Jim Henson's The Storyteller:
Greek Myth Jim Henson Home Entertainment/Columbia Tristar Home Video
93 minutes; DVD: $14.99
Ages 10 and up
Rich tale-spinning filled with shadows and dark corners, not to mention giants, gorgons and a man-eating minotaur, this recent DVD release of the 1990 TV series dramatizes the myths of Daedalus and Icarus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Perseus and the Gorgon, and Theseus and the Minotaur.
Using a mix of live actors and creations from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, it features veteran British actor Michael Gambon (the Harry Potter films' new Professor Dumbledore) as the storyteller, who finds his inspiration for each tale in the ruins of an ancient labyrinth.
John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") is among the stories' directors. The fine cast of actors includes Derek Jacobi as tragic Daedalus, the inventor whose wings of feathers and wax prove to be the death of his beloved, not-too-bright son, Icarus. (Not for young children.)
Just Look at You Jamie Barnett
CD: $14; ages 4 to 8
Southern California-based singer-songwriter and kindergarten teacher Jamie Barnett doesn't have the high profile of such gifted family music stars as Ralph Covert and Dan Zanes, but he deserves a spot at the top with them. After his treasured CD debut in 2003, "I Love to Ride My Bike," Barnett scores again with this second effort, folk-style songs thrumming with tuneful empathy, celebrating children as thoughtful, sensitive individuals.
Warming his graceful lyrics with humor and heart, joined by other solid musicians and some sweet-voiced child singers, Barnett explores themes including a child's changeable emotions ("Someone has taken my laughter, and I'm sure that's not all they were after, 'cause I can't find my shoe and my smile is gone too -- my smile and my shoe and my laughter ... ") a tongue-in-cheek approach to a familiar fairy tale ("She's not a bad person, but I'm telling you, my friend Goldilocks, she does things she shouldn't do") and the story of Rosa Parks ("It took 381 days, 381 days, it took 381 days till they changed that hateful law"), an inspirational, surprisingly jaunty song "about doing what is right in a world that is wrong," Barnett explains in his liner notes.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Magic MaestroMusic CD: $16.98; ages 5 and up
In this beautiful recording, author Virginia Lee Burton's children's classic about a construction worker and Mary Anne, his hard-working steam shovel, is told against evocative original symphonic music composed by Stephen Simon and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, a la Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."
That's only the beginning. What follows are a background narrative about Burton and her story; a jazz arrangement of the original song, "Mike Mulligan"; a sing-along karaoke arrangement; and Simon telling of how he wrote the music and what instruments are used. Then the story is retold with Simon's score so that listeners can hear it with "educated ears."
Classical Fun Sing-A-Longs Classical Fun Music Inc.
CD: $14.95; ages 0-5 (727) 791-4925
Well-sung lyrics are set to symphonic music in this jaunty recording from musicians and teachers Robert Franki and Claire Li Franki, creators of the kids' music appreciation video "The A to Z Symphony." The Frankis' easy-to-learn, appealing lyrics are a smooth fit in musical highlights from such classics as Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata ("On the moon, we can hop, skip, jump, bounce so high") and, of course, Rossini's "William Tell" Overture ("Giddy-Up!").
The second half of this 50-track CD features instrumental-only versions of each highlight. While not achieving the inventive genius of Richard Perlmutter's similar "Beethoven's Wig" CDs aimed at older children and adults, the invitation to croon along and become familiar with these beautiful melodies is pretty much irresistible.
Playtime Music Box A Concert for Little Ears Baby Einstein
CD: $6.98; ages 0 to 6
A pleasant album for baby and toddler playtime with the emphasis on the chirpy and upbeat in music box-style versions of classical pieces (Chopin's "Minute" Waltz, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," Strauss' "Voices of Spring" Waltz, for instance).The musical tracks are interspersed with nursery rhymes recited by adults and sung by children.
-- Lynne Heffley