Cars (2006)


Rated: G

Length: 116 min.

Age: 5 +        Commonsense Media sez: 5 +

Scary Factor: Mack is nudged by bad cars on the highway at top speeds, Lightning rolls out of his trailer onto the highway and is very nearly hit; soon after he races a train and again comes very very close to being hit; in tractor-tipping scene at night he is briefly chased by a very big and scary combine; same combine reappears in a nightmare and crunches up a car

Violence: nothing significant, save for ‘bad guy’ nudging competitors off the race track

Also: first big race quite stressful, with cars crashing and flying all over (though none are seen to be hurt too seriously)

Language: a fair amount… “hell”, “moron”, “idiot”, “holy shoot”, “Lord”, and I’m even positive I heard a reference to “the little bugger” from the old dame (though none of the other websites I’ve checked mention this); plus a lot of sly double entendres, ie. Lightning talks about the ‘Piston Cup’ to the inevitable response “He did WHAT in his cup!?”

Consumerism: film contains a bewildering array of product placement, and triggered an avalanche of merchandise

Interests: cars, car races, sports

Next: Cars 2

Famous, spoiled hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen is accidentally stranded in a small town in the middle of nowhere. He learns how to care for other people and be a true friend before returning to the big time for a championship race.



The Mother Goose Treasury

The Mother Goose Treasury


Raymond Briggs

London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966

217 pp.

Age: infant +

Interests: poetry

Also by this author: The Snowman, Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman, UG: Boy Genius of the Stone Age, and books for older audiences: When the Wind Blows, and Ethel and Ernest


Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary

Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary


by Charles Keeping

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967

31 pp.

Age: 4 +

Interests: birds, cities, London


April and Esme, Tooth Fairies

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies

by Bob Graham

Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2010

31 pp.

Age: 3 +

Interests: fairies, tooth fairies, siblings

Also by this author: Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child


Watching Old Movies

Wouldn’t it be pleasant to sit down and watch a movie with your kids that wasn’t presold on sequels and Happy Meals? Or take them to an action movie that didn’t either freak them out or weigh down their little bones with premature irony? – Ty Burr, The Best Old Movies for Families

When I talk about Old Movies I don’t mean going back to Toy Story 1, or even aaall the way back to the first Star Wars (though 1977 does seem long, long ago in a galaxy far far away)… I’m talking about Oooooold movies here.

You may not have any interest in old movies, indeed, I realize not everyone has spent a lifetime loving them like I have. But if you are old enough to be a parent, you are certainly aware of how much movies have changed since the flicks you watched as a kid. They’ve changed for the better, in terms of technology. The complex visual and sound effects of modern movies absolutely boggles the mind. (Just compare a Harryhausen Sinbad movie to Avatar!) And they’ve also changed for the worse… can you even imagine a world in which there were no teen slasher horror films?

Whether or not you know much about old movies, when it comes to picking films for family movie nights, there are many good reasons to turn to the oldies…


Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep

by Eleanor Farjeon

illustrated by Charlotte Voake

first published in 1937

this edition: Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 1997

61 pp.

Age: 5 +

Interests: fairies, magic, skipping


Top 5 ‘First Movie’ Picks for Preschoolers

Another new weekly feature: Wednesday Lists. This week, titles that I recommend as your child’s first introduction to feature-length films.

These movies have been carefully selected to be a) benign enough that your child is not frightened, b) interesting enough to warrant repeated viewings, and c) of sufficient quality that those repeated viewings do not drive parents around the bend!

Age: 2 and 3.  2-year-olds do not always, however, have the attention span to last through an entire movie. Which is not a bad thing, you can stick to shorter TV shows until they are ready for longer programs.

Theatre vs. Home: Watching a movie in a real theatre is certainly an exciting experience for a child, but it can also be a little overwhelming. Too-loud sound systems, and the enormous image can make a mildly alarming scene feel absolutely terrifying. Unless your child is particularly fearless, for their first few movies I highly recommend viewing an old tried-and-true title in the comfort and security of your living room.

Company: Nothing helps a child’s comfort level like having mommy or daddy next to them on the couch for support! The good news here is that very young children love to watch the same show many, many times over, so by the nth viewing your presence won’t be required (unless you really want to watch it too). Repeated viewings (ad nauseum) may seem boring to us, but they allow young children a satisfying sense of mastery, as they know exactly what comes next, and can recite lines of dialogue along with the movie.

Okay, so here’s the list – you can click on the links to read more in-depth reviews of each:

1. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) – This Disney animation was made back in the days before the Mouse was guilty of egregious crimes against A. A. Milne’s original. I must emphasize, I am NOT recommending the plethora of Disney’s Pooh-product out there. I am only talking about this first movie, which is actually quite good, as it successfully matches the tone and voice of the original books. This film is made up of a collection of short stories adapted directly from Milne’s books and told in the same relaxed, meandering fashion. There’s some really lovely animation here and fantastic voice-work as well. And terrific songs. No villains or scary stuff; the plot is driven variously by weather, whim, and Pooh’s passion for honey. (Available on amazon.)

2.  The Little Bear Movie (2001) – There are many preschool TV shows that put out feature-length straight-to-video movies. This is one that we enjoyed a lot. A very gentle film, with a minor, natural threat (an ominous predator in the wild, which isn’t overplayed). Much more screen time is spent on fun and silliness than on anything serious. And the pace is nice and slow – long scenes played out without the frenetic cutting that’s far too prevalent these days. (Available on amazon.)

3. Mary Poppins (1964) – I know, this is long, long, long (139 min!) but it’s buoyed along by amazing songs and dance numbers, and the charm of absolutely everyone involved. No bad guys, no threat at all. Practically perfect in every way. (Available on amazon.)

4. Tinker Bell (2008) – Gorgeous to look at, and gentle enough for the young. All about fairies and their role in the changing seasons. No villains as such, apart from one snarky girl, and a brief chase from a hawk. The only scary thing about this movie is the juggernaut of Disney fairy merchandise which will soon be steamrollering its way into your home. (Available on amazon.)

5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – Not so well-known here, this Japanese film is a gentle, wonderful story of two sisters and their rather unusual new friend. Note, however, that their mother is in the hospital, and at one point the older sister worries aloud that she might die. I almost dropped this title off the list because of this mention, but it’s really not overplayed, and at the end (over the credits) they show the mother coming home to a happy reunion. (Read full review for more on this, plus the only ‘startle moment’ in the film.)  (Available on amazon.)

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story

by John Ryan

London: Bodley Head, 1957

32 pp.

Age: 3 +

Interests: pirates, ships, ocean, treasure

Sequels: Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963) – and many more


Know Your Movie Ratings

A few words on Movie Ratings…

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) selects the familiar G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 ratings for motion pictures.

It is important to fully understand these ratings and their drawbacks, however, before relying too heavily on them.


Song of the Swallows


Song of the Swallows

by Leo Politi

New York: Scribner, 1949

31 pp.

Age: 3 +

Interests: birds, migration, Spanish language, American history, seasons, gardens

Next: natural history books about birds, birdwatching


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.