The PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Season 4 continues to branch out. Today’s leading artists, politicians, activists, performers and journalists discover surprising ancestral stories while learning their family history in the fourth season of the critically acclaimed series. Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, continues exploring the mysteries, surprises and revelations hidden in the family trees of 28 of today’s most intriguing cultural trailblazers.
Comedian Larry David and politician Bernie Sanders discover they have more in common than they thought, tracing their roots back to Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Comedic performers Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and Maya Rudolph learn contrasting stories of assimilation and independence all over the globe. Actors Fred Armisen and Christopher Walken and musician Carly Simon each learn about a grandparent whose real identity and background had been a mystery to them. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and author and activist Janet Mock see their basic assumptions about their families challenged, placing their ancestors—of all colors—into the greater context of black history.
Actors Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy trace their nonconformist ancestors through American conflicts—the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Puritan establishment. Journalists Bryant Gumbel and Suzanne Malveaux and producer and writer Tonya Lewis-Lee discover a tapestry of the unexpected as they delve into their ancestry, revealing slaves and free people of color, Civil War legacies, and forgotten European origins. Actor Lupita Nyong’o, NBA star Carmelo Anthony and political commentator Ana Navarro trace their African heritage, investigating the political choices of their fathers and discovering sometimes unexpected heritage.
Also, actors Tea Leoni and Gaby Hoffmann both have lives shaped by family mysteries and are introduced to the identities and life stories of their biological ancestors, thanks to DNA detective work. DJ and producer Questlove, talk show host Dr. Phil, and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s family stories are rooted in the American south. Actors Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd and John Turturro, all with immigrant parents, gain greater understanding of the unique challenges their ancestors faced by way of prejudice and poverty at home and abroad.
We start a new chapter every time we get to read and cherish a new books. And we read and cherish many every year. It was tough, but we choose these as must-read, must-have for every library.
Walter and the Wallet (Eifrig Publishing, $14.99) Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes is making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street . . . a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how? Cash in on this is a lovely, lyrical tale full of life lessons.
Ralphie, Always Loved (About Something Good , $14.99 or $7.99) will remind you of all that is good, and reaffirm your belief in love’s power to uplift and transform. Anyone who has felt a deep connection with their own beloved pet will find joy, kindness and light in Ralphie’s story; the book is perfect for sharing with little ones as well as friends and family. The cat’s meow! aboutsomethinggood.com/ralphie-always-loved/
The Global Warming Express (Terra Nova Books, $14.99) Whoever thought such an important issue could make for a fabulous kid’s book? We have placed the Earth in peril—through pollution, global warming, oil spills and our general disrespect and neglect of the environment. Those who respond first are the animals. There is The Fluff, a penguin; Creamy, a harp seal; Tomás, a black bear; Flora, a polar bear; and Lady Athabasca, a whooping crane, among others. The animals have all suffered from destruction to their habitats and neglect of the environment, and want to do something about it. They jump on a magical train powered by positive thoughts and take off to let others know about the problems Earth’s creatures are facing. This is the perfect book to begin conversations, educate kids and parents, and even help start up school programs in every neighborhood. terranovabooks.com/the-global-warming-express.html
Whenever the wind breaks, poor Argyle Fox has a tough time. With his signature style, he wants to play outside on a springtime day, but the wind is wreaking havoc with his fun and games. As soon as he builds a card tower, climbs into a giant spider web, or takes up his pirate sword, here comes the wind: Wooosh! Mama Fox tells grumpy Argyle that if he thinks long enough, he will come up with something to do. Following his mother’s suggestion and inspired by her knitting, he works all the pieces of his day together and creates the perfect solution. Argyle’s story, warmly told in Argyle Fox (Tanglewood Publishing, $17.99) shows that failure is often a path to success and celebrates perseverance, creative thinking, and an old-fashioned springtime activity. tanglewoodbooks.com/books/picture-books/argyle-fox/
We don’t usually recommend pop-up books for wee ones since inquisitive minds (and hands!) destroy such wondersl We make an exception with The Nutcracker: A Papercut Pop-Up Book (Thames & Hudson, $19.95), knowing parents and grandparents will protect papercut artist Shobhna Patel’s exquisite retelling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet using an entirely new pop-up technique featuring dazzling laser-cut illustrations that will enchant readers young and old. Patel has invented a new paper-engineering technique called the “paperscope,” which is used for the first time in this charming book. The book features four pop-up paperscopes that spring when the reader presses each paperscope down with their hand to reveal the scene hidden within. The effect is one of a magical series of stage sets, recalling the story’s origins as a ballet. Simply magnificent!
Public Media Distribution and PBS Distribution have enough great DVDs to fill 1,367 stockings and appeal to the young (and young-at-heart). Three faves: We loved Miffy’s Adventures Big and Small: Play Date With Miffy, an all-new DVD from the lovable and popular children’s Nick Jr. TV series. Children will enjoy watching Miffy and her friends Melanie and Grunty as they embark on adventures and new experiences, sing memorable songs and have fun–all the while learning about kindness, respect, and friendship. Miffy and friends jump in puddles, take a ballet lesson, play hide and seek and much more in these 11 fun-filled playtime adventures. We also loved Wild Kratts: Wild Winter Creatures! Join Martin Kratt and Chris Kratt as they embark on four snowy winter adventures from their hit PBS KIDS series. Chris and Martin continue to face Zach Varmitech when he kidnaps a polar bear cub and a walrus calf, and again when he threatens to use an entire walrus herd to mine precious pearls for Donita Donata’s fashion line. Entertaining and educational. Super Why: Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairytale Adventurestakes Super Readers on four classic adventures. You will especially love the Sleeping Beauty segment. The Super Readers travel into the famous story of Sleeping Beauty to speak with a Princess who loves sleeping just as much as Princess Pea loves tea parties!
Disney Book Group has oodles of nifty books for the wee ones. Disney Baby: My First Christmas($8.99)introduces Baby to the wonders of Christmas with Mickey and friends. From sticky candy canes to fluffy white snow, Baby will delight in the touch and feel elements of this engaging board book. Join Olaf on a fantastic adventure inOlaf’s Frozen Adventure Olaf’s Journey ($12.99), a board book featuring LED lights showing through every page. In The Twelve Days of Christmas ($16.99), Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-Winning Greg Pizzoli’s pitch-perfect humor gives this classic carol new life. As more and more gifts show up in the story, fans of Greg’s previous books will love identifying familiar animals. This hilarious interpretation with festive foil on the cover makes for a perfect holiday gift. When a series of animals come knocking at the door seeking a warm place to sleep, there’s always room for one more!William’s Winter Nap ($17.99) is the perfect read-aloud for a cold winter night. Linda Ashman’s playful rhymes, paired with Chuck Groenink’s irresistible animal illustrations, will have young readers cuddling up to this book with their favorite stuffed animals at bedtime. Celebrate the spirit of the season withMickey’s Christmas Storybook Treasury ($30), a collectible Mickey & Friends volume featuring four beautifully illustrated Christmas stories: “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” “Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s Christmas Wish,” “Donald’s Christmas Tree” and “The Gift of the Magi.” Bring home the timeless appeal of Disney storytelling and experience the magic again and again. Who doesn’t love the holidays? Twinkling lights, merry carolers, the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and the alien creature battling your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? Welcome to the exciting world of Marvel’s Super Hero Adventures!
In Deck the Malls ($4.99), the first book in the series, join Spider-Man and his amazing arachnid ally Spider-Gwen as they take on the alien menace known as Venom. Will Spider-Man outrun Venom before the creature can steal his powers? Will Spider-Gwen figure out Venom’s weakness before it’s too late? Will the spider-friends save the day in time to finish their holiday shopping? It’s anything but a silent night this festive season. Art of Coloring: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas ($15.99) These images are ideal for adding your own brand of color and style. Perfect for cultivating creativity, relaxation, and focus, these pages are filled with artwork evocative of the delightfully frightful world of Jack Skellington. Six Words Fresh Off the Boat captures hundreds of takes on the immigration experience, from every-day people as well as world-famous celebrities including Aziz Ansari, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Julianne Moore, Mario Batali, George Takei, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Billy Collins and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This book will have you thinking in sixes and challenging others to share six words about their lives. First premiering on Broadway in November 13, 1997, Disney’s award-winning “Best Musical” The Lion King celebrated its 20th anniversary in November. Now a veteran actor to the musical, Alton Fitzgerald White—the longest running “Mufasa”—reflects on his own life, career, and the rich lore of The Lion King, in My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performance.
Inspired by the iconic series, Kim Smith’s adorable new picture book imagines what Scully and Mulder would be like as children camping out in a backyard filled with strange lights, sounds and… aliens? When it first aired, The X-Files was one of the most popular sci-fi TV shows in American television, lasting nine seasons and two feature films. With 2016’s revival season and production for the 2018 season of The X-Files set to begin this summer, excitement for the series continues to grow.
The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird (Quirk Books ($18.99) is a great way for parents to share one of their favorite TV shows and the picture book would be a great addition to any Halloween coverage you might be planning.
A bit (get it?) about apps. We know nada. We don’t even own a cell phone! But a very reliable source from way up North tells us about My Town Games, a company that has great and safe apps for kids. My Town: Pets is a purr-fect choice: It allows children to have fun adopting cats, dogs, birds and hamsters, caring for them, taking them to the vet–everything they would do with real pets–which will present the opportunity to learn animal interaction and responsibility that can carry over into their real lives. If they walk their dog at the park’s litter sand area, make sure they don’t just don’t forget to clean up the poop. An added bonus is connectivity of My Town games and with shared characters and places that can travel from one game to another, all part of the larger My Town family of apps. Another bonus: My Town: Pets received an endorsement from Kids First!, a program of The Coalition for Quality Children’s Media, a national, nonprofit organization founded in 1991 whose mission is to teach children critical viewing skills and to increase the visibility and availability of quality children’s media. So far, there are 22 titles in My Town’s library. Another neat app: My Little Princess: Stores. It allows children to open up a whole new digital dollhouse with new characters to dress up and test out the latest makeup trends and style. Find your characters’ best friend and go pick up food at the supermarket, or plan a party and pick up the items to celebrate with.
A trio of great games from (who else) Endless Games.
Name something everyone loves to play. If you said Family Feud, you’ve scored lots of points! Endless Games has released this nifty Family Feud 40th Anniversary Retro Edition Board Game, featuring the classic FF home version console. There are more than 500 survey questions, so every family will have ample chances to play . . . again and again and again. Richard Dawson’s kisses not included.
Remember that TV fave The Gig Short? What about that musical movie A Dorks Stink? No, we are not making typos. Nor are we losing our minds. We are simply having fun with Out of Order, a game in which film, TV, song and book titles are scrambled. Take away a letter here, add a letter there and in five steps the correct answer is revealed. So: The Gig Short = The Gig Shot = The Gag Shot = The Gang Shot = The Gang Show = The Gong Show. The Dorks Stink = A Dorks Sink = A Dorks Line = A Doris Line = A Chorus Line. Be the first to unscramble and identify the title to win.
The curtain has risen on series four of the popular Playbill Puzzles, a 1,000-piece jumble featuring Playbill covers of current Broadway plays and musicals. Even Mama Rose would would agree this family fun adventure is coming up roses . . . as long as the pieces fit.
Spinmaster continues to break the toy formula with these three marvel must-haves. Do your kids want a pet? A dazzling dog? A curious cat? A grunting guinea pig? Some frivolous fish? If your your apartment rental forbids such a childhood necessary or someone in the family is allergic, fret no more! Bring Zhu Zhu pet hamsters home. This battery-powered facmisle comes in nifty neon colors and the Hamster House Play Set is the perfect place for any Zhu to live. The set comes with an exclusive Winkie hamster and a slide and tunnel, making recreations of scenes from the TV show as A-B-C (or is it Z-H-U?). If he needs companions, add Mr. Squiggles, Roxie, Num Nums and the rest of the gang. Our pet favorite toy this season!
Kids can get ahead with the fun with the Airbrush Styling Studio. Tapping into the trend of online beauty tutorials, the Studio’s innovative cordless airbrush tool and colorful makeup sticks (washable markers) teaches them how to easily apply stylish hair and makeup on your very own model. Use the hair and makeup stencils to recreate your favorite looks from the Lookbook, and customize with gems and eye color stickers. Airbrush colorful highlights and attach the hair extensions wear the extensions in your own hair! Once the Lookbook styles are mastered, design your own using the free play templates and share your amazing Lookbook creations. Then, simply wash off to design all over again. It’s easy to create endless looks just like a real stylist with the Cool Maker Airbrush Styling Studio.
We spend way too much playing with M.A.X., a 12-inch tall advanced robot who is crammed with tons of fun, educational features. Designed for budding engineers and tinkerers 0 years and older, this robot-building kit offers a challenging yet rewarding build consisting of 332 parts. Once he’s assembled, M.A.X. functions as a friendly robot companion and personal assistant. He engages kids in conversation, learns from every interaction, remembers important dates, and more. He even features a built-in gaming platform. Customizable programming allows kids to personalize M.A.X. to meet their own specifications so that every assembled M.A.X. robot is truly one of a kind. And like all Meccano kits, M.A.X. can be reassembled into a huge variety of other robotics toys.
Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some