Outside Over There

Outside Over There

by Maurice Sendak

New York: HarperCollins, 1981

40 pp.

Ages: 4+

Interests: magic, goblins, babies, babysitting, siblings



The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush  (1925)

Written, directed by, starring: Charlie Chaplin

Rated:  — (unrated)

Length:  95 min. 1925 release / 72 min. 1942 re-release

Age: 5 and up          Commonsense Media sez: 8 +

Scary Factor: Little Tramp menaced periodically for comedic effect; two men struggle over a shotgun which is always pointing at the Tramp; he is also chased by starving, hallucinating miner with a gun and then an axe; cabin tipped precariously on edge of precipice; all threats are treated comically and violence is bloodless and kept at a distance

Intense Scenes: a wanted criminal shoots and kills two police officers before perishing in an avalanche

Other: a bear is shot offscreen for food; some smoking and drinking

Interests: old movies, silent movies, arctic adventure, history

Versions: restored 1925 print is 95 minutes long, with piano music and title cards; 1942 sound release is 69 minutes long, has an orchestral score, no title cards, narration written and performed by Charlie Chaplin

Next: other Chaplin – Modern Times, City Lights

See also: Top 5 Silent Movies for Preschoolers

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Released: 1949

Rated: G

Length: 68 min.

Age: 5 +

Scary Factor: lots of shooting guns; battle for Toad Hall extremely violent, flying knives and axes; much slapstick humour

Bad Behaviour: weasels depicted as dead drunk in Toad Hall sequence

Dangerous Behaviour: at one point Toad is blissfully inhaling car exhaust (!?!), to show how much he loves automobiles

Interests: animal stories, automobiles, ghosts, ghost stories

Next: read the originals- The Wind in the Willows  by Kenneth Graham, and the short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving More

Sarah, Plain and Tall


Sarah, Plain and Tall

by Patricia MacLachlan

New York: HarperCollins, 1985

58 pp., 9 chapters

Ages: 5 +

Interests: history, farm life, prairies, stepmothers

Next: the sequel Skylark


Top 5: Beginner Dahl

Roald Dahl’s books are notoriously violent, scary, rude, gross, full of extremely bad behaviour and insulting language, and above all tremendously funny. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, especially not when the stories are so well-written and inventive, but parents may prefer to start with some of the more ‘benign’ Dahl titles, before working their way up to James and the Giant Peach, or Matilda, or The Witches.

Lately I’ve been working my way through all of Dahl’s children’s books (he also wrote for adult audiences), and while I haven’t quite finished my “Dahl-Readathon”, I have found five titles that are more suitable for younger ages.  (A more complete Roald Dahl Overview to come once I’ve finished all the books.)

Here they are, in order of mildness…

1. Esio Trot (1990) – 62 pp.- Ages 4 +

The gentlest tale of all. No violence, no nastiness whatsoever. The story of how a shy older gentleman wins the lady of his dreams with ingenuity, patience, and a lot of tortoises. (This title on amazon.)

2. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985) – 80 pp. – Ages 4 +

A boy befriends the new window-washers in town – a rather magical team of Giraffe, Pelican and Monkey. During their first job they capture a burglar, impressing the Duke of Hampshire and securing great success for all. Generally happy and peaceful, except for one incident: burglar shoots off a gun while captured in the Pelican’s beak, creating a hole but not harming anybody. (This title on amazon.)

3. The Magic Finger (1964) – 63 pp. – Ages 4 +

A little girl teaches a family of hunters to see things from another point of view, by having them trade places with the birds they shoot at every day. Very funny. (This title on amazon.)

4. The Enormous Crocodile (1978) – 42 pp. – Ages 4 +

Very short and readable story about a crocodile with “secret plans and clever tricks.” Or so he thinks. The crocodile steals into the town intending to munch on children for lunch but the other jungle animals always call the alarm before he can succeed. In the end the elephant forcibly ejects the crocodile by flinging him all the way to the sun, where he is “sizzled up like sausage!” (The crocodile’s talk about crunching up small children might be too much for some, but it is all talk.)  (This title on amazon.)

5. Danny the Champion of the World (1975) – 196 pp, 22 chapters – Ages 5 +

A lesser known, totally sweet story of a boy with a wonderful single father who teaches him the secrets of poaching. The boy, Danny, devises a fantastic plan for the biggest pheasant heist ever, with unexpected and hilarious results. Unusual topic, yes, with a little class warfare thrown in. Much suspense during the poaching adventures, but without violence or rudeness.  Highly recommended. (This title on amazon.)

Changes to classic Richard Scarry book

I’ve discovered an interesting comparison between 1963 and 1980/1991 editions of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever posted on the website Sociological Images.

Apparently it’s easy to get outraged about “bowdlerization” of the classics and the perceived crimes of “PCness” (read the endless comments!… no, don’t), but one must remember that this is a reference book, a word book teaching vocabulary, and its purpose is not compromised in the least by these changes. (It’s not like an actual plot is being changed or anything, since there is no plot.) The only loss is a bit of the humour (the “beautiful screaming lady” in the burning house I thought was kind of funny).

Still, it is an interesting exercise to see exactly what has been changed and how. The gender changes accomplished simply through the addition of a hair ribbon I particularly liked.

For the original, more detailed comparison on Alan Taylor’s Flickr stream, go here. (Alan’s comparison was done between the 1963 and 1991 editions, though several comments mention that the 1980 version is the same as the 1991.)

Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules

Great article in the New York Times – Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules (Sendak, Silverstein, Geisel).

There are other, older examples of outrageous books for children (Brothers Grimm, Struwwelpeter, etc.) but in the “modern era” (ie. 1900s onward) it’s still pretty rare to find picture books with challenging material. Particularly in North America. Judy Blume and Roald Dahl dished the dirt to older kids, but everyone is extra careful about the content given to pre-readers in picture books.

Currently there are a lot of out there picture book authors, but not many as thoughtful, deep and profoundly rebellious as these three. (Depicting a same-sex couple – human or penguin – may get you banned in many states, but it’s not exactly intellectually daring.)

Coincidentally I just took Sendak’s Outside Over There out of the library yesterday. Looking forward to reading it – review to come soon!

(Another) Top 5: First Chapter Books to Read Aloud to Children

I’ve already done a “Top 5” on this topic, but I just keep finding more good titles, so will continue with it.

1. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater – 138 pp – Age 4 +

Never mind the movie – the original book is a charming, old-fashioned story about an ordinary family with some extraordinary pets.  (This title on amazon.)

2. James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl – 119 pp, 39 chapters – Age 5 +

Now this is a ripping yarn! Very short, action packed chapters move the story along at a good clip. I read it myself first, and couldn’t put it down, then read it to my daughter (and my mom too) and it kept everyone on the edge of their seats! Baddies are quickly vanquished at the start – squashed flat by peach – and young James is an excellent model of pluck and smarts. (Excellent for those who love bugs.)  (This title on amazon.)

3. Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan – 58 pp, 9 chapters – Age 5 +

The story of a farm family in the pioneer past who welcome a mail-order bride. Unfortunately though, Sarah misses her home by the sea. Will she stay or will she go back home? Gentle, touching story with vivid descriptions of life on the prairies. A ‘stepmother’ story in which nobody acts badly is novel in itself.  (This title on amazon.)

4. Stuart Little, by E. B. White – 131 pp, 15 chapters – Age 5 +

The famous story of the mouse who lives in a human family. Much interesting detail on his life, from matchbox bed to bent paperclip ice skates. Stuart has many misadventures due to his size – the thrilling sailboat race is one of the best. Rather unsettling ending, a little unresolved, but over-all a great read.  (This title on amazon.)

5. Rabbit Hill, by Robert Lawson – Age 5 +

The Newbery Medal Winner in 1945. The various woodland creatures watch curiously as new people move into the big house. Will they have guns dogs and traps? Will they be planters? Will there be food enough for all? The new inhabitants turn out even better than hoped for. A little wordy with old-fashioned language, but pretty gripping nonetheless. The real dangers the animals face are not side-stepped, but happily nothing too terrible happens in this tale.  (This title on amazon.)

Spongebob vs Caillou! (new study)

A new study was released today comparing the attention spans of four-year-olds watching two programs, SpongeBob Squarepants and Caillou (with a third group drawing pictures instead of watching tv).

After just nine minutes the SpongeBob  group showed “temporary attention and learning problems” – in sharp contrast to the other two groups.

The official Nickelodeon defense is of course that SpongeBob is aimed at an older audience than four-year-olds, but that does not reduce the value of this research. While the test group was quite small and further studies seem to be called for, it still raises important questions about how certain programs can affect attention span and “executive function”. It also helps to underline how important age-appropriate programming is. For non-parents it would seem a no-brainer that you shouldn’t show your toddler older programming, however in this day and age it is becoming impossible to control what your child is watching with televisions blaring in so many public spaces. Case in point: the ferry ride we took recently that played SpongeBob in the play area for well over an hour!

(For full story about study click here.)

Happy Feet (2006)

Happy Feet

Rated: PG for some mild peril and rude humor

Length: 108 min.

Age: 6 + (with reservations – read full review)          Commonsense Media sez: 5 +

Scary Factor: leopard seal lunging right at the camera and ensuing chase; long sliding sequence with avalanche; another hair-raising chase with orcas; close call with boat propeller

Intense scenes: Mumble is cruelly ostracized and finally banished from the colony; when he’s in the zoo Mumble becomes clinically depressed, to the point of madness

Language: idiot, stupid, blubber butt, lardface, fool, etc.

Sexual content: suggestive lyrics in pop songs; much preoccupation with mating season; lots of sexually suggestive body language and innuendo (especially Lovelace)

Interests: penguins, antarctica, ocean, sea creatures, environmentalism

Next: March of the Penguins (documentary)

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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.