March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s Top 10 DVDs for 2013

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SLJ1312_SLJTop10-Logo_200pixIn 2013, School Library Journal reviewed nearly 300 DVDs in all subject areas for viewers ranging from preschool through high school. With so many superb productions, it was a tough task to choose the 10 best. This year’s top picks reflect a wide array of topics including art, science, biography, and social studies. In format, they run the gamut from picture-books-on-DVD to documentaries.

Six titles provide strong supplementary material for social studies lessons in elementary, middle, and high school. Two offer a glimpse into the lives of famous women artists. One demonstrates fascinating science experiments, while another honors scientist David Suzuki. All of them complement the Common Core State Standards.

Selections were made on the basis of content, excellence of visual presentation and narration, information provided, and the ability to engage viewers. Our list is culled from DVDs covered in our Multimedia Review section. Since each title is outstanding in its own right, it was nearly impossible to rank them from 1 through 10. Other than The Dust Bowl, our top pick for the year, the titles are arranged alphabetically.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_DustbowlKen Burns has turned his camera’s eye to The Dust Bowl (PBS Dist., Gr 9 Up), the environmental and economic catastrophe that struck America’s heartland in the 1930s. This production retraces the stages that led to the devastation of the agriculture-based society of our nation’s midsection and the slow recovery during the disastrous Great Depression. The film utilizes a rich variety of stunning vintage photographs, black-and-white film footage, commentary by historians, and personal reminiscences by witnesses to the event.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_AbolitionistsSlavery’s demise was propelled in part by the efforts of a diverse, controversial group of antislavery activists, The Abolitionists (PBS Dist., Gr 8 Up). Their struggles to raise the consciousness of Northerners and Southerners about the horrors of slavery are reenacted in this incredibly well-crafted program. Each segment includes dramatic re-creations of historical events punctuated with documentary-style narration and commentary by historians. There are moving portraits of significant individuals, such as Frederick Douglass and John Brown, as well as explanations of events, including the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_Science2Twenty-three fascinating experiments conducted by Jason Gibson, former NASA rocket scientist, are revealed in an easy-to-understand manner in Amazing Science! Volume 1 (AV Café, K–Gr 8). For each experiment, there’s a materials list of common household items, step-by-step instructions, a live-action demonstration explaining how to do the activity, the results to expect, and the science behind it.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_BoneWindBone Wind Fire (National Film Board of Canada, Gr 9 Up) is a visually stunning film that offers a brief glimpse into the lives and art of three 20th-century female artists—Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr, and Frida Kahlo—through their letters and diaries. Each artist spurned the tradition of realism in her paintings to capture her own personal experiences. The artwork, in combination with the artists’ thoughts and impressions, provides an intimate portrait of each woman.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_ConstitutionIn Constitution USA (PBS Dist., Gr 9 Up), NPR host Peter Sagal broadly examines our Constitution in historical and contemporary contexts. Traversing the country on a red, white, and blue Harley-Davidson, his goal is to recount the document’s development and examine it in terms of today’s critical issues. Using humor and graphics to connect with students, the film is divided into segments that examine how our system of government was determined, the Bill of Rights and the controversies surrounding those freedoms today, the 14th Amendment, and the vitality of the Constitution from a 21st-century perspective.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_FaithBased on Mike Venezia’s book of the same name, Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Faith Ringgold (Getting to Know, Gr 2–5) chronicles the life of the influential African American artist. There are plenty of photos, video clips, and examples of Ringgold’s work, with emphasis on her story quilts and stuffed sculptures. The cartoon illustrations are sure to appeal to the target audience. Narrated by actress Ora Jones.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_ShowWayA Show Way (Weston Woods, Gr 2–5) was a quilt with messages stitched into it depicting a slave family’s journey north to freedom. This craft tradition runs through Jacqueline Woodson’s carefully woven story. After Soonie’s great-grandma was sold away from her parents, she created patchwork quilts that contained clues about her path to freedom. Later generations, from Civil War survivors to Civil Rights activists and the author’s own daughter, kept up the quilting tradition, adding their own pieces to the patchwork of their family history. Hudson Talbott’s fabulous multimedia illustrations play on the quilting theme.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_ForceForce of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie (Bullfrog Films, Gr 10 Up) honors the scientist and TV personality Suzuki’s career by weaving together the story of his life with his last lecture outlining concerns about Earth’s inability to continue to withstand air, sea, and soil pollution and the continued plundering of our natural resources. The combination of personal narrative with a global perspective makes this film valuable for classes in environmental science and 20th-century history.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_NelsonKadir Nelson’s evocative biography of Nelson Mandela (Weston Woods, Gr 1–4) receives stellar treatment in this exceptional presentation. Just enough information is provided about Mandela’s life to introduce children to apartheid and his role in changing the political landscape of South Africa. Nelson’s exceptional paintings glow with an inner warmth. Forest Whitaker reads over background music and crowd sound effects that will draw in viewers.

SLJ1312_FT_Top10_DVD_Wapos_revProduced in lovely stop-motion animation, Wapos Bay, Season 3 (National Film Board of Canada, Gr 2–6) is set in a remote Cree community in northern Saskatchewan and presents the lives of three children and the other members of their community. It provides a realistic view of modern Cree life, with touches of humor along the way. The segments focus on important themes—identity, perseverance, jealousy, cooperation, heritage, and being true to yourself.

Phyllis Levy Mandell was School Library Journal’s multimedia review editor from 1981 to 2013.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.