In reviewing children’s shows, I often chance upon two types: First, there are the wonderful, niche productions aimed at a specific audience with specific goals. Then, there are the broader, mainstream-aimed shows that are just waiting for their national breakthrough. The Choo Choo Bob Show falls in to the later category.
Based out of Saint Paul, Minnesota, The Choo Choo Bob Show is a live-action comedy show aimed at children 2-7 that has echoes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody. ’Choo Choo Bob’ is set at Bob’s clubhouse, and features visits from his wacky human pals (includes actors with experience at Comedy Central) and puppet friend Charlie Rat. Choo Choo Bob keeps it updated for modern audience with stop-ins from hipster musicians (Ozomatli), humor that will appeal to parents and kids (“Cleaning with Autotune”), and a likable lead host (Sam Heyn) that won’t scare off parents.
And, of course, there are the trains. Executive producer and show creator Bob Medcraft was inspired by his retail storefront Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store, located in St Paul. His knowledge of trains carries over into each episode where the characters travel across the country visiting real working railroads, answering train questions from kids, and watching “guest trains” zoom by their club house. Even if your little one is not train-infatuated, the music, wrap-around plots and characters will keep them engaged. And if they are train enthusiasts, this show will send them roaring down the rails. We had a viewing party with our friends’ sons (ages 2 & 5) who were already in love with all things locomotive. The show resonated with them after the first 10 minutes, and the one DVD we gave them as a sample was surely not going to suffice.
Right now The Choo Choo Bob Show has 46 episodes produced, all airing in the mid-west. But anyone outside those geographic lines can access Choo Choo Bob merchandise online, including, DVDs, CDs, and stuffed animals. Bob Medcraft and team hope to ride their train into other states soon. In the meantime, you can check out some great clips on their YouTube channel.
The ‘Choo Choo Bob’ Gang
If you kvell over the artistic sensibilities and pop-art style of Yo Gabbba Gabba and its animated segments, then it is time to take a trip to Goon Holler. While we have written about this property in the past, all has been quiet out of the ‘Holler,’ until now.
“The Goon Holler Guidebook” was written and illustrated by four-time Emmy-nominated Yo Gabba Gabba art director Parker Jacobs, based on a a property he created with his brother Christian (co-creator and director of ‘Gabba’ and The Aquabats! Super Show!). This fully-illustrated “guidebook” introduces readers to Tooba the Bigfoot as he wanders into the land of Goon Holler. There he meets a wizard name Uncle Wiznat, a girl named Dosie Doh, an alien name Xöranj and the mischievous furry goons that give the book its name.
“The Goon Holler Guidebook” shirks the traditional format to create what can be best described as a “variety show”-style book for kids. Similar to “Yo Gabba Gabba,” a wrap-around story ties everything together. The story focuses on Tooba’s introduction to Goon Holler and is interspersed with comic strips, recipes, jokes, and even sing-alongs.
When the Parkers launched Yo Gabba Gabba, they brought something bold and new to TV, while pulling in the best artists and musicians to make it hit home with kids and caregivers. Once again, they are ignoring the norms in a traditional marketplace and have created a first-of-its-kind book for kids.
So what’s next for Goon Holler? Let’s hear from Parker himself in an exclusive interview with Nugget Island.
Nugget Island: First off, a standard question: What inspired this property and its universe?
Parker Jacobs: I lived in Appalachia for a few years; West Virginia, Virginia & the Amish part of Maryland. America’s forgotten back yard became so exciting to me in this age of Google maps. Living out there brought back things that excited me as a kid, tall tales, stories of Bigfoot, the Flatwoods Monster, Mothman…These legends say that there’s still magic, wonder and unknown things in this world, but it’s just hiding out in some hidden forest. Like the Smurf villlage.
NI: What came first ‘Goon’ or ‘Gabba’?
PJ: We had been developing both from around the same time. I was already working on Goon Holler when Christian approached me to feature those characters for the “Please/ Thank you” segment in the Yo Gabba Gabba pilot. That along with 2 other Goon Holler shorts, “Goon Fishin’ and “Toot Your Horn” were in the first season.
NI: Love the guidebook format! What made you decide to go this way instead of a traditional storybook?
PJ: My goal for “The Goon Holler Guidebook” was not to tell one story but to present a new world. I wanted to appeal to a broader audience, while still keeping it visually strong. If I had just made a traditional picture book people would think that Goon Holler is just for preschoolers. I also didn’t want to settle on one style. That’s why I implemented an Illustrated version, a loose 2-color comic book style and even real photographs of Dosie Doh and Pooka Shells.
NI: Is that you singing the theme songs on the website?
PJ: Oh that’s Tooba’s voice. ;^)
NI: Have you tried all the recipes in the cookbook?
PJ: Okay you got me. Not all of them. A couple of those recipes I enlisted my sister and mom to help put together. The Alien Tentacle Crawlers, is something I’ve been doing with my kids for years! It’s so much fun to prepare as a family.
NI: What future plans do you have for the property outside of the print media?
PJ: I would like to do an app next. The goons lend themselves so well to designer toys, but we’ll see. Ultimately a T.V. show or a full-length motion picture is where I’d like to take this.
NI: Will we see more of the ‘Holler or Toobaloth C Grassfoot on Yo Gabba Gabba?
PJ: Probably not, but don’t you think it’s time for a spin-off anyway?
“The Goon Holler Guidebook” is now available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide. For more information about the Goon Holler team, check out http://www.goonhollerbook.com or http://www.sourcedmediabooks.com. Also, be sure to check out the trailer here!
It’s the season of the witch, and we have been playing our Halloween music and watching our Halloween films since mid-September. We have already rolled out our yearly music playlist, and are ready to follow up with some more ways to get your kid-friendly scares on this Halloween.
Listen To: “The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy Z
Award-winning kids’ musician Andy Z has just released an ambitious musical audio play for kids 8-12 called “The Grand Scream of Things.” The 66-minute music adventure takes listeners on a Halloween day journey with protagonist Andy, his dog Reggie, his buddy Danger Dude and Pleadia, a teenage alien and potential romantic interest for Andie. Interspersed through this “old time radio show” style adventure are stand-alone songs that span the punk, hip-hop, pop and hip-hop genre. Guest kid musicians like Paula Messner (Candy Band) and RhymeZwell show up while production is handled by Grammy-nominated producer Tor Hyams
Bonus Mention: Children’s musician David Tobocman is offering a free Halloween song download called “Spooky Stuff.” This tune was written by David’s 1st grade daughter Zoe.
We are long-time fans of Night & Day Studios
’ Peekaboo brand of apps. Each release brings unique artwork and new tricks to their trademark line of apps featuring animals and objects popping out and surprising toddlers and babies. For Halloween, Night & Day enlists the talent of Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Ed Emberley (“Go Away, Big Green Monster!
”) to create kid-safe interpretations of Halloween mainstays like witches, werewolves, bats and ghosts. In “Peekaboo Trick or Treat,” little ones tap on the colorful “haunted house” and are greeted by a rotating cast of 14 characters with silly sound effects. A simple app with inspired illustrations that allows even the youngest ones to celebrate the season without getting too scared.
The Worst Witch
introduced the young, fledgling witch/wizard-in-the-making story years before Harry Potter entered pop culture history books. Based on the book series
of the same name, this made-for-TV production focuses on central character Mildred Hubble as she tries to find her way at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Along the way she deals with bullies, botched spells, evil witches and a meeting with the honored Grand Wizard. While the special effects are slightly dated, the movie’s central themes are ageless, as Mildred overcomes obstacles both realistic and supernatural to become the school’s superstar student. Adult viewers: come for the retro charm, stay for the positive message, and come back again for Tim Curry’s hammy performance as The Grand Wizard and his musical number “Anything Can Happen on Halloween.”
Bonus Mention: Scholastic Storybook Treasures: A Very Brave Witch…and more Halloween Stories. Eight classic kid’s books are brought to life in this Halloween-themed edition of the Scholastic Storybook Treasures series. For parents who prefer a mellower, literary approach to television viewing, this a great option. Most of the stories in this DVD compilation are filmed books with simple camera pans, celebrity narration and optional onscreen read-along.
Go & Do: PhilharMONSTER! @ The Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC
Lucky NYC-ers can go to this special one-off Halloween show on Sun, Oct 28 at 4 pm. The young musicians of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York’s Carnegie Hill Orchestra (ages 8 to 12) and ISO Symphony (ages 12 to 19) will perform horror-themed orchestral classics to get into the spirit of the season. All players will be dressed for the holiday, with a special Ghost Conductor.
Bonus Mention: Be sure to check out musician Alastair Moock’s “Slightly Scary Spectacular” concerts at Jammin Java (Saturday, October 27, 10:30 am) and 92Y Tribeca NY (Sunday, October 28, 11 am).
Read: “Hallowilloween: Nefarious Silliness” by Calef Brown
Artist/poet Calef Brown could be described as a modern-day Dr Seuss, with an edgy folk-art touch. He has even inspired an album based on his previous books. “Hallowilloween” features Calef’s trademark ridiculous rhymes, this time themed around his own brand of monsters. Meet the baseball “Vumpire,” shunken head Duncan, the brain-eating “Oompachupa Loompacabra” and the cowgirl “Witches of Texas.” Age appropriately morbid, Calef Brown’s poems are humorous enough to circumnavigate any nasty nightmares.
Bonus Mention: “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle” by Charles Gilman. A novel for tweens that references the king of horror and “speculative fiction.” Yes please! “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” tells the story of twelve-year-old Robert Arthur as he navigates his way through a middle school filled with mysterious passages, Lovecraftian beasts, and teachers that are never who they appear to be.
Let’s take a scheduled break from Good Luck Charlie, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kick Buttowski to take a look at some shows that are often over-looked. Below, I present four shows that you should consider sharing with your kids, why they aren’t watching them yet and how you can find them.
Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: Your kids are probably already familiar with the reality competition TV genre, and many of the lowbrow programs it has spawned. Why not introduce them to a science-themed one that slips educational bits between the wacky competitions?
Each season of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman features six tween contestants going on Amazing Race-style challenges and assignments, usually in and around the Boston area. The challenges send them to traditional location such as museums and libraries but also offbeat kid-friendly settings like amusement parks and BMX tracks. Challenges are given out by a wise-cracking animated dog named Fetch that brings a harmless edge to the show. Each season brings a new grand prize winner, giving kids a contestant to cheer for while learning about topics like Astronomy, Carpentry, Food Science, Biology and more.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: While Fetch! can still be seen on PBS during the PBS Kids Go! Block, the series was canceled in November of 2010 after funding was lost. Though it no longer has the fresh appeal or licensing of a new series, it is still worth seeking out.
Where You Can Watch It: Your local PBS affiliate and iTunes.
Hands on Crafts for Kids
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: Do you have a craft-loving kid on your hands that wants to dig deeper into their interest? This show could be the hidden (stick-on) gem they were looking for. A simple, stripped-down show parents will feel safe leaving on without supervision, each episode features five themed crafts with five steps and five main “ingredients.”
Hosted by renowned crafter Candie Cooper, the most recent season explores a different country each episode with the crafts themed around the culture and traditions. The five steps and five ingredients sometimes calls for advanced crafting tools though they also include basic supplies like scissors, markers and rulers. Thankfully, all projects on the show can be referenced on the official website.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: Hands On can be found on public television stations across the US at scattered times. It is still making its way across the country as the website suggests you “call or write your PBS station” to get it on air. Not a splashy or character-centric show, its selling point is the creative project ideas and the knowledgeable hosts.
Where You Can Watch It: On PBS (with a partial list of stations here), on their website, or on DVD.
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: This Emmy Award-winning show uses the docu-series format to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and education. Featuring a group of middle-school age girls in each episode, the show sends them on specific mission using science, technology and an older female mentor to help solve the problem.
While some educational shows may feel like “schoolwork,” this one keeps it interesting with challenges viewers will take interest in. Example missions includes designing an electronic dress for a fashion show, creating May Day Parade puppets, researching dolphin behavior and calculating the ideal horse for an upcoming competition. Each episode includes an animated story line throughout the show featuring the characters Izzie and Jake as they use science to solve their own problems.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: SciGirls was launched in February 2011 with 12 episodes and airs at different times on “most” PBS stations. Similar to Fetch! and Hands On, its inconsistent home on PBS has not made it easy-to-find plus it has not inspired a slew of exciting merchandise. However, it was recently renewed for a second season with ten episodes funded and a slew of “cross-platform games” that tie directly into the show.
Where You Can Watch It: For free as a “podcast” on iTunes.
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: While this show may seem like your standard laugh-track filled tween show, it also has another side to it that makes it worth checking out. The show is centered on a bohemian, grounded teen girl named Cake, and her daily comedic interactions with wise-cracking young neighbor Amy, materialistic fashionista Miracle, and tech-happy Benjamin. The twist on Cake is they all work together to create a public access crafting TV show called “Cake TV.” Each episode of Cake has a lesson in their “real life” inspire a craft that is taught at the end of the show during the “Cake TV” program. All the projects are simple for viewers to pick up on and focus on turning regular household items into unique accessories and crafts.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: Cake aired its one 13-episode season in 2006, and could be seen on various stations in reruns until 2009. It currently appears to have no home on TV and no new seasons are planned.
Where You Can Watch It: On Netflix watch instantly.
“Daddy, can we watch the white box?” This has become a commonplace expression around these parts since the intro of the Ameba. The Ameba system is new kid-centric set-top box, where parents pay a subscription fee to access kids’ programming. Programs are selected at the official Ameba site and then sent directly to the bright white box. Featuring a kid-friendly remote control, the system also allows for multiple profiles customizable to each child.
As for the content itself, the programming on the Ameba comes from high quality production houses like Decode Entertainment, Breakthrough New Media, and Marble Media. That being said, you will have to dig for new programs that suit your child’s interest, as you will not find Wubbzy, Brobee or Elmo on Ameba. However, there is no shortage of as-you want-it original and intriguing programming that educates as much as it entertains. Some of our instant favorites included the ballet-themed preschool show The Toy Castle and adventure travel show A World of Wonders.
The actual console
The question, of course, is the long term viability for a product like this. In an AppleTV, On-Demand, Hulu, Netflix Watch Instantly world, can Ameba find its footing? It depends. First off, while the original and indie content is a huge plus, I think it will need to balance it with headline content to attract buy-in from parents who aren’t willing to take the first step without a name brand. There is also the hardware question. Are families willing to stack another hardware in their entertainment console? Personally, I am less concerned about this. Maia looked at it as her own little cable box – a toybox of sorts, filled with her very own stuff that Mommy and Daddy won’t want to play with.
I look forward to following the progress of this Ameba, and hopefully, its success. It is a commendable effort that a company is working to create a kid-centric content library and set-top box. While they certainly have some hurdles and indirect competition, I hope parents will learn about this service and give it a whirl knowing they can trust the content and its source.
(For a deeper dive into the tech features, check out Daddy Forever’s review.)