Friday, October 16, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'Bridge to Terabithia'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2020 at 9:07 AM

Originally a best-selling novel by Vermont author​ ​Katherine Paterson, the 2007 film ​Bridge to Terabithia​ is wonderfully crafted and emotionally resonant. Similarly to the book, it captures a certain magic that can only be found within the imaginary worlds that children create. However, it also isn’t afraid to confront the harsh truths and darkness of the real world. The two children at the center of the story come across as authentic and believable. Introverts, or anyone who has experienced shyness, will likely find both the novel and film extremely relatable and touching.

The Story: ​Jess is an introverted kid growing up in rural Virginia. He often feels alone in his house, living with four sisters and a father who is condescending and favors his daughters. Things at school aren’t much better. He is constantly bullied and ignored by fellow students. To cope, Jess takes solace in his drawing. One day, a new student named Leslie arrives. She and Jess form a strong friendship, solidified by their shared experience as artsy and imaginative outcasts. Together, deep in the woods of their shared​ ​backyard, they create a land called Terabithia. Life is going great for Jess and Leslie until one day a terrible tragedy strikes.

Why It’s a Good Family Film: ​One of the fascinating aspects of childhood is the ability to construct make-believe worlds that feel so real that you and your friends can seamlessly enter them together. These creative scenarios are seldom portrayed in coming-of-age films. The digital effects used in the film to create Terabithia and its fictional inhabitants are both original and whimsical, and perfectly capture a child's imagination.

At the same time, the film acknowledges that a child's imagination can also be a source of stress, like when a child sees clothing hanging in a closet at night and thinks it's some horrible creature. While Leslie and Jess imagine Terabithia as something magical and peaceful, at one point in the film, the trees and plants in the woods also appear as a terrible monster. When tragedy befalls Jess, he imagines a shadow demon hunting him.

Bridge to Terabithia​ doesn't shy away from tackling what it feels like to lose someone. When I first read the novel, I was taken aback by the tragic event at the end of the book, because it’s so sudden and gut-wrenching. Never before had I experienced an abrupt tonal shift like that. It isn’t written in for shock value, though, but rather signifies just how sudden tragedy happens in real life and the way friends can be incredibly important in our lives. Adding to this realness is the guilt the protagonist experiences over the tragedy, even if he had nothing to do with it. Author Katherine Paterson said in interviews that she drew from a traumatic experience in her own child's life when writing the story.

Age Recommendation: ​Kids roughhouse throughout the film. Bullies torment others rather viciously. Although death isn’t shown, a major part of the story centers around the tremendous loss, grief and emptiness we feel when someone very close to us dies. The kids imagine scary monsters, including trolls and shadow demons, in the woods. I’d recommend this film for ages 9 and up.

Bridge to Terabithia​ ​is streaming on HBO Max and is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Download the October Coloring Contest

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2020 at 12:50 PM

Because the October issue of Kids Vermont is inserted in Seven Days — and only on newsstands for a week — we realize that not everyone may be able to pick up a copy. So this month we're making the coloring contest available as a downloadable PDF so that you can access it at home. Entering the contest this month is simple. Just download the PDF below, print it out and let your kids go to town. Then, scan or take a picture of the entry with your smartphone, and send it via email to Make sure to include the title of the piece, your child's full name, age and town, and your email address and phone number. You can also send a hard copy of your kiddo's completed coloring contest to Kids Vermont/P.O. Box 1184/Burlington VT, 05402. We've extended the deadline for October coloring contest entries to Thursday, October 22 to give kids more time to complete it. Happy coloring!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Franklin County Nature Guide Is Shaped by Kids' Observations

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 3:28 PM

The cover of the new nature guide - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • The cover of the new nature guide
A recently released nature guide to Richford, showcasing 70 species of native plants and animals, features observations and descriptions from local kids.  

Released in late September by the Franklin County Conservation District, the second edition of The Locals’ Nature Guide to the Richford Playground was spearheaded by district manager Jeannie Bartlett, who worked with kids ages 5 to 14  who attended the free Richford NOTCH day camp in the summer of 2018. The project was funded by the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Wild and Scenic Rivers grant program.
Chloe Decker, Tylee Shover and Taygon Shover check out a possible muskrat lodge at the edge of the Missisquoi River - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • Chloe Decker, Tylee Shover and Taygon Shover check out a possible muskrat lodge at the edge of the Missisquoi River
Bartlett led a Stream Scientists program in which campers engaged in nature activities in and around the Missisquoi River: identifying both edible and dangerous vegetation; safely trapping, identifying and releasing crayfish; and observing and discussing what they found outdoors, from mushrooms to dragonfly larvae.

One page features friendly plants, like Virginia creeper and Jack-in-the-pulpit, that may be mistaken for poison ivy. Another section tells about forest animals and their tracks.

Charming drawings done by Bartlett are accompanied by scientific explanations and quotes from the campers. "Crayfish swim backward and they can be very, very fast. The tail acts kind of like a scoop," one quote, attributed to Isaac, reads.

A page from the guide - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • A page from the guide
Bartlett created the guide by taking notes about what the kids noticed as they explored their natural surroundings. "I think my approach was very much to draw out what the kids already know... to be grounded in our shared curiosity," she said.

Including kids' direct quotes  in the guide shows them that "their observations matter" and instills a sense of capability and confidence, Bartlett added.

Copies of the 32-page guide are available at public libraries in Richford, Enosburg and St. Albans. Download a free copy of the guide, as well as the guide's first edition and The Locals' Guide to Nature in St. Albans, here.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'James and the Giant Peach'

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 11:07 AM

  • © Airborne77 |
Filmmaker Henry Selick is one of the best when it comes to stop-motion animation. His films, including The Nightmare before Christmas and Coraline, are often mistaken for the works of the more famous filmmaker Tim Burton. That’s not surprising, as Burton is the producer of many Selick films; The Nightmare before Christmas was even marketed as a Burton film.

Although both directors favor a dark, gothic atmosphere, Selick’s films are uniquely his own, often featuring characters who discover fantasy worlds that reflect the grim reality of their own world. James and the Giant Peach, based on the Roald Dahl children’s novel of the same name, is the second film Selick directed. The 1996 film underperformed at the box office and is often overshadowed by Selick’s other work. This is unfortunate because it features the same artistic genius and compelling themes.

The Story: James is a British child who lives the good life until his parents are devoured by a rhinoceros (yes, you read that right). He goes to live with his abusive aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who make the Dursleys of Harry Potter fame look compassionate and tenderhearted in comparison. After a man gives magical crocodile tongues to James, he drops them and a gargantuan peach grows. While his aunts attempt to use the peach for monetary gain, James discovers the inside of the fruit houses large humanoid bugs who sympathize with James’ plight. After escaping his aunts by rolling the peach down a seaside hill and into the Atlantic Ocean, James and his newfound friends set sail to New York City, a place that James has always dreamed of escaping to.

Why It’s a Good Family Movie: James and the Giant Peach is a fantastic film because it combines all the best elements of filmmaking and classic children’s literature: the absurdity and surrealness of Alice in Wonderland; the adventure that comes with making new friends and traveling to a perceived utopia of The Wizard of Oz; and the theme of a wholesome British orphan oppressed by terrible adults found in Oliver Twist (a trope later used in Harry Potter as well).

Additionally, the film’s artistic style is similar to French films like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This type of film creates a surreal, grimy and artistically beautiful atmosphere that makes the viewer feel like they’ve just had a dream.

I’d argue that James and The Giant Peach is the most faithful Roald Dahl movie ever created. Dahl was a writer whose strange, offbeat children’s stories featured masterful prose and unrestrained creativity. He was notorious for disliking past film adaptations of his books, and thus Selick worked very hard to please Dahl’s estate. Families will enjoy the wonderfully odd obstacles James and his insect friends must overcome, which often mirror his real-world problems — like a mechanical shark that represents the abuse from James’ aunts.

Additionally, the insects— including a bumbling centipede, an introverted spider and a foppish grasshopper — are tons of fun. Though they all have problems, they are ultimately good influences on James and demonstrate how a diverse group of characters can overcome their differences to form a family. Through his experience with them, James is able to gain confidence and stand up to and overcome his fear of rhinoceri (which represent his parents’ death) and his aunts.

The one minor gripe I’ve always had about the film is its depiction of New York City. The city is portrayed as a utopia, where tons of children laugh and play amongst the streets. It feels almost sterile in its cleanliness, and every adult there is patient and nice. Although I can understand that the filmmakers were trying to use New York City as a symbol of a better future, having lived there for several years, I can confirm that it's not a realistic depiction.

Age Recommendation: The aunts in this film are needlessly cruel and condescending. They talk about beating James, though it is never shown. They are played comedically and over-the-top, though, which makes them a bit less scary. The centipede is a chain smoker. A nightmarish rhino made of thunderclouds, undead murderous pirates and a mechanical shark all might be frightening to really young children. I’d recommend this movie for ages 6 and up.

James and the Giant Peach is streaming on Disney + and is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'Homeward Bound'

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 10:06 AM

  • © Vadim Ginzburg |
Growing up, my sister despised movies and books. In order to convince her to watch a movie or read a book I liked, I had to find something that sparked her interest. Because of her fascination with dogs, anything featuring man’s best friend captured her attention. One film we both really enjoyed was the 1993 film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, directed by Duwayne Dunham and based on the book The Incredible Journey. Both the movie and book are bound to appeal to young animal lovers.

The Story: The Burnford family owns three animals: a geriatric golden retriever named Shadow, an aptly named cat named Sassy and a youthful bulldog named Chance. While Shadow and Sassy fancy their domesticated life, Chance yearns for a more exciting alternative. When the Burnfords takes a short trip to San Francisco, they leave the pets in the care of a family friend who lives on a rural ranch. Due to a misunderstanding, the furry trio believes they were abandoned and try to find their way home by navigating through the treacherous wilds — encountering obstacles including bears, mountain lions and raging rivers.

Why It’s a Good Family Movie: A lot of contemporary films featuring animals are either animated (The Secret Life of Pets) or live-action, but use CGI animals rather than the real deal (such as this year’s The Call of the Wild). While it is admittedly incredibly difficult to train animals for film, and some films that use digitally rendered animals are actually quite good, there’s something to say about the authenticity of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Every dog is real and was trained to “star” in this film. Due to technical restraints of the time, the pet trio appear to be telepathic — they talk and understand one another without moving their mouths. While jarring at first, it quickly becomes easy to buy into this because of the great vocal performances and animal training. The late Don Ameche perfectly captures the sage wisdom of Shadow, and Sally Field does a great job providing the amusing, witty discourse of Sassy. Michael J. Fox is a particular standout, bringing a youthful, energetic spirit to Chance that perfectly encapsulates how I’d imagine a puppy speaking.

Additionally, the film is a nice segue into the pulpy adventure genre for young children. While classic adventure films like Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Jurassic Park are great choices for slightly older kids, their gore and violence may be too much for younger or more sensitive children. This film features classic adventure scenes, like escaping from scary animals and wading through dangerous rivers. However, they are toned down and interspersed with humorous banter from the animals, which makes them seem much less threatening.

One of the major themes of this film is the importance of family. Chance learns how important both his human family and his animal buddies are by the end of the movie. Although the characters have disagreements, they realize how much they need each other in the face of adversity.

Age Recommendation: There are numerous scenes of peril throughout the film. The wild animals the trio encounters might be scary for smaller children. Two instances where characters are presumed to have died are intense, but the film later reveals that those characters have miraculously survived. One character gets attacked by a porcupine and has the quills removed in a scene that’s painful to watch. There is also a good amount of potty humor, and more adult prison jokes in one scene. I would recommend this movie for ages 5 and up.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is streaming on Disney+ and is available to rent or purchase on iTunes and Amazon

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Grants Available for K-12 Science & Tech Teachers

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2020 at 2:30 PM

A Middlebury Union Middle School project on sustainable ecosystems, funded by last year's VASE grant - COURTESY OF JOHN COHN
  • Courtesy of John Cohn
  • A Middlebury Union Middle School project on sustainable ecosystems, funded by last year's VASE grant

According to conventional wisdom, kids learn by doing. When it comes to science education, that means curiosity-driven, hands-on projects like building robots, raising trout and using 3D printers. But materials for those kinds of endeavors don't always fit within schools' budgets.

That's where the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering (VASE) is able to help. For six years, the organization — made up of scientists and engineers who work in both academics and industry — has awarded grants of $500 to $1000 to Vermont science and technology teachers, enabling them to bring more innovative, standards-based projects into their classrooms.

VASE offers two types of grants. Its Small Equipment Grant helps classroom teachers purchase hardware, software, lab equipment, STEM kits and maker tools for their classrooms. Its Hands-On Science and Technology Grant supports extracurricular programs like FIRST Robotics, Makerspaces and 4H and science clubs. Between the two types of grants, VASE gives around $20,000 to teachers every year.

VASE Outreach Coordinator John Cohn, an IBM Fellow at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, said that since the grants' inception,  VASE has recognized the importance of funding projects that are sustainable, year after year.  The organization also favors projects that are open-ended and playful — things that "spark joy," said Cohn.

Teachers' requests may look a little different this year because of the educational changes due to COVID-19, but Cohn is looking forward to seeing the proposals. The grants, he said, are even more important during these challenging times.

Find more information about VASE's grants for teachers here. Deadline for both grant programs is  September 30. Grant submissions and questions can be emailed to

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fletcher Free Library Posts StoryWalk at Leddy Park

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2020 at 11:53 AM

  • Courtesy of Megan Estey Butterfield
  • The new StoryWalk in Leddy Park
Looking for a literary walk in the woods? Last week, the Fletcher Free Library rolled out a new StoryWalk in Burlington featuring the picture book Pie is for Sharing  The book, written by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and illustrated by local children's book writer and illustrator Jason Chin, uses a Fourth of July picnic to highlight the value of friendship and sharing.

Spaced-out wooden posts, each containing laminated pages of the book, line a walking trail that begins in the northeast corner of the Leddy Park parking lot and ends at the Burlington Bike Path. Some posts also include questions and activities intended to spark conversation and build early literacy skills. The installation — a collaboration between the library, Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront, and Burlington City Arts — is permanent but the featured book will be changed every few months, said Fletcher Free youth services librarian Megan Estey Butterfield. 

The idea for taking apart and laminating picture books, then putting them along a path, was conceptualized by Montpelier resident Anne Ferguson in 2007. Ferguson wanted to create a literacy resource that would also get families outside and moving. She called it the StoryWalk Project, and trademarked the name. She's assembled dozens of StoryWalk books since then, which she keeps in a storage space at Kellogg-Hubbard Library and loans out to recreation departments, childcare centers and nature centers free of charge for up to two weeks. She's also written detailed directions for creating your own StoryWalk, which can be found here.

For more information on the Burlington StoryWalk, visit

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Friday, September 11, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'Treasure Planet'

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2020 at 11:32 AM

  • © Info849943 |
Treasure Planet is one of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s most forgotten films. Released in 2002, the adventure movie was a box-office bomb and received lukewarm reviews. Some say its poor  showing was because of a flawed marketing strategy that emphasized solemnity over fun. Others attribute it to being released around the same time as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was one entry in a massive series that was dominating the market of family-friendly films. Still others claim it was simply because its traditional hand-drawn animation looked dated compared to the 3D computer animation in other children’s films released around the same time, like Toy Story and Shrek. Regardless, it’s a shame Treasure Planet didn’t get much recognition. It’s a fantastic movie that's on my top-ten list for animated films.

The Story: In an intergalactic steampunk world, teenager Jim Hawkins lives with his mother, who runs an inn on the planet Montressor. Inspired by pirate tales of adventure, and harboring sadness due to his father abandoning his family years ago, Jim rebels from his mundane life. After a dying pirate gives Jim a map to the fabled Treasure Planet, Jim commissions a ship full of aliens to find the treasure. During his journey, Jim forms a bond with the ship’s cyborg cook, John Silver, who becomes a paternal figure for Jim. However, it soon becomes clear that Jim’s trust in Silver may be misplaced.

Why It’s a Good Family Movie: Treasure Planet is an adaption of the classic 1883 adventure story Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. That book capitalized on the idea of the unexplored sea being dangerous, fascinating and full of mystery. Treasure Planet puts a clever spin on this narrative, maintaining the characters, themes and swashbuckling adventure spirit, but translating them to a fantastical intergalactic setting. Weird sea creatures and treacherous waters are replaced with space aliens and black holes. In 2002, the sea wasn’t exactly novel and every inch of it had pretty much been explored and charted. Because of this, setting the movie in space was a fantastic idea in terms of having an unknown and vast setting that works for the 21st century.

Furthermore, this film features a great, complex character in John Silver. A lot of Hollywood movies clearly define who is good and who is evil. John Silver is a character who is morally grey; he has good deep within him but is constantly making bad decisions. You can tell that all Silver knows in life is being an avaricious pirate, but he also cares deeply for people, such as Jim. As a viewer, you might not like what Silver does, but you can understand why he does it. The film also features a great character arc and redemption for Silver, which adds to his complexity and allure.

Finally, the film is breathtakingly beautiful, with immaculately detailed characters, planets and ships. James Newton Howard’s magical score compliments the whimsical animation, perfectly encapsulating a sense of adventure and spirit throughout the film. The film is like a delicious cake, with all the different filmmaking ingredients coming together perfectly.

Age Recommendation: The book on which this film is based features much more gore, alcohol, politically incorrect language and a darker ending than the film. If you read the book beforehand, you should know Disney significantly toned it down for this adaptation. In the movie, there are many deaths, including major characters, and fights involving sci-fi weapons. Some aliens may look scary to younger children. I would recommend this film for ages 8 and up, and the Treasure Island book for ages 12 and up.

Treasure Planet is streaming on Disney+ and is available to rent on or purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Download the September Coloring Contest

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2020 at 11:42 AM

Because the September issue of Kids Vermont is inserted in Seven Days — and only on newsstands for a week — we realize that not everyone may be able to pick up a copy. So this month we're making the coloring contest available as a downloadable PDF so that you can access it at home. Entering the contest this month is simple. Just download the PDF below, print it out and let your kids go to town. Then, scan or take a picture of the entry with your smartphone, and send it via email to Make sure to include the title of the piece, your child's full name, age and town, and your email address and phone number. You can also send a hard copy of your kiddo's completed coloring contest to Kids Vermont/P.O. Box 1184/Burlington VT, 05402.  We've extended the deadline for September coloring contest entries to Friday, September 18 to give kids more time to complete it. Happy coloring!

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Vermont Association for the Blind Raises Funds Through Family-Oriented Scavenger Hunt

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2020 at 2:18 PM

A question from the Great Brave Little State Challenge - COURTESY OF VABVI
  • Courtesy of VABVI
  • A question from the Great Brave Little State Challenge
The coronavirus has put a kibosh on most in-person fundraising events, so some organizations are getting creative when it comes to soliciting donations.

The Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Burlington-based nonprofit, has developed a family-focused scavenger hunt for those who make a donation of $15 or more to the organization. The Great Brave Little State Challenge gives participants the opportunity to discover new things about Vermont through online research, code cracking and exploration, said director of development John Thomas. He said the $15 donation threshold was decided upon because it is less than the price of admission to the Champlain Valley Fair, which was canceled this year.

The 135 questions in the challenge touch on topics including people, places and things of Vermont; nature and the environment; food; the arts; and politics.  Local luminaries including Grace Potter and Sen. Bernie Sanders got involved in its creation by offering questions they thought should be included and, in some cases, filming videos.

Thomas explained that the challenge allows for participants to complete at their own pace, and it's designed so people won't get stuck. It can also be done as a competition between families or classrooms. Visit to get started.

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