by Dustin P. Anderson
Scholastic presents the audience with a collection of Halloween themed children’s books to prepare the little ones for a night of fun, junk food, and terror. In this DVD the creators have compiled a slew of short books that range from educational to moralistic, from scary to lighthearted. These books represent different parts of the world and seek to bring such classics as Where the Wild Things Are to life. The first thing I noticed about this DVD was that it needs a different type of review style. In the interest of time and space I shouldn’t go through 20 different stories and give someone a quick review on each while trying to give my overall impression of the DVD as a whole. I also can’t treat this as one big concurrent collection due to changing themes, animation speeds, art styles, the decade in which it was made, etc. So I decided to give you my opinion on a couple of stories that should be appropriate for whatever you want for your child, then give my good and bad about the DVD in the closing paragraphs.
If you want your child to learn something about a different culture, the Day of the Dead story is the most accessible in this DVD. It gives us a taste of how another culture celebrates the Halloween timeframe by presenting a poem, then giving a lesson about the holiday at the end. Los Gatos Black on Halloween is another Spanish tale, but it doesn’t give as much education; it’s more of a story. There are other great educational stories provided in this collection as well, like Dinosaur Bones which teaches the audience about paleontology, and Dem Bones, which teaches the audience about the human skeletal structure.
If we step away from education, my favorite book in this collection for pure horror is called Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman. I consider myself a grown man (even though I love cartoons), and as a grown man I am slightly harder to scare on most things. This book creeped me out. It wasn’t the premise or anything like that, it was just the entire tone. The art reminds you of an old-style fable, which makes the witch look extremely menacing. If you mix that with the voice of the woman reading the story and voicing the characters, it all becomes a bit unnerving. I should have been prepared for this, since the opening displayed two withering live-action hands against a black background, with voice of a more seasoned woman talking somewhere off screen (allegedly attached to these hands).
The thing I loved about this collection of stories is that it brings me back to a time where you could have fun with a minimal amount of effort. For five-year-olds or below, this is the perfect introduction to cartoons, because it helps to give a better appreciation for minimalism. It also helps so that they get a better understanding about different types of art styles. This is an extremely important element to me, because it lays the roots for artistic appreciation. You can have a more modern artistic style like Creepy Carrots or an older style like Georgie; there is a lot to be gained in this. That is one of the more hidden benefits to the collection; you still have the classic Scholastic-style morals and education benefits to consider. A Very Brave Witch teaching us not to judge based on stereotypes, Strega Nona teaching us to heed warnings or mind our elders; they’re all good lessons to be learned.
The only bad things that I can mention are that I wouldn’t suggest hitting the play-all option, because if you run someone through all of these (especially if you are aiming for the intended age bracket) the differing types of animation might throw them off and sour the taste. It goes from showing us pictures like we are being read a book, to displaying small motions of animation like an arm moving or tree swaying, then it gives us full-on animation. It can be a bit jarring to a first time watcher. The other thing is that Dinosaur Bones doesn’t fit the Halloween premise. Don’t get me wrong; I love dinosaurs, and if it was a part of any other collection I would be singing its praises, but the only thing even remotely connected to Halloween or the fall season is bones. Dem Bones works better because it is using human skeletons, and primarily we can associate that with Halloween. When I think of dinosaur skeletons, I think of going to the museum or of Jurassic Park. Anything other than these two problems is implied, like me knowing that I am not going to get much joy out of most of these stories because it is trying to reach a different age demographic entirely.
In the end, I suggest that you pick this up for your little one. It’s great for the younger audience, because it can be both fun and educational at times.