the way, learn to work together, the importance of respecting the differences of others, and how to compromise – as in the case of the fighting Vikings and sad mountain.

The show is appropriate for this age range, though parents of younger children should be wary of some of the language, but it does not venture into four-letter-word territory.  There is some violence in each show, but even that is relatively tame; the audience is not subjected to lengthy scenes of gore.  Parents may want to know that there are references to kissing and may present some discomfort for parents of younger viewers.

Adventure Time is clever, funny, and very well presented.  Watching this cartoon is like looking at a series of images from a well-drawn book.  At several points I was tempted to pause the show to look at the screen just to take in all of the images.  It is a beautiful presentation.  Of adventure time, Emily Ashby of Common Sense Media writes:  “Older kids capable of getting the show’s tongue-in-cheek, ironic, and referential humor will revel in the nonsensical fun, and are likely to be hooked by the sumptuous and surprisingly deep Adventure Time universe. Younger kids might be a bit baffled, but the show is so inventive and gorgeously rendered that even young kids may find it dazzling.”

I am certainly impressed by this show and would feel comfortable recommending Adventure Time to parents and children who wish to watch a television show that is heavy on adventure, science fiction, fantasy, and an overall good time.

Adventure Time – Cartoon Network

Common Sense Media Review

Eiyana Favers

 

Animal Jam, 2010

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Animal Jam is an online game created by Wildworks, in partnership with National Geographic and has been the recipient of awards for its educational value, fun gameplay, and emphasis on online safety for children, including the 2011 Readers’ Choice award. The game has a paid and a free version, and all educational content is available in both versions. The paid version costs $6.95 per month, and a portion of all proceeds to go aid in conservation efforts for endangered species. The game is on a website and runs on both Apple and PC.

Animal Jam is a form of social media and takes place in the fictional world of Jamaa, where the environment is in trouble. Children make an account and create an animal avatar, adopt pets, and decorate their own dens. Players interact with each other, forming online partnerships to complete tasks, make trades, etc. and also interact socially within the moderated chat forums of the game. Many of the educational moments in the game include content narrated by actual scientists. For example, herpetologist Dr. Brady Barr and marine biologist Dr. Tierney Thys communicate with players in the game. Players can collect facts and animal information in their journey books, while interacting with other. The game’s educational intent is clear – players are supposed to learn about animals and conservation from playing the game, and there is downloadable and printable content that can be used offline as well. Teachers First, a website created by teachers for use by other teachers, gave Animal Jam a positive review, stating that the printable online resources are very useful in the classroom when studying extinction and conservation.

Players are not permitted to use their first and last names in the game, most “strong” language is filtered from use, and online safety tips are included as a part of the game. Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s Internet use because that is general good practice and encourages players to interact appropriately. Common Sense Media gives Animal Jam a rating of 3 out of 5 possible stars, and recommends the game for children ages 10 and up. Parental controls, safety, and moderation are promised, but according to Common Sense Media’s review, these features may not be well-maintained. Parents have had trouble contacting the help desk when issues arise, some children use the game to bully others, and some push the envelope of the sexual content moderation by misspelling common terms purposefully and having the avatars interact in ways that emulate inappropriate sexual conduct for minors. That said, if used appropriately and under parental supervision, Animal Jam has a lot to offer in terms of educational content, introduction to Internet safety, and a safe(er) environment in which to experience social media for the first time.

The National Geographic brand is on the game, and paid memberships are encouraged, but the paid membership is not required in order to use the game and the educational content. If using the free version, occasional ads encouraging the player to upgrade may appear. These are easily dismissed, relatively infrequent, and do not impede gameplay for more than a few seconds. When used according to the rules and with adult supervision, the game is entirely appropriate for children ages 10 and up; however, without an adult checking in from time to time, it is possible for the spirit of the rules to be bent by clever players and the content to become less than appropriate. Websites exist that encourage cheating and workarounds for sexual innuendo, and parents will want to be aware of this and be vigilant. These are all worst-case scenarios that involve people using a game made for children in ways the game was not intended to function. These potential hitches do not mean that the game is unsuitable, just that the Internet can be a dangerous place. Animal Jam is safer than most, but still requires parental checks and balances.

 

Animal Jam – Website Review (Animal Jam Website Review)

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/animal-jam

Teachers First – Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers (TeachersFirst Review)

http://www.teachersfirst.com/single.cfm?id=14560

~  S. Goodwin

Steven Universe, 2013

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The television series Steven Universe is the brainchild of former Adventure Time storyboard artist and musical composer Rebecca Sugar, and is the first show created by a woman to air on Cartoon Network. Apart from being branded as a Cartoon Network property, the show is not overtly commercial in nature – there are few, if any, tie-in toys, although there are occasional comic book releases. The show is centered around the character of Steven Universe, a young boy who is half human, half alien, as he comes into his powers and uncovers the very compelling histories of his alien mother Rose Quartz, his human father Greg Universe, and the three alien women who are raising him. The Crystal Gems, once led by Rose Quartz, originally came to our planet to claim it for the Gem Homeworld, but came to love and respect humanity. When Rose Quartz, the leader of the Crystal Gems, met Greg Universe, a human rock musician, they fell in love and their union ultimately produced Steven, at the cost of Rose’s physical form. In the absence of his mother, Steven is being raised by Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, her friends and battle partners in the fight to protect the Earth. Greg remains a strong part of Steven’s life as well. Music is often used as a method of bonding between characters, and as a vehicle for presenting characters’ backstories and thought processes to other characters and to the viewer.

Common Sense Media recommends Steven Universe for children ages 10 and up, and this seems sound. Although the show contains no objectionable language or mean-spirited humor (Creator Rebecca Sugar specifically avoids cutting, sarcastic humor), there are complex characters and popular culture references that might appeal more to tweens and teens than very young children. Common Sense Media has given the show a rating of four out of five possible stars, citing that the most potentially problematic aspects of the show might be the characters’ consumption of unhealthy foods, persistent bathroom humor, some violence, and occasional crudity. The violence does not end in death – all villains defeated are captured and locked away, rather than destroyed. That said, although the show is meant to be entertainment only, it also provides brief moral lessons through the well-rounded characters’ faults and strengths. The L.A. Times Television Critic calls the show, “a gem,” and praises its emotional nuance, and the A.V. Club consistently gives the episodes grades of A- and higher.

Steven Universe also promotes body positivity – more than one character has a non-standard or non-stereotypically action-hero-esque body type. It is important for children to see that all body types can act heroically, and Steven Universe does a good job of depicting this. Women of color are also depicted in the characters of Connie Maheswaran, who is Indian, and Garnet, who presents as an African-American woman. The overarching message of the show is that love – familial, friendship, and romantic – is stronger than evil and will always win in the end, and the excellent dialogue and strong characters are put to use to deliver this message.

Steven Universe is very progressive and liberal in its interpretation of family, and while I believe this to be a very positive thing, more conservative parents may object. Garnet, one of the Crystal Gems, is what is referred to on the show as a “fusion,” a combination of two Gems into a new entity. Garnet is comprised of Ruby and Sapphire, a lesbian couple who show affection on-screen. Their relationship is portrayed as normal and beautiful, and while most would find this a positive step toward equality, some families might not be so accepting and may be offended by some content. I would call Steven Universe subversively educational in that the diversity and complexity of the characters stimulate critical thought without seeming preachy or heavy-handed. Steven Universe is available to watch on Cartoon Network’s cable television channel as it airs, and the first season DVD is available from major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target, for $7.50.

Steven Universe – TV Review (Steven Universe TV Review)

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/steven-universe#

(Los Angeles Times)

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-steven-universe-20131104-story.html

The A.V. Club (Steven Universe ·)

http://www.avclub.com/tv/steven-universe/

~ S. Goodwin

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

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My Little Pony began as a Hasbro toy franchise in the 1980s, and went on to inspire television series, feature films, books, games, clothes, and more. The biggest boost to the franchise came with the newest television series: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. This series started airing in 2010 on The Hub cable channel, but switched to the Discovery Family Channel in 2014, and is now also available on Netflix. The show itself does not market anything, but My Little Pony merchandise has become difficult to avoid in large stores, like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Dollar General, etc.

This show centers around a unicorn named Twilight Sparkle and her friends, and showcases all sorts of lessons in friendship and how to be a good person (or pony, as the case may be). As Common Sense Media reviewer Emily Ashby writes:

“Parents need to know that this series celebrates friendship’s development from first impressions to true connections, and it benefits kids to see how the characters accept each other’s differences and work through the small troubles that arise. … Every episode includes a moral related to the value of friendship and the importance of respecting people’s unique talents. Sometimes conflicts like injured feelings or jealousy make one of the ponies act out against the others with intimidation, manipulation, and threatening language. Mean-spirited pranks and selfish behavior smacks of bullying, but these kinds of issues are always resolved by the story’s end, and the negative behavior in the beginning makes the positive changes stand out in a good way. Rare episodes demonstrate female ponies flirting with male characters to get their way.”

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is primarily geared for young girls ages five and up according to Common Sense Media, though it has a surprisingly large teenage and adult fan base as well. The art style is clean-cut and colorful, and the show is full of humor, adventure, and catchy songs. There is no bad language, violence, or sexual innuendo, making it completely safe for even the youngest children. The only real problems come with the fan base. Because it has such a large following from all ages, it’s difficult to google it without coming across images, memes, or videos that are inappropriate and potentially downright offensive for young children.

As for ratings, Emily Ashby gives it a quality rating of 4 stars, but the average ratings from both parents and children are five stars. All in all, I would say this would be a great show to recommend.

~H. Carter

Wuzzit Trouble

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Wuzzit Trouble is a free, math based app intended to help students with their math and problem-solving skills. These little creatures called wuzzits are trapped in little cages, one per level. The cages are located in the center of what looks like a giant combination lock/gear. Small gears are located at the bottom of the giant gear with varying numbers of spokes. There are varying numbers of keys located on certain numbers on the giant gear. In order to free the wuzzit, the player must rotate the little gears in such a way as to land on the keys’ numbers. The fewer moves the player needs, the more points he or she earns. Game play is very simple and straightforward, but the farther into the game a player gets, the more complicated the combination gets, with some extra icons providing bonus points and others subtracting points.

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According to Common Sense Media, this app is geared for anyone ages nine and up. The simple cartoon look is friendly and inviting, and the simplicity of the game design adds to the app’s charm, so I could definitely see the app appealing to a broad range of people. It also has the added benefit of being largely ad free. There is a link to the app store in the “For Families” section, but other than that it lacks the consumerist drive that so many apps have.

Common Sense Media also gives this app an overall rating of 4 stars: 4 stars for engagement, 3 for learning approach, 3 for support, and 4 for quality. I would largely agree with those ratings, though I am somewhat doubtful regarding the learning approach rating. Common Sense Media’s reviewer, Debbie Gorrell, has this to say about the learning approach, “Learning is integrated with gameplay, challenging kids to build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Scores, prizes, and trophies motivate kids to improve on previous attempts.” Personally, I think this is the kind of app that those who already like math and can understand it would enjoy, but I’m not sure how useful it would be for teaching those not previously inclined towards math. The puzzles could certainly help increase and speed up logic, problem-solving, and basic arithmetic skills, but only if the player is willing to spend a great deal of time working through all the challenges.

Wuzzit Trouble is compatible with any iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone that runs iOS 4.0 or later, and any Android device running Android 2.0.1 or higher.

~H. Carter

Stikbot Studio

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Stikbot Studio is a free smartphone app (available on both IOS and Android) that allows children to create short films featuring small, articulated figures called Stikbots. Created by Zing Toys, Stikbots feature several points of articulation and are very flexible, allowing them to be posed in virtually any way the child wants. The Stikbots come in packs of one or two; the larger sets include a small tripod that will keep the phone steady and the shots consistent. The app is designed so that, although the figures have to be manually posed between shots, the film will appear to be seamless (working in much the same way as a stop-motion film).

Children are not limited to posing and filming the toys, however: Stikbot Studio allows the user to create voiceover for individual characters or narration. The filmmaker can even add sound effects to the movie, deciding where each effect occurs and how long it lasts.

According to Zing Toys, Stikbot Studio is “the world’s first social media sharing toy, with the capacity to shape your imagination into endless possibilities” (2015). It would appear that there is no didactic angle to this toy, and that it is meant to be nothing more than a creative exercise.

Although the app is free, the Stikbots themselves are not: a pack of two figures costs $9.99 or more, and individual Stikbots can cost around $7.00. I found these figures by observing Stikbots at local stores; prices may vary elsewhere or online. If the child wants a large cast for his or her film, it might be rather expensive for the parent. The fact that the Stikbots cost money would seem to indicate that the app serves as marketing for a commercial interest.

The Stikbot figures are sturdy and made with durable plastic, but their joints use rubber bands and this occasionally makes them snap back into place; this might make filming more difficult than one would expect (Ulanoff, 2015). Because the tripod’s feet are made of rounded plastic, it is occasionally shaky and unreliable (Burt, 2015).

The app (and by extension, the toys) is marketed toward children ages 4 and up, but I believe that slightly older children should be the primary demographic: the app can be confusing for younger children, as it includes virtually no instructions and requires the user to interpret the meaning behind certain buttons or symbols (Ulanoff, 2015). The app’s layout is difficult to decipher and includes features that might not be useful for children, such as “White Balance.”

While Zing boasts that the toy/app is the world’s first social media sharing toy, the app does not explain how to share one’s videos on social networking sites; I managed to find a button that would allow me to share the video on Instagram, but there does not seem to be an option to share videos on Facebook or Twitter. The social media angle seems to be secondary to the filmmaking element, which is strange given Zing’s insistence that videos are meant to be shared online. I doubt, however, that many young children will care about the social media angle to the toy; I assume they are more likely to see it as a way for them to make funny videos with their toys.

Despite its (many) flaws, Stikbot Studio is a fun app that requires some patience, but ultimately pays off. Children can use the app to exercise their creativity, concocting plots and characters they can visit again and again.

Burt, P. (2015). “Stikbot allows kids to create stop-motion animation with ease.” Geekdad.com. Retrieved from http://geekdad.com/2015/09/stikbot/

n.d. (2015). “About.” Stikbot.com. Retrieved from http://www.stikbot.com/about/

Ulanoff, L. (2015). “Stikbot lets users of all ages create animated videos, without breaking the bank.” Mashable.com. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2015/08/17/stikbot-review/#eZjFmwLmrOqa

C. Confer

WWF Together app: Review


(image from worldwildlife.org)

Listed as one of the “Top 10 Apps 2015” by School Library Journal, I decided to check out this free app on my iPad – the app is also available on Android devices and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. This interactive app from World Wildlife Foundation gives a lot of information about animals all over the world on the endangered spectrum. Each animal has its own profile, with information about the animal and why it is in danger. Each animal profile varies in the information it contains and how the information is presented, making exploring each species fun.

I would like to add that the visuals of this app are well done; the animations are clean and simple, as are the app background images, making it comfortable to use. Guides help users to make sure each screen of information for the animal is visited before moving on to the next animal (though if one wanted to move on before viewing each screen, that is allowed as well). There is even a globe that turns at the user’s touch which points out the location of each endangered animal on the planet, which is an excellent comprehensive visual.

School Library Journal indicated the app is appropriate for grade three and up, though I felt a bit of the information was intended for more mature readers – so I would recommend this app for grades six and up; though it would be great if younger children explored the app with parents who can explain the material to them!

Overall, I feel this is a great app to download and check out, for both students and adults. It successfully educates users as well as entertains with interactive screens and stunning animal photographs. The app has been given positive reviews, with a review from Horn Book Magazine calling it an “informative and moving app,” and BestKidsApps.com saying “this makes a really good bedtime story.”

Review by KaylaAnn Villanueva, November 2015

Barefoot World Atlas

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The Barefoot World Atlas is an interactive children’s atlas app for the iPhone and iPad. It consists of an interactive 3D globe that promotes exploration. Browsing can be done by spinning the globe with a finger or pinching to zoom in. There is also a menu where you can search or browse by region, country, state, province or city. Across the globe are objects of interest where you can learn facts, when you tap them you learn more, by either reading on your own or by hearing the narration by BBC presenter Nick Crane. The app also includes mini-videos and puzzles. Favorite places can me marked so you can come back later and explore. The atlas illustrations are interesting and vivid, with great attention to detail. There is also music that changes depending on where in the world you are.

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The Barefoot World Atlas app is based on the Barefoot Books World Atlas and created by Barefoot Books and Touch Press. It is only available on the iOS platform, so only an iPad or an iPhone. The initial cost is $0.99. However this only includes a limited amount of features. Additional expansion packs are available for an additional $0.99 each. According to the app store the intended age for this app is ages 9 to 11. However, I believe this app can appeal and easily be used by younger children. Common Sense Media sets the recommended age as 6+ and School Library Journal’s reviews suggests grades K-5.

Both Common Sense Media and School Library Journal review the app favorably. Common Sense Media gave it 4 out of 5 stars and gave it high ratings for engagement and learning approach. School Library Journal reviewed it in 2012 when the app initially launched. In the introduction to the review, they described it as one of the rare apps that “stops us in our tracks.” Cathy Potter reviewed the app and said it as a “highly engaging, educational experience and on that warrants repeat visits.”  The app was reviewed again, also by Cathy Potter, in 2014 with the addition of the expansion packs. This review was no less favorable. In fact School Library Journal also listed the Barfoot World Atlas as one of their top 10 apps for 2014.

-A. Hamblin

 

Brave

Merida from Brave

Brave is an animated film by Pixar that, though it is intended for children ages 7 or 8 and up, is actually a fun-filled and heartwarming adventure for all ages. The narrative follows Merida, a young Scottish princess, who loves archery and exploring the wild Scottish countryside astride her gigantic horse Angus. She does not like conforming to social norms or pressure and this leads to a ruinous confrontation between her and her mother after she embarrasses her suitors by beating them in an archery test. Merida ends up (spoilers ahead), using a potion to make her mother change her mind that actually turns her into a bear!  From this point forward the story concentrates on Merida and her mother trying to undo the curse and growing closer to each other as they begin to see life from one another’s perspectives. At the end, everything is set right and Merida is given the right to choose her own suitor when she deems the time is right and she and her mother are closer than ever. This story was Pixar’s first film with a heroine as the lead and demonstrates the importance of being able to see life through another’s eyes and the value of being true to oneself.

Along with a stellar message, the movie is also extremely well animated and acted, with gorgeous landscapes and detailed imagery, strong characters, and good dialogue. It does contain several sequences of peril and violence that could be disturbing to younger children, particularly the scenes with the films antagonist, the great bear Mor’du. This bear comes into the film to heighten the tension and it definitely works, the final climactic battle between Mor’du and Queen Elinor in her bear form is tense and would be fairly scary to young children or those who are sensitive to violence or scary images. There is also some mention of nudity, largely based around kilts that while not graphic and mainly comical, could be offensive to some. While therMerida in troublee is also not any placement of merchandising in the film, there is a gargantuan amount of material available to buy related to the film that has been extremely well marketed and is very popular with children.

 

Reviews have been kind and positive for this film, praising it for not giving in to the pressure to make the main character story about her romance, but focusing on a mother-daughter relationship and personal growth and acceptance. Common Sense Media did critique the film for not breaking the new ground Pixar is famous for in terms of story, but did laud it for its excellent animations and stereotype breaking heroine. Roger Ebert in a review on his website also cited his regard for the films animations and discussed how children will greatly enjoy the film, but also mentioned the lack of originality or groundbreaking as a hiccup in the viewer experience. While these are both valid critiques, I would argue that the film’s main focus of mother-daughter relationships and a princess who is happy being herself is an incredibly important message for young girls especially and gives an alternative to the all pervasive romance-focused image that cascades through their everyday lives.

Elinor and Merida

Images from fastcocreate.com, deeprootsathome.com, and disney.wikia.com respectively.