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A mishmash of family fun and news

  • AMAZON
    "Niko and the Sword of Light" from Amazon Studios
  • AMAZON
    >>“Table 58” is my favorite pilot, a sparky single-camera middle-school comedy set among a group of misfits — they don’t even fit together. (Eating lunch at Table 58, says one, is “slightly better than eating alone in the bathroom — never mind it’s the same.”) It includes a coach who can’t keep his shoes tied and an angry lunch lady who ends her outbursts with “Namaste,” and a bully with a “rewards program” and a literal punch card. Lines like “It seems that jealousy, unlike a compounding integer, has no limits” and “I hereby declare this pep rally over — you are now assembled unlawfully” win my heart.
  • AMAZON
    >>?“Niko and the Sword of Light” is a handsomely made animated adventure with nods to “Lord of the Rings” — child warrior Niko is on his way to a Cursed Volcano to rid his land of “the darkness” — and some visual debts to Don Bluth. It handily mixes the epic and the vernacular (it has a streak of the Borscht Belt); the storytelling is solid, the lines good, the jokes land and the creatures (a lot of what might be called American swamp mutants in the pilot) are memorable and memorably designed.
  • AMAZON
    >>?“Sara Solves It” — a math-skills program with partial backing from WGBH — was also among the first crop of Amazon kids’ pilots, and the most finished and accomplished of them; I liked its urban setting and semi­funky vibe. it’s back with a different episode and more characters. Why Amazon Studios just didn’t greenlight the original pilot, I don’t know.
  • AMAZON
    >>?“Just Add Magic,” adapted from a YA novel, is a live-action fantasy series in the “Gortimer Gibbons” vein about three young girls, best friends, who discover a book of recipes that might in fact be a book of spells and key to an epic battle of magical suburbia whose proportions are suggested only in its closing moments. It’s predictable, and a little too forward with the charm, but likable and promising.
  • AMAZON
    >>?“Buddy: Tech Detective” is a computer-animated series in which the watching child viewer is invited to help the characters solve problems. (You can give the wrong answer, but the characters will do what they want — I tried it.) As an evidence-based show pushing the scientific method, I approve of it, though the characters giggle far too much — a tic of the preschool programming for which you can probably blame Elmo.
  • AMAZON
    >>“The Stinky and Dirty Show” is a “Cars”-type cartoon about a garbage truck and a backhoe. They meet cute in the opening episode and quickly form an effective cooperative dyad. It’s a problem-solving show with an engineering thrust, in whose pilot we learn that melons do not make good wheels and that round rolls better than square. Though computer animated with the usual suggested third dimension, it has an attractive handmade, crayon-and-construction-paper look I hope is not merely a function of an economizing pilot.
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Pilot program debuts new set of children’s shows

It is already the fourth season of Amazon Studios pilots — Amazon is having such fun that last year it did it twice — in which prospective series are paraded for public view and comment. It is now no longer an experiment, but a certified Real Thing, and it shows.

The grown-up series make the news — "Transparent" and its Golden Globes and all — but there is a children’s wing to the studio, too. Where the adult Amazon pilots have tended toward the slightly edgy tone of premium cable, the kids’ shows, being aimed at young eyes and meant to be more or less improving, have tended to be more familiar, more conservative.

That said, the latest crop of pilots released to public view this month are on the whole quite accomplished and ambitious and perhaps just a little bit crazier. (They are also presented as more finished products than in seasons past.) Half are directed toward preschool viewers, half ostensibly toward viewers 6 to 11, though the best will appeal to older kids as well.

What they share is the notion that children can, and often must, take control of their environment.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

Neighborhood diversity sways kids

Your child may be engrossed with his Baby Einstein Take-Along Tunes 

or trying to escape from the grocery cart. But he’s listening, processing and willing to teach us.

In a recent study of 19-month-olds, University of Chicago doctoral student Lauren Howard found that children who heard multiple languages in their neighborhoods were more receptive to people who spoke languages other than their parents’ language.

“We measured imitation. At this age, that’s how they show us their willingness to learn,” explained Howard, lead author of the report titled “Neighborhood Linguistic Diversity Predicts Infants’ Social Learning.” The experiments tested how well the infants could learn new tasks from a non-English speaker.

The study, which included 82 children from the Chicago and Washington, D.C., areas, was published in the November issue of Cognition.

“Babies are not only affected by parents and caregivers — previous studies proved that — but also by people they hear at the store or on the bus,” Howard said. “Incidental exposure matters.”

Does this mean kids in diverse communities will grow up to have open minds?

“It’s a start,” Howard said. “Already, at this age, they’re actively learning.”

This is familiar territory for many adoptive families, said Adam Pertman, president of the Boston-based National Center on Adoption and Permanency.

“Adoption is a good prism to understand issues like this because adoptive families have a ‘laboratory’ where they see this daily — not just with international adoption, but with interracial adoption,” said Pertman.

While studies like Howard’s suggest that parents increase their children’s cultural exposure, “adoptive parents have been making these efforts for years, and sociologists have been studying them for years,” said Pertman.

Mary Child and her husband, David Youtz, of Tena­fly, N.J., are raising their four daughters, all adopted from China, in a multicultural community by intention. The benefits extend beyond language, Child said. Her 19-year-old daughter, Sophie, speaks English and is learning Mandarin, and her 10-year-old triplets speak English, are studying Spanish and will take Mandarin lessons in middle school.

One reason their daughter appreciated the diverse high school she attended, said Child, is because “the kids there defied expectations, like she did. One student, for example, had parents who were Korean and Danish, but he spoke Swedish. Not all the kids looked like their parents, either.”

Cultural diversity can be within reach, even in unlikely areas. Although she grew up in “not very diverse” Beaver Dam, Wis., Morgan Butterbrodt, 23, said she learned about other languages and cultures from the many students her family hosted through the AFS-USA international student exchange program (afs­usa.org).

“It’s the little differences that make you more compassionate and less judgmental,” Butterbrodt said. “Yuilya from Kazakh­stan, for example, was very disciplined because she couldn’t go to college unless her grades were good. Matias from Paraguay wasn’t used to being on time because his culture is more laid-back.”

 

For families unable to host a student for a whole year, AFS-USA offers other volunteer opportunities, such as being “welcome families” to ease students’ transitions.

Leslie Mann, Chicago Tribune

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