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May 7, 2010

Security Blanket: Scholastic Storybook Treasures

Among all the kids’ stuff scattered around our homes, there are those precious go-to items: the books, music, videos, and games our kids return to again and again, which we parents learn to prize as old reliables. I’ll be using this Security Blanket feature to highlight some of our family’s tried-and-true favorites. (If you have some of your own, let me know in Comments!)

First off is the cream of our DVD crop, the endearingly huge Scholastic Storybook Treasures series. These discs generally contain between four and eight short video adaptations each of classic children’s books, including a gaggle of Caldecott and Newberry winners, from Where the Wild Things Are to Knuffle Bunny. Most of the videos are fairly basic: very simple animation or even still images taken from the actual picture book’s illustrations, accompanied by an actor’s reading of the text; occasionally, one will go outside the lines a bit. (There’s a surprising live-action version of Corduroy, for instance.)

Many of these adaptations were also clearly made long ago, especially the older classics (say, Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels), and these have their own particular charm. But pretty much every single one does a great job of capturing the specific tone and feel of the book it’s adapting, and our sons find them riveting.

They also seem to have been designed to fit parental needs: Each animated book is fairly short, about 10 or 15 minutes, so you can safely drop the kids in front of them while you’re making dinner without worrying about how you’re going to pry them away midstream. With our eldest son, we’ve even got a negotiation system down: Two “books,” and then it’s time to stop for dinner. (OK, OK, three.)

Now, it’s easy to overindulge in the thought that there’s something “better” about these videos, compared to ones not based on classic kids’ books—they still are watching, not reading, here. Still, it seems to me that many of these videos have increased Dash’s interest in the corresponding books (if he has them) or led him to seek out the books at the library or bookstore (if he doesn’t). There’s a link to reading that you just don’t get with most videos.

After first discovering the Scholastic videos, we went whole-hog and got an immense boxed set of them, but they’re available à la carte, too, in dazzling variety and range. Each DVD loosely groups its books  by theme: African folk tales (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, perhaps our family’s consensus favorite, with the title story and several others read by James Earl Jones); spooky stories (The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, which also includes a suitably creepy version of the old Eastern European folk tale Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman that delights Dash); books by a certain prominent author (The Snowy Day—retitled The Ezra Jack Keats Collection sometime after we got it—which also includes a bunch of lesser-known but equally excellent stories by the writer).

Perhaps best of all, New Video keeps coming out with new Scholastic entries. The latest additions to the canon are He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and Runaway Ralph, the first a set of stories celebrating the environment, the second featuring another live-action video of the Beverly Cleary book. There’s something (and more than one) for every kid in this collection—and as with everything I intend to place under the Security Blanket rubric, I don’t know what we’d do without them.
[Photos: Courtesy of New Video.]

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