TREASURY OF 100 STORYBOOK CLASSICS – DVD review

One hundred Scholastic storybook classics, for $99.95? The math is so simple that even your little ones might be able to do it. To add this incredible set to your home video collection, it’ll only cost you ONE DOLLAR per story. Or if you prefer to shop by disc, each DVD in this 16-disc set costs only $6.25.

I know, I know. I sound like the voiceover for an infomercial. But I wouldn’t be making such a big deal out of the price if it wasn’t for the value attached to this set. There are Caldecott Medal winners here, books that you read when you were a kid, and plenty of new classics to engage your children IF they’re in the target 2-5 age range. Even if your children are at the high end of that range, this set is priced so cheaply that parents needn’t think twice about giving their children an alternative to the fast-talking wise-guy cartoons that dominate our television sets. After your child outgrows the set, simply donate it to your local library, school, or preschool–any of whom would be delighted to add this one to their video collections–and then take the tax deduction. Sweet. Though, of course, they’re no substitute for the books themselves. Call them an enhancement.

For those unfamiliar with the Scholastic Video Collection, this series, produced by Weston Woods, takes popular children’s picture books and adapts them for film. In many cases the original artwork appears with Ken Burns’ effect–a pan-and-scan that adds some motion–while in other cases a single feature (like the tail of a dog, for example) might be animated to suggest movement. It’s rare than there’s any more animation than that, but I think it preserves the integrity of the books to incorporate the original artwork rather than doing a complete animated adaptation. These are quite literally books-on-DVD, with a voiceover narrator reading the words of the text as we see pages “turn” on frames. The videos span a number of years, and sometimes much older stories are included. There’s a broad range of material, in other words, and with that kind of range you’re bound to get some stories that aren’t as strong.

I’ve reviewed a number of the single discs for this site, and I can tell you that somebody at Scholastic decided to put together the equivalent of a “greatest hits” collection, and they stayed pretty consistently in the 2-5 age range, leaving some nice ones out that would have been aimed at older kids. But I do recommend that you abide by this age range. By the time kids get to first grade, forget it. They’ll watch these in school if they’re shown a story because of the communal thing (and, face it, we enjoyed HEALTH videos as a welcome break from schoolwork), but at home they won’t get much repeat play unless your children are toddlers or preschoolers.

Where the Wild Things Are and Other Maurice Sendak Stories merits an 8 out of 10 for it’s classic title story and two more: “The Nutshell Kids” (animal poems set to music that teach various things such as manners, the alphabet and numbers), and “In the Night Kitchen,” which has a little fun with those mysterious noises that kids always hear at night. It’s an excellent disc that includes a Spanish version of the title story and a read-along function, as well as a bonus feature about Maurice Sendak.

Harry the Dirty Dog and More Terrific Tales is a 7 out of 10, doggone it. Three stories about dogs are the highlights: the title story, by Gene Zion, which has Harry running away on bath day and then wondering if his family will recognize him when he returns, all muddy; “Officer Buckle & Gloria,” a Caldecott Honor Book by Peggy Rathmann about a police dog who helps an otherwise ineffectual officer convey safety tips to children (the best of this bunch); and “Angus and the Ducks,” a story by Marjorie Flack that’s a live-action film about an inquisitive dog who checks out a commotion inside the neighbor’s house. Bonus stories on this disc are “The Beast of Monsieur Racine,” “14 Rats and a Rat-Catcher,” and “John Brown, Rose, and the Midnight Cat.”

Curious George Rides a Bike and More Tales of Mischief features the title story and two others: “The Great White Man-Eating Shark” by Margaret Mahy and Jonathan Allen, about a boy who looks like a shark and decides to scare away swimmers, except for one female shark who’s taken a shine to him; and “Flossie and the Fox” by Patricia C. McKissack and Rachel Isadora, a clever folkloric tale about a little African-American girl who outfoxes a fox. The latter is the plum in this bunch, with gorgeous illustrations. Two bonus stories are included: “The Happy Lion” by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin, and “Cat and Canary” by Michael Foreman. Special features: a Spanish version of the title story and a read-aloud option. This one’s another 7 out of 10.

Good Night Gorilla and More Bedtime Storiesis one disc that our household personally wouldn’t use. Call me old-fashioned, but a bedtime story ought to be read, not watched. But maybe it would work for “wind-down” time before the bedtime story. Included is the title story by Peggy Rathmann, about a mischievous gorilla who gets into the zookeeper’s house while the keeper makes his nightly rounds; “How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, a metaphoric book that uses dinos to ape kids’ bad behavior when told it’s bedtime; “Happy Birthday, Moon” by Frank Asch, a quiet story about a little bear who keeps wishing the moon a happy birthday (which I personally thought the weak link here); and “The Napping House,” a kind of how-many-people-can-we-fit-in-a-phone-booth story by Audrey and Don Wood that has Granny and all the creatures in her house trying the same bed on for size. Three bonus stories are included. “The Paperboy” by Dav Pilkey, narrated by Forest Whitaker, should have been a main story, because it’s an engaging Caldecott Honor Book adaptation. Also included is “Patrick” by Quentin Blake” and “The Hat” by Tomi Ungerer. The only bonus feature is a read-along option. A pretty strong grouping, with even the bonus features worth watching. An 8 out of 10.

Chrysanthemum and More Kevin Henkes Stories are a bunch of sweet tales, a fact all but confirmed by the top-notch voice talent they attracted as narrators: Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Mary Beth Hurt. In the title story, Chrysanthemum is a mouse who’s happy with her name until classmates make fun of her, and it takes a good friend to make everything right. “Owen” involves a mouse who’s traumatized because he can’t bring his yellow blanket to school, but Mom has an idea that will make him happy; “A Weekend with Wendell” is a sleepover story where Sophie learns to stand up to the domineering Wendell. It’s all about turn-taking. Bonus stories on this disc are “Picnic” by Emily Arnold McCully, “Monty” by James Stevenson, and “The Wizard” by Jack Kent. There’s a read-along option here too. One of the strongest discs in this collection. A 9 out of 10.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is pitched at the lower end of the age group, and will appeal mostly to pre-schoolers. Once they hit kindergarten, they’ll be too old for the title story, which is a musical learn-the-alphabet story with animated letters climbing a coconut tree. It’s pure “Sesame Street.” “Trashy Town” might remind some toddlers of “Bob the Builder” with its garbage men and their musical work reverie. “Rosie’s Walk” by Pat Hutchins involves a clumsy fox who can’t seem to catch a hen, while “The Caterpillar and the Polliwog” is a Jack Kent story about (three guesses) change. One of the bonus stories also is about change (“Changes, Changes” by Pat Hutchins), while another Jack Kent story is thrown in (“Joey Runs Away”) and another frog tale (“The Foolish Frog,” by Pete and Charles Seeger, illustrated by Miloslav Jagr). A strong disc. Call it another 8 out of 10.

Harold and the Purple Crayon and More Harold Stories you’ve heard of, if you’re a parent. On this one, drawings take shape with color, and will fascinate children who like to draw and color. In the title story, Harold draws a moon so he can take a walk in moonlight, but he draws it with a purple crayon, which sets up a fantastic adventure. In “A Picture for Harold’s Room,” it’s the “Alice in Wonderland” dilemma as Harold draws a picture for his room, but finds himself bigger than a mountain, then smaller than a bird. How to return to normal? In “Harold’s Fairy Tale,” it’s a trip through an enchanted garden with a king, an invisible giant witch, and a fairy. Three non-Harold bonus stories are included: “The Mysterious Tadpole” by Steven Kellogg, “Drummer Hoff” by Barbara and Ed Emberley, and “Smile for Auntie” by Diane Paterson. “Drummer Hoff” is the weakest of the bunch–a poem, really, about firing a cannon–but the rest have strong narratives. Another 8 out of 10.

Clack, Clack, Clack Moo Cows That Type and More Fun on the Farm offers a Caldecott award-winning title story by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin that’s narrated by country singer Randy Travis. It’s a whimsical poem-story about a shutdown on the farm. “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash” by Trinka Hakes Noble and Steven Kellogg tells about a class trip to the farm that goes awry when pigs get on the bus and Jimmy’s pet snake gets loose. More pigs in “The Pigs’ Wedding,” by Heime Heine,” as the porkers try to figure out how to get cleaned up for the big event. In addition to a Spanish version of the title story there are two bonus features: “The Cow Who Fell in the Canal,” by Phyllis Krasilovsky and Peter Spier, and “Charlie Needs a Cloak” by Tomie de Paola. An 8 out of 10.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and More Stories That Singis narrated and sung by–nope, not Pete Seeger or Burl Ives–nor is this old ditty sung by an old bitty. Cyndi Lauper narrates and sings this familiar rhyme, adapted from a Caldecott Honor Book by Simms Taback. Trouble is, many folks will prefer a more traditional rendition. This one is half-sung and half-narrated, followed by The Full Lauper. In another musical song, “Antarctic Antics,” pre-“Happy Feet” penguins dance to a rhyme about Antarctica, while in “Musical Max” a music-lover drives everyone crazy with his playing . . . until he stops, and drives everyone CRAZIER with silence. There’s a Spanish version of this song included, along with two bonus features: “Keeping House” by Margaret Mahy and Wendy Smith, and “Waiting in the Wings” by Lois Ehlert. The latter is the strongest-perhaps even the strongest on the disc. A 7 out of 10.

Make Way for Ducklings and More Robert McCloskey Stories introduces your child/children to another classic tale. The illustrations are older because the stories were written decades ago and turned into short films decades ago. But they still have relevance, because of McCloskey’s warm style and content. In the title tale, a pair of mallards look for a place to raise a brood and settle on a big city dwelling. In “Blueberries for Sal,” a whimsical story, a little girl and little bear picking blueberries get mixed up with the wrong mother. And in “Time of Wonder,” we learn about boating and summering in Maine with two sisters. This one has an almost Edward Hopper feel to it. A Spanish version of “Make Way for Ducklings” is included, along with two bonus stories that are also older: another sea story (“Burt Dow, Deep Water-Man”) which is animated, and a story about a boy who can’t whistle and learns to play harmonica (“Lentil”). Another 7 out of 10.

Corduroy and More Stories about Friendshipis another one for the low age range. The title story is live action, with the stuffed bear wanting someone to bring him home from the department store and then searching for a missing button. In “Yo! Yes?”, another Caldecott Honor Book, Chris Raschka’s story about two lonely boys is brought to life. Parents will see it as a friendship of convenience, but for kids it will model how to MAKE friends. In “Here Comes the Cat!” it’s a story of a whole village of mice that panics when they sight a giant cat on the horizon. Frank Asch and Vladimir Vagin give kids a twist at the end of all this nervousness, of course. The only bonus feature in this volume is “The Rainbabies,” an odd story by Laura Krauss Melmed and Jim Lamarche. Some children may be disappointed by the live-action version of “Corduroy,” and by the bonus story. “Here Comes the Cat” is actually the strongest entry. A 6 out of 10.

Strega Nona and More Caldecott Award-winning Tales has the charm of an old book of folktales illustrated with woodcuts. The title story, by Tomie de Paola, introduces an old witch named Strega Nona and her magic cooking pot, and the trouble it makes when Big Anthony doesn’t listen to her. In “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” a Simms Taback story narrated by none other than Rob Reiner, Joseph ponders what to do with an old and worn coat that has served him well on his farm. And in “Stone Soup,” a Marcia Brown story, townspeople hide all their food when soldiers come. And with nothing to eat, what do they make? Children won’t get the implications behind this story, and will focus on the oddity of stone soup and a moral of resourcefulness. Spanish versions of this one and the title story are provided, along with “The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks,” by Katherine Paterson and Leo and Diane Dillon. An 8 out of 10.

The Snowy Day and More Ezra Jack Keats Stories features another Caldecott Medal winner in the title story, which finds Peter rediscovering the world when it snows. The rest of the stories, written in the ’60s and ’70s, share that simplicity. In “Whistle for Willie,” Peter wants to learn how to whistle so he can call his dog. In “Peter’s Chair,” Peter has to cope with the arrival of a new little sister and the changes it brings to his world. And in “Pet Show!” Archie’s cat disappears before the big neighborhood pet show, and everyone searches for him. Three Ezra Jack Keats bonus stories are also included: “A Letter to Amy,” “The Trip,” and “Apt. 3.” This one is unique in that children get the chance to get used to a character and a style of storytelling, while parents can learn about the author on a bonus feature. There’s also a read-along option. Another 7.

Is Your Mama a Llama? is another beloved children’s book. The story by Deborah Guarino, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, tells about a baby llama who asks other baby animals the question in the title, and gets all sorts of answers. In “Leo the Late Bloomer,” a Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego story, Leo is a little cat who can’t do any of the things that other baby animals can. Will he ever learn? Mary Beth Hurt provides the narrative voiceover. In “Elizabeti’s Doll,” an African tale, Elizabeti is inspired by the arrival of a new baby brother to find her own pretend baby: a rock! And in “Goose,” a Molly Bang variation on “The Ugly Duckling” that’s narrated by Laura Dern, a baby goose grows up in a family of woodchucks and feels odd and out of it until she “blooms.” Spanish versions of the title story and “Leo the Late Bloomer” are provided with, as always, a read-aloud option and a bonus story: “Five Creatures,” by Emily Jenkins, with illustrations by Tomek Bognacki. Another 8 out of 10.

The Teacher from the Black Lagoon and More Slightly Scary Stories will appeal to kids near the higher end of the age range. Younger ones may find moments too frightening. In Mike Thaler’s whimsical story, illustrated by Jared Lee, a student is freaked out when he discovers on day one that he’s gotten the worst monster of a teacher ever. But of course it all turns out okay, and this story will get plenty of play-time around the beginning of school years. In “What’s Under My Bed?” by James Stevenson, a similar unfounded fear makes Mary Ann and Louie think there’s something under their beds. The cure? Grandpa tells what was under HIS bed when he was a youngster. Scarier is “By the Light of the Halloween Moon,” by Caroline Stutson and Kevin Hawkes, which finds a young girl trying to outwit a witch, a spying cat, a hobgoblin sprite and their companions who plan to “eat” her. Same with “The Three Robbers,” by Tomi Ungerer, about three robbers who scare everyone until they meet a little orphan named Tiffany who changes their lives. Three bonus stories are included along with the read-along option: “A Dark, Dark Tale” by Ruth Brown, “Georgie” by Robert Bright, and “Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman,” by Barbara K. Walter and Michael Foreman. A 7 out of 10.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and More Stories from Africa is another strong entry, with two Caldecott Honor Book adaptations among them, including the title story. In Verna Aardema and Leo and Diane Dillon’s book, a tall tale spins out of control, leaving the jungle creatures to try to get the story straight. James Earl Jones lends his distinctive voice to the narration. In “A Story, a Story,” by Gail E. Haley, children learn about the Sky God and the way he kept all his stories in a box beside his thrown until Ananse, the Spider Man, wanted them. In “Who’s in Rabbit’s House” by the same team that gave us the title story, someone or something is in Rabbit’s house, and it might take other animals to help her get back in. “The Village of Round and Square Houses” by Ann Grifalconi and “Hot Hippo” by Mweyne Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway are the bonus stories. A Spanish version of the title story is included, along with the usual read-along function. A strong entry–another 9 out of 10.

Video:
Except for older book adaptations and the live action, which aren’t as sharp and have considerably more grain and surface imperfections, the colors are vivid and the picture is sharp on the rest of these stories. Everything is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Audio:
The audio on these is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which delivers good but not great sound that’s about as solid as the video.

Extras:
Bonus stories have all been mentioned in my summary of each disc, but the packaging is worth noting. These 16 discs come with a sturdy slipcase that has an alphabetized index of all the stories on the bottom of the box so you can easily find which disc a story is on. The back of the box has an iconic index, with a picture of each disc matched by a listing of the stories in each. This dual-index makes it easy for parents to access stories.

Bottom Line:
Scholastic has put together an irresistible combination of some of their best titles for children in the 2-5 age range. But I think somebody in marketing is being overly optimistic in listing the age range as 2-9. I can’t picture many children past kindergarten going for these stories, with the exception of the folk tales. But it’s still one of the best collections that Scholastic/Weston Woods has put together for children ages 2-5.

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