“Ask the Storybots” and “Dear Dumb Diary”

maxresdefault

“Ask the StoryBots” is an animated show is a Netflix original produced by JibJab Bros. Studios. The show is based on the characters from the StoryBots educational apps and videos. I had not heard of these apps and videos before seeing this TV show on Netflix and doing some background research on it, so I had to look them up. StoryBots is a learning program for children ages 3-8 that spans multiple platforms. Their website features educational videos, apps, books, games, classroom activities, and so much more for teachers and parents. There is also a second TV show based on the StoryBots characters, also on Netflix, called “StoryBots Super Songs.”

In “Ask the StoryBots,” the StoryBots are little robotic creatures who live behind our electronic screens. There are four StoryBots named Beep Bing, Bang, and Bo, each of whom make up Team 341B. In each episode, children ask big questions and the StoryBots go out into the human world (or the “Outer World,” as it’s called in the show) in an attempt to find the answers. The answer for each question is then presented at the end of the show through music. There is a mix of cartoon animation, live action, and puppets used throughout the show, as well as several educational musical numbers.

In the episode that I watched, a video of a child asking the question “Why does night happen” was presented to the StoryBots. The StoryBots traveled to “the Outer World” to a castle and talked with a knight. There is an amusing mix-up in which the knight explains the difference between the words “night” and “knight,” and then there is a song about words that start with the letter “N.” The knight suggests the StoryBots try to find the opposite of night by going in search of the sun. Then there is a song about things that are the color red. Next is another mix-up where the StoryBots try to follow the sun into the ocean, where a whale explains to them that the sun is in outer space. So the StoryBots travel to outer space, meet the sun, and the sun explains how night happens depending on which part of the earth is facing sun during the earth’s rotation around it. Finally, there is one last song about the earth rotating around the sun, night and day, etc.

I thought this was a really cute, silly show! The StoryBots’ adventures to find the answers to life’s big questions take amusing turns, and there are lots of silly jokes. The show is also visually appealing through its mix of animation styles, live action, puppetry, and even stop-motion animation. The way the StoryBots approach the big questions and the explanations for those questions are presented in a way that is very simple and childlike, making it accessible and easy to understand. While the show is not necessarily influenced by commercial interest like Legos or Disney, it is influenced by the StoryBots learning programs.

Even though I am an adult without any children of my own or even any children in my life, I actually kind of loved this show. I believe it can be entertaining and educational for children of all ages, especially the show’s target audience of children ages 3-8 – and even for parents too! The show has also received many positive reviews, including from Common Sense Media and IMDb, among others.

Crandall, Natascha. “Ask the Storybots – TV Review.” Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media, n.d. Web.

Hinckley, Kristie. “Ask the StoryBots: How Does Night Happen?” Children’s Book and Media Review. Brigham Young University, 28 Nov. 2016. Web.

“StoryBots Launches Groundbreaking Product for Kindergarten Classrooms — and It’s Free for Teachers.” Marketwired. Nasdaq, Inc., 9 Feb. 2016. Web.

deardumbdiary

“Dear Dumb Diary” is a Hallmark TV movie based on the popular middle-grade book series of the same name by author Jim Benton. It is about a 7th-grade girl named Jamie Kelly who writes in her diary about her experiences in middle school – in particular, her best friend Isabella, her “nemesis,” the popular girl Angeline, and her crush Hudson. I have not read any of the books in the series, so I cannot comment on the faithfulness or accuracy.

First of all, there is a lot of stuff going on in this movie. I kept getting a little confused because there are so many little side stories happening. Then there are also many song-and-dance musical numbers throughout the movie, which I personally thought got old really quickly, but I know that musical TV shows and movies are a huge hit with this age group (upper elementary to middle school).

Jamie is a 7th-grader at her middle school, where she has a best friend named Isabella with questionable morals, a “nemesis” popular girl named Angeline, and a crush named Hudson. Whenever she is around Hudson she becomes very clutzy and says all the wrong things. Unfortunately for her, he clearly likes Angeline and follows her around like a puppy. After the school has major budget cuts and has to cut almost all of their extracurricular programs – including Jamie’s beloved art class – Jamie signs up for the Jump-A-Thon jump-rope fundraiser to try to save it. She goes door-to-door with Isabella to get sponsors for the fundraiser, and Isabella collects donations for the Juvenile Optometry Federation – which we later find out she made up. Angeline also participates in the Jump-A-Thon fundraiser and receives an outstanding amount of sponsors, but unfortunately she reveals to Jamie that she cannot jump rope and is going to let the school and her sponsors down. Because she wants to help the school, Jamie agrees to help Angeline with the Jump-A-Thon and in the end Angeline wins.

As I mentioned before, there are many little side stories going on here. First is Isabella’s ruse to con donation money out of caring adults in their neighborhood in order to buy herself contacts. In addition, Jamie’s Aunt Carol moves to town, gets a job at their school, and begins dating the assistant principal – eventually becoming engaged to him. Then there’s Jamie’s attempts to attract Hudson, as well as a few scenes were her diary is lost and stolen and Hudson and his friends find it and read it out loud, embarrassing Jamie. Throw in a weird rivalry with the one of the lunch ladies in the school cafeteria, and a series of musical numbers throughout, and it all makes for a very busy movie.

I personally really disliked the character of Jamie. She is overly-confident and overly-dramatic, and not just for a middle schooler. While the movie is obviously meant to be silly and fun, the majority of the jokes felt weird and fell very flat, and I personally found the musical numbers to be too numerous and honestly annoying. But overall the movie touched on several positive messages. Some of these messages include volunteering, inner beauty vs. outer beauty, self-esteem, and peer pressure. There are a few potentially objectionable aspects (particularly Isabella’s questionable morals), but while Jamie and her friends make several poor judgment calls, they always make amends and learn valuable lessons from their experiences.

I did really like the way that illustrations from the books were incorporated into the movie and, despite my personal dislike of the awkward musical sequences, I think they could be a hit with the target audience of children ages 8 and up. While the movie has received very mixed reviews from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, Common Sense Media rates it pretty well, stating that it has great social messages for kids.

Ashby, Emily. “Dear Dumb Diary – Movie Review.” Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media, n.d. Web.

Advertisements

Dinosaur Train

dinosaur-train

Dinosaur Train is a show on PBS intended for preschoolers or children age three and up.  The show uses a family of Pteranodons and their adoptive brother, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, to teach about dinosaurs and diversity.

The show is great for young children because it frequently utilizes songs to explain complex ideas.  They also make sure to define any large words they might use, teaching children a diverse vocabulary.  The show usually explores a different dinosaur in each segment, teaching children facts like when and where the dinosaur lived, what they ate, and other scientific information like classification terms.  The show also makes sure to show different dinosaurs getting along, such as herbivores and carnivores, even showing the main characters speaking with dinosaurs or other creatures from this area that would traditionally eat them.  Much of the information is concentrated on learning about differences in order to celebrate them.  In between segments, a real paleontologist talks about the dinosaurs and their discovery, giving facts and showing fossils and skeletons.

The show is not without flaws, however.  The family uses a dinosaur train to travel through the different time periods in the Mesozoic Era to visit different dinosaurs and creatures.  Although this helps remind children frequently of complex vocabulary terms such as Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Mesozoic, it does add an additional unbelievable premise beyond talking dinosaurs to a mostly educational show.  The long, multi-syllabic words frequently used may be difficult for preschoolers to grasp, although repetition and definitions do make it easier for them to remember.

Common Sense Media gives it four out of five stars, with reviewer Emily Ashby stating that, “kids are encouraged to think critically about the world around them, comparing dinosaurs’ traits to those of modern animals, for example, and learning to classify different species by size, appearance, and lifestyle habits.”  As for its take on diversity, the review continues to say, “There are also plenty of positive messages about tolerance and respect for differences.”

Common Sense Media goes on to give it four out of five stars for educational value, five out of five for positive messages, four out of five for positive role models, and only one out of five stars for consumerism because the show directs children to pbskids.org at the end of every episode.  Even the website, however, brings the user to a page full of educational games and clips from shows.  There is no way to purchase anything on the site without first going to the parent site and then choosing to enter the Shop.

All in all, Dinosaur Train is a fun and educational way to teach kids about dinosaurs and complex scientific concepts while thrilling young children who love dinosaurs and adventures.

SUPER WHY! ABC Adventures: Alphabet

super-why

SUPER WHY! ABC Adventures:  Alphabet is an app available on an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android devices, and Kindle Fire.  The app costs $2.99 on all devices except for the iPad, which offers it for $3.99.

SUPER WHY! ABC Adventures:  Alphabet uses five mini-games to teach children ages three through six capital and lowercase letters, letter sounds, and letter writing.  Each mini-game is based on a character from the television show Super Why, including Alpha Pig’s Lickety Letter Safari!, Super Why’s Z Marks the Spot!, Wonder Red’s Let’s Letter Fly!, Princess Presto’s Under the Sea Sounds!, and Woofster’s Golden Letter Bones!  According to pbs.org’s press release about the game, “Each time players successfully complete a mini-game, they earn a special ‘Around the World’-themed sticker that is collected in their ‘Map of the World.’”

Most interesting for parents, however, is the fact that the app also includes a Progress Tracker that breaks down how children are performing on identifying letter names and letter sounds for each of the twenty-six letters so parents can work with children on areas in which they are struggling.

Lesli Rotenberg, who is Senior Vice President for Children’s Media at PBS explains that “SUPER WHY! ABC Adventures:  Alphabet is a great tool for families to use to build reading skills wherever they are – covering core areas such as the alphabet and letter sounds that will help prepare children for success in school.”

Common Sense Media’s review by Cynthia Chiong gives the app four out of five stars, stating, “The games themselves are fun and include clear instructions and good feedback.”  Because of this, the app has five out of five stars for ease of play and four out of five for educational value.  As for branding, Chiong says, “For fans of the TV show, this is a great way to get more interactive with the characters and extend the learning.”  Although Chiong emphasizes the need to be a fan of the show and all the mini-games are purposefully branded, Common Sense Media gave it one out of four stars for consumerism only, claiming that the media tie in is not too distracting.

I think that the Progress Tracker makes this app a valuable investment.  It is not only fun for kids to play, but also helpful for parents to know what their children may be struggling with in a way that does not call out or embarrass their children.

Twit or Miss & Baby Dress Up

Twit or Miss

Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss is compatible with Android, iOS, and there’s even a flash version of the game on Roald Dahl’s website. The game is free to download and play. Apple rates it for ages 9 – 11, School Library Journal for grades 3 – 7, and Children’s Tech for grades 2 – 8.      
img_0503

The premise of the game is quite simple: stop flying food from hitting Mrs. Twit by flicking it out of the way. The amount of rounds you play before the game is over is determined by how many times food hits Mrs. Twit – you can keep playing until she wakes up. Player’s familiar with Dahl’s The Twits will be amused by the game, as it really is based off the book – you get bonus points for flicking food back at Mr. Twit, and having it land in his beard. Worms will also periodically appear that you must destroy with bits of food to keep them from crawling on Mrs. Twit.

I enjoyed this app more than I probably should have. The first few plays through were difficult, but once I figured out the proper angle with which to flick the food, it became entertaining and I enjoyed the (gross) simplicity of it. There are also missions, like popping the pie a certain amount of times, or getting food to land in Mr. Twit’s beard a certain amount of times. Completing a mission gives you bonus points.

img_0502

The game seems age-appropriate, even if the age-ranges differ some in the reviews. The worst, non-gross part of the game is when Mrs.Twit wakes up and whacks Mr. Twit with her cane. This happens every time you lose the game, and could be seen as a mild concern to some. The game delivers what it advertises – keep food away from Mrs. Twit, or she’ll wake up. The game has no third party advertising, and there’s no worry of in-app purchases. Both School Library Journal and Horn Book rate the app favorably overall.

_____

Grabarek, D. (2016). A “Completely and Utterly Disgusting” Game, Among Others. School Library Journal. Retrieved from web.

–, (2016). Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss. Children’s Technology Exchange Review. Retrieved from web.

Saunders, M. (2016). Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss App Review. Horn Book. Retrieved from web.


Sago Mini Babies Dress Up

Sago Mini Babies Dress Up is an app designed for both iPad and iPhone intended for preschoolers. It’s not yet been released on any other devices. It’s free – one of the few free apps that Sago Mini maintains. Upon opening the app for the first time, you’re greeted by four baby animals. By tapping on of the animals, you learn their name (Jack, Jinja, Harvey and Robin) and are moved to a different screen to dress the baby animal.

img_0514

There are three types of items, and roughly a dozen options in each type. Discarding or placing an article of clothing onto an animal will garner a response – anything from indifference to crying. They will also on occasion reach for an item if they desire to wear it. I (unintentionally) ended up dressing the cat in something it didn’t enjoy at all and it was annoyed with me until I changed its outfit later.

Once you’ve clothed all the animals, you can take their photo out on the front step. I did this, and you can see the cat (Jinja) is still annoyed by my clothing choices for them.

img_0517

The game is advertised as teaching dressing skills based on pretend play, and I can see this – you can only put the items in one place for them to be added to the animal, otherwise they fall off the screen. Horn Book’s review of the app also notes that paying attention to the emotional responses of the animals could also help with practicing identifying emotional cause and effect. There is also a “For Parents” section on the start screen, which explains how the game is played, and a bit about why the game was created.

Overall, the app is age-appropriate, it does what it says it will – allows you to dress up animals without needing wi-fi or internet, and there is no advertising or in-app purchases. Horn Book, as mentioned above, reviews it favorably. It’s a relatively new app (released in August 2016), and is not yet on Common Sense Media, though the site does review almost all of the other apps the company creates quite highly.

____

Bircher, K. (2016). Sago Mini Babies Dress Up. Horn Book. Retrieved from web.

 –, (2016). Sago Mini Babies Dress Up. Children’s Technology Exchange Review. Retrieved from web.

-Malissa

 

Phineas and Ferb and Minecraft

phineas-header

I discovered the TV show Phineas and Ferb earlier this year, I’m a bit late coming in as it was first broadcasted on the Disney Channel in 2007 and ended in 2015. It was created by Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. They have experience working together on other shows like SpongeBob Squarepants.

The show has been described as a musical comedy, which I find to be very true. The plot of the show follows two step-brothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher during summer vacation. Instead of staying inside, every day the boys decided to create or do something wildly inventive. These events always annoy their sister Candace, and she spends most of every episode trying to “bust” her brothers by revealing their shenanigans to their mother or father. The subplot of every episode follows Perry the Platypus, their pet, who is actually a spy for OWCA (The Organization Without a Cool Acronym) as he fights Dr. Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist who tries to take over the world with one of his “inator” inventions. Perry always beats him, and those events inevitably lead to the destruction or disappearance of the boys’ inventions before Candace can show it to their mom.

perry-and-doof

Parents on Common sense media rate the show has being appropriate for children ages 5+. It also gets points for having positive message and positive role models. The show is very age appropriate and the plot never wanders into the realm of “should my child really be watching this?”. It has a wonderful sense of humor and has a very repetitive and linear narrative. Every episode uses on running gags to drive the plot like; some event giving Phineas an idea for a project, and he announces, “Hey Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today!”, the fact that Ferb rarely talks, and Doofenshmirtz, beaten again, crying out “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!”

Phineas and Ferb “Gitchee Gitchee Goo”

The show has also been nominated for several different awards, one of which was a Emmy award that it won for “Outstanding Writing in Animation.” It has also been noted for its music which ranges to everything from classical to rock. The Seattle Times wrote that the story of the show was “valiant” and that the main characters of Phineas and Ferb were “young heroes.” Video librarian has also reviewed 5 of the video collections that have released positively (all of the ones located on their site). The show paints a blended family in a very positive light, and urges children to get out and do things during summer vacation. The characters genuinely care for each other.

The show does have a high commercial interest, as it is a Disney product. It has been reproduced into books, toys, and games.

fancy-craft

The game Minecraft has been around for a while now, but its growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Many adults have heard the name, even if they have never played it. Not originally geared towards children, Minecraft was created in 2009 by Swedish game designer Marcus “Notch” Persson. He created a fairly simplistic game where players build creations out of textured cubes in a 3D generated world. One of the reasons Minecraft has endured so long is its opened ended gameplay. There is no end, a person can keep playing until their imagination runs dry. The main goals in the game are to explore, gather resources, craft tools and objects, and to build.

minecraft-treehouse

Another aspect of the game is combat, however that is not true for every game.  Minecraft has several different game modes a player can choose: Creative, Survival, hardcore, Adventure, and Spectator, and all of these can be applied to a multiplayer server where a player can collaborate with other players.

In creative mode a player has an infinite number of every kind of block as well as being free of a hunger and health bar. The world becomes a great big sandbox for the player to build in. The only limit that a player has is their own creativity.

In survival mode players have to gather resources in order craft blocks. An example is having to collect wood from trees in order to make planks. In this mode a players has a health and hunger bar. In order to stay alive a player has to make sure they feed themselves as well as staying away from dangerous creatures (called mobs) like creepers and skeletons who want to harm them.  There is also a “Peaceful” difficulty in this mode that allows a player to gather and build without having to worry about the hunger and hostile mobs.

2016-07-14_21-57-24

Parents on Common Sense Media rate this game appropriate for children ages 8 and up. They also give the game an A+ with a 5 out of 5 for educational value. Currently the cost of a desktop version is $26.95. Console version vary in price, but most of them cost $19.99. There are mobile versions of the game as well.

The game in itself does not have any major negative qualities besides some violence (which is optional). However, as with any multiplayer game, a parent will need to watch their children if they plan on playing on a server with other people. Not only children play this game, adults do too.

Minecraft comes from a background where there was no advertising for the game, but because of its popularity, there is now a huge commercial force backing it up.  Books, toys, and even spin off games have popped up since its invention.

Many people also think that this game has a great potential for being educational for children. In a School Library Journal article by John Blyberg he talks about how a sanctuary has been formed by the game allowing young people to collaborate and communicate with each other.

Blyberg, John. “Our Public Library minecraft Community.” School Library Journal (2015). Electronic source .

“Minecraft.” n.d. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews/minecraft.

“Phineas and Ferb.” n.d. Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/phineas-and-ferb.

Video Librarian plus. n.d. http://www.videolibrarian.com.

 

 

Steven Universe and Twelve a Dozen

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from perusing this blog, it is watch Steven Universe…

New_Crystal_Gems

“We are the Crystal Gems, we’ll always save the day and even if we can’t we’ll always find a way,” declares the theme and thesis of Steven Universe. The Cartoon Network show was created by Rebecca Sugar, a writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time, for audiences ten and older but has been referred to as “all-ages entertainment” for its broad appeal. Children who love Adventure Time’s creative, bright, energetic style will enjoy Steven Universe. Blending elements of anime, video games, science fiction with catchy songs and gorgeous visuals Steven Universe explores and celebrates themes of family and community as well as individuality and self-reliance.

The titular Steven Universe lives in a beach house in the Crystal Temple with the three Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. The gems are humanoid alien beings with magical powers and the ability to fuse together by dancing. Steven’s mother was a gem–the leader of the Gems, in fact!–making Steven half-gem, but she passed away before the show began. Steven’s curiosity about his mother’s life and powers are occasionally explored on the show. Steven’s father, an erstwhile musician turned car wash attendant, is around for heart-to-hearts, snack attacks and silly songs, but Steven lives with the Gems at the temple, instead of the with his dad.

If describing the show sounds kooky, it’s just the tip of a kooky iceberg, but its kookiness does not detract from positive stories with meaningful messages. And although at times it can feel like information overload, there is something considered to the way the show plays with gender roles, references and social life. Sugar, talking about the show, states: “My goal with the show was to really tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children because I think that’s a really absurd idea that there would be something radically different about a show for little girls versus a show for little boys.” For example, Steven’s crush Connie Maheswaran loves video games and Steven has a pink lion named Lion. Steven Universe is educational in the way all cultural objects present and reinforce ideas about who can succeed and how, especially in relation to fostering social intelligence and providing positive representations of people of color and queer family and body positivity.

Some parents viewers may not agree with the show’s depiction of a non-traditional family, Steven being raised by three moms, for example, while others have praised its representations of queer characters and relationships and still others, like Common Sense Media describe “a truly likable group camaraderie and lots of strong female characters”.

twelve-a-dozen-3

From Bossa Studios, the makers of Surgeon Simulator 2013 and BAFTA Games Awards winning Thomas Was Alone, comes Twelve a Dozen, a mathematical platformer game. Players control a flopsy-armed, number-headed humanoid through a vibrant, high-contrast cityscape. The player is met by a talkative, floating orb in the beginning who names the protagonist Twelve for the number on their head. Your floating orb friend, the decimal point, helps explain the mechanics of the game as the need arises in play. The goal is to make your way through Dozenopolis by completing puzzles that require Twelve’s head to display specific numbers and rescue Twelve’s family. To display those numbers Twelve can pick up “numbles” and subtract, add, divide and multiply them with the one on her head. Different numbers give twelve different abilities. As players progress through the game the puzzles become more tricky, requiring multiple additions and subtractions. When things get tricky, rather than resulting in a “game over” or “death” as games sometimes do, when a player fails to complete a puzzle properly or if they fall into traps, the scene is rewound and players are allowed to attempt the puzzle again.

The game, which advertises itself as suitable for ages 4 and up, is listed as suitable for ages 5 and up on Common Sense Media. I would agree, but would remind parents that experts advise limited screen time for little ones.

The game is available on iOs devices-iPad, iPhones, and iTouch-for $3.99. Not everyone has an iOs device, and at $3.99 the game is on the pricey side for apps, given that 90% of apps are free but with 30 levels to play, Twelve a Dozen’s has high replay value that will have children engaged with adding and subtracting numbers and completing puzzles throughout the world of Dozenopolis. This high replay value reinforces the game’s goal of giving players an avenue to practice their mathematical skills.

Children’s Technology Review gives Twelve a Dozen a 10 of 10 for Educational and describes the game, “Math equations never looked (or sounded) so good, in this nicely illustrated maze adventure”. Elsewhere a review for the Dayton daily news describes the game as “a rare gem that offers kids an opportunity to truly learn through gameplay.” and rates the app 5/5 for education and 5/5 for quality.

Reviews refer to Twelve using female pronouns, and our friend the floating orb, the decimal point, is voiced by actress and comedian Lucy Montgomery. Twelve a Dozen is a fun game that encourages girls to strengthen their math skills, flipping the script on gender expectations much like Steven Universe.

“Twelve A Dozen.” Children’s Technology Review 23.8 (2015): 17. MAS Ultra – School Edition. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

“Twelve a Dozen App Makes Math Fun for Kids ; This Beautifully Rendered Game has 30 Levels to Explore.” Dayton Daily News 2015: vLex. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Songs of the Baobab

61dZjPifTbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

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

                 aj

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

uv

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