Archive for January, 2013

Shakespeare Uncovered

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

How would you like David Tennant and Jude Law to help you with your Shakespeare homework?
Credit: Courtesy of Alex Brenner

My daughter and schoolmates have recently been assigned to act out a shortened version of Hamlet for English class. Learning the lines isn’t as bad as she expected. Researching each character’s motivations and their back stories has been a big help, especially with Jude Law and David Tennant assisting. Alas, she won’t get their help in person, but rather from the PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered.  Over six episodes, some top names in the acting business investigate, ruminate and discuss the stories behind Shakespeare’s most famous works in a style that is enticing to novices and experts alike. Ethan Hawke takes on an analysis of “The Scottish Play,” better known as Macbeth. Joely Richardson and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, explore Shakespeare’s comedies while Jeremy Irons looks at the historic value of the bard’s works. Each episode looks at past and present adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, and uncover some fascinating trivia, including nods to different events in the Shakespeare’s life that crop up in his stories. If you missed the first two episodes, look for them on rerun and be sure to catch the upcoming episodes.

Friday, February 1, 2013:
Shakespeare Uncovered: Richard II With Derek Jacobi
Shakespeare Uncovered: Henry IV & Henry V With Jeremy Irons
Friday, February 8, 2013
Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet With David Tennant
Shakespeare Uncovered: The Tempest With Trevor Nunn

Want to introduce Shakespeare to younger children? There are ways to make Shakespeare accessible for all ages!


Music for Moving: Upbeat Children’s Albums for Dancing and Exercising

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
School Dance

School Dance by adwriter, on Flickr

Sometimes getting kids moving is as simple as playing the right song. Children’s music pioneer and Parents’ Choice Foundation favorite Ella Jenkins recognizes the need for playful, energetic music. Her new album Get Moving features fifteen tracks, three of which have never been released on CD before, that encourage young listeners to loosen up and get active.

In honor of the release of Jenkins’ album today, we’ve put together a list of our favorite music for dancing, jumping, exercising, and having fun!

Little Nut Tree

Little Nut Tree by Dan Zanes and Friends

Grammy Award-winning family artist Dan Zanes returns to his “handmade” music-making with a new release of what he refers to as “21st century, all ages social music”-a spirit-lifting collection of old and new folk tunes, recorded at his Brooklyn-based Festival Five Records studio. Fine musicianship and inclusive, at-home warmth are hallmarks of any Zanes album, and this groovin’ get-together with a host of notable musical friends is no exception.
Dance Party

Dance Party by Preschool of Rock

“Robot Song” (“do the robot shuffle”), “Dance Party” (“move your body up and down…and round and round and round”), “Shake Around” (“when the snow falls down/It makes a blanket on the ground/I shake around….”)-singer-songwriter Michael Napolitano performs simple original songs to encourage the small set to feel the rhythm and move and groove to a rock ‘n roll beat. A former music specialist at The Blue Man Group’s Creativity Center (now the Blue School) in New York, Napolitano is founder of Preschool Rock, a curriculum-based music program designed to adhere to National Association for the Education of Young Children standards.

Dancing With Miss MelodeeDancing With Miss Melodee by Miss Melodee

Strong and high-quality production values support the ten songs of Dancing with Miss Melodee. Designed to encourage young dancers (ages 2 to 7) to get up, stretch, pretend, and dance, this pink clad collection offers touches of sweetness that will appeal to many very young girls. Miss Melodee’s genuine warmth complements her skilled delivery.

Here We Go ZodeoHere We Go Zodeo by Kathy Reid-Naiman and Hannah Naiman

The cheeky plink-plink of a ukulele in Here We Go Zodeo’s opening track, “Jump Jim Joe,” sets the tone for this exuberant acoustic collection of twenty-one traditional sing-along, clap-along, play-along songs sung by Kathy Reid-Naiman and her daughter, Hannah Naiman. From “Alabama Girl” and “Going to Boston” to the title track, each song is a smiling invitation to one happy hoedown. The CD includes a guide to play and dance movement specific to each song. The album’s rhythmic bounce, easy-to-follow melodies, tuneful vocals and superb musicianship led by Reid-Naiman on banjo-uke, fiddle and guitar are perfect for playgroups, parties, classrooms and just plain at-home family fun.

Tap Those ToesTap Those Toes by Rachel Sumner

Hand-clapping, foot-tapping, dancing to global rhythms, healthy messages and lively fun fuel the work of Rachel Sumner, veteran children’s performer, theater artist, singer-songwriter, radio host (“Rachel’s Fun Time”) and arts-in-education expert. Stories on the CD include “Imani’s Trick,” an adaptation of an African folk tale about dancing crabs, a watering hole and how flamingos developed their one-legged stance; and “Chester’s Surprise,” the third installment in a nature series about “Chester the Cheerful Chipmunk.” Sumner urges listeners to make friends “All Around the World,” create a kitchen band (“Cookin’ in the Kitchen”) and “Catch the Reading Bug.” A recurring theme: Encouraging children to think of books as opportunities for adventure and discovery. A particular book-invested group of adults receives a shout-out, too. In “It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me,” a literacy-loving pirate builds libraries as big as castles and supplies librarians with books, raises and eight weeks of vacation. The CD is enhanced with song lyrics and activities.

Go! by Alphabet RockersGo! by Alphabet Rockers

Engaging, good-for-you pop-style songs with a mild hip-hop beat from The Alphabet Rockers (Kaitlin McGaw, Tommy Shepherd and Stefanie Liang). The messages in the songs, written with “teacher advisors,” are to the point, but delivered with a light and engaging touch. Subjects range from healthy eating (“Eat the Rainbow,” “Food Songs,” “Food Calculator”), literacy (“You Can Write”), phonetics (“Animals From A to Z”) and exercise (the title track). Clever and informative tracks define sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, underscoring how all five senses work together.

Groove Kid NationWheels on the Bus by Groove Kid Nation

This playlist of well known children’s music standards is one of the more creative and fun albums of recent years. Imagine a James Brown or Lauryn Hill record for kids, and you’ll have some idea of what Groove Nation’s debut CD is all about. Producer/keyboardist Rodney Lee has assembled a crew of top session and live musicians who have played in the fields of jazz, soul and funk (with luminaries that range from Ray Charles to Prince), to give unique renditions of many of those children’s music standards, and a few dynamite original tunes.


Time Shift Your TV – ‘Betty & Coretta’

Monday, January 28th, 2013
Betty and Coretta

Angela Bassett as Coretta Scott King and Mary J. Blige as Betty Shabazz

Each February, Black History Month offers an opportunity to spend some time with the family revisiting famous African-Americans and the roles they have played in significant events in our country’s past.

Among the specials this month is Betty & Coretta, an original Lifetime movie, premiering on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. Instead of telling the story of civil rights activists Martin Luther King and of Malcolm X, the story focuses on their wives. Singer Mary J. Blige plays Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, and Angela Bassett, who has played Betty Shabazz several times in her career, takes the role of Coretta Scott King.

King was assassinated in April of 1968 at the age of 39. Malcolm X, who was born Malcolm Little but became known as Malcolm X and as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz during his work with the Nation of Islam movement, was assassinated in February of 1965, also at the age of 39. 

Having lost their husbands in similar manner, Betty and Coretta became friends. They carried on their husbands’ work while also struggling as single mothers raising their children. King had four kids; Shabazz had six. Betty & Coretta portrays their relationship, which spanned more than three decades.

Betty died in 1997 at age 63. Coretta, who went on to play a significant role in working for racial equality and women’s rights, died in 2006 at age 78.

Lifetime cable channel has carved out a reputation for re-telling the stories of controversial figures, including Amanda Knox, the American student who was convicted of murder in Italy in 2009, a decision that was overturned in 2011; Drew Peterson, a police officer whose four wives went missing before he was convicted of murdering the third one in 2012; and Casey Anthony, the infamous Florida woman put on trial for the murder of her little girl, before being found not guilty in 2011. Lifetime’s movies about these controversial figures are not documentaries. They are “docu-dramas” that cover the news story, but which are also meant to entertain.

Betty & Coretta will hopefully shed light on the two women behind the famous men and inspire viewers to be reminded of the civil rights works of their husbands. As with any movie that tackles history, it’s a good idea to have the tween or teens in the family who will watch the film familiarize themselves with the history of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, so they watch and critique the portrayal of each woman. Encourage them to view the film with a critical eye. Or after they have watched it, ask them to do some research to see how accurately the film depicts what history sources say really happened. It’s a good starting point for a conversation about civil rights then and now.

Related Links:

Black History Month Reading List

Celebrating African American Musicians

Follow the Drinking Gourd: The Underground Railroad

Duke Ellington…and More Stories to Celebrate Great Figures in African American History

Cookies Are More Than Dough

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

The Internet has many copycat recipes for Girl Scout cookies—a testament to how darn tasty they are. Still, you may be asking yourself, why shell out $4 a box for these cookies?

In my humble opinion and experience, these cookies are more than just cookies. You are investing in the education of personal qualities that can’t be measured on tests. You are funding memorable opportunities and experiences for young girls. You are providing a rare, judgment-free social experience where girls can be themselves.

Did you know:

*The sports dropout rate for girls is six times higher than that of boys? According to Health Culture Research, “The underlying reason for the lack of involvement in sport in the demographic of 10 – 15 year old girls is believed to be directly linked to body image and body conscious issues.”

*On average, teenage girls experience a crisis of confidence that is often reinforced by the media through unrealistic expectations and mixed messages.

*Girls typically outgrow their toys quicker than in the past and definitely quicker than boys. Therefore, by the time they are teens, they have fewer social outlets and “play time” to choose from.

*Girl Scouts is the one place they can be themselves. With adolescence comes a greater desire for cooperation and connectedness over competition. Girl Scouts offers that.

*Teens often drop out of Girl Scouts because it seems like a “little kid” activity. However, once you are old enough, the opportunity for international travel, cool programs and events increases ten-fold.

*Universities/colleges, foundations, and Girl Scout councils offer scholarships, awards and grants to Girl Scouts.

*Most people don’t realize it, but the Girl Scouts have an honor equivalent to the Eagle Scout called The Gold Award. It requires just as much work and effort, but gets much less publicity.

* Girls who earn their Gold Award and enter the military not only start at a higher rank (similar to the BS Eagle) but also at a higher pay rate. Colleges look at longevity and depth in an applicant’s extracurricular activities. Staying in Girl Scouts and/or earning a Gold Award proves your dedication and sets you apart!

*All girls are invited to join Girl Scouting — including girls with special needs, girls of every race, religion and socioeconomic background.

*Our girls do many hours of community service—just for the fun of it. They help the community and buying cookies is a way to help them.

*60 Percent of Women in Congress Were Girl Scouts.

*Being a Girl Scout gives them time to develop nine important characteristics including: self reliance, self-competence, social skills, respect for others, feelings of belonging, values-clarification and decision-making, helpfulness and concern for community, teamwork and leadership.

Buying Girl Scout Cookies means:

*A girl whose family is struggling financially can purchase supplies and not feel ashamed or embarrassed.

*The troop can supplement trips and activities that otherwise would not be able to take.

*Girls learn financial responsibility and independence. These girls are accountable for what they sell. If they have a goal in mind, they learn exactly what it takes to reach that goal.

*Part of the money does go to GSUSA which is beyond generous with its girls and parent volunteers. They offer FREE training, camping events and literature. They provide loans and grants for girls with limited resources.

*Girl Scouts does not have an agenda. GSUSA has a neutral position on political matters. Like anything else involving your child–If you have concern about topics, issues and material, then VOLUNTEER. Get involved. Most troops could use the help.

*Donations for cookies or donated boxes go to local shelters or deployed troops who receive them in the care packages we send!

*These cookies freeze beautifully.

*They make the perfect thank-you, hostess and teacher gifts.

I started as the reluctant and supposedly temporary leader of my daughter’s Brownie troop. That was 10 years ago. Many of the same group of girls are now in their teens (and will soon be going off to college). When they were little, it was all about the patches and the ceremonies. Our current troop hasn’t earned one badge. But we’ve had a great amount of fun, traveled, learned lots and got to have experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe it seems uncool to be a Girl Scout. So I guess I’m uncool.  But I am here to tell you that I don’t regret one minute of the time spent with my girl and all of my Girl Scouts. Life is short people. Buy Girl Scout cookies.

Libraries Offer Much More Than Books

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Libraries offer more than books. Image by Flickr user CPLS via CC

Though e-books  continue to grow in popularity, there is still plenty of demand for physical books and the libraries that keep them. A new Pew study found that 80% of Americans found that borrowing books is a “very important” service that libraries provide. No surprise there. But libraries don’t just carry books. Reference librarians are trained to help visitors find the books and resources they want, and 80% of survey respondents considered them an important library asset. It helps that librarians don’t just serve as research assistants or shelf guides; they also organize storytime events for young ones and community events for all ages.

Even as books remain important, libraries hold high tech standing, too. 77% of respondents said that computers and internet access are important library services. Some use library computers to do research for school or work, some look for jobs or health information, and others just pass time reading the news or browsing favorite sites.

41% of survey respondents said they visit their library to bring a younger person to a class, program, or event designed for children or teens. If after school programs and extracurriculars aren’t available, libraries can step in as a vibrant, safe space for children and their families.

Moving forward, libraries have lots of room to develop and expand their services. The Pew survey found that there is a demand for libraries to offer media labs, e-books, and online platforms for using library services. To get an idea of what the future of libraries might look like, consider the New York Public Library, which has extended its services by developing online games and mobile apps.

How do you use your library? What services would you use if your library expanded its offerings?