For some it’s tearing open wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Others, it might be downing turkey with friends and family or hunting for some eggs on Easter Sunday. For others, it might be dressing up in costumes on Halloween, or knocking back a few pints with friends on St. Patrick’s Day.
But for me, the most wonderful time of the year isn’t a single day. It’s that time between mid-November leading right up to about December 23. Holiday music is once again on the radio, if we’re lucky the snow starts to fall, decorations begin to line the streets and there’s just this…certain spirit in the air.
It’s intangible, even hard to accurately put into writing here. But it’s that underlying theme to many a Christmas special that you just…feel.
It’s the feeling you get deep inside when the cast of Sesame Street sings about keeping Christmas with you all through the year, or Jack Skellington’s frustration when he’s not able to fully describe the idea of Christmas to his peers in Halloweentown, but it’s there. It’s felt inside.
And that’s why I love everything leading up to Christmas so much more than the holiday itself, because that lead-up is when that feeling is at its peak.
It’s when, depending on where you live and if we’re lucky, the first flakes of snow begin to descend and cover the ground in a blanket of white, ushering in a beautiful visual transition from one season to the next. It’s the excitement and the real-life magic that comes from watching children excitedly write letters to Santa, asking how he’s been, tossing out questions about life up north and his amazing abilities in ways only children can.
It can be found in our favorite media traditions and routines – whether it’s the way Dickens classic is brought to life in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the revelation in It’s a Wonderful Life that even when life seems quite uneventful and miniscule that we do in fact make a difference. Or maybe it’s one of the many other holiday movies and specials that warm their way into our hearts and become as familiar to us as a close friend or the hug of a relative. Or it can be the voices singing “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or any number of carols that have entertained for generations playing in the background while you decorate a tree, or even during a mundane car ride, elevating otherwise moments of monotony into something joyful, full of heart.
It’s in all of it. Those memories are made well before the calendar falls upon the 24th or 25th of December.
By the time Christmas Day rolls around, and the wrapping comes off the gifts, well…it’s all done. The holiday is already on its way out the door. In the past, I’ve referred to as The Christmas Letdown. The store aisles will soon be filled with festive memories now at clearance prices, while candies and hearts fill the shelves for the next big gift giving bonanza almost two months later.
Maybe if we could find a way to bottle that feeling from mid-November to mid-December, if we could find a way to carry it with us through the months ahead, the world might be a bit more merry year-round.
Or, as Santa says in the classic Miracle on 34th Street – “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”
The way we watch TV has changed so much in just a short amount of time. Almost gone are the days of flipping channels to see what your local station or cable offerings are. These days a majority of folks are tuning in to their favorite viewings through app-based programming like Roku, Fire Stick or other such devices, like iPhones, Androids, tablets, or even the computer.
Some of those apps are paid, some are free. And as we head into the week of Halloween, I want to offer up some recommendations for the best Halloween offerings you can watch right now, absolutely free via the PBS Kids app.
Wild Kratts: Creepy Creatures – While the crew of the Tortuga get ready for Halloween, the villains band forces to turn Halloween into a scary time for both animal and human alike, kidnapping various creatures to create haunted havoc and a Halloween monster! There’s also some fun self-referential jokes like the characters dressing like their own villains.
Pinkalicious and Peteriffic: Pink or Treat – Halloween is Coming! But a storm through Pinkville has left the town without power and disarray. It’s Pinkagirl to the rescue to save Halloween. Based on the book of the same name from the Pinkalicious book series, this animated interpretation has a few slight changes but still delivers home a message of community and working together to find joy together in what seems like even the darkest of moments.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: The Neighborhood Fall Festival – Sure, there is a Halloween/Dress Up Day episode of Daniel Tiger I could have gone with, but I have to admit a soft spot for show’s and episodes that take the road less traveled and do a story more related to Autumn than Halloween itself. Here, a fall storm knocks over the autumn decorations outside Music Man Stan’s Music Store and it’s up to Daniel and his friends to put them back up. They may not be the way Music Man Stan had them, but it’s a great lesson for the kids that they don’t have to do things the way someone else does, or that it needs to be perfect. They just need to do the best that’s right for them.
Word Girl: Tobey’s Tricks & Treats – Poor robotics genius Tobey loses the costume contest at school. What’s a kid super-villain to do in response but set his giant robots (ahem, ro-buts) into town on Halloween night to steal all the candy. Word Girl is always a super-heroic great time, Patton Oswalt is a recurring delight as Tobey and this Halloween episode is no exception to the fun.
Curious George Boofest! – One of my all-time autumn favorites. A spooky scarecrow legend keeps the country town of the Man in the Yellow Hat on edge, and it’s none other than George and friends to get to the bottom of it. A fun romp through the country at Halloween time, with great songs and fun.
This list is in no way exhaustive, and there’s many great Halloween episodes to be found in a variety of other shows in the app as well – Arthur, Sid the Science Kid, Let’s Go Luna and more.
And for quick dives into Halloween goodies, you can forsake the full episodes (found in each show’s profile) and go straight to the Happy Halloween section for a slew of seasonal clips for shorter viewing.
Like many offerings that tie into the season at hand, these are only available for a limited time before disappearing again next year. But if you’re looking for some safe seasonal fun for any age, the PBS Kids app is the place to find it.
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself with super powers?
It’s the question a middle school girl named Lacey finds herself facing when she and her dog stumble across a pair of costumes that do just that, imbuing both kid and canine with powers beyond those of mere mortals.
It’s Lacey & Lily!
This all-ages graphic novel is the latest from Darby Pop Publishing, and if you’re wondering just why I’m plugging it here, it’s not just because I like it, it’s because I wrote it! With some absolutely amazing illustrations from my pal Andrew Cieslinski, this is the sort of thing that has been a dream come true for people like ourselves who grew up as comic fans.
I’ll never forget my first exposure to comic books. I was in elementary school and was home sick from school at my grandmother’s house when she pulled a stack of comic books out of the hallway closet. They were mostly from the 1970s, gathered over some indeterminate period of time, the brightly covered covers, or in some cases, cover-less splash pages were a completely new world to me, and it sucked me right in. And what a wide array of worlds they were! Uncle Scrooge! Batman! Richie Rich! The Flash! The Thing! It was like nothing I had seen before at that point in my young life. And it was amazing.
Not long after, my uncle would expand that world even more, taking me to a comic book shop for the first time, where I would have to stand on a footstool to reach the tables and boxes filled with books from years past. I used money from my paper route to buy old books. As a kid I used to make crudely drawn comic stories that I’d photocopy and staple together to share. Those moments forever changed the way I read and told stories. And it became something I always hoped I’d get the opportunity to do.
And some decades later, it happened thanks to Andrew’s incredible art talents and the fine folks at Darby Pop Publishing.
I thank them, and I thank you for indulging me here. We’re already hard at work on a follow-up volume with brand new adventures, more kooky villains, and more fun with Lacey, Lily, and their friend, Weston.
Words can’t describe the feeling after growing up reading comics to have a box arrive from the publisher on your doorstep with your own books inside, let alone to see the kind words people have said about it emblazoned on the cover. Though I’m overly wordy here (shocking), at that moment I think I was pretty much speechless.
But I think maybe the greatest reviews I can ever get are those that come from kids themselves. Someone who stopped me at my kids’ school to tell me how much they loved it, or walking into my son’s room late at night to find out why he wasn’t asleep yet only to find him curled up with a flashlight reading Lacey & Lily and wanting to talk about it with me. My heart swelled.
I hope you’ll check it out, pick up a copy, and enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it.
Available Now from Darby Pop Publishing’s Online Store
Also available on Amazon or from your Local Comic Shop (Diamond Order Code JUN201024)
The increased time spent at home by our family during this pandemic has meant that among other things, we’re definitely watching more television than we usually do.
That sometimes means trying to discover family-friendly fare we haven’t already seen, or re-watching old favorites. However, there’s one particular instance where the kids wanted to show us something they’ve previously watched and when they did, we parents have found it so much of a delight we’re now often the ones asking to watch it!
And that something is a little blue dog named Bluey!
An Australian animated series for preschool kids, the show premiered in October 2018 on Australia’s ABC Kids, but made its premiere in the United States and the UK on Disney Junior and internationally on Disney+ with 52 seven-minute episodes.
Six-year-old Bluey and little sister Bingo do a LOT of pretending, and their parents often get into the act as well. It’s had a pleasant side effect of inspiring our own children to start pretending more. Whether it’s a doctor’s office, a zoo, a cafe or market, they’ve been empowered to use their imaginations more thanks to this TV lot and we couldn’t be more grateful.
The kids act like kids. The parents – they act and talk like real parents, but have no problem with and thoroughly enjoy getting in on the silliness. It serves as both an inspiration for us to be more involved in the kids’ play, while at the same time providing some wonderful interaction between mom and dad.
Bluey runs into the kitchen to let Dad (Bandit) and Mom (Chilli) know the Tooth Fairy left her five dollars.
Bandit spits out his coffee.
BANDIT: Five bucks?!
CHILLI: That’s what she left all of Bluey’s friends.
BANDIT: Well, that tooth fairy is doing well for herself, isn’t she?
That particular situation leads to the five bucks (marked by a tooth fairy sticker on the bill) burning a hole in Bluey’s pocket as she agonizes over what to spend it on at a public market. When she regrets her eventual choice of a candy apple, the story provides a valuable lesson in money:
BANDIT: Once you spend it…it’s gone.
Beyond some great moments in pretending and parenting, it’s also just plain funny. I don’t think there’s a better example of this than the episode “Grannies,” where Bluey and Bingo spend the bulk of the episode pretending to be little old ladies. Whether it’s driving their toy car over garden gnomes without a notice, falling asleep in the kitchen for a ‘Nana nap,’ or walking around with their toys as canes, their imaginary Grannies personas never cease to make us laugh no matter how often we watch, especially against the backdrop of a frustrated mum and dad trying to clean house, or Bingo’s desire to floss while big sister Bluey fights her on the ability of Grannies to floss in real life.
So give it a go. At a time when many of us are spending more time at home with family, it’s nice to find little silver linings (or blue ones, in this case), where we can.
A new season of Bluey premiered this past week in the U.S. on the Disney Channel, with some episodes set to appear for free on the Disney NOW app some time after.
It’s Schoolhouse Rocky,
that chip off the block
Of your favorite schoolhouse,
Learning comes in all forms. Some people are visual learners. Some auditory. Some need to get their hands in the thick of it to grasp concepts the best. I’m of the belief that regardless of what kind of ways you learn best, we retain the most concepts when we’re having fun with those concepts. Sometimes it’s a project in school that got you jazzed to be taking part in, or a teacher that made you laugh while you learned. The association with your enjoyment brings back and retains the knowledge you gained along with it.
And I think that’s why Schoolhouse Rock! has been a reference point for so many of us from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and to my surprise, beyond.
In case you weren’t around during any of its original run or its encore, the Emmy award-winning Schoolhouse Rock was a series of short animation segments that aired in between various Saturday morning cartoons on ABC. With humor and catchy tunes, they taught elements of history, civics, grammar, science, math, and more. Its initial run lasted more than a decade, from 1973 to 1984, and came back with a mix of new and old episodes for a few years in the early 1990s.
To my generation, they’re classics, but they’re the sort of thing I’ve always felt would end up being just a fond memory of our childhood when we look back on those halcyon days of Saturday morning lineups, a box of cereal, and toy commercials that flood through our nostalgia-soaked minds. So imagine my surprise when I recently walked into the living room to find all our children laughing along with the series, courtesy of Disney+!
Since the series was released on the streaming platform earlier this month, they’ve watched them over and over again, quickly weeding out their favorites, viewing them (and singing along) again and again.
There’s certainly no shortage of great entries in the Schoolhouse Rock series, but in no particular order, I present to you our kids’ top three Schoolhouse Rock installments to both educate and earworm!
I’m Just a Bill
The 1976 classic still gets a lot of play in our home, and its influence already has our 7 year old discussing the process of lawmaking in discussions. Spoofed dozens of times over the years, this one stands out as probably the most famous of School House Rock entries, with a walking, talking bill explaining to a small boy why he’s sitting on Capitol Hill, hoping he doesn’t die in committee, and can one day become a law. History rock that makes an impression – for any generation!
Hey! Wow! Yeow! Hooray! They show emotion! They show excitement! Sometimes with an exclamation point or a comma if the feeling isn’t strong. A wonderful 1974 entry in the grammar themed segments, whether it’s a great grade on a report card, a shot in the bum by the doctor, or losing the big game, this drives home with various scenarios how much the words we use can express ourselves when used correctly.
The Tale of Mr. Morton
One of the later entries into the series, this one comes from the early 90s but is no less catchy and fun.In the story of shy Mr Morton, the song teaches the grammar elements of subject and predicate. Our kids quote its small bits of dialogue all the time and I find myself walking around singing part of its chorus “Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, he does.”
What about you? Were you a Schoolhouse Rock fan? Any favorites on your personal playists? Feel free to share them!
About a week or ago, I got an email that caught me by surprise – there was an update to my blog!
I was immediately puzzled because I had not recalled scheduling anything, but I opened up the email and there it was…a blog post about always feeling like there’s not enough time in the day. It was, in the brief moments before I logged in to take it down, like staring into the past of a previous life. I had written this and scheduled it far ahead, some months ago. We’ll call it the ‘before times,’ because that’s what it feels like most days.
In the before times, I thought nothing of writing about how overwhelmed I felt by a barrage of daily responsibilities all tumbling down at the same time and now I look back on that as rather…naive?
Like many other folks out there, we’ve been social distancing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and though only a few months have passed since that began, it seems in many ways like another era, something that I came face to face with when reading this post drafted so many months ago about problems that seemed ‘crucial.’
Since then, grocery store trips have become a solo venture, my mask and gloves firmly in place, postage gets purchased and printed online for packages that need to be mailed, work is done remotely, the schoolroom is virtual, and talking to friends or family becomes a bit of an ‘event’ and done so through the safety of technology or talks through a window to the driveway. It’s become a new world, at least it has if you’re taking the steps necessary to keep yourself and especially those around you healthy.
In so many ways, it really is another time and accidentally looking back at a mindset of a past not so long ago but so vastly different is a great reminder that no matter what our situation is in this time of crisis, that we hopefully recognize that some of the irks of our lives then are put into a bit of perspective, and we see that some things were not as much a reason for concern as we thought.
There’s a lot of voices crying out for a return to normal. But as has been said by wiser people than myself, maybe we should stop and think of what parts of ‘normal’ we really want to go back to.
Incredible thanks to Patricia Tilton and Children’s Book Heal for this wonderful review of “The Little Lamp.”
If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll consider checking it out:
From Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-little-lamp-dave-dellecese/1130195163
The Little Lamp
Dave Dellecese, Author
Ada Konewki, Illustrator
Dandy Press, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019
Suitable for Ages: 4-7
Themes: Lamp, Love, Purpose, Obsolete, Resilience, Re-purpose, Rhyme
Opening: In a tiny brick apartment, / at Jasper Drive and Main, / Lived the custest little couple / Known as Jack and Jane McShane.
Little Lamp shines his light on the Jane and Jack McShane. A gift from Gramma, it always sits on a table while they read books in the evening and sip their tea. When they have their first child, Little Lamp is beside them as they play and read books to Baby. At night time he watches the baby sleep. Little Lamp is very happy.
Then one day Jack McShane brings home a big, shiny lamp. Little Lamp is sad when he’s taken to the cold basement and set on a top shelf next…
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