Archive for June, 2015

Are the new Amazon and Netflix kids shows any good?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

toddler-tablet-on planeI was recently on a plane, sitting next to two young kids. They looked to be about three and six years old. Soon after we all got settled into our seats, their mom handed each of them a tablet. The kids plugged in their headphones and were mesmerized for much of the nearly two-hour plane ride. Mom read a Real Simple magazine and dozed.

Scenarios like that are exactly why Amazon Studios announced the debut of six new kids pilot shows on Friday, June 26, through its Amazon Instant Video service.

Four animated and two live-action series hopefuls – one for preschoolers and the other five for the 6-11 age group – will be available for viewing. Customers will be invited to watch and provide feedback, a direct pipeline to let Amazon know which ones should be turned into full series for Amazon Prime members ($99 a year).

It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense. Traditional broadcast networks usually see pilots, decide to air the shows and then use ratings as their guides. A series will either get yanked after a couple of episodes or more episodes will be ordered. And, of course, with children’s television, there are FCC rules for broadcast networks with minimum requirements for educational programming.

Testing the waters Amazon’s way saves everyone a lot of time and money. It also means that more quality programs for kids – shows you WANT your kids to see and not just settling for what’s on – will be available. So if you don’t think it’s high-quality, let Amazon know.

Amazon also notes that these projects have some impressive creative talent behind them – producers and writers who have been involved in shows including Gilmore Girls, Hannah Montana, East Los High and Fraggle Rock.

Amazon’s four new animated shows are:

The  Adventures of Knickerbock Teetertop (for pre-schoolers)
Knickerbock Teetertop, the smallest kid on the enchanted Wonderpine Mountain, wants to be a big adventurer just like his grandpa. Knickerbock bounces along rugged terrain, pushes against the elements, and challenges himself to overcome obstacles. As he encounters problems Knickerbock uses perseverance, grit, and some encouragement from Grandpa to “adventure on, adventure through.”

Lost in Oz  
Lost in Oz is set in a modern, metropolitan Emerald City. Stranded in this spectacular world, 12-year-old Dorothy Gale befriends West, a young, street-smart witch grappling with dark temptations, and Ojo, a giant munchkin. With Dorothy’s dog Toto, this unlikely crew embarks on an epic journey, seeking out the magic Dorothy needs to get back to Kansas. The challenge for Dorothy, and everyone else in this world, is that Oz is facing the greatest magic crisis in eons.

Bear in Underwear 
Welcome to Shady Glade Woods where Eddie Behr, an eternally optimistic, high energy bear, and his quirky group of animal friends and family reside. Eddie aspires to be a forest legend just like his dad, who discovered “pants” at an abandoned campsite (they are actually “tighty whiteys,’ but no one knows the difference!). Although Eddie is eager to make just as positive an impact on his community as his father did, he soon realizes that success may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Bear in Underwear is based on the bestselling books by Todd Goldman.

Lily the Unicorn 
In Lily’s world, anything is possible: a simple song she hums can go viral and top the charts. A quiet surprise picnic for her best buddy Roger can lead to a city-wide adventure featuring falafel waffles and a wise guru. Lily the Unicorn puts a hilarious spin on everyday situations as she transforms even the most typical day into something extraordinary. Lily the Unicorn is based on the hit children’s book by Dallas Clayton and is produced by The Jim Henson Company.

And the two live-action shows are:

History of Radness 
A History of Radness captures the experience of aspiring musicians forming their band. The story follows siblings Jack and Tessie from their less-than-cool middle school beginnings at Pleasant Meadows Middle School to the start of their music careers as they put together a band of like-minded musicians, considered outsiders by fellow classmates.

The Kicks 
Devin Burke was the star player on her soccer team back home until her family moved to California midway through the school year. Now, Devin has to rise to the challenge after discovering that her new school team has been on a losing streak over the last few months and is badly in need of a leader to rally the team together. Based on a book series by US Olympic Gold Medalist and current US Women’s National Team soccer player Alex Morgan.
None seem devoted to STEM issues, and most seem more focused on entertaining than educating, but we should wait and give them a chance.

Of course, Amazon is not alone in offering original kids content online. Netflix announced in February that it was ordering five new shows, including re-makes of Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse. Four of the five new shows are animated series. A live action series about a toy shop called Some Assembly Required rounds out the new lineup. Inspector Gadget and Super 4 are already available for viewing.

Gadget is taken from the original 1980s cartoon about the bumbling detective, his smart niece Penny and her dog Brain are the brains behind the operations, which center around trying to stop evil Dr. Claw.

Super 4 is far more compelling and enjoyable, centered around four friends and heroes – Alex the Knight, Twinkle the fairy, Agent Gene and Ruby the Pirate. They are Playmobil characters come to life, so of course it’s essentially a long commercial for Playmobil sets. But it’s got heart and good writing and the characters are pretty charming. A Playmobil live action move is said to be in the works for 2017, following the success of The Lego Movie in 2014.

Some Assembly Required debuted on Friday, June 19.  Unfortunately, it’s not very good. The series centers around Jarvis, played by charismatic teen Kolton Stewart,15,  who sues a toy company after a chemistry set blows up his house. He winds up owning the toy company. The problem is that most of the jokes are not funny, and the stereotypes of the kids are not cool. One girl is on his team because she’s beautiful. And there’s a “bimbo” joke. The surfer dude daredevil kid is, of course, really dumb. And Jarvis’ best friend is beyond silly.

Bottersnikes & Gumbles, based on classic Australian children’s books, is set to arrive in 2016. As it the reboot of Danger Mouse, a British animated series.

Just as Amazon has attracted heavy-hitting talent, Netflix has been steadily expanding its children’s TV lineup to include content from partners including PBS, Disney Channel, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Mattel, Hasbro, Lego and Scholastic. A few years ago, the company signed a deal with the Walt Disney Company to make its service the pay TV home to all its live action and animated films beginning in 2016.

A nice feature of Netflix is that you can search for shows or characters or age groups. So if you don’t find a new series you like, you can go to Wild Kratts or The Magic School Bus or Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The classics still hold up.



Start with a book!

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

reading-rocketsRachael Walker, our dear friend at Reading Rockets, has lots of resources and ideas to help encourage kids to learn, read, and have fun this summer.

Start with a Book, features 24 kid-friendly themes, like dinosaurs, building, animals, sports, superheroes, music and more! Each theme introduces young readers and their families to great fiction and nonfiction books, along with hands-on activities that support reading, writing, and critical thinking skills and links to other great websites and apps with related content.

Carol Shen ( and member of the Board of Directors of The Reading Connection) is blogging for Reading Rockets about her kids’ learning adventures. Maria Salvadore takes young readers on summer reading journeys to Paris, Provence, Zimbabwe, the beach, Market Street and more! Check out Maria’s 2015 Summer Reading Guide.

Plus, Start with a Book offers Reading Tips to Go to support to parents who need extra help coming up with ideas to keep kids’ reading and writing skills improving over the summer. Subscribers to this free service get 3-4 short text messages per week—all summer long—in English or Spanish.

Not a bad way to start the summer! Thanks, Rachael!



Parents’ Choice Book Awards: Fiction

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

The pages of these Parents’ Choice Award winners practically turn themselves.

The War that Saved My Life, The Missing Pieces of Me, Black Dove, White Raven, One Thing Stolen, The Water and the Wild, The Cottage in the Woods and Some Kind of Magic.





Parents’ Choice Awards: Picture Books

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

ChildrensbooksIf you’re headed Home By Trolley Past Thimbledon Bridge, keep an ear out for Trombone Shorty. He’s no longer The New Small Person and he knows how to Telephone.

In other words, the latest Parents’ Choice Award-winning Picture Books are utterly delightful.