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20 Back-to-School Tales
DVD Released: 6/16/2015
All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras
Review by Stephanie Long, Posted on 6/12/2015
I have to start this review by stating that I am a children’s book connoisseur, and in turn, a bit of a picture book snob. Having first been a school counselor for seventeen years, I used children’s books for bibliotherapy where picture books sparked conversations about common childhood problems and ways to solve them. When I switched careers to speech language pathology, I continued to use children’s books as a therapy tool but this time to help children learn the mechanics, structure and intent of language for communication. Children’s story books can be educational, inspiring, and entertaining all at the same time. And if classic stories are animated, these stories can often reach an even wider audience of young minds.
I have used Scholastic Story Book compilations videos when working with students, and with my own children. So I was excited to review the latest Scholastic Storybook set entitled Scholastic Storybook Treasures: The Classic Collection: 20 Back-to-School Tales. This collection contains animated versions of twenty children’s story classics using the original illustrations from the picture books themselves. Some of the stories are definite winners, and some not so much. Join me as we delve into a short review of each story starting with the most entertaining and ending with the “oh my goodness when is this story going to be over?”:
Splat the Cat: A young kitten begins school and his pet mouse Seymour joins in the first day fun (and sparks an important learning opportunity for the school of cats). This is the first book in a popular series and its animated version perfectly encapsulates the whimsy of the story using light British narration and enchanting illustrations from the book. Not since I saw Kermit riding a bike in the first Muppet movie have I giggled so loudly at the image of an animal riding a bike.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: All the letters of the alphabet race up and fall down a coconut tree. This is a book found in every preschool and kindergarten classroom. The animated version has the catchiest song ever used to “read” a story aloud. The music and the singer of the book’s text make this a song that you catch yourself humming and singing throughout the day. Bright and colorful, light and entertaining as it teaches letters, this one truly is a classic.
Owen: Okay, here is where my picture book snobbery raises its ugly head. I absolutely love any thing written by Kevin Henkes, the author and illustrator of Owen. Henkes is famous in children’s literature for his mouse books, and Owen is a great example of why. Owen is about to start school for the first time, but he is not ready to give up his favorite yellow blanket “Fuzzy”. His parents get creative and help him keep a part of Fuzzy while he takes his first steps into growing up. This story is sweet, colorful, and celebrates childhood without ever pandering to its audience. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker does a nice job of providing the story narration.
Sky Color: I wasn’t familiar beforehand with this story of a young girl named Marisol who loves being an artist but must learn to think outside the box when her class goes to paint a mural on a wall in the library and she has no blue paint to color the sky. The story is simple and the use of color is strategic as the majority of the story uses grey and blacks and whites with colors sparingly used to make certain ideas pop. This story is a sweet, tale of being a creative thinker and allowing yourself to be open to new ideas.
Crazy Hair Day: I actually bought this book when the Scholastic Book Fair came to my elementary school, so I was familiar with the story. Stanley is a student who loves when his school does theme days (something I never did when I was in school, but something I can say is huge in every school I have worked in as an adult as each school year we have several theme days for fun i.e. Mismatch day- wear tacky clothes, 60s day- dress like it is the 60s, etc. These days are done to promote school spirit). Stanley gets help from his mom getting ready for Crazy Hair Day at school only to arrive and find out that it is Picture Day at school and Crazy Hair Day is the next Friday. Friendship and class spirit save the day in this fun tale. The bonus is the story is narrated by Zach Braff from the TV show Scrubs. The problem is that the narration is by Zach Braff, and as someone who has seen every episode of Scrubs at least three times each, all I could picture was Braff’s character JD as he narrated his adventures as a medical doctor which really pulled me out of the story on the screen.
The Teacher From the Black Lagoon, The Gym Teacher From the Black Lagoon, and The Librarian From the Black Lagoon: The “Fill in the educator title” from the black lagoon series has always been a popular series for children and this compilation provides three of those titles. The most entertaining of the three is the original “Teacher” one. Essentially, the story formula is that the story protagonist has heard rumors of the new teacher, gym teacher, librarian, etc. and imagines in his mind how awful the new person will be (almost like a creature from the black lagoon). Of course the person always turns out to be so much better and nothing like the rumors, but the stories are fun and engaging and really capture how strong the imagination of a child can be. The gym teacher version took the illustrations from the original stories and added squiggle vision like that made famous by the “Dr. Katz” creators.
How Do Dinosaurs Go To School?: This is the last book that technically makes it into the “good list”. This story is again a title that illustrates one story in a popular series of books. The original story is cute and uses dinoaurs- I mean what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? The problem that almost pushes this title into the “ugh” list is the story itself is thin. This is more of a concept book- i.e. how cool would it be if dinosaurs went to school and did the same things children do at school? It works as a book because each page illustrates the concept with a funny idea or picture, but as an animated short, it feels like a one note gag that goes on too long.
And now the stories that are on the “Ugh…is this still on”? list:
The Wheels on The Bus: Every child and parent knows this classic song of the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round. A picture book of the song is animated with a singing of the famous song/chant jazzed up with a weak sounding electric guitar. It just doesn’t work as the illustrations lack any oomph and the song is not the least bit catchy, which says a lot when this is probably the most famous children’s song around.
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash: A young girl recants the wild adventures of her class on a field trip to the farm where Jimmy’s boa and the farmers pigs create havoc. This is one of those picture books read throughout most classrooms in elementary school, and it is also one of the older animated videos found on other Scholastic compilations. In this collection, it looks very dated compared to much newer animations of more recent stories, and the picture is very grainy.
Monty: Three animal friends wake up an alligator who sounds like he is an eighty year old with the worst case of smoker’s voice in order to get across a river to school. The animation doesn’t work because the original story illustrations are barely existent. The voices are those of real children but they talk over each other and the style reminded me of the voices from the “Aristocats”. The story isn’t interesting, the illustrations are bland, and this story has no whimsy!
Miss Nelson Is Back and Miss Nelson Has A Field Day: The Miss Nelson book series is another classic series that most children will be familiar with as everyone’s favorite teacher turns into the dreaded substitute Viola Swamp to first save Miss Nelson’s class when they get out of control while she is out getting her tonsils removed and then again when the gym teacher loses it and the football team needs a coach. These stories are great reads, but somehow just don’t work as animated videos. The misadventures detailed in the stories come across as silly and tedious in the video.
Will I Have A Friend: A young boy worries he won’t have a friend on his first day of school. Thankfully, he meets lots of new children, including one he does “funny tummy” with (which in real life gets you a referral to the counselor). This is an older story and the animation is more of a camera zoom-in on stationary pictures from the book with an occasional animated motion from one of the characters. This story comes across as flat and outdated.
Open Wide - Tooth School Inside: 32 teeth at school learn about the parts of a tooth as well as the care and cleaning of teeth through a story chock full of teeth puns. Michael McKean provides the voice for the dentist but the gimmick of teeth as students wears thin very quickly and is accented by an awful song at the end that thinks it is clever but is actually just plain awful.
The Scrambled States of America: Uncle Sam tells the story of how Kansas gets bored always being in the same spot so the other states switch around but of course problems arise when the states aren’t in their regular spot. This should be a cute story that is educational to boot, but it is another example of a clever idea that goes nowhere.
Shrinking Violet: This thirty three minute video tells the story of a young girl named Violet who shrinks when teased by the class bully Irwin and learns to “bloom” through her role as narrator of her class play about space. The illustrations are flat and unappealing, and the animation attempts to be whimsical but it doesn’t work. The story doesn’t work because Violet isn’t a character who is interesting.
Otto Runs For President: It is election time at dog school and the dog jock is running agaoinst the popular dog for class president. Meanwhile, honest and caring Otto gets his fifty paws to be endorsed as a candidate and he ends up winning the election. Big promises and being popular does not win an election, especially when the campaigns degrade into smear campaigns and empty promises. I applaud the attempt to introduce politics to children but let’s be realistic. This is not a true example of the real political process and the tale comes across as being what would happen in an ideal world but never in the real one.
Emily’s First 100 Days of Schools: Also known as “I Feel Like 100 Minutes Have Passed and This Story is Still Happening”. This is the longest story on the DVD clocking in at 35 minutes in length. This would be fine if the story was good, but it isn’t. It follows the adventures of Emily and the slice of life adventures she has experienced at school and at home during her first 100 days of school. And yes, there is something from all one hundred days. And they aren’t really entertaining or interesting. And the narration is done using a cloying, annoying adult voice trying to sound like a child’s voice. And did I mention they tie in a Bunny News Network theme (like CNN) to make this hip and wink-wink clever? And did I mention I still think it is playing somewhere and will never end? I want my 35 minutes back!
So overall, does the compilation work? The compilation is an interesting mix of older titles and newer ones. In addition, the length of each story varies from three to four minutes all the way to thirty-five minutes. The common thread through all twenty stories is school, but there is a wide variety in the way the stories are told and presented. Some of the stories are good for children between the ages of 3 and 4, while other stories will only appeal to older children aged nine and above. If you have an audience at home of children with a wide age range, this mix is good for you. However, the variety of older stories and videos with newer ones, as well as the range in story length and tone may not work for children who have difficulty sustaining attention. As an adult, I had a hard time maintaining attention through the longer ones and the constant change in type and tone of stories was not appealing.
Scholastic Storybook Treasures: The Classic Collection: 20 Back-to-School Tales looks forward to summer on DVD courtesy of Cinedigm. The shorts here have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. We have 20 videos which span many years, therefore the quality varies greatly. Some are sharp, clear, and free from defects. Others show a lack of detail and some defects from the source materials, such as black dots. The quality of the animation varies as well, and the transfer really enhances the issues which some of the less impressive pieces show. The colors are good for the most part, but a few do look washed out. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is certainly passable, and the narration is always easy to understand. But, don't expect any dynamic effects here, as the sound is pretty flat.
The 20 Back-to-School Tales DVD contains no extra features.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long