The Penguins of Madagascar: Blowhole Returns rating: 6+

Unlike the Madagascar movies which focus on the mammal characters, the Penguins of Madagascar series is from the perspective of the 4 penguins who reside at the New York Zoo. It features the penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Private, and Rico and, of course, the lemur king, King Julian. In this three part TV series, Dr. Blowhole, the evil porpoise, wants to take over the world, so he kidnaps King Julian to lure the penguins into a trap. The penguins must rescue the king before they all die. In the second part, Dr. Blowhole cleans Skipper’s memory with a “mind-jacker” and steals his memories to locate Rico, Private and Kowalski. He chases them around Manhattan, blasting them with his Diabologizer, which is really King Julian’s MP3 player which has turned gigantic and evil.

The Penguins of Madagascar TV series is a favorite in our house. The writing is fabulous: witty and subtle or a pie in the face. King Lemur is my favorite character. He is shameless. What is not discussed in many sources is that it is also a musical. In this trifecta, the Diabologizer can be wooed away from its keeper by being serenaded. First, Dr. B rocks a “power ballad” to gain control. Then King Julian tries a dance mix. Skipper must find his “inner song” to gain final control over the Diabologizer. Commonsense media gives this show a 6+. King Julian can be rude and shakes his booty any chance he gets. Otherwise, it is fun for the whole family.


The Twits by Roald Dahl

Interest Level: Grades 3 – 5
Reading Level: Grade level Equivalent: 5.2

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it looks so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.” – The Twits

Such are the Twits. They are the ugliest, hairiest, smelliest, meanest couple on earth. Their only joy is playing mean tricks on each other, making their monkeys stand on their heads, and catching birds for their weekly bird pie. Muggle-wump the monkey dad has had enough. He and Roly-poly bird, his African language translator, have a plan to save the birds from the pie and get back at the Twits. When the monkeys and birds are through, the Twits will be completely upside down.

Although a longer book, I would think that this book would have a lower reading level than it was given compared to the Magic Finger. The Magic Finger dealt with killing a bird’s children. The Twits are just silly. Rolly Polly the bird and Muggle-wump the monkey are childish names. The pranks the Twits pull on each other are not harmful to each other; they just make the other mad. My favorite was when she put her glass eyeball in his beer. I once had a teacher who would leave the room for a smoking break. He would take out his glass eye and leave it on his desk saying, “I have my eye on you.” Maybe glass eyes and beer are the reason for the higher rating. I would think this book is fine for a younger crowd, say, 8 or older.

Dahl, R., & Blake, Q. (1981). The twits. New York, New York: Knopf.

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The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
Interest Level
Grades K – 2
Reading Level
Grade level Equivalent: 3.5

A girl (who is not named by the author) hates hunting. The Greggs next door love to hunt. They try to shoot and kill as many ducks as they can. This makes the girl very angry. When she gets angry, a bolt of energy shoots out of her finger, changing the person. For the hunters, they became ducks until they were repentant of hunting and changed their ways. In the meantime, the Greggs spent the night in a nest while the ducks were in the Greggs’ house. In the morning the ducks were pointing guns at the Greggs. “Oh please,” cried Mrs. Gregg, “My two little children are up here with us! You wouldn’t shoot my children!” “Yesterday, you shot my children,” said the duck. “You shot all six of my children.”

I am enjoying reading Roald Dahl because he had such a range of children’s books. The Magic Finger may be on the younger range of tweens, maybe older juvenile, but it would disturb kids sensitive to hunting and killing animals for sport. It would open up a conversation about eating meat with your kids. A discussion could be had on the difference between killing for food and killing for fun. Dahl equates people with animals in this book. Is that a fair comparison, we can ask. We can discuss what animals are bred for. Is it fair to allow animals to grow beyond their ability to support themselves? We are in 4H. We learned that meat hens only should live about 6-8 weeks. Keeping the animals alive beyond what they are bred for is cruel. They can no longer support their weight and become too tough to eat. They end up having miserable lives.

Dahl, R., & Blake, Q. (1998). The magic finger. New York, N.Y.: Puffin Books.



Phoebe in Wonderland
Rated PG13 rating: 13+

I was drawn to this movie because the cover art looks like a movie for a young person as does the theme of Wonderland. Yet, it is rated PG13. It turns out that this is not a kid’s movie at all. 11 year old Phoebe has a mental illness that has not been diagnosed. She is deeply tormented by not knowing what is wrong with her. She can’t stop shouting out mean things or spitting at other students. She compulsively counts things. And she sees and talks to the characters of Wonderland, asking them to help her, just like in the book. The only place she feels safe is when she is acting in the play as Alice in Alice in Wonderland. To make matters worse, her mother is in denial of her daughter’s illness, despite extremes such as Phoebe scratching herself until she bleeds. And her mother is working on her dissertation about the book Alice in Wonderland.

I noticed that there are two different posters for this movie. The first one has sweet Phoebe’s face replacing a petal in a sunflower. She is looking straight forward, as in cover art on books for younger children. In the next one, Phoebe is in the middle of her mother and her drama teacher, just as she is in the movie. She is looking off to the side. She looked this way often in the movie when she was confused by what was happening to her. This poster is much more representative of what is in the movie. I am reminded of the movie, Marley and Me, which was marketed as a sweet puppy movie. It was a sweet puppy movie until the puppy got cancer and died a slow, sad, painful death. Marketers’ job is to sell the movie to whoever will pay for it. It is worth the extra time it takes to read the reviews and consider the rating before subjecting kids to inappropriate subjects.




By Louise Erdrich

Rated: ages 8 to 12

Chickadee was born in a snowstorm, the first in a set of twin boys. Twins are revered in the Dakota culture; even so, they were very small and were not expected to survive. They did, and grew into strong young boys. The forested land gave them everything they needed: moose and bird to eat, berries to pick, and even maple sugar. It was at maple sugar camp that the trouble started. Old Zigaag was causing mischief again, teasing Chickadee about his small stature. His grandma stood up for him, whacking Zigaag on his prized top hat, ruining it. Zigaag’s grown bully sons get into the disagreement. They kidnap Chickadee and take him away to their dirty cabin in the great plains. Chickadee is forced to be their servant, cooking the rancid meet and mice into a stew called Bouyah. Chickadee survives by remembering his grandmother’s words, “I am only the Chickadee. Yet small things have great power.
I speak the truth.”

Chickadee is written by one of my favorite adult authors, Louise Erdrich. This is book four in the Birchbark House Series. The series spans one hundred years of one Ojibwe family’s life in America. It is inspired by Erdrich’s family history. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She was researching her family history with her mother when she began writing this book. The kidnapping scene could be scary for a tween. And, although violence is often threatened, it is not carried out by Zigaag’s sons. Through this book, we experience life as it was for these people in 1866 from the forested land of Minnesota to the great plains.

Erdrich, L. (2012). Chickadee (1st ed.). New York, New York: Harper.


Matlida, the movie
Based on the book by Roald Dahl
Rated: PG rating: 8+ for cartoonish violence

This Roald Dahl adaption came out in 1996. Matilda Wormwood is a product of witches, but adopted into a family of low intelligence. The father is a crook who sells cars, the brother is an oaf, and the mother leaves Matilda alone all day to play Bingo. At age 4, Matilda walks ten blocks in search of a library. She does this for the next two and a half years until she is enrolled in a school called Crunchem Hall run by bully Agatha Trunchbull, who is an ex-Olympic hammer thrower. All the adults are comically low brained bullies, except for her teacher, Miss Honey, who happens to be the principal’s niece and who raised her when her father died. Matilda learns that her sweet teacher ran away to escape her aunt Agatha and left all of her belongings in her aunt’s house. Matilda is determined to rescue her teacher’s doll. In the meantime, Matilda learns that she has telekinetic powers. She will use them to terrorize Principal Trunchbull, thwart the FBI’s search of her father, and save the day for Miss Honey.

Matilda, the book, was published in 1988 while I was in college, so I missed reading it as a child. The movie stays true to Dahl’s style, telling the story in the view of the child. The adults are all outrageously self-centered and comical, with the exception of Miss Honey, of course. There is much cartoonish violence such as falling down a cluttered staircase and chasing from an outraged principal. Also, when students are being punished, they are put in the “chokey,” which is a small closet full of knives and broken glass. I agree with’s rating of 8+. Pre-school age children might find it confusing and too violent.

Devito, D. (Producer), & Devito, D. (Director). (1996). Matilda. [Motion picture]. USA: TriStar.