November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Wild Rabbits, Owl Power, and Humans, Too | DVD Reviews

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redstarWord World: Birthday Party! 60 min. Dist. by PBS. 2015. $6.99. ISBN 9781627892506.

PreS-K –In this series, characters and objects are literally made of words. In each episode, a simple story line allows characters to solve problems by building words. The words are spelled, sounded out, and morph into what they spell. In “Dog’s Birthday,” Dog looks for his friends and arrives at each one’s house to discover that no one is around. Of course, when he sadly drags back home, his friends are waiting to surprise him, and in the commotion, the birthday cake is dropped. The friends make a new cake by spelling out the letters C, A, K, E that form into the shape of a cake. In “Pig’s Present,” Pig is so curious about what his nephews are making him for his birthday that he spies on them and makes ridiculous guesses about what present each letter they choose can spell. Duck and Pig create a colorful cake for Frog’s birthday and use the empty frosting cans to build words, beginning with CAN, in “The Rainbow Birthday Cake.” Characters learn in “Bit by Bit” that bigger words like banana can be built one step at a time. Mini episodes follow some of the main ones: Pig makes a pizza using P words, Frog uses his M machine to make M words, and Shark and Crab use letters to make healthy snacks. The voices are distinct, the songs are varied and singable, the settings are colorful, and children will be amused by the situations as they absorb early literacy skills. VERDICT This excellent program has fun characters, catchy songs, and humorous situations that will have children learning to sound out and spell simple words effortlessly.–Constance Dickerson, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, OH

redstarEarth: A New Wild. 300 min. Dist. by PBS. 2015. DVD $29.99. Blu-ray $34.99. ISBN 9781627892148.

Gr 7 Up –Many wildlife filmmakers do everything possible to be certain not to interact with animals through the use of hidden cameras, remote controlled drones, and night vision. But this does not reflect reality. People and animals interact all the time. In this series, conservationist Dr. M. Sanjayan focuses on habitats where humans and animals live alongside one another and on how that is working out for both parties. “Home” looks at how humans and large animals like pandas, tigers, and chimps can live in close proximity. “Plains” reveals how herd animals in Africa, the Russian steppe, and the American West interact with predators to maintain a thriving habitat. The oxygen producing “Forests” are among the most valuable real estate on the planet, and keeping them healthy is good practice for all involved, humans and animals. “Oceans” are increasingly endangered, and this segment examines how scientists and fishermen attempt unusual solutions to save these enormous ecosystems. “Water” is the key to all life, and four different stories deal with how humans and animals get and protect the water they need. Sanjayan, a cheerful and energetic host, conveys information clearly and concisely. The credentials of this collaboration between PBS and National Geographic are impeccable, as well as the camera work and the up-close sound. (Middle school teachers should be aware, though, that the forests program features a great deal of tribal nudity.) VERDICT This would be an excellent addition to a conservation or ecology curriculum.–Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT

redstarHate Crimes in the Heartland. 52 min. Dist. by Alexander Street Press. 2014. $295. ISBN unavail.

Gr 9 Up –This documentary examines the shooting of five African Americans by two white men in Tulsa, OK, in 2012. What began as a local news item quickly went national, and journalists were not hesitant to label the killings a hate crime. The national media spotlight on what became known as the Good Friday shootings revealed the community to be divided by race, with blacks and whites living segregated lives and underlying racial tensions. The filmmakers do a wonderful job of interviewing people who have a variety of perspectives, including law professors, journalists, victims, law enforcements officers, government officials, and civil rights leaders. They trace tensions back to the 1921 race riots in which the Greenwood District, a thriving economic and cultural center also known as the “Black Wall Street,” was burned to the ground, many of its citizens murdered, and the majority of residents left homeless. (Teachers and librarians should be aware of the occasional use of racial slurs as interviewees describe their experiences.) VERDICT With its strong message about the healing of racial scars in the United States, this DVD is a recommended purchase for every high school and public library. It is not just a story about Tulsa, but about modern America and the racial inequalities, and anger, that lurk below the surface.–Tara Hixon, Piedmont High School, OK

redstarThe Sixties. 511 minutes. Dist. By PBS. 2015. $69.99. ISBN 9781627892056.

Gr 7 Up –Each of the 10 episodes in this three-disc documentary series uses a combination of archival news footage, current day commentary, and personal accounts to explore this transformative decade. Making an appearance are: television hosts smoking at their desks as they interview starlets, breaking news of the U-2 incident, footage from the Zapruder film, Neil Armstrong, Woodstock, and Betty Friedan, but this list just scratches the surface. Viewers may be familiar with iconic ’60s topics, such as the Beatles and the Vietnam War, but this program also features names perhaps less known to millennials: Yuri Gagarin, Walter Cronkite, and Barry Goldwater. Political topics are particularly well handled, and the ample popular cultural references will keep even fidgety students tuned in. Some of the segments, such as on the musically centered British Invasion, are upbeat, while others (“The Times They Are A Changin’”) are more somber and cover gay rights, women’s liberation, the struggles of migrant farm workers, and the rise of conservatism. (A few incidents of “love in” nudity are digitally blurred.) Clearly identified tracks allow targeted playing of any pertinent eight- to 10-minute section. Eight episodes are between 40 to 45 minutes each, and two (“The Assassination of President Kennedy,” “A Long March to Freedom”) are two hours. VERDICT All episodes are highly informative, evenhanded, and will hold the interest of teen viewers. The excellent production values and well-rounded topic coverage make this a strong choice for any classroom.–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:

DVD

PreSchool to Grade 4

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass. 9 min. Dist. by Dreamscape Media. 2015. $38.99. ISBN 9781633799219.

Gr 1-4 –Benno the cat enjoys visiting all the families and businesses on the Berlin street where he lives. He watches the Adler family light their Sabbath candles on Friday nights, he joins the Schmidt family for lunch on Saturdays, he accepts scraps of meat from Moshe the butcher, and he spends sunny afternoons napping in the front window of Mrs. Stein’s dress shop. Benno’s life follows this predictable pattern until the night when the men in brown shirts and heavy black boots swarm his street. They smash windows, burn books, and drag some families from their apartments. In a straightforward manner, Meg Wiviott, the author of the picture book (Lerner, 2010) that is the basis of this adaptation, recounts the events of Kristallnacht from Benno’s point of view. This gentle perspective makes the subject matter more approachable for discussion with young audiences. The narration by Susie Berneis is enhanced by the inclusion of appropriate sound effects, including breaking glass and smashed pottery. The mixed-media images are a beautiful blend of paint colors, collage, and fabric, and they contribute to the feel of a diverse neighborhood of Jewish and Christian families and shops. A supplemental two-minute segment provides background information about the beginning of the Holocaust. VERDICT This production is valuable as a jumping-off point for introducing Kristallnacht to students, and the cat’s limited perspective allows teachers to fill in gaps.–Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary School, Glen Rock, PA

A Dance Like Starlight. 8 min. Dist. by Dreamscape Media. 2015. $38.99. ISBN 9781633794481.

Gr 1-3 –The young narrator searches the sky for a wishing star to make her dreams of becoming a dancer come true. She wonders, “Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina?” She grows up at the ballet—watching rehearsals and fittings, admiring and donning costumes, and copying dance steps in the wings—as her mama cleans and stitches at a dance school in Harlem. One day, the ballet master sees the child dance and invites her to join the class, despite the fact that she cannot perform on stage with his white students. When her mother learns that Janet Collins, the first “colored” prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, is performing, she buys tickets, “even though it’ll cost her half of what she’s put back for a new sewing machine.” The magical night fuels the girl’s hope, and her hardworking mama recognizes her talent and drive. This largely iconographic version of the book by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Philomel, 2014), features some modest animation, such as laundry blowing in the wind and the little girl dancing. The camera zooms in for close-ups of Cooper’s beautiful, muted mixed-media illustrations, revealing the streetscapes and fashions of the 1950s. Gentle background music and the young voice and inflection of narrator Bahni Turpin capture the heartwarming message that anything is possible with hard work and determination. VERDICT A quiet, slow-paced gem to inspire young dancers.–Barbara Auerbach, P.S. 217, Brooklyn, New York

The Story of Fish and Snail. 4 min. Dist. by Dreamscape Media. 2015. $38.99. ISBN 9781633797826.

PreS-Gr 1 –This is the tale of two friends who love stories. Every day, Snail waits patiently for Fish to return inside their peaceful book with a new story to share. But when Fish comes back with a pirate adventure story, he wants Snail to experience it firsthand, but Snail is resistant. He loves the book he’s in now. The two friends quarrel, and Fish swims off to further explore the new pirate story on his own. Missing his friend, Snail creeps to the edge of his book, sees Fish in the other book below, and takes a leap of faith, diving into the new story. Fish and Snail stand out against Deborah Freedman’s muted green and blue palette from her picture book (Viking, 2013), and the production is enhanced by the sound of gently breaking waves and splashing water. This gentle tale encourages viewers to embrace the unknown, showing that stories are gateways to new adventures if we’re bold enough to explore them. VERDICT The production is very brief, but it will be a good fit where tales of friendship are in high demand.–Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary School, Glen Rock, PA

Grades 5 up

The Alps from Above: A Symphony of Summits. 90 min. Dist. by Strand Releasing. 2015. DVD $19.99. UPC 712267341726.

Gr 6 Up –This documentary provides an in-depth view of the Alps, from its creation to its modern-day tourism. The mountain range was formed when tectonic plates violently collided. Though home to much ice, snow, and glaciers, these elements have greatly diminished due to the increasing temperatures of the planet. Scientists have predicted that half of the glaciers will be gone in only two decades. The yearly reduction of ice and snow has a direct negative impact on the area’s tourist industry. Many of the area’s inhabitants depend on this sector to make a living, and without a lucrative business, much of the region will suffer. In addition, many people call this harsh region home. Though many reside in villages and towns at lower points of the mountains, some live in remote locations higher up and far from civilization. The footage is absolutely stunning. Sweeping shots of beautiful mountains and countrysides reveal a unique and otherworldly place. Action shots of extreme snow sports will delight viewers. The narration is very informative, describing the environment as well as the local culture. However, despite the visual appeal and the concise information, the film drags on quite a bit. Truly curious viewers may be captivated for the entire 90 minutes, but in general, the film becomes rather dull. VERDICT An appropriate selection for public libraries, though it could be useful in shorter clips within a classroom setting.–Jenny Ventling, Greene County Public Library, OH

Edible City. 56 min. Dist. by Collective Eye Films. 2014. DVD (PPR) $125. $39.99 (no PPR). ISBN unavail.

Gr 6 Up –This compelling documentary about the good food movement takes place in San Francisco, where local communities try to improve their quality of life by having quality food. The city has many groups participating and working toward change, each in a different way. Some neighborhoods have no fresh produce available in any convenience store, with the closest supermarket being 20 to 40 minutes away. One objective is to make fresh foods available in corner stores. Other areas have developed urban gardens in formerly empty lots. In an agricultural school for high school students who are struggling to fit within a traditional curriculum, the teens learn about real nutrition and how to grow fruit and vegetables in this alternative learning environment. The information here is eye-opening. For example, a teacher at the agricultural school describes how processed foods and artificial ingredients caused her daughter to have seizures and behavior problems. Viewers will be captivated as they learn real, applicable information about their health, as well as the well-being of the world that they live in. One thing to be aware of is the nonviolent depiction of a rabbit being skinned for food preparation. VERDICT Very informative for students.–Jenny Ventling, Greene County Public Library, OH

The Forgotten Plague. (American Experience.) 53 Min. Dist. By PBS. 2015. $24.99. ISBN 9781627893091.

Gr 9 Up –Killing one person in every seven who had ever lived, tuberculosis was responsible for more deaths than any other illness worldwide. In the early 19th century, it was observed that sufferers did better in the open air, and thus a massive campaign was launched to encourage those infected to migrate West to seek a cure. With the discovery in 1882 that tuberculosis was caused by bacteria and was therefore contagious, and not hereditary, attitudes towards sufferers changed dramatically. No longer were those infected welcomed out West, and public health officials policed and quarantined sufferers of the disease, especially the poor. It was in this environment that Edward Trudeau, a doctor and tuberculosis sufferer, built the first sanatorium in the Adirondacks in 1884 where those infected—from all walks of life—could take the “health cure.” With the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics in 1940s, the world changed, and the horror that was tuberculosis faded into the past. Michael Murphy (narrator) deftly weaves threads of information, with contributions by several historians, an immunologist, and first-person narratives by survivors of the illness. Historical black-and-white photographs, along with contemporary footage, brings attention to this largely forgotten and almost unimaginable chapter in American history. Viewers are also reminded that the scourge of tuberculosis isn’t gone. With the advent of AIDS and the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the bacteria, the battle continues. VERDICT This would be useful for students doing research on tuberculosis, science classes studying epidemiology, or general interest.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY

Global English: The Grammar of Spoken English. 450 min. Dist. by c21ETV.com. 2015. $369.99. UPC 123456789012.

Gr 10 Up –This 13-disc set teaches solid English grammar and usage, even going into tenses with which most native speakers are unfamiliar. Host Patricia Anghelescu speaks distinctly as she presents information on why it is important to speak well, and she encourages viewers to practice with the sounds of the 26 letters of the alphabet, accompanied by words and pictures or video. This might lead viewers to assume this will be a step-by-step introduction to English. Not so. Soon the program delves into pronouns, rules for vowel sounds, tenses, sentence construction, and more. The vocabulary used in teaching these skills is at a university level, and some of the words are far from common. Caliphate? Deprave? Imbibe? Viewers are encouraged to repeat words, but no time is given for such repetition. After the first couple of lessons, visuals are no longer employed and only words appear on the screen during the instructions. Explanations are precise, wordy, and rely on viewers already having a solid foundation in English. In short, this is a detailed overview of the rules and grammar, but it is clearly not designed for non-English speakers. Instead, it would be best used by business people who wish to hone their skills. The episodes are 30 minutes long, and each can be viewed as one unit or divided into separate sections. VERDICT A competently researched and well-organized set, but not one recommended for school use.–Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary School, Federal Way, WA

Groundswell Rising: Protecting Our Children’s Air & Water. 70 min. and 52 min. Dist. by Bullfrog Films. 2014. $295. Rent $95. ISBN 194154519X.

Gr 7 Up –In this timely and critically important report, the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, are laid out in unequivocal terms by residents in Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and New York, where hydraulic mining to release natural gas is taking place or has been proposed. Spurred to activism to safeguard the health of their children and communities, these beleaguered small-town citizens have joined together in local grassroots organizations and have garnered support from national environmental organizations and celebrity activists (Mark Ruffalo). Vividly depicted are details of how gas companies make promises to get people to lease their land—and how they resort to coercion; the contamination of groundwater; noise, light, and air pollution; dangers of heavy truck traffic on rural roads; and the reneging of promises. Children suffering higher than normal rates of allergies, asthma, skin rashes, and gastrointestinal problems are examined, as well as gas company workers suffering ill effects. Scientists, engineers, doctors, and political and religious leaders weigh in, and statistics regarding the success of community efforts against fracking appear before the end credits. The 70-minute version contains additional footage, commentary, and information, but the 52-minute edition more than adequately covers the topic. VERDICT Environmental science, health, and social studies classes will find much to discuss here.–Cynthia Ortiz, Hackensack High School, NJ

Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment. 16 min. w/27-page PDF guide. Dist. By Human Relations Media. 2015. $149.95. Streaming rental $24.95. ISBN 9781627060592.

Gr 9 Up –Hepatitis C could be labeled a sleeper condition, as it is not regularly discussed and does not receive much media attention, yet it is four times more common than HIV. The word hepatitis means liver inflammation, an ailment that can affect more than 500 vital functions in the human body. Hepatitis C is transmitted from one person to another in much the same way as HIV: unprotected sexual contact, the sharing needles for intravenous drug use or when getting tattoos, sharing razors or toothbrushes, or any blood-to-blood transmission. Unfortunately, because the liver does not have nerve endings, one may never know he has the virus until symptoms of cirrhosis or cancer emerge. This program explains how hepatitis C is contracted, how to avoid it, how to get tested for it, and positive news about the latest treatments. The program is narrated by a young actor, with supplemental testimony from a hepatitis C survivor and Dr. Marvin Chinitz, a liver specialist. The PDF guide includes learning objectives, student activities, discussion questions, fact sheets, and more. The program could alert high school students that the danger of hepatitis C can be avoided with the same precautions recommended for preventing HIV infection and venereal diseases. VERDICT A valuable addition to health class curriculum.–Ann Weber, Bellarmine College Preparatory, San Jose, CA

Molecules to the Max! 42 min. Dist. by AV Cafe. 2014. $59.95. UPC 013964695465.

Gr 4-6 –Created by scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, this program strives to present children with a fun, computer-animated product that will teach them key concepts about the molecular world. The songs and animation will appeal to the lower end of the recommended audience. However, a pretty thorough mastery of the concepts discussed is necessary to understand the abundant humor and to keep up with the rapid pace, making it more appropriate for a gifted or middle school audience. A cheerful oxygen molecule, Oxy, and twin hydrogen molecules, Hydra and Hydro, float in space along with Mel, a bow tie–wearing computer, when they receive a communication from headquarters tasking them with finding life on the water planet, Earth. The team boards a spaceship and heads to the planet, investigating the atmosphere and clouds, snowflakes, and raindrops. An explosion transports the characters into deep space where they meet a gang of carbon molecules, who help them return to Earth and further explore polymers, a penny, chewing gum, cells, and DNA. Along their journey, the team encounters a number of molecules, all of whom have different dialects, including a Spanish accent that is so thick it makes the character’s speech almost unintelligible at times. The songs are barely more than a phrase or two with tunes too basic to be catchy, but the most striking part of the program is the visual depictions of the molecular world. VERDICT Criticisms aside, this is a slick, fact-filled, and clever production that will appeal to students who already have a good grasp of the subject.–Constance Dickerson, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, OH

Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds. 82 min. Dist. by True Mind. 2015. $24.98. ISBN 9781939517333.

Gr 9 Up –The title of this documentary leads viewers to anticipate a presentation of the planting, germination, growth and maturation of seeds into fully grown plants. However, this is not the case. This emotional (to the point of tears) tirade berates Monsanto and other large conglomerates for the development and use of genetically modified seeds (GMOs). It also laments the decrease or extinction of some seed varieties. It claims that in some instances, there is only one variety of a vegetable extant, without providing the information source. Time-lapse photography reveals the early sprouting process, but the factors needed for the seed to mature are not examined. When asked how a seed grows, various participants give ephemeral, touchy-feely answers, such as “A seed grows because it wants to experience itself.” VERDICT The one-sided presentation limits its use as a stand-alone resource.–Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

Owl Power. (Nature). 53 min. Dist. By PBS. 2015. $19.99. ISBN 9781627892827.

Gr 5 Up –Owls are known to have keen eyesight, and this film informs viewers that there is much more to their hunting skills and their nocturnal habits. The main focus here is the manner in which scientists are able to study the owl’s unique set of superpowers. Bird trainers Lloyd and Rose Buck provide a rare and up-close opportunity for viewers—two baby barn owls are seen hatching in an incubator. Barn owls are only one of about 240 different species in the world, but the film explains that all owls share the same physical features that allow them to be recognized as powerful predators: their sharp talons, curved beaks, and strong legs. Using the latest in camera and sound technology, the scientists examine them in great detail. In doing so, viewers will have a better understanding of how strong owls are in overcoming their prey and in protecting their young. Digital technology, for example, allows scientists and viewers to observe how owls hunt in the dark with vision that is two and a half times brighter than what a human can see, and also how their exceptionally sensitive hearing assists them in finding their prey. VERDICT This is an excellent film for students studying birds.–Sheila Acosta, San Antonio Public Library

Penguin Post Office. (Nature). 53 min. Dist. By PBS. 2015. $19.99. ISBN 9781627892278.

Gr 5 Up –Not the usual offering from this series, this program is half wildlife documentary and half travel show. A gentoo penguin colony comes to breed in this part of stark Antarctica, which is also home to the most southerly post office in the world, located at a British base. Since there are no trees, the penguins make their nests with pebbles. They tolerate tourists, must be watchful of predators, and are exceedingly territorial. One scene shows several mature penguins attacking a chick. This is all the more disturbing as narrator Brian Unger explains there is no apparent reason for the hostile behavior. (Unger’s delivery is smooth and unobtrusive throughout.) The rest of the running time is dedicated to brief interviews with post office staff and tourists. The shots of penguins are fascinating, and there is plenty of vocabulary to be learned, such as brood pouch and egg tooth. However, other Nature documentaries on penguins include more educational material. VERDICT High production values and popular subject matter struggle with the hybrid format, making this title more appropriate for public rather than school libraries.–C.A. Fehmel, St. Louis County Library, MO

SciGirls: Seasons 1 & 2. 615 min. Dist. By PBS. 2015. Four-disc DVD set: $39.99. ISBN 9781627891479.

Gr 5 Up –Each approximately 30-minute episode of this outstanding series is designed to encourage girls to develop an interest in STEM fields by becoming active participants in the scientific process. The majority of a segment consists of a small group of middle school girls working with a female scientist in the field and learning about conducting research in a specific topic, with a cartoon introduction featuring hosts Izzie and Jake. Profiles of the participating girls are also included. At press time, all except one of these episodes are available freely online at pbskids.org/scigirls, although Spanish subtitles and audio are only present on the DVDs. The website also includes documents and activities related to each topic. One concern is that the titles of each episode are somewhat cryptic; one must watch the first few minutes to determine the subject matter. While the series is directed toward girls, it could be used in a general science classroom as well as in clubs serving middle school students. VERDICT Highly recommended as an entertaining and inexpensive introduction to the scientific process.–Ann Brownson, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston

Sinkholes: Buried Alive. (NOVA.) 53 min. Dist. by PBS. 2015. $24.99. ISBN 9781627892421.

Gr 9 Up —This episode investigates natural disasters involving sinkholes, which appear in regions where porous rock, such as limestone, is eroded away, triggering a surface collapse. In populous areas, streets and buildings are damaged, sometimes resulting in loss of life. Interviews and reenactments reveal a tragic account from 2013 in Tampa, FL, in which a man died after his bedroom collapsed as he slept. In addition, crews investigate damage in the bayous of Louisiana and in a historic, medieval city in Spain. Interviews with geologists, cave divers, and home owners experiencing property damage explain the threat of these disasters, and computer animation illustrates the natural processes of sinkhole formation. In addition, the program explores techniques to predict high-risk areas and demonstrates steps some home owners take to protect their properties and their lives. VERDICT Students in areas prone to sinkholes as well as budding geologists may find interest in the scientific explanations behind the disasters.–Ryan Henry, Daviess County Public Library, Owensboro, KY

Sunken Ship Rescue. (NOVA.) 53 min. Dist. by PBS. 2015. $24.99. ISBN 9781627892407.

Gr 9 Up –In January 2012, the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship larger than the Titanic, was grounded and capsized off the coast of Italy. The deadly accident cost 32 lives, and it seemed likely that contaminates from the wreck would pollute the pristine Mediterranean waters and threaten its unique wildlife and nearby reef. This episode examines how a multinational team of engineers, divers, and builders worked against time and the elements to recover the capsized boat. Over the course of nearly three years, numerous engineering challenges were overcome at an expense of $1.2 billion dollars and the life of a diver. Extensively used computer graphics visualize the wreckage and various salvage scenarios, and interviews with the salvage crew and footage of the operation inform viewers of the progress of the daunting task. VERDICT An inspiring example of real-world problem solving using engineering and technology, and students in such classrooms will enjoy seeing science at work.–Ryan Henry, Daviess County Public Library, Owensboro, KY

Underwater Dreams. 44 min. Dist. by 50 Eggs. 2014. DVD $29.96, PPR $199.99. Spanish version $29.96, PPR $199.95. underwaterdreamsfilm.com. UPC 186380000134.

Gr 6 Up –Filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s documentary centers on how a high school group of Mexican immigrants from Phoenix, AZ, compete in an underwater robotics competition against college teams, such as from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 2004—and more. This inspiring, passionate, and impressive tale displays keen social insight while shedding light on issues regarding undocumented students. Viewers will be drawn to the underdog story, the real-life drama, and the moving moments of the competitors’ 10th year reunion. Along with the graceful narration by actor Michael Peña, the film’s production values and musical score help to create a poignant and genial tone. VERDICT Of interest to social studies, math, and science classes.–Denise A. Garofalo, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY

Watership Down. 92 min. Dist. by the Criterion Collection. 2015. DVD $29.99. Blu-ray $39.99. UPC 715515137119.

Gr 5 Up –In this animated adaptation of Richard Adams’s novel, Hazel and his fellow rabbits flee their warren after being warned of impending doom. As the group struggles to survive, they must evade traps and enemies to reach a perfect, sacred hill to call their home, only to have to defend it from a group of warring rabbits. Originally released in 1978, the film is now considered a classic for its groundbreaking, and at times, graphic depictions of violence in a medium that, until that time, had been reserved largely for children. Modern audiences will take note of some of the technical flaws, as Watership has not aged as well as animated Disney films from the same era. The color is faded or looks odd in parts, and the animated movement is slower than in other animated features, and there’s noticeable dirt on some of the cells. But its use as a teaching tool has certainly not been diminished over time, as the film remains very true to its source material. Especially impressive is the opening scene, a colorful and expressive interpretation of the story of El-ahrairah, the trickster hero of rabbit folklore. Some producers would have left out such a sequence, but the filmmakers had enough foresight and love for the book to know that it was pivotal to the story’s representation. Included on the disc are several extras, including a short commentary by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro that provides an honest and intimate overview of the film and its historic impact. VERDICT Highly recommended for most school libraries.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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