The wonderful Scholastic series has a very special new release, Bedtime for Frances, with three animated stories about the beloved little badger. Author Russell Hoban’s Frances stories are filled with gentle humor and perceptive insights about the way children see the world. The title story has Frances feeling a bit anxious and fearful as it gets closer to bedtime and trying to delay with requests for more hugs and kisses and then asking questions about some of the things that scare her. The DVD comes with a custom-made hard-bound book featuring that story, Bedtime for Frances, which received the “Notable Children’s Book” award from The American Library Association when it originally debuted in 1960.
Children love to identify with the curious and imaginative little badger and to see her adventures with her little sister, Gloria, her mom and dad, and her best friend Albert. With Hoban’s story and animation from the Jim Henson company, this is a top-notch addition to my very favorite DVD series for kids. (NOTE to parents: There is a reference to spanking in the story but no one gets spanked.)
You’ve heard of educational software that teaches you something but this is educational software that teaches scientists something. Foldit is a Tetris-like game that is easy to understand but a challenge to master. That’s what makes it fun. What makes it important is that it was designed by a very serious team of scientists based on models of proteins as a way of furthering their research. As people all over play the game, they are sending back to the scientists important data that will help them learn more about the way proteins work.
The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans’ puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.
Calculations involving spatial understanding are among the few that are still done most effectively by humans instead of computers. As people work through the levels of the game, they are performing thousands of calculations and experiments. Some of them have even become so interested they have done a little research of their own. Others are just having fun working through the game and competing with each other online. PRI’s Studio 360 has a terrific segment on Foldit and a video clip to show how the game works.
One of the tenderest stories in the Bible is the tale of Ruth, the young widow who chose to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Although it fills only four short chapters, the two characters are vivid and their story involving and touching. Joined in their love for Ruth’s late husband, they stay together until Naomi arranges for Ruth to marry the kind Boaz.
In the 1950’s, Selma Kritzer Silverberg wrote Naomi’s Song, the story of Naomi’s early life, but her manuscript was not discovered until 2005 by Silverberg’s daughter, who felt that its story and its message would be meaningful to young women. The daughter, Judy Vida, writes in the introduction that the book’s publication “brings to fruition lifelong goals of teaching, Bible storytelling, and empowering girls to have ‘that necessary courage and conviction.'”
Silverberg immerses the reader in the era, giving us insights into the experiences and qualities that made Naomi such a strong and dedicated woman. She faces enormous challenges in her early life and she must overcome personal tragedy and community upheaval. She responds with loyalty and perseverance, developing the strength and understanding that would make her a wise and loving mother-in-law for Ruth. It is easy to understand why Silverberg’s daughter would want to share this story with others. Like the story her mother tells, the story behind it is an example of sharing history and values l’dor vador, from generation to generation.
I have one copy of the book to give away to the first person who sends me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Naomi” in the subject line. Good luck!
Maurice Sendak’s spare, poetic, and deeply wise book has been lovingly unfolded into a movie about the child who lives in all of us, brave and fearful, generous and needy, angry and peaceful, confident and insecure, adventuresome and very glad to come home. The movie may challenge children who are used to bright, shiny colors and having everything explained to them but if they allow it, Max and his story will bloom inside them as it will for anyone open to its profound pleasures.
The book’s opening line is as well-remembered as “Call me Ishmael” or “It was a dark and stormy night.” “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING.'” Those who wondered what prompted Max’s mischief will accompany him as he experiences the jubilation of creating his own cozy space, a snowball-stocked igloo, and as he joyously takes on his sister’s friends in a snowball fight, only to be inconsolably crushed when they carelessly smash his icy lair and then leave without him.
There has never been a more evocative portrayal on film of the purity, the intensity, the transcendence of childhood emotions. The hallmark of maturity is the way we temper our feelings; it is not a compliment when we call someone “childish” for not being able to do so. Our experiences — and our parents — teach us that life is complex, that sorrow and joy are always mixed, and that we can find the patience to respond to frustration without breaking anything. But one reason that we mis-remember childhood as idyllic is the longing for the ferocity of childhood pleasures. Jonze and his Max (Max Records) bring us straight into the immediacy and open-heartedness of a child’s emotions.
We know we are in a child’s world even before the movie begins, with scrawled-on opening credits and then a breathtaking, child’s eye opening bursting with sensation, all the feelings rushing together. The film brilliantly evokes the feeling of childhood with the same freshness and intimacy director Spike Jonze showed in the influential videos he made when he was barely out of his teens. Max’s mother is beautifully played by Catherine Keener who makes clear to us, if not to Max, her devotion and sensitivity in the midst of concerns about work and a budding romance. His incoherent fury at her being distracted, including a kiss from a date who seems to think he has the right to tell Max how to behave almost hurtles him from the house, into the night, where he runs and runs, and then to a boat, where he sails and sails, until he comes to the land of the Wild Things.
They begin to attack him, but Max tames them with his bravado and imagination and he becomes the king, promising to do away with loneliness and make everyone happy. The book’s brief story blooms here as Max interacts with the Wild Things (voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper). Each of them represents or reflects Max’s emotions or experiences. They love sleeping in a big pile and are thrilled with Max’s plans for a fort. But Max learns how difficult it is to be responsible for the happiness of others, and before long, like other children in stories who have traveled to lands filled with magic and wonder, he longs for home.
The movie’s look is steeped in the natural world, with forests and beaches, and intricate Waldorf-school-style constructions that evoke a sense of wonder. The screenplay by Dave Eggers and Jonze locates the heart of Sendak’s story. They have not turned it into a movie; they have made their own movie as a tribute to Sendak, to childhood, to parenthood, to the Wild Things we all are at times, and to the home that waits for us when those times are over.
The second is a gorgeous book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda, with beautiful illustrations and details about the making of the film. The artwork and attention to detail are breathtaking.
And here’s how to win: Send me an email to email@example.com with either “Kung Fu Panda” or “Scholastic Treasury” in the subject line. Tell me what grade you teach and where. Only one prize to a recipient, but the first email for each will be the winner. Thanks for visiting my site, thanks for all you do, and good luck!