An American Tail (1986)

November 12th, 2018 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie review

As children of the 80’s, my wife and I are very familiar with Fievel and his family.  We can belt out Somewhere Out There with the best of them.  When I saw An American Tail on a list of recommended movies about immigrants in America, I decided to watch it with my children for family movie night.

I’m always filled with trepidation when revisiting a childhood favorite. Will it hold up? I’m here to tell you that this one does!  My kids were singing There Are No Cats in America! for days. The story was understandable for my 4 year old but still interesting for my 9 year old. And it was fun and funny and exciting, which made it a big hit for family movie night.

What I hadn’t remembered, but was happily surprised by, was that a major character in this film is a vegetarian.  My family cheered when Tiger, the massive cat that guards Feivel’s cage after he’s captured by the cat gang, lets Feivel free because Tiger’s a vegetarian. Tiger and Feivel become fast friends, and Tiger even helps him find his family.

Common Sense Media recommends this movie for ages 5+.  It was enjoyed by my kids ages 4 and 9.  I highly recommend this movie for your entire family.


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How Many Hugs? and If Animals Said I Love You

October 21st, 2018 · Books

Children and their loved ones always enjoy storybooks about hugs and kisses and saying “I Love You.” Add a variety of animals into the mix, and you’re sure to have a winning combination. Two fairly recent additions to this genre are HOW MANY HUGS? by Heather Swain, illustrated by Steven Henry, and IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU by Ann Whitford Paul with pictures by David Walker.

HOW MANY HUGS? is a lovely picture book filled with clever rhymes and sweet illustrations. The book details how animals with zero to 750 arms would give hugs. It’s not only a fun and entertaining read, it’s also educational! Did you know a horseshoe crab has twelve arms (for six hugs) and a giant isopod has fourteen arms? Other featured creatures include the sea nettle, the nautilus, and a centipede (which has 300, not 100, arms).

The illustrations hide hearts on each animal, which is sure to provide a fun activity for those reading the book together. The hugs on each page are delightfully inviting; children and their adults will want to imitate each one. The only exception is the clam, which would pinch rather than hug – but the expressive look the clam child and parent give each other is just as loving as a hug.

The last two pages of the book include “Fun Facts” for each animal featured. These are especially helpful when addressing the curious and creative questions and observations that are sure to arise when enjoying this lovely picture book. Highly recommended for 4-8 years old.

IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU is a cute book with smiling animals snuggling and strutting and offering treats to show their love. Since it’s aimed at preschool children, the rhymes focus more on fun than fact when sharing how each animal says “I love you.” The rhymes are also a lot of fun for reading aloud with “splashity splish” and “heapity heap” and a “click-clack beat.”

Families who want their animal books both cute and based in fact will find some of the examples disappointing. For example, the page about whales reads: “Whale would sing it and, from his spout, shoot some heart-shaped bubbles out.” And when spiders appear: “Scampering Spider, spinning his web, would write ‘I adore you’ in silky white thread.” However, the friendly illustrations and alliterative rhymes will make sure young children want to hear the book many times. Recommended for ages 2-5.


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The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall

September 10th, 2018 · Books


The Monster Mall is a worthy second installment to The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo series. Author and illustrator Drew Weing expands the world of Echo City with adventures via the subway, a moped, and checking out new neighborhoods. And while the variety of “monsters” isn’t as wide as in the first book, The Monster Mall delves deeper into Margo Maloo’s life and home, and we see further developments in monster/human relationships.

This second book continues the theme of bridging differences and changing residential landscapes that can cause one group to unintentionally but effectively harm another. In our review of the first Margo Maloo book, we liked “the casual but direct manner issues like gentrification, stereotypes, and challenging both fear and bias were addressed.” Weing continues to show effects of these issues in The Monster Mall. In one instance, Margo and her assistant teammate Charles Thompson help siblings solve what’s behind the mysterious pranks in their new home: A young imp named Fyo. However, they find that the former home, where Fyo’s family was still living, has been torn down in the name of progress. Where the imp family has gone is left unsolved at the end of the book, hinting at a future storyline.

In the incident for which the book it named, Margo and Charles investigate an abandoned mall after receiving a distress call from vampires about human intruders. The nervousness about the unknown from both sides of the conflict ends up becoming grudging admiration, as with many Margo Maloo mysteries. A welcome surprise: These teen vampires are vegans. In an attempt to correct the vicious mistakes of their parents, they abstain from blood, instead drinking coconut water. The book’s characters are consistently shown understanding and given compromises to help monsters and humans live in close proximity with relative peace. But for how long? Throughout the story, Weing drops hints that unwelcome change is coming for the monsters.

Weing’s illustrations adjust from whimsical to comic to spooky to loving. They are colorful even when they are overwhelmingly dark, and the illustrations manage to convey a full spectrum of emotions in various characters. As in the first book, the juxtaposition of Charles’ round profile and Margo’s sharp profile continues to work to endear them to readers as a team.

Alert readers will see references to The Shining, Slenderman, Pokemon battles, and (possibly) a light reference to Poltergeist. Margo’s search for information via her many sources introduces us to new monsters, including a forest floor being that even Margo doesn’t recognize, a group of vampires with musical interests, and the mischievous imp Fyo. A favorite from the first book, Marcus the troll, returns and his story is intertwined with Kevin, Charles’ friend who has been monster-skeptical – but that seems to change in this second book.

In addition, we learn more about Margo’s home and background via her Uncle Vikram and a peek into her office and files, which seem to have been left to her by her parents. Margo lovingly cares for her uncle, or Mamaji, and we find out her mother’s name: Shivani. It’s apparent that Uncle Vikram is a bit senile, which gives Margo cover for her independent adventures even as it demands that she care for her uncle much as a parent would.

Charles’ family life is given some attention as well, and one particularly relevant detail is that his mother now works for the Echo City Historic Preservation Foundation, which may develop into a boon or a complication for Charles and Margo in the third book. He also receives a long desired phone, which opens up a whole new world of independence for Charles in ways his mother’s talk about “phone safety” won’t apply.

The original Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo set a high bar for story and illustration, and Drew Weing delivers with exuberance on both in The Monster Mall. Highly recommended for ages 8 and up.

The publisher sent a copy of this book for review.



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Plant, Eat, Cook! A Children’s Cookbook

August 27th, 2018 · Books


Before the cooking comes the growing. And before the growing comes the planting. And even before the planting comes the planning. The first U.S. edition of PLANT, COOK, EAT! from co-authors Joe Archer and Caroline Craig is a complete and child-friendly guide to the full appreciation of a delicious, healthy, plant-based meal.

Parents and caregivers know that children will often eat (or at least try!) food they’ve had a part in growing and preparing. PLANT, COOK, EAT! incorporates all this, and adds in facts and tips about each step of the process. The photographs that accompany each section are not only bright and beautiful, but instructive and clarifying. In addition, the recipes included are simple enough for even young children to follow. A true love and appreciation for plant-life comes through in Joe Archer’s descriptions, and we’d expect nothing less from the head horticulturist at London’s Kew Gardens. Caroline Craig’s recipes show a deep understanding of foods that will be both interesting and adventurous to children – but not too strange!

With sections that include which parts of plants people eat, composting, garden pests, and preparing a vegetable bed, children and their adults will have all the information necessary to start a garden of any size. Also described are methods for sowing seeds outdoors AND indoors, making the book accessible for a variety of family gardening.

Click on the photo for access to a full-size downloadable.

The main part of the book is structured by produce like carrots, kale, garlic, tomatoes, beets, pole beans, and so on. The sections all include sowing the seeds, planting, and tips and fun facts about each type of food. This is always followed by a recipe that centers the produce as a ingredient. Some examples include cranberry bean burgers, kale pesto pasta, onion soup, and zucchini and polenta fries.

NB: Only two recipes in the book are vegan, as most include Greek yoghurt, butter, or cheeses in the recipes. A few also include bacon. However, the recipes are all easily adjusted to suit fully vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

Plant, Cook, Eat! was provided to the reviewer by the publisher.




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