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.
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!
I think about Russi Taylor a lot.
I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.
It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.
In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.
She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.
She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.
With three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.
That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.
And yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.
I spent a lot of time patching up holes at our house this summer. I’m not going to lie. I often spent much of that time simultaneously patching and singing The Beatles 1967 hit of the same name.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
But why? What holes? Why was this such an ongoing project throughout the summer?
The answer, my friends, is a small one. A chipmunk-sized one. Because it’s a chipmunk.
Early this summer we noticed a hole in our driveway, not far from where the garage door is. We assumed, as it was below the path of gutters above, that excess water had worn it away over time. So, one afternoon I went out, filled it with some rocks, mixed up a little concrete (with plans to cover it with cold patch once it dried) and filled up the hole. Inside the house I went and peeked out the window about an hour later to see if it had dried up yet and ready for the next step.
I did a double take at the window. Wait, what?
The entire hole had been dug up, or rather pushed up from the inside. Before the concrete could dry, it and the rocks below it now sat in the driveway, scattered about. As I inspected closer, I found that it wasn’t just a hole. It was a tunnel! A tunnel that led to the grass just off to the side of our driveway, where a tiny little chipmunk looked at me before running off.
I couldn’t believe it.
So, I patched up the hole again, this time covering it with a bucket and stone on top, while covering the other end of the tunnel with a big brick. This time it worked.
Until another hole popped up a few feet away. And then we discovered multiple holes in the masonry walls of the garage itself where our little friend was coming and going, leaving his droppings and gnawing away at any bags of birdseed. Which I discovered by picking up said bag and having it spill out from the bottom thanks to a chewed hole on the bottom.
Because I apparently live in a reality akin to 1940s Donald Duck cartoons where yes, I’m playing the role of Donald to my tiny co-star of Chip, Dale, whichever one is burrowing holes into our driveway and garage.
As the sun begins to set on summer, so too (at least I think) has the sun set on the cartoonish ongoing battle with our small antagonist (or are they the protagonist and I’m the antagonist?). The holes have been successfully filled in with rocks, concrete and a layer of cold patch on top. The holes in the garage walls have been filled in with steel wool, spray foam insulation, and where possible, a layer of concrete.
All those years of laughing at Donald Duck’s over the top attempts to stop those little chipmunks from causing chaos in his quiet little world have finally come back to bite me, I suppose.
But if you see me in my driveway, doing the Donald Duck angry tantrum bit again next season, you’ll know why.
If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.
Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.
There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?
You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.
As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.
So I started thinking local.
I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.
They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.
It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.
So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.
Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.
There’s really something to be said for customer service.
Everything’s not awesome.
It was a lyric that turned the catchy earworm of a song, “Everything is Awesome,” from the first installment of The Lego Movie on its ear in a dramatic turn in philosophy.
Everything’s not awesome
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try
To make everything awesome
In a less likely, unrealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
‘Cause not bad, well that would be real great
Like many movies out there, we’re late to the game in catching up. We don’t watch a lot of new movies and tend to stick to whatever might be family-friendly and streaming on Netflix at the time, or something out of our DVD collection. But we rented both of the Lego Movies lately (The kids liked them both while I enjoyed the first more than the second) and though I wasn’t as fond of the sequel, I walked away from it taken by this musical flip in attitude.
Because everything is not awesome. It does not always have to be. Sometimes things just being mundane, just being “not bad” IS okay. If every moment is special and spectacular, then nothing is. If we’re always feeling euphoria, then we’re never really experiencing it because we have nothing to compare it to.
And if we can have an awareness of this in our adult lives, or at least have it as an awareness to strive for, then why is it so much more difficult to have it for our children? Why do we have such high expectations of them, expecting them to behave with the life experience and perspective of an adult when they haven’t even gotten close to there yet?
I am by no means perfect and I often have to remind myself that I can have too high of expectations for our children. Sometimes the noise they’re making, the mess they’re creating, the just plain bouncing off the walls, is part of being a child. I can not, realistically, expect them to behave like little adults, with the outlook and perspective on their choices and behavior that I do, because they have not lived my life. They’ve got more than 30 years of living and experiences to go through before then.
We get upset when they’re not behaving well all the time. We don’t look at it that way, of course. They could behave all day and then, when they finally slip, we get upset that they’re not acting the right way. We focus on that negative moment and boil over instead of having some perspective that the rest of the day went pretty darn well. How can we expect them to be good all day long when it sure isn’t possible for many of us adults to do? Appreciate the good moments, verbalize appreciation for it. The bad moments are going to come, but it becomes all too easy to let them overshadow everything else. Pick your battles. I’m trying to teach myself this currently.
They’ve got energy they need to get out. Sometimes it IS accomplished just by being over the top silly, wacky, rolling around on the living room floor, standing on their head, etc. Again, a battle I’m fighting with myself to let go of some of the times and not get bothered by.
Yes, we love them. Yes, they can still drive us nuts. Because yes, they’re children – children exploring their world, themselves, and everything under the sun as they gain experiences and perspectives that it has taken us parents a lifetime in which to achieve…and for many of us, we’re still working on ourselves.
So cut them some slack and ourselves too. Set the boundaries, but let them be kids. Pick your battles.
Because everything’s not awesome.
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation.
So, this is a pretty important week for me.
Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.
This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.
Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.
It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.
And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.
It really means so very much.
It seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.
Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!
When the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.
Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).
Over the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.
With this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!
Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.
Our son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.
I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?
So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.
What are you waiting for? Go!