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So are the new Muppets too adult?





Before the premiere of the new Muppets show last week on ABC, a conservative family group called for a boycott of the primetime comedy.


The One Million Moms organization was worried that this updated version of the old favorite gang would not be appropriate because it is “aimed at a mature, modern audience and addresses subjects not suitable for family viewing.” The group worried about the “perverted nature” of the series.

Are they right? Is it not suitable for family viewing? To be sure, this is not a preschool show. Rated as TV-PG, it’s more for those who grew up with the Muppets than for those who are growing up now.

We tuned in to the first episode and we can tell you that, yes, it is a more adult-themed Muppet show. But perverted? Please. There is nothing “abnormal, wicked, evil, deviant or unnatural – or any other definition of the term” about it.

The storyline is that Kermit is the producer of Miss Piggy’s late-night talk show. And we’re let in on the behind-the-scenes action as a documentary crew is filming the filming. (Think The Office.) Piggy’s a diva, throwing insults at her makeup person and other staffers, and denouncing guest Elizabeth Banks saying, “I hate her stupid face.” Kermit’s trying to hold the show together in his humble frog way. And he’s dating Denise, a pig who works in marketing. “What can I say? I’m attracted to pigs,” he explains as an aside. And Fozzie Bear is dating too. He’s fallen for a human and her parents have serious doubts about the unconventional pairing – an obvious metaphor for any kind of unconventional pairing in the world today.

There are topics that are targeted to an older crowd, such as a reference to Internet dating and a band member’s reference to being in a 12-step program. But there are also plenty of puns that are family-friendly. Our favorite old guys – Statler and Waldorf – provide the best comic relief as they make simple wisecracks on the goings-on from Miss Piggy’s show audience.

Twitter reaction ranged across the board, as it often does, from those who grew up with the original Muppet Show and Muppet Babies finding this a “sad imitation” and not liking the “reality show” aspect of it – to many who simply “loved” it.

For me, seeing Miss Piggy as mean and our favorite green guy dating another woman was definitely different—and a little strange. The storylines are more adult than the pre-school and after-school Muppet material that has entertained and enlightened us for decades. The only ABCs being taught here, so far, are about the heartache of relationships and the challenges of managing a diverse staff.  And maybe the difficulties of booking celebrities on a talk show. But there is humor and emotion. You feel for Kermit – just as you always have, and the many supporting characters will make you laugh at least once during the 30-minute show, if not more.

If you wind up not watching, it isn’t because it’s so racy (believe me, there are far worse things your kids can watch on TV and online), but because you don’t like the concept. You should check it out and see what the true judges – the tweens and teens in your family – think of it.





He Named Me Malala


He Named Me MalalaThe name has been heard all over the globe. It’s in the news, magazines, even on the book shelf. It’s the name that was called as the winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize.

But the origin of Malala, the symbolic, and utterly astounding meaning of the name is explored in the poignant new documentary from Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim. “He Named Me Malala” is a personal, joyful and inspiring look into the life of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistan woman who defied the Taliban’s oppressive regime, speaking out against its prohibition of education for girls.

When she was just 15, Malala and her friends were shot by the Taliban on a bus coming home from school. Malala nearly died from her injuries. What would have scared most into a life far from the public spotlight instead only fueled Malala’s resolve to fight oppression. Malala has become the voice for young women worldwide, calling for universal education and other support.

More than just a plug for The Malala Fund, which advocates for free, quality and safe secondary education for girls around the globe, Guggenheim (Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth), gives insight to the charismatic and charming young (now) 18 year old and her equally engaging family. Turns out Malala has a bit of a crush on Roger Federer and Brad Pitt. She struggles with homework, particularly physics, and likes to arm wrestle with her brothers. Through personal interviews, news clips and some particularly moving illustrated story-telling, “Malala” covers the grim topics of war and religious fanaticism while giving much needed insight into the peaceful essence of Islam.

An appropriate film for all ages, the movie opens in select theaters Oct. 2, 2015 and will air on the National Geographic Channel in 2016. Efforts are being made to provide free screenings for interested groups and schools. For more information, check out; #withMalala, #henamedmemalala


Caution: Ear Worms Ahead



Lucky us. We’re pleased to announce the Fall 2015 Parents’ Choice Audio Awards, which includes the categories of music, storytelling and audiobooks.

You can dance in the kitchen, call to the elephants and speak Penguinese. In this list, even lullabies can become earworms. We were moonstruck by one mother/daughter team, and could swing forever with another.


We applaud los animales and sing about trees, learn a few words of French and happily celebrate All Kinds of You and Me.

The audiobooks are spellbinding in truth and filled with fun and fantasy; they teach lessons kindly, and read stories with wit and spunk.

All of these selections underscore Lori Henriques’ delicious challenge, “How Great Can this Day Be?”




Journalist and author says digital play is good for kids


toppo bookDo you worry about your kids and video games? They’re playing too much? They’re playing games that aren’t good for them?

Greg Toppo, author of the April book The Game Believes In You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, says he saw a “real divide” among parents during his researching and writing.

“There were some parents who were, for lack of a better term, living in the ‘80s. They had this understanding of video games as these shadowy pieces of media in an arcade, right alongside pinball – even though it’s right in their living room and even though it looks and smells incredibly different from anything they played as teenagers.

I also saw a lot of parents who get it, who not only understand but also are also taking that next step and playing games with their kids. That’s essential. You can’t stand in the doorway clucking your tongue.”

There are many benefits to video games, says Toppo, whose book explores how games are revolutionizing learning.

Games make players think like scientists, encouraging “systems thinking,” and problem solving. He also points out that games allow us to fail again and again, to make new mistakes, but urging us to keep trying. And what may look like mindless escapism is actually helping cultivate the ability to concentrate.

But what about those shooter games?

Toppo doesn’t dismiss violence or violent acts, but maintains that games are neither good nor bad – they simply reinforce existing values. “I think we have a much higher standard for video games,” he says, noting that we regularly watch football and hockey – two very aggressive activities. But do we tell our children not to watch?

Toppo also explores video games in the classroom, noting that teachers need to embrace the digital world and the best games are ones that allow teacher to adapt them to the lesson at hand. “A 99 cent app can be used and passed around – an easy and inexpensive tool.”

When asked what is the hottest game now in the educational world right now, he said, “There are a million of them.” But one he says is particularly popular is iCivics, a series of games inspired by Sandra Day O’Connor to teach students about democracy. “They’re really good games. You could get off the phone with me and sit and play them for hours. They’re dynamite.”

Toppo’s biggest takeaway from the book?

“I guess I would say, as parents we need to step back and take a breath and think about the ways kids are using media. They are a lot smarter and sophisticated about it than we are. They just need help describing what they’re doing. In a sense, one of the things I wanted to be able to do with this book is translate what’s happening with kids to their parents.”

Toppo says he has done some book readings and nothing makes him happier than when a young person approaches him. “My heart melts – they’ll say, ‘I’m a huge gamer and my mom doesn’t understand.’ What I’m really hoping is that gamers will buy the book and underline the parts they think their parents need to read.”

After reading the book, I came up with 5 Tips for Parents. Toppo agreed with all but one.

1. Play the games your kids are playing.
2. Talk to your kids about the games. Ask what they are getting out of it.
3. Note what kind of gamer you are. Do you take failure in stride? Keep trying? Do you trash talk? Do you ask for help? Your kids take cues from you.
4. Check the rating on the game. It’s there for a reason.
5. Monitor how much time is spent on any kind of screen, video game or otherwise.

Toppo says No. 5 is wrong.

“That’s not the right way to look at it. Even parents who are very sophisticated about this stuff toss around words like ‘screen time’ and they think they’re saying something. I would say ‘screen time’ was a great idea 10 years ago. It’s an antiquated concept.  What matters is what’s on the screen.”

He points to the iPad. “It has real potential to bring parents and little kids close to have really important interactions. To set a timer on that seems silly.”

(For some ideas of what to play, check out the mobile apps in our just-announced Fall 2015 Parents’ Choice Small Screen Awards)


Carpe Small Screen


TinyBop MachineAh yes, the small screens that fill our lives. Many of us can’t seem to get through a day without them. But that’s a conversation for another day. Today, we’re pleased to announce the Fall 2015 Parents’ Choice Small Screen Awards for Mobile Apps, Websites and DVDs.

For those who like numbers or neurons, our mobile app choices are sweet. Curious about shapes, George? You’re in for a treat. And for doctors of Seuss, this can’t be beat. We’re crazy about gears and tinkering with machines; we took a bath and said nighty night to a troupe of circus animals. We learned about letters and helped deliver them. And Daren taught us how attributes help us see and think in many new ways. There are two spots stand out from the crowd; one starts with a ladybug, the other with a sailor. Can you spot the difference?

Our latest Website selections favor the curious, about books and robots, from those taking small steps to campus steps. And the DVDs spotlight the alphabet, the quirky and the forgiving.

For more than 37 years, Parents’ Choice has worked to bridge the classroom and the playroom, with recommendations for children’s media and toys that encourage the probing and poking that curiosity breeds. Parents’ Choice Award winners hand deliver the fun – and the rewards of learning something new.