Letters, Words and Stories: Films for Early Readers.
National Film Board of Canada.
Preschool - grade 3 / Ages 4 - 8.
While the videotape's title is accurate, its subtitle really tells the tale for the 32 minutes are distributed among four films. "Alphabet," produced in 1966 and lasting 6 minutes 13 seconds, is a black and white, animated A-Z "alphabet book." Though the upper case letters always appear, "Alphabet" is most inconsistent in its presentation of the lower case letters. The objects used to represent the letters usually "transform" themselves into the next object, and, with some letters, younger viewers may have difficulty identifying the objects because of the film's quick pace. Sometimes the sought after word is not a noun but a verb. For example, with "B", a "ball" "bounces" down steps. Some words are represented by many words ("C": camel, castle, car, cat, cyclops, cry, cake, candles) while "D" is just a pack of dogs and "N" a bunch of noses. With "X", the film portrays a xylophone which it labels, an act of little value to the non-reader. Not a film to teach the alphabet, but one which might be fun for reviewing the alphabet and expanding vocabulary.
And vocabulary appears to be the focus of the next film, "Words," a 1996 production which was supported by the National Literary Secretariat of Canada. Eleven minutes, 7 seconds in length, the colour animated film lacks a strong focus. While viewers meet many truly animated words, the purpose of the exposure remains vague. At the film's conclusion, it is suggested that words can be combined to make a sentence, but that point could have been made a lot faster. In short, a disappointing piece.
By itself, "Has Anybody Seen My Umbrella?" makes the purchase of this videotape worthwhile. If there must be a message to this 1990 film, it's "stay in school," but "Has Anybody..." is really just an amusing takeoff on "Cinderella" in which "motion" is created by the camera's panning over coloured illustrations containing cartoon-like characters. At the end of grade one, the Prince, a lazy child, convinces his father, the King, to allow him to quit school because he believes he has mastered all he needs to know. For years, the Prince just plays; however, when the Prince reaches adulthood, his father throws him a birthday ball where the Prince meets Cinderella. At midnight, as per the traditional story, she flees, leaving behind a glass slipper which the Prince finds. Fortunately for him, Cinderella has put her name inside the shoe, but the love-struck Prince, having only a grade 1 reading level, decodes the word as "Umbrella" and goes about the kingdom asking, "Has Anybody Seen My Umbrella?" Youngsters familiar with the orthodox "Cinderella" plot will delight in this 10 minute 10 second version.
Although originally released in 1983, "Sequence & Story" (5 minutes 7 seconds) still has good value in 1997 if viewers can overlook the obviously 80's hairstyles of the three young live "actors." Two young boys and a girl sit around a table in what appears to be a school library. From a group of photographs they have taken on their way to school, they create chronological sequences which recreate the events as they occurred and then demonstrate how the "story" changes if the sequence is altered. Early Years LA teachers could likely use this short film as a way of introducing plotting.
Inside the videotape's cover are a number of activities relating to each film that parents are encouraged to try with their children.
Recommended with reservations.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - JANUARY 2, 1998.
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