There are two simple rules when it comes to writing; 1) know your subject; and 2) know your audience. Author/illustrator Kevin Henkes has been creating chlidren's books since 1981, and he's certainly seems to have mastered both of these points. And while he's published many book and several novels, it's his "mouse books" that have made him a household name amongst young readers. Despite the fact that these stories feature rodents as their main characters, the actions and emotions of these mice will ring true to both kids and parents. Now, three of Henkes' most popular books have been animated for this new collection.
(As this DVD contains several different episodes, each will receive a capsule review which includes an overview of the video and audio aspects as well. It can be assumed that these shorts were captured on film for classroom use. Each contains a stereo soundtrack.)
"Chrysanthemum" -- 14 minutes -- On the day that Chrysanthemum was born, he parents decided that she was perfect and gave her the perfect name. And Chrysanthemum thought her name was perfect, that is, until she went to school. All of the other kids had much shorter names, and made fun of the fact that Chrysanthemum was named after a flower. Can anyone or anything convince Chrysanthemum that there's nothing wrong with having a long name? In typical Henkes', fashion, "Chrysanthemum" shows the reality of childhood (kids can be cruel), but also offers a nice lesson (there's nothing wrong with being a little different). The animation, which is based directly on Henkes' art is fun and colorful. The narration is done by Meryl Streep, who makes one of Chrysanthemum's classmates sound like Butt-Head. The video is very sharp and clear (once again, the colors look great), and the audio is fine.
"Owen" -- 9 minutes -- Owen, a young mouse, has been featured in several Henkes' books. In this story, we learn that Owen loves his fuzzy, yellow blanket, and doesn't go anywhere without it. As he's about to start school (apparently, a major turning-point in Henkes' world), his parents attempt to devise ways for Owen to leave his blanket behind. But, none of them work. Then, Owen's mother has a brilliant idea that makes everyone happy. The security-blanket issue is one that many children and parents can relate to, and Henkes' clever story presents it in a safe way, that doesn't make fun of the blanket-lover. And I wouldn't be surprised if many people used Owen's mother's solution for their own kids. The video shows some very slight grain, but is otherwise very clear, and the colors are fine. Sarah Jessica Parker provides the narration on "Owen", and does a fine job of changing her voice to match the different characters.
"A Weekend with Wendell" -- 10 minutes -- Sophie is nonplussed when she learns that he bratty cousin Wendell is coming to spend the night. As soon as Wendell arrives, he begins to cause trouble, and showing that he doesn't like to share, or cooperate while playing. Sophie is miserable, and can't wait for Wendell to leave. But, she soon learns that there is a way to make Wendell cooperate and have fun. "A Weekend with Wendell" is a unique story, as it attempts to teach children patience and tolerance (good luck). Again, Henkes' uses a situation that most children can relate to (we've all had that bratty kid come over) and the lesson taught here is subtle and universal. Actress Mary Beth Hurt ("The World According To Garp") provides a soft, soothing touch to the story. Images here are sharp and true, showing good colors and no defects.
This disc features three bonus stories, all of which feature more rodent characters.
"Picnic" -- 13 minutes -- "Picnic" gets an A for effort, but it is too long and too subtle to entertain most kids. The story concerns a family of rabbits who are going on a picnic. Once they reach their destination, one young rabbit wanders off and gets into trouble. This segment offers no dialogue and is accompanied by music only. That set-up can work fine, but at nearly 15 minutes, "Picnic" runs out of gas very quickly. Bring on the ants! The colors here are fine, but the image is grainy, and there is a plethora of defects from the source print.
"Monty" -- 7 minutes -- In this enchanting story, three animals, a bunny, a frog, and a duck usually ride an alligator named Monty across the river to school. But, one day, they find that Monty has gone on vacation, and they must discover a new system for crossing the river. This dilemma teaches the viewer the power of problem solving and cooperative thinking. And Monty is a very funny character. The animation style used here is very basic, yet effective. The colors are diffused and the picture shows some grain. Also, the volume on "Monty" is much lower than the other segments.
"TheWizard" -- 7 minutes -- There once was an old wizard who sold spells from his shop. One day, a young mouse comes to the shop and announces that he's tired of being a mouse and wants a spell that will change him into something else. But, the mouse has no money. So, the wizard gives the mouse an unlabeled bottle, for which he no longer has any use. The mouse takes the mouse home and begins to imagine what kind of creature he'll become and whether or not he'd be happy as that creature. "The Wizard" teaches a great lesson concerning self-esteem and self-image, but in a very creative way. Even if they don't realize it, many kids will be able to relate to the mouse. The image on "The Wizard" is satisfactory, but there is some slight grain.
The final extra is not really an extra at all. A "read-along" is offered, but this is essentially the addition of English subtitles on each of the main selections. The subs are the same size as standards subs. They would need to be bigger to be effective as a "read-along".
Fans of Kevin Henkes will delight at these animated versions of his familiar tales. But, for those of you who are unfamiliar to Henkes, be warned. Once you view this DVD, you may find yourself stocking up on his books!