Mr. Popper’s Penguins


Richard & Florence Atwater, authors

Robert Lawson, illustrator

Boston : Little, Brown and Co., 1938

138 pp

ages 4 and up              (chapter book to read aloud)

Interests: penguins, antarctic



My Father’s Dragon

Ruth Stiles Gannett, author

Ruth Chrisman Gannett, illustrator

New York: Random House, 1948

87 p

ages 4+    (chapter book)

Interests: jungle animals, maps, travel adventure, dragons


Ponyo (2009)

Rated: G
Length:  101 min.
Age: 4 and up.

Scary Factor: typhoon and tsunami, storm at sea mitigated by sight of little girl happily running on top of the waves!; entire island is submerged in huge flood, but no casualties

Intense scenes: twice Sosuke thinks his fish is dead (briefly); after floods Sosuke finds his mother’s car, eerily empty, and starts to cry, but finds her soon after

Language: mother calls the oddball wizard a “freakshow”; she also calls her husband a “Jerk!”; the wizard calls humans as a species “filthy” and “stupid” (which is justified)

Interests: ocean, sea creatures, magic, nature, spirits, boats, fish, wizards

Next: BOOK: The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen); MOVIES: My Neighbor Totoro, Finding Nemo (a little scarier), The Little Mermaid (a lot scarier)


A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

Black & White
Rating: USA: Approved
Length: 133 min – other versions: 117 min (edited version), 142 min (with overture and exit music)
Age: suitable for 3, but for plot comprehension 4 or 5

Scary Factor: Oberon in black and his bat-people minions are a little unnerving, particularly when they seem to be rounding up the beautiful fairies at the end. Other than that there’s nothing violent or threatening. Viewers may wonder about the small orphan boy fought over by Oberon and Titania, but the toddler keeps smiling whether he’s with one or the other and seems to be treated well, so it shouldn’t be an issue. (He weeps only when Titania ignores him during her fascination with Bottom.)

Interests: magic, fairies, Shakespeare, old movies

Next: MOVIE: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) is more for 12+ crowd (PG-13); BOOKS: traditional fairy tales, Peter Pan, Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (in a picture book version)

Preparation: picture books or other abridged versions of the Midsummer Night’s Dream story – helpful to know the plot first!


Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln

Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

New York: Doubleday, 1939


ages 5+

Interests: American history, politics, pioneer life

Mei Li


Mei Li

Thomas Handforth

New York: Doubleday, 1938

46 pp

for ages 3 +

Interests: China, family life, sibling issues


Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book


Animals of the Bible

Dorothy P. Lathrop, illustrator

Helen Dean Fish, editor

Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937


Age: 3+ (give or take… see notes below)

Interests: bible, animals, religion


Return to Never Land (2002)

Rated: G
Length:  72 min.
Age: 4 and up.                        commonsense media sez: 5+

Scary Factor: opening scenes of WWII blitz in London may be alarming; as in the first film, pirate shenanigans are more slapsticky than scary

Also: separation from father, Captain Hook smokes

Interests: magic, fairies, pirates

Next: MOVIES: Peter Pan (1953) of course, The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Little Mermaid (1989); BOOKS: Peter Pan, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Rated: PG for adventure violence
Length:  102 min.
Age: 4+                                      commonsense media sez: 9+ *

* There’s a big gap between our age recommendations here, which I have given a lot of thought to. Commonsense usually rates a year older than I do, but five?!   If your child likes action, and is okay with violence at a beginner level (arm’s length, non-gory), then I really think 4 or 5 is all right for this film. My daughter was a ‘slightly brave 4’ and had more trouble with the plot points than the violence. She quite enjoyed it, especially the jumping out of trees, which our stuffed animals still re-enact from time to time. … Plus, both Peter M. Nichols (The New York Times Essential Library : Children’s Movies: a critic’s guide to the best films available on video and DVD), and Ty Burr (The Best Old Movies for Families) agree with me – they both rate this film good for 4 years old and up.

Scary Factor: montage of dastardly doings to the peasants is upsetting but brief. Battles are not intense, see below. Robin is captured, which was hard to watch for my daughter, but just made his inevitable escape more exciting.

Interests: history, action, medieval life, England, knights, castles, old movies

Next: books on Robin Hood, MOVIES: other Errol Flynn: Captain Blood; Disney’s animated Robin Hood (1973)


One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

Rated: G
Length:  79 min.
Age: 4 and up                            Commonsense Media sez:  5+

Scary factor: Cruella is really creepy.

Violence: buffoonish and not intense, nobody is seriously hurt

Intense scenes: anticipatory suspense, mostly; but some reckless driving and a car crash at the end

Language: Cruella frequently calls Horace and Jasper “Idiots!”

Sexual Innuendo: Just a comment from Roger re. the birth of fifteen puppies, he says to Pongo “You old rascal!” Sentiment is repeated at the end with the appearance of 84 extra puppies.

Also: there’s smoking (both Roger and Cruella) and the thugs take swigs from a wine bottle.

Interests: dogs, puppies, animals, pets

Next: read the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith; MOVIES: Lady and the Tramp, The Aristocats (similar story, but with cats, and no Cruella!)


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