Category Archives: movie

Old Movies for Kids: Charlie Chaplin

In Edgar Eager’s Half Magic, a much beloved childhood book of mine, there is a mention of the four kids hating Charlie Chaplin. I can only speculate that Eager, having set the story in the time of his own youth, was remembering being dragged to a Chaplin picture when he wanted to go see something more adventurous. I remember this because in high school I fell in love with Chaplin: I had a large poster of him plastered on my bedroom door, read his autobiography and other books about him, watched those old collections of shorts whenever they were shown on one of the local public television stations, and went to see his refurbished features when they were shown in art cinemas.

And so when I became a teacher I recorded those collections of shorts still being shown on pubic television and showed them to my class where they were instant hits. These days my classes still can’t get enough of Chaplin (now in beautiful DVD editions). We begin with the shorts and then move on to classics like The Gold Rush and Modern Times. What pleases me tremendously is that my kids babble about them to their parents and friends in the other 4th grade classes and so those kids soon insist that their teacher show his movies to them as well. Chaplin lives!

To provide some context, I tell my students a bit about Chaplin and about movies in his time. Because he was an immigrant and they’ve already seen some of the silent movies of Ellis Island, I always begin with The Immigrant which they adore. Chaplin does such a great job making fun of the whole experience which he knew of firsthand.

I also read aloud Silent Movie by Avi with illustrations by C.B. Mordan and Mack Made Movies by Don Brown; both give the kids still more of a sense of how Chaplin lived and worked.

So give ol’ Charlie a shot! He still entertains kids today, I can assure you.


Filed under Film, movie

Much Ado about Wild Things

The New York Magazine’s Vulture bloggers have been very enthusiastic about the movie of Sendak’s classic book, offering the rest of us tantalizing commentary about the script and other stuff. Now they report that things are getting very hot-under-the-collar at Warner Brothers. They link to this post which posits that the movie is on the verge of being reshot as well as to this post which includes the following responses to an early screen test:

“And some kids at my screening began to cry and asked their parents to leave, so that should give you an idea.” “The things are not cute. Max comes off a bit weird and off-putting ‘He slaps his mom!’ and he seems confused and not charming at all.” “No rumpus, no big set pieces, no ‘state-of-the-art’ lucrative sequences just some running around on some desert place and thats that.”

This sounds and reads all too much like the horrible mucking about with The Golden Compass movie. Panic and lack of confidence resulted in a less-than-it-could-have-been movie. Is that going to happen here too? If so, what a shame.

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Egger’s Novelization of the Movie of “Where the Wild Things Are”

Thank you to Leila Roy who drew my attention to this mention of a forthcoming adult novel by David Eggers “… based on Maurice Sendak´s classic Where the Wild Things Are … Ecco is publishing the book in fall 2008, to coincide with the Spike Jonze movie adaptation based on Sendak´s book, for which Eggers wrote the screenplay.”

Now this is fascinating. Certainly Eggers won’t be the first to build a new work of fiction off of a children’s book. There’s Gregory Maguire with Wicked based on The Wizard of Oz, after all. It is interesting though that this novel is based on a picture book that is being turned into a movie. Very, very interesting.

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Sigh, blissfully.

My absolutely favorite film when a disaffected and alienated teen is finally out on DVD. This is Lindsay Anderson‘s If…., the partly realistic and partly surreal story of a group of young (and incredibly beautiful) boys rebelling in a 1960s British boarding school. Anderson was inspired by Jean Vigo’s 1933 film Zero de Conduite, also a surreal view of a boarding school rebellion.


The year If…. came out I went to see it over and over and over. I bought (and still have) the screenplay. I bought (and still have in a closet) the Missa Luba — the African mass the main character Mick plays over and over compulsively.

… and I also fell madly in love with the actor who played Mick, one Malcolm Mcdowell.


Sigh again.

I’m dashing out shortly to see if my local video store has it so I can take it along to watch on the train to DC and to wave it at everyone I see so they will know to get it too. Oh, and if there is anyone interested in joining my Malcolm Mcdowell If…. Fan Club, let me know (as I will then email you a membership card). So far it is just me (president) and Brenda Bowen (member number two).


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And then there is the behemoth movie of the year…

The Golden Compass, of course. At the Random House booth last week at BEA I picked up a sumptuous booklet full of gorgeous images from the film. As fairrosa said when she saw it, “Sure hope the movie is as good.” And now for those who can’t get enough, the production notes are available here.

I’ve got a date to see the movie with a couple of former students, but hope that isn’t the first time I get to see it. (Broad hint to those doing early screenings here in NYC:)

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Teaching with Blogs: We Aren’t Back in Kansas Yet


A few weeks ago, while my students were at gym, an associate teacher and I created a yellow construction paper road that led from the door of the classroom to Oz, in this case the Emerald City pages of Robert Sabuda’s pop-up version carefully balanced on a stool in the center of the classroom with a pile of Baum’s books elegantly scattered below.


When the kids came into the classroom they were instructed musically to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and did so to our Oz, picked up a book, and went to Munchkin Land — I mean, their desks — where they discovered a few tasty gummy letters (in various colors including green and gold) and a little chapbook.

And so we began our study of L. Frank Baum’s American fairy tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I love having the kids read this book after our study of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is truly THE American fairy tale. While I’ve never seen anything that makes clear that Baum was at all influenced by Carroll’s tale, I don’t see how he could have avoided it. Alice was so popular and it is the story of a little girl going into a fantasy land, after all. Certainly it is very different — Carroll’s story is almost plotless while Baum’s is very dramatic and full of adventure. Carroll is more interested, it seems, in language, puns, parody, and humor; Baum seems more interested in creating an entertaining story for American boys and girls. Both are fun in very different ways.



I have my students read the book (a facsimile of the original with Denslow’s illustrations) on their own; it is completely accessible to all levels of readers. I have on display the other thirteen Oz books by Baum and additional copies of the two that follow the first one for those who finish quickly. I ask them to write/draw a response to each chapter in the little booklets, but that is all. I really want them to have fun reading the book and they do!

Before beginning I show them, “The Dreamer of Oz, a docudrama about L. Frank Baum which is very interesting because he is so completely and utterly different from Carroll. And the biographical details that connect to the story of Dorothy and Oz fascinate them.


After they are all finished with the book we watch the MGM movie together. Some have seen it before, but not all. The differences intrigue them — most of all those familiar ruby slippers, silver in the book. We also watch a documentary on the making of the movie that further captivates. And then the kids write an essay answering the question: Is the movie a good or a bad witch, I mean, adaptation of the book? You can read some of this year’s responses by way of the class blog (go to the children’s blogs on the right to read their posts on this topic).

When time permits the kids do projects. Last year they made board games and had a blast playing them during the last few days of school. I’m not sure if we will have time this year, but here are a few of last year’s to give you a taste.




At the very, very, very end of school when we’ve finished the presentation portfolios for the parent reception and cleaned the room, I show them Disney’s Return to Oz. Few seem to be familiar with this film, but it is fascinating after reading Baum’s book and seeing the MGM movie — a combination of the second and third Oz books it connects to Baum, the books’ illustrators, the MGM movie, and is a story all of its own.

It is an ideal final unit of the year — every kid enjoys the book, the movie is still fun to watch, writing about it a snap, and all in all a lotta fun! If you have never read the book and only know the story from the MGM movie, give it a try — it is quite different and very entertaining.


Filed under movie, Teaching

Is it history? Or fiction? And does it matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Yes, it is history.

I’m one of those who read and learned a great deal from Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Originally published in 1970 as NON FICTION, I read it many years later when I began looking for ways to go beyond the textbook in my teaching of American history. (I eventually abandoned the textbook entirely, but that is another story — told in my book Far Away and Long Ago: Young Historians in the Classroom.) Nonfiction. I read the book trusting that what I read was true.

Yes, it is fiction.

At least so it seems is the case with HBO’s version of the book. According to the New York Times article “Classic Book About America’s Indians Gains a Few Flourishes as a Film.” a new character was added to the center of the story.

“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year.

Yes, it matters.

Poor maligned history. There is such a prejudice against you. That you aren’t good enough. That you need to be touched up somehow. That you need fixing or you will be ignored.  In this case, by those who are assumed not to know or care about you.  Especially, it seems, when the history is about a minority group that the majority group is presumed to otherwise lack sufficient interest in.

The HBO film hasn’t aired yet. It will be interesting to see the response once it does.


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Not My Nancy Drew, But So What?

Last fall I was dismayed when I saw a trailer for the forthcoming Nancy Drew film. The girl seemed indistinguishable from numerous other recent tween movie and television characters — perky, great hair, and so forth. Where was the seriously cool girl detective of my memory? I mean, yes she was fashionable, but not in this lame sort of way!

But yesterday I read Polly Shulman’s New York Times article, “Spunky Nancy Drew Faces Her Hardest Case: Hollywood” and had a change of heart. I mean, as Shulman reminded me, it is not as if Nancy wasn’t altered before. My Nancy from the 60s wasn’t the original Nancy at all. For one thing the first Nancy was 16 while mine was 18. I can’t remember if mine drove a roadster or a convertible (which would indicate the particular editions I was reading), but she still had Carson, Ned, George, and Bess around her in some way. Given the fiddling that was done with all of them over the years, who am I to complain if the movies do it again?

But I have to wonder if turning her into a kooky nerd might be a bit of a stretch. This new Nancy is evidently the new girl in a Los Angeles school (quite a shift from the small town in the books I read) with a predilection for retro stuff. Well, I suppose if it all works, it doesn’t matter. After all, this movie isn’t for nostalgic me, but for kids today.


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