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I’m very excited to have a gorgeous DVD box set from the Scholastic Storybook series, my very favorite family DVDs to give away. And this one is really special, with three different collections that will inspire children to use their imaginations and explore the world of artistic expression through music, painting, sculpture, dance, and theater.

It includes: Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin and more stories for young musicians.

ZIN! ZIN! ZIN! A VIOLIN (Written by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, music by Marvin Hamlisch) A lonesome trombone is joined by various instruments, one by one, to form a chamber group of ten.

MUSICAL MAX (Written by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt) Max stops playing music when his neighbors complain about the noise. What will he do instead?

THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER (Illustrated by Peter Spier, sung by Aretha Franklin) Aretha Franklin lends her soulful voice to this moving rendition of our national anthem.

KEEPING HOUSE (Written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Wendy Smith) Songwriter Lizzie Firkin would rather sing and dance than do chores. What if people think she s lazy or sloppy?

PATRICK (Written and illustrated by Quentin Blake) When Patrick plays his violin, the most unusual things start to happen; fish can fly, cows can dance, and trees grow cakes!

APT. 3 (Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, narrated by Charles Turner) Intrigued by the sounds of a harmonica, two brothers set off on a search to find the musician in an old tenement building.

And The Dot and more stories for young artists, with:

THE DOT (Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, narrated by Thora Birch) A mark can change everything. Vashti thinks she can’t draw, but when she explores her imagination she discovers her own creativity.

ART (Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, narrated b Bobby McFerrin) Words are at the tip of a paintbrush. A picture can really be worth a thousand words.

ISH (Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, narrated by Chester Gregory) Ramon is discouraged when his older brother makes fun of his drawings. How will he get his confidence back?

NORMAN THE DOORMAN (Written and illustrated by Don Freeman, narrated by Katherine Kellgren) Norman the Door Mouse secretly enters a sculpture competition at the art museum. Will he win?

WALLACE’S LISTS (Written by Barbara Bottner and Gerald Kruglik, illustrated by Olof Landstrom, narrated by Zach Braff) Wallace, a mouse who loves life by lists, meets a spontaneous, artistic new neighbor named Albert. He soon discovers how enchanting life can be without his lists.

And it has Shrinking Violet and more stories for young performers, which includes:

SHRINKING VIOLET (Written by Cari Best, illustrated by Giselle Potter, narrated by Calista Flockhart) This beautiful story about self-confidence shows us what happens when the shyest girl in school gets the lead part in the play.

THREE CHEERS FOR CATHERINE THE GREAT! (Written by Cari Best, illustrated by Giselle Potter, narrated by Ekaterina Gordeeva) This is the tale of Sara s feisty Russian grandmother and her birthday celebration with no presents from everyone. What will the no presents be?

GIRAFFES CAN’T DANCE (Written by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees, narrated by Billy Dee Williams) Gerald the Giraffe just wants to dance! Everyone else at the Jungle Dance seems to be a better dancer. Maybe with a little encouragement he ll be the best of all!

AMAZING GRACE (Written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch, narrated by Alfre Woodard) Her classmates discourage Grace from trying out for the part of Peter Pan because she’s black and a girl. She tries out anyway and wins the part!  This is one of my very favorite books, read by one of my very favorite actresses.

Send me an email at with “Zin!” in the subject line and tell me your favorite form of artistic expression.  Don’t forget to include your address.  I’ll pick one winner at random on September 18.  Good luck!



It’s funny the way there often seems to be a cosmic convergence in the fall TV season.  One year it was two different shows about people behind the scenes of a thinly disguised version of “Saturday Night Live.”  If you predicted the one that would last would be the half-hour comedy from an SNL writer (“30 Rock”) would win out over the one-hour drama from the “West Wing” guy (and didn’t we love the meta-joke on “30 Rock” where he appeared as himself), you were savvier than I was.

Several sources have noted that this year’s fall season seems to have a lot of strong women and weak men.  And in the New York Times Magazine, Heather Havrilesky has a very thoughtful piece about the prevalence of infantilized grown-ups of both genders in the 2011 line-up.

In decades past, TV comedies tended to capture the clamor and conflict of children through an idealistic lens; from “Leave It to Beaver” to “Growing Pains” to “Full House,” these TV shows featured charmingly sassy kids (“Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”) engaging in mildly naughty activities (teasing, lying, petty thievery), necessitating awkward family discussions that end when the perp apologizes (cutely), then buries his tear-stained face into somebody’s Cosby sweater.

Lately, though, the focus of the family comedy has shifted. Instead of offering us adorable, bewildered children learning big life lessons from wise adults, we are now presented with adorable, bewildered parents learning big life lessons from bawling tots and jaded teenagers. On shows like “Modern Family” and “Parenthood” and a bevy of new comedies this fall, it’s the parents who fumble and whine plaintively and require coaching and reassurance from their peers in order to weather the snares and toils of child-rearing. And unlike the lunatic-children-running-the-asylum vision of family that has echoed Erma Bombeck’s oeuvre since the ’70s, on today’s family comedy, the children are the only sane ones in the picture. The parents are the lunatics.

While even the most misguided moms and dads of sitcom lore — Archie Bunker, George Jefferson, Mama of “Mama’s Family” — had at least a stray nugget or two of wisdom to impart, today’s shows are populated by parents who make big mistakes and regret it seconds later. NBC’s “Parenthood” has supplanted both “Brothers & Sisters” and “Desperate Housewives” as the gold standard of parental agony, though it has some competition from a new ABC comedy, “Suburgatory.” When a single father (Jeremy Sisto) living in New York City discovers unused condoms in the dresser drawer of his teenage girl (Jane Levy), he reacts by moving them both to the suburbs in search of a more wholesome life. Instead of old-fashioned values, though, they find blonde, fake-breasted moms with daughters who emulate the high style of Vegas prostitutes and “Jersey Shore.” While Dad gamely tries to fit in, his daughter rolls her eyes dramatically and mocks his awful choices. The moral? Father (or mother) doesn’t know best. They don’t really know much at all.

Especially unappealing is the description of a show actually called “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” which makes both mothers and daughters sound particularly unpleasant.   I’m going to have to think about what this says about where we are, or where television executives think we are, right now.


The re-release of “The Lion King” in 3D is coming this month and now the Hollywood Reporter says that “Top Gun” is being adapted for a 3D release.  Apparently, director Tony Scott has not yet given his approval.

As I noted on Ebert Presents At the Movies, there’s a world of difference between films shot in 3D and those converted to 3D after they have been shot with 2D cameras.  I don’t think there’s any benefit at all from releasing a well-known film in an obviously-converted format, do you?

The story of Judah Maccabee, one of the greatest warrior heroes in Jewish history, could make a great movie.  He led the first revolt against religious oppression in 167 BCE.  His victory is celebrated by Jews around the world each year at Hannukah.

One of the most successful directors in Hollywood is behind the project, someone whose previous film about a rebellion was an Oscar-winner.  But that director is Mel Gibson, whose anti-Semitic tirade when he was arrested for drunk driving and portrayal of the ancient Jews in his controversial “The Passion of the Christ” suggests that he may not be the person to tell this story.  Gibson has said repeatedly that this is a movie he wants to make.  But his choice of screenwriter is also sure to raise concerns.  It is Joe Eszterhas of “Basic Instinct,” “Flashdance,” and “Showgirls.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, released a statement: “We would have hoped that Warner Bros. could have found someone better than Mel Gibson to direct or perhaps even star in a film on the life of the Jewish historical icon Judah Maccabee. As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better.”  They have asked Warner Brothers to “reconsider” Gibson’s involvement.

I am skeptical about Gibson’s ability to tell this story, not because I think he will promote stereotypes or bigotry but because I think his increasing fascination with anger and violence will give the story the wrong focus.  I hope I’m wrong.