Flower Child: Beautiful Poetry for Beautiful Children (by Wonderworld Film & Video) immediately piqued our interest. In college, Jim and I got involved in a number of poetry projects focusing on contemporary poetry and teaching great poetry to young children. There's definitely a disconnect from the simple rhymes of preschool and early elementary school and the classic poetry that students encounter (and often hate) in high school and college. "Hey diddle diddle" doesn't ease the transition into Paradise Lost, Shakespeare, or Dylan Thomas. Using Kenneth Koch's masterwork on the subject (Rose, Where Did You Get that Red?), we taught classic and contemporary poetry in the elementary schools. We're pretty excited to see any tool that works to introduce children to poetry as more than mere rhyme.
The title, Flower Child, may not fully represent the scope of the program. It either sounds very hippy "This Land is Your Land" (the stuff we grew up on in our mismatched 70s prints) or deeply sentimental in a sort of Susan Polis Schultz, greeting card way. Flower Child falls in neither category. It is upbeat and visually interesting.
Ranger, our 21 month-old test subject, is a bit under the recommended ages of 2-8, but that didn't stop him from enjoying the video. For someone on the younger end of the age spectrum the video is probably best watched in segments rather than all together (30 total minutes).
Flower Child is arranged to follow the pattern of child's day and is divided into segments that will make sense to most kids. It starts with a sunrise, goes to breakfast, has activities until lunch, then it cruises to dinner and bedtime.
Kids read a majority of the poems on the video, and they do a great job. These young voices definitely drew Ranger's attention. They would definitely engage an older child with their expressive, but not overstated readings. The photography is beautiful and colorful. Ranger was most interested in the on-screen kids' activities. He wasn't as engaged by the scenes with the cat, but I suspect that is entirely personal preference.
We all enjoyed the instrumental music from Mecca Bodega (world beat) and Clark Jones (folk). It is well synchronized with the voices and images and adds a definite energy and harmonizing voice to the experience.
The poems segue from one to the next without any indication of author or title. This gives the experience a stream-of-consciousness feel that might be overwhelming for parents (wait, I know that- who wrote it?), but this probably won't trouble kids at all. The tracks on the DVD are labeled by author and title which should help other aging English majors troubled by incomplete memory (the review DVD lacks this feature, so I haven't seen the track labels in action). The closing credits state each poem and author as well. Wonderworld is presently developing a Teacher Resource Guide which will also assist with attribution.
Ranger enjoyed the video a lot. It's an experiential mental joyride rather than a deliberately instructive program. This format will definitely appeal to young kids, but don't expect them to say "Mommy, isn't that Emily Dickinson?" when they hear her on the… radio? Okay, bad example. That tiny sense memory and subtle familiarity might help reduce their anxiety in junior high or high school when they are finally faced with the classics.
Here's the nit picky English major stuff: The poems are sometime excerpts and abridgments (they work well in this format). Some of the wording of the poems has been changed slightly for easier understanding (in Dickinson's "A Bird Came Down the Walk" "angleworm" has been replaced with "earthworm" and "a dew" has been replaced by "some dew"). Obviously these are very minor changes, but some poetry purists may choose to leave the room.
There's a pirates segment after lunch that is playful and visually compelling. The kid pirates wield little whip swords with which they duel and force each other to walk the plank by pushing the sword in another child's back. The scene is playful and not violent, and this is probably hyper-sensitivity on my part, but I don't particularly enjoy it. As a child, one of our elderly relatives accidentally put out his twin brother's eye with a pointy stick, so our entire family shies from encouraging pointy things as toys. Jim felt the pirate scene was a bit out of place in the general thematic arc.
This DVD is a great introduction to the spirit and energy of poetry and the rhythm and feeling possible with words. It won't help your child win Junior Jeopardy, but it is great, sales pitch-free viewing that makes language the star of the show.
Adrienne and Jim Jones are the authors of Baby Toolkit.
Related: Introducing kids to poetry