A family road trip passes a lot more smoothly if you have a portable DVD player to occupy fidgety children.
But if you're like me, you might feel a little bit of guilt about kids zoning out in front of the television and not doing something a little more stimulating for their brains.
Scholastic released two new DVD compilations this summer that offer a good middle ground between entertainment and education.
"I'm Dirty and I Stink: The Kate and Jim McMullan Collection" and "Good Night Gorilla … and More Wacky Animal Adventures" are part of the Scholastic Storybook Treasures collection, which get children's books moving with animation, music and celebrity readers.
Each DVD set features several stories, modern and old-fashioned. Some are silly, some are thoughtful and some are more than a little odd (not a bad thing, as far as most children are concerned). All stay true to the book's original artwork, even when they are animated. They also have captioning that highlights each word as it is read, to allow children to practice their reading.
The headliner story on each DVD stands out, but there are nice surprises, plus some things young viewers will grow into. The McMullan set ($19.95) is aimed at children ages 4 to 6, and the "Good Night Gorilla" collection ($24.95) is for ages 2 to 4. But younger and older children — and probably their parents — will find something enjoyable on each one.
"Good Night Gorilla" keeps the sweet, sleepy tone of the original book, in which a gorilla sneaks out of the zoo and takes his friends with him to the zookeepers' house. It's one of 16 stories on a three-disc set that also had the enjoyable "Danny and the Dinosaur" and "The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash."
In my house, the two McMullan books, "I Stink!" and "I'm Dirty," earned the most repeat watches from my 2-year-old son. Andy Richter narrates the garbage truck tale "I Stink" with swagger, and Steve Buscemi voices a hard-working backhoe loader who gets good and messy.
The other 10 stories on that two-disc set also involve boats and vehicles, including the classic "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel." My son frequently requests "Trashy Town" and enjoys the talking mice and catchy refrain about taking out the garbage.
He also gets swept up in the wordless, live-action "Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle," a trippy story of a scrappy bike that gets separated from its child and escapes from the dump, a traffic cop, a street sweeper and more.
Because the stories are short, you can watch a couple at a time or the entire DVD through at once. Or you can view "Trashy Town" multiple times in a row, like my son.
But don't be surprised if all this television viewing actually brings you back to books. My family got so hooked on "I Stink!" that we searched for the original at the bookstore. As soon as my son spotted it, he climbed into my lap and asked me to read it to him.