Wonder Woman (2017)

June 7th, 2017 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By KRISTIN WALD

With the gorgeous posters, dramatic previews, and all-around hype surrounding the blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” it is tempting to throw caution to the wind and bring children to see this woman-directed, woman-centered superhero film. But should you?

Common Sense Media recommends the film for children 12+ and it is rated PG-13. Adhering to those guidelines cuts out a lot of very excited girls (and boys) from seeing the film on the big screen. So what is a concerned, but equally eager parent to do?

Listen, you know your child, and you know how s/he has responded to different films in the past. Some parents may want to attend a screening prior to bringing their children, and, for most viewers, “Wonder Woman” will definitely hold up to two (or more) screenings. The positive messages of powerful women, questioning norms, empathy, and choosing love over disgust may also balance out some challenges of what is, at its core, a typical big budget superhero movie. Hopefully the caveats that follow will help you decide what is best for your family.

As with all superhero films, there is a good amount of fighting violence, but “Wonder Woman” is set during World War I, and that adds an element of wartime violence as well. There is little gory violence, in fact there is surprisingly little blood considering the use of arrows, swords, bombs, and bullets. However, there is a high body count in several scenes, and some of the deaths are particularly realistic. Towards the beginning, an Amazon swinging off a cliff to attack soldiers is shot, and her body swings lifeless on the rope. In war scenes, women and children are shown suffering in a muddy bunker and later killed by gas.

More graphic, there is one scene that shows a soldier with a mangled leg, although it is not close-up or particularly gory, especially when compared to what we are used to. There are many horses used in the film, and during fight scenes they are seen falling or getting hit by bullets and debris. My understanding is that most of this is computer graphic work, but sensitive animal lovers may be disturbed.

The sexual innuendo and use of alcohol is minimal. The main issue some parents may have for younger children is a briefly naked Steve Trevor, shown from the front holding his genitals as he walks down from a bath. There is also banter about reproduction versus “pleasures of the flesh” and a kiss that later implies an intimate night spent together. There are a few scenes where characters are drinking, and one in particular becomes very drunk. Consequences of the drinking are alluded to, but not elaborated upon.

For children sensitive to sound, this film may feel very loud in parts. With explosions, Ares-generated lightning strikes, and tanks being thrown, there are several sections with potential for children to react strongly to noise. The same goes for flashing lights and fast edits.

Overall, children 10 and older will find “Wonder Woman” enjoyable. Younger children who have enjoyed films like the Star Wars or Harry Potter franchises, or any of the Tolkien inspired films will probably take it in stride. Try watching the previews with children prior to deciding whether or not to see “Wonder Woman” in the theater or whether to wait until it can be watched on the small screen.


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Dolphin Tale: The Junior Tale

May 30th, 2017 · Books


My 7-year-old daughter has recently decided she wants to be a marine biologist, which is how we ended up reading Dolphin Tale together.


Dolphin Tale, the junior novel, is based on the screenplay for the 2011 hit movie with the same name. Based on a true story, it tells of Winter the dolphin who was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Hospital after being stuck in a crab trap. Winter’s tail was so badly damaged in the accident that it had to be removed. This caused Winter to develop a new manner of swimming which was damaging to her spine. The marine hospital worked with scientists to develop a prosthetic tale to aid Winter in swimming.

The novel tells Winter’s story through the eyes of a fictional 11-year-old boy Sawyer and his friend Hazel. It introduces a lot of ideas regarding animal rescue in a kid-friendly way, such as rehab and release, the finances behind animal rescue, and the various types of scientists involved in animal rescues. There is an additional human element to the story that is a great conversation starter. Winter’s story develops alongside that of Sawyer’s cousin, Kyle, who lost a leg in Afghanistan and is also coming to terms with his prosthetic leg.

My daughter loves this novel. She wants to see the movie on our next movie night. She can’t wait to visit Winter at the Clearwater Marine Hospital the next time we are in Florida.

I highly recommend this book for the future marine biologist in your life. Amazon (affiliate link) recommends this book for ages 7-10. That seems about right.

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Real Friends

April 17th, 2017 · Books


The ups-and-downs of childhood friendships, the painful drama that ensues when treasured friendships change, and the various coping mechanisms children employ are on full display in Shannon Hale’s new graphic memoir Real Friends. Recommended for ages 8-12, the book will evoke discussion about friendship, kindness, being mean, and all the emotions wrapped up in those topics.


Real Friends is a memoir, and it reads as a personal and moving version of elementary school experiences. Despite its focus on the lower grades, the characters do not come across as very young, and older children will find that the conflicts relatable and universal. Each chapter focuses on the main character, Shannon, and her relationship with a particular friend, but there are recurring characters in each section that tie the various threads together.

Conflicts in the memoir include losing a best friend, feeling left out and different, having hurt feelings and hurting feelings, being lied about, possessiveness, rivalries, friends moving away, regrets, and feelings misunderstood. Basically, it runs through most friendship challenges in its 224 pages. In addition, sibling conflicts are a part of the mix, making sure that at times Shannon truly feels like she has nowhere to turn.

Real Friends is not only about elementary school difficulties. Balancing out the problems in friendship are joyful moments of connection and belonging. Scenes of a summer vacation, finding a BFF, being accepted by “cool kids” who accept you for who you are, and finding forgiveness all work to make this memoir very real, not just morbid.

The bright and delightfully expressive illustrations by LeUyen Pham are at once quirky and awkward and lovable, much like the main character. Pham is able to show the characters growing up, while remaining recognizable, throughout the six years of the story. There are also several fantastically illustrated sequences that depict an imaginary and child-like world.

A few scenes felt particularly confessional. Both at school and at home, Shannon hides in the bushes (sometimes finding a fellow victim of mean girls) to cry and be alone. There are also hints at issues with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder sprinkled throughout the book. The scenes in which Shannon’s sister Wendy physically and emotionally attack her are particularly painful. And a standout scene comes at the end of the book, when Shannon makes a conscious decision not to be “nice” to someone who has repeatedly tormented her.

This book, despite focusing on the friendship of girls, will appeal to all genders because of its clear and honest approach to the emotionally fraught friendship conflicts all children (and adults!) face at one time or another. Don’t miss the author’s opening “interview” with her own children about the book’s subject matter and the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Both are Must Reads.

Real Friends is out May 2nd, 2017. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition for review.

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The Muppet Movie (1979)

April 5th, 2017 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

I was so happy to hear that the American Film Institute movie theatre near my home was running a Muppet retrospective. The Muppets were a huge part of my childhood, but haven’t been much a part of my kids’ lives. But with this retrospective, I set out to fix that shortcoming.

The first movie we attended was the original, “The Muppet Movie,” which came out in 1979. I was wondering how well this movie, now 37 years old, would hold up in modern society. I was happy to find that it holds up quite well. When we first meet the Electric Mayhem band, they are in the midst of turning an old country church into an organic coffee shop/night club, a scene that feels plucked from a movie today. In a very modern twist, gender roles are subverted when Miss Piggy saves her and Kermit’s life with her famous “Hiya!” chops and kicks. When Miss Piggy starts fighting, my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Wow, she’s strong!” Later she said this was her favorite scene in the movie.

What I had forgotten about this movie was its source of conflict. The movie follows Kermit and Fozzie on their way to Hollywood to try to become famous. Along the way they are discovered by Doc Hopper, the owner of restaurant famous for its deep fried frog legs. Doc Hopper spends the entire movie trying to convince Kermit to star in commercials for his restaurant, something that Kermit describes as morally repugnant. My daughter talked about this storyline for days. I don’t think she was previously aware that people eat frog legs.

Common Sense Media recommends this movie to ages 6+, but I think 3+ is more appropriate. Both of my kids loved this movie. My daughter loved Miss Piggy. My 3-year-old son loved “that singing frog.” There are many jokes that 3-year-olds will not understand, but they will love the crazy characters and the singing and dancing. Older kids will understand the plot more and get more of the jokes. There is really not a wrong age to watch the Muppets.

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