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January 5, 2012 Edition

The Curious Garden

When the author of the book this movie is based on came across a garden hidden high above the streets of Manhattan on an abandoned rail track, he was fascinated. He imagined the beginning of the garden, and the way it spread, with a combination of magical realism and practicality. In this movie, a little boy named Liam finds a tiny, struggling patch of grass and flowers while exploring his city. He decides to nurture it and brings fertilizer and water up the stairs to the tracks each day, and spends his time weeding and transplanting and reading about caring for plants. His garden loves the attention and is happy to grow and flourish – and as the seasons go by, it spreads itself out further and further and attracts attention from more and more city dwellers. Soon, the garden isn’t Liam’s alone to care for, but has lots of gardeners, old, young, and in-between, who all love the way the plants and trees and grass enliven the formerly gray city. Yes, there’s a message, but it’s lightly and deftly told.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

Before The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick illustrated other people’s books, my favorite of which was The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, by Barbara Kerley. Imagine my excitement when I came across this DVD! It’s the story of one of the first people to study dinosaur fossils and see outside them to their skin. Waterhouse Hawkins was an artist, sculptor, and showman who built the first life-sized dinosaur models – in fact, he tried to fill Central Park with them. He hosted a New Year’s dinner inside a life-sized iguanodon model, locked horns with Boss Tweed, and built dinosaurs for the Queen of England. Shown in the movie and book wreathed in ghostly dinosaur figures, Hawkins is an engaging and inspiring visionary for artists and dinosaur lovers young and old.

Two Bobbies

This heartwarming story is also based on a book, this one about abandoned pets living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four months after the storm was over and the flood waters subsided a dog and a cat were found living together on the streets, both of them bob-tailed. When they were taken to a shelter that had been set up to reunite pets with their owners, the two were inseparable, and the shelter workers discovered that Bob-cat was blind. His friendship with Bobbi the dog is what helped him survive after the storm. Though the shelter looked for Bob-cat and Bobbi’s owners, they never found them. No one knows whether the two lived together before the storm or found each other afterwards, but by the end of the movie, both have been adopted into one home.

Arctic and Antarctic

Anyone curious about our Earth’s two polar regions will find plenty of information along with beautiful footage in this DK Eyewitness DVD. Find out what a pony’s snowshoe looks like and how penguins keep warm even though they live in the snow and swim in water with icebergs floating in it. What do 200 year old snow goggles look like? How long do walruses nurse from their mothers? Which mammals survive in the farthest north, and how do they do it? Guess which birds are called “pirates of the air,” find out whether lemmings really do commit mass suicide, and be impressed (seriously impressed) by the size of icebergs in the Antarctic.

Families of Afghanistan

We’ve heard a lot about Afghanistan for over a decade now, but mostly in terms of deaths and bombs and soldiers. Here’s a chance for kids (and adults) to see inside the country and meet kids who live there: Zamora, who lives in a village, and Madina, who lives in the city of Kabul. Both girls have been affected by the ongoing war in ways that the film doesn’t avoid: Zamora’s uncle was severely injured by a landmine, and Madina’s family has recently returned home after a decade in exile. Narrated in English in children’s voices, viewers follow Zamora through her morning chores and into afternoon classes (dominated by the teachings of the Koran), showing her doing laundry, helping her now disabled uncle, and preparing for prayers. Madina’s day, on the other hand, is more secular – her school teaches science and has computers, and her chores consist of vacuuming and ironing. This is a great way to see another side of a country that seems so one-sided to many of us.

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