February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top 10 DVDs 2015

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TOP10-2015-DVD_100pxAmong 2015’s dominant themes were some of the perennials: environment studies, zoology, language arts development, and programs that offered probing snapshots of contemporary concerns such as bullying. In addition to receiving star reviews, all of the following stand out at the end of the year, having made the list based on feedback from SLJ’s commited corps of reviewers. These selections will be assets to multimedia collections as they build critical thinking skills and aid curricula (and, in several cases, provide plenty of entertainment, too).

TOP10_DVD_GoldiDinosaurThe DVD versions of two popular picture books set an example for other adaptations. They take advantage of the format by offering something special not found in the source material. In Mo Willems’s narrative bender Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (Weston Woods; PreS-Gr 3), “a poorly supervised little girl” barges into a home while its dinosaur occupants (one of whom is visiting from Norway) are out. The moral of this mash-up: if you find yourself in the wrong story, leave. The extras include a convivial conversation with Willems in which he encourages viewers to create their own stories. The author also recites a rapid-fire, breathless list of more title combos with the mischievous heroine, including Goldilocks and the three opera singers, the three accountants, and the three underwear salesmen.

TOP10_DVD_MeJaneThe animation for Patrick McDonnell’s Caldecott Honor biography Me…Jane (Weston Woods; PreS-Gr 2) is a movable feast, teeming with imaginative touches. The author focuses on the English primatologist Jane Goodall, describing how she began dreaming of Africa and observing nature around her as a child. Besides serving as a vibrant complement to the book, the disc includes an illuminating chat between the scientist and McDonnell in which Goodall discusses her childhood and the author expounds on his writing process. A delightful production that will appeal to budding adventurers and writers alike.

TOP10_DVD_Orangutan-EdenStaying within the animal kingdom, two offerings (a double feature of sorts) beautifully depict an ecosystem, focusing on one integral creature and pinpointing the human impact on its habitat. The Last Orangutan Eden (PBS; Gr 4 Up), filmed on the island of Sumatra, provides a refuge for Asia’s only great apes, which are under threat because of the demand for palm oil (used for biofuel and plastics, among many products). At this sanctuary, conservationists tend to 48 orphans and act as surrogate mothers, teaching the apes basic skills, such as climbing trees—like humans, these creatures are slow to mature. On a scale of cuteness, the infants are a 10-plus.

TOP10_DVD_Sloth_Plastic_Paradise_2gethROnward to Panama, where journalist Ana Salceda learns how to care for and raise an orphaned two-toed sloth in A Sloth Named Velcro (PBS; Gr 5 Up) before releasing it back into the wild. Loaded with facts about the world’s slowest mammal, the program also dismantles myths—sloths sleep far less than previously thought. Part of the “Nature” series, both Velcro and Orangutan feature spectacular you-are-there cinematography.

Taking viewers to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Bullfrog Films; Gr 7 Up) makes alarmingly clear the extent of worldwide pollution. In an example of gung-ho DIY investigative journalism, surfer-turned-sleuth Angela Sun ventures to the restrictive Midway Atoll, the graveyard of indestructible plastic flotsam from Asia and North America. There, the hungry albatross devours the debris, to deadly results. The one-hour exposé is a gateway for oceanography studies and for examining the wide-ranging ramifications of toxic trash.

TOP10_DVD_Some-Kind-of-SparkMany viewers will see themselves reflected in the clear-eyed, no-nonsense documentary Some Kind of Spark (Argot Pictures; Gr 5 Up), which tracks six New York City kids in an advanced music program at Juilliard. The observational film examines the discipline, patience, and accountability necessary to achieve a goal (and get to Carnegie Hall) while celebrating music as instrumental in education. A strong choice for public library fine arts collections.

TOP10_DVD_vietnamThe experiences and lessons learned in the absorbing Academy Award–nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam (PBS; Gr 9 Up), which details the repercussions and fallout of overseas wars and the humanitarian crises that result, are as timely as ever. First-person accounts recall the fall of Saigon in 1975 as the United States withdrew before the arrival of the North Vietnamese army. Difficult questions arise: Who among the South Vietnamese would be evacuated? Who would be left behind? The film makes the panic palpable and the complex issues compelling. This offering is ideal for public libraries and a strong option for history classes.

TOP10_DVD_Mentor-signAnother powerful—and shocking—feature documentary, the nightmarish Mentor (Garden Thieves Films; Gr 8 Up) hits closer to home. In the titular small Ohio town, bullying led to a rash of teen suicides. The filmmakers track the tragic trajectory of two students, one a victim of xenophobic harassment and the other of homophobic attacks. One set of parents was fully aware of what was going on and pleaded with the high school administration to intervene; the other parents were in the dark. An alarming wake-up call for teens and adults.

TOP10_DVD_FacingFearFortunately, the Academy Award–nominated documentary short Facing Fear (Bullfrog Films; Gr 8 Up) offers an example of hope for acceptance and forgiveness, without sugarcoating the process. Through his work at Los Angeles’s Museum of Tolerance, Matthew Boger, a gay man, realized that he knew the individual (a former white supremacist) who, 26 years earlier, had brutally attacked him in a hate crime and left him for dead. Today the men are friends and speak candidly to groups of students.

TOP10_DVD_Elf2Finishing off the list on a festive note: the holiday cheer is contagious in the openhearted Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas (Warner Brothers; PreS-Gr 3), new to DVD and based on the movie and Broadway show. Raised by Santa and his elves, gangly redhead Buddy (voiced by Jim Parsons) sets out for the Big Apple to remove his long-lost fusspot of a dad from the naughty list and to spread Christmas joy to a mirthless Manhattan. The retro stop-motion animation and the 1960s-esque show tunes recall classic Rankin-Bass TV specials. Take the program’s advice: to thine own elf be true.

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

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com