Simon

What is it

Simon is a French TV show (translated into British English) for kids about a rabbit boy and his family and friends

Who is it for

The animation in Simon is simple and appealing enough that kids as young as 2 will enjoy it, and the themes presented are appropriate for kids up to age 9 or so.

What Kids Like

Simon is not as sanitized as most American and Canadian shows for kids are these days, and the characters are often bickering and dealing with bullies and other realistic situations. My kids like seeing characters handle scenarios that come up in their own life and thus are more relatable.

What Parents Like

I like that there is a show that hits the sweet spot between the overly safe PBS Kids stuff (e.g. Daniel Tiger) and obnoxiously sassy Cartoon Network/Disney stuff aimed at tweens (e.g. Teen Titans Go!). Simon manages to not talk down to kids but isn’t trying to be cool, either.

As it says on the Simon Wikipedia page:

He’s at an age when little rabbits (and indeed little children!) are starting to come into their own – challenging relationships with parents, embarking upon school life, learning about the world in general, dealing with authority and of course, language.

I also like that it’s a French show. Every culture has a slightly different approach to raising children, which is why I like my kids to see shows like Pocoyo (Spanish), The Fixies (Russian), PJ Masks (French), and Pororo (Korean), each of which gives a glimpse into a world that is not quite the same as the others.

And lastly, the “full” episodes are all 5 minutes, 19 seconds long. This makes the show a bit easier to digest and makes it easier when watching videos close to bedtime. I can say “OK, last one” and know that there will be closure within a few minutes. That’s harder to do with movies or longer shows.

What the Critics Think

IMDB gives Simon 7.9/10

A review at Animation Magazine

Life with Wifey puts Simon among the top 5 shows for kids on Netflix

Who Made it / History

The show is based on books by Stephanie Blake (American-born, living in France) who is best known for books such as “Poo Bum” (2011) and “Stupid Baby” (2012) which were originally published in France and introduce the character of Simon the rabbit.

The show is produced by GO-N Production and premiered on France TV’s Zouzous channel

More on Wikipedia

Where Can I Get it

Simon is streaming on Netflix and there is an official YouTube channel where the episodes are streaming for free.

Llama Llama

What is it

Llama Llama is a book series and an animated series based on the characters from the books.

Llama Llama is a young child with some separation anxiety, learning the basics of interacting with others and overcoming the conflict and resentment toward his mother.

Who is it for

The themes in the books make it ideal for very young children, age 2 to 4. The show is more general and kids as old as 6 might get something out of it

What Kids Like

The main plot of the first book Llama Llama Red Pajama is of a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed, who misses his mom and gets lonely. He screams for her and she comes running, but then scolds him for his “Llama drama”.

Our young kids relate to that very well and became obsessed with the book after having it read to them the first time. The red pajama book is worth sharing with your child. If they like it, you might consider the other books as well. A few others in the series deal with the same theme of the conflict that can arise between parent and child, especially at bedtime.

The appeal to kids is that, of all the kids stories out there, there aren’t many that explore the anguish of being left alone in a dark room at bedtime.

And the TV version also depicts scenarios that are not common in other kids media. For example, in one episode the child (called simply, “llama llama”) throws a fit at a grocery store and makes a mess by knocking items off a shelf. The mother (“mama llama”) then scolds him and makes him clean it up.

What Parents Like

The illustrations are fun and the rhyming language of the text makes it fun to read with a child.

I can’t think of another book, or set of books, that address the particular issue of the child getting angry at the parent. We see young adult literature in which teens defy the parent, but not board books for kids in which the child resents the parent for unfair bedtime practices.

And I like having scenes like the grocery store one described above. It’s good for kids to see depictions of bad behavior in other kids and seeing the consequences of it.

What the Critics Think

Several books in the series have won awards:

  • Llama Llama Red Pajama: Scholastic Parent and Child “100 Greatest Books for Kids” award winner; Bank Street “Best Children’s Book” recipient; Missouri Building Block Award winner; National Public Radio pick; Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List winner (picture book category)
  • Llama Llama Home With Mama: Children’s Choice Book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2012)
  • Llama Llama Time to Share: Children’s Choice book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2013); Thriving Family magazine’s Best Family-Friendly Picture Book finalist (2012)
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama: Missouri Building Block Award winner; winner of Alabama’s Emphasis on Reading program (grades K-1); Book Sense Book of the Year Children’s Illustrated Honor Book (2008)
  • The show has had mixed reviews, with most ratings giving it ~3 stars out of 5.

    Common Sense Media gives the series 5 stars, however

    In some ways, the show doesn’t really distinguish itself from other shows aimed at young children, with themes such as the importance of sharing, how to express frustration, etc. The way that it does distinguish itself is in how it also addresses themes of conflict between a parent and a young child: e.g. the fights that happen at bedtime when the child decides he wants one more thing to eat before bed.

    Concerns/Flaws

    The show can be a bit generic – not bad, but not particularly different from Daniel Tiger or any of the other many, many wholesome kids’ cartoons out there now.

    In the cartoon, the mother is voiced by the actress Jennifer Garner, so to me the show sounds like a long Capital One commercial. Although, after hearing so much of it, I’ve decided that she has a particularly clear and appealing voice.

    Who Made it

    Anna Dewdney wrote and illustrated about two dozen books, most of them in the Llama Llama series

    She died at age 50 in 2016

    More on Wikipedia

    History

    Dewdney illustrated many books for other authors, but Llama Llama Red Pajama was the first one she wrote and illustrated herself in 2005. It almost immediately became an enormous hit.

    An interview with the author at Parenting magazine

    Where Can I Get it

    The books are published by Viking and are available everywhere. The show is on Netflix

    Stinky and Dirty

    What is it

    Stinky and Dirty is a show based on characters from a couple of books, about a garbage truck and an excavator who solve problems together.

    Who is it for

    The show is good for kids of most ages, maybe 3-8.

    What Kids Like

    My kids like the celebration of filth, which is unusual among kids’ shows. Sometimes toys and games rely on the yuck factor, with slime boogers and fart noises, but ‘Stinky and Dirty’ manage to involve mess and rot and dirt without being gross.

    The show is also good about how it presents problems and engages the viewer to think of possible solutions along with the characters.

    What Parents Like

    Years ago we got the original book called “I Stink!” that the kids liked enough to ask for it multiple nights in a row, although I initially didn’t care for it. It seemed a celebration of noise and filth that I just didn’t find amusing when trying to put little ones down for the night.

    A few years later I saw that Amazon was premiering a new kids’ show called Stinky and Dirty that had animation that looked an awful lot like the book, and sure enough, the show is a spinoff of the book and its sequel. I suppose that’s a dream for many children’s book authors and illustrators, to have their work turned into a show.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I and the kids really like it.

    The books are quite simple, running through the alphabet and showing vehicles making vehicle sounds. But the show is about teamwork and problem-solving, in a way that isn’t done on other shows.

    The animation style is unique. It’s 3D but texture-mapped to look like paper illustrations.

    The characters drive around together solving problems. Several times each episode, one of the characters asks, “What if…?” And this makes it a great example for problem-solving. Their efforts don’t always work out, but they keep trying.

    I also like that the show is following in the somewhat recent tradition of using veteran actors for the voices (Martin Short on ‘The Cat in the Hat’, Christopher Lloyd and Gilbert Gottfried on ‘Cyberchase’, Elvis Costello on ‘Pete the Cat’). In this case, Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from ‘The Princess Bride’ and Rex the dinosaur from the Toy Story movies) plays Tall the crane.

    What the Critics Think

    7.1/10 on IMDB, 5/5 on Common Sense Media

    Who Made it/History

    The original book was written by author Kate Mcmullan and illustrated by her husband, actor Jim McMullan.

    The show is made for Amazon, by Guy Toubes, who has written for lots of kids’ shows including ‘Odd Squad’, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’, and ‘Chuck and Friends’.

    Where Can I Get it

    You can watch the first episode on YouTube

    The show is streaming on Amazon Prime.

    Pete the Cat

    What is it

    Pete the Cat is a series of books starring a cool cat and his animal friends.

    Pete the cat is now an icon with his own musical and his own TV show on Amazon Prime.

    Who is it for

    The books are for younger kids, as they tend to focus on simple concepts such as colors, friendship, etc. The show seems to be intended for slightly older kids and has stories and subtle jokes that probably only grown-ups will appreciate.

    What Kids Like

    Regardless of my initial impressions, kids love it. They love the illustration style and the attitude of the main character, Pete, and they love the repetitive say-along style of the writing.

    We have several of the books and frequently check others out of the library.

    What Parents Like

    I first heard of Pete the Cat in 2008 or so. A local bookstore had a huge poster of the cat and books signed by the author. I did not understand the appeal and thought the writing and illustration was so crude and simple that anyone could do it. It made me think that I could write a children’s book if this thing could get published.

    But I haven’t written a children’s book and not only did “I Love My White Shoes” get published, there are now 40+ titles in the Pete the Cat series.

    The show is actually interesting to me. I don’t really have much of an opinion of the books, but the show has a certain sophistication that most kids’ shows lack. The characters talk about presence of mind and consciousness that no other show does. If anything, it hearkens back to Linus’s monologues from Peanuts.

    Many kids’ shows focus on one subject. ‘Peg + Cat’ and ‘Odd Squad’ discuss math, ‘Super Why’ covers reading, ‘Arthur’ covers issues related to responsibility and friendship, ‘Word Girl’ does vocabulary, etc. But ‘Pete the Cat’ is the only one that covers philosophy. In the Halloween episode, characters have lines including, “I’m not dressed as a ghost, I’m dressed as your preconceived idea of a ghost”

    There is also a strong focus on music, and real-life couple Elvis Costello and Diana Krall do the voices for Pate the Cat’s parents.

    What the Critics Think

    The show gets 8.5/10 on IMDB and the books get 4.4/5 on Goodreads

    Who Made it/History

    From Wikipedia:

    The book uses a character first devised by James Dean, an artist active in Atlanta, who drew up Pete in 1999 and in 2006 self-published The Misadventures of Pete the Cat. Litwin wrote a story about and a song for the cat, and the two began a partnership.

    The collaboration between Dean and Litwin was severed in 2011. James Dean and wife Kimberly Dean continue to write and illustrate the Pete the Cat series, now over 40 books, together. Pete the Cat, the animated TV series which was released on September 21, 2018, based on James and Kimberly’s children’s books produced by Alcon, Appian Way and Phineas and Ferb co-creator Swampy Marsh was preceded by a New Years special on December 26, 2017 on Amazon. The cartoon includes the voices of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.

    Where Can I Get it

    The books are everywhere. The show is on Amazon

    More about the series and the author and illustrator

    Tumble Leaf

    What is it

    Tumble Leaf is a very charming stop-motion animation series about a blue fox living on a shipwreck and his adventures with other animals.

    The animation quality is impressively good. The tone is gentle and sweet.

    If you have any interest in animation or storytelling, the Tumble Leaf page is a fascinating look at how a top-rated stop-motion animation show for children gets made.

    Who is it for

    The target audience is pre-schoolers. There’s a lot to look at so even kids as young as two would get something out of it. Six might be the maximum age.

    What Kids Like

    The animation is very rich with lots of detail, and kids can watch episodes multiple times and see new things. The whimsy and charm of the premise (each day a crab pulls some flotsam from the beach and puts it in the ‘finding box’ on a shipwreck) is captivating.

    What Parents Like

    There is no violence or harsh language or tense situations, but at the same time it’s not dull. The characters engage in creative projects, and although there is no overt education, the show promotes the values of creative problem-solving and discovery.

    What the Critics Think

    According to the series’s website, Tumble Leaf has won 8 emmys and several other awards.

    The show gets 8/10 on IMDB, 5/5 on Common Sense Media, 4.9/5 on Amazon, and 96% on Google.

    Who Made it

    Tumble Leaf is mad by Bix Pix Entertainment which has made many other animations, but none as widely broadcast as Tumble Leaf. Their reel page on Vimeo has many examples of their work.

    History

    Tumble Leaf premiered in 2014 as an Amazon Studios original series based on the short film Miro and is now in its 4th season.

    Where Can I Get it

    The show is streaming on Amazon

    You can see the pilot episode on YouTube and on IMDB.

    StoryBots

    What is it

    Storybots is a series of 100+ educational music videos featuring animated and/or puppet robots. They cover subjects such as the planets, dinosaurs, the alphabet, and more. The production quality is very high and the videos are very entertaining.

    Who is it for

    Kids of all ages can get something from the StoryBots videos. They are highly entertaining, so even if a child doesn’t understand the subject matter being covered, they can still enjoy the music and the silly antics of the characters: Beep (green), Bo (purple), Bang (blue), Bing (yellow), Boop (red), and Hap, their manager (olive)

    What Kids Like

    The music is great, with very catchy melodies and the characters are silly and entertaining.

    The premise of the show is that the robots live inside our digital devices and are constantly trying to learn about the human world by asking questions such as “Why is the sky blue?” – questions that children also wonder about.

    What Parents Like

    The education is snuck in painlessly and kids can’t help but learn. The language is totally G-rated with no violence so it’s easy to leave the screen on without having to worry about what the kids are watching.

    I like the music and, as a fan of animation, love the fact that the characters are sometimes presented in 3d animation, 2d animation, hand-drawn style, puppets, or claymation. I can’t think of any other project that presented its characters in such a variety of mediums.

    What the Critics Think

    StoryBots has won a Winner of Teachers’ Choice Awards, a Tech Edvocate Award, an Emmy, and has been nominated for an Annie and a Peabody award. So in a nutshell, it is highly regarded by critics.

    Concerns/Flaws

    It’s just great. I can’t think of any criticisms.

    Who Made it

    StoryBots is produced by JibJab, who you may remember as the creators of animated political satire during the 2004 presidential election.

    and who went on to create shorts for Noggin and Disney before building their personalized ecard service

    JibJab has been able to attract top talent and many famous singers and actors are part of the videos.

    History

    StoryBots was first distributed as shorts on YouTube in 2012 and “Ask the StoryBots” was picked up as a full-length show by Netflix in 2016.

    Where Can I Get it

    StoryBots has literally hundreds of videos on their
    YouTube channel
    and “Ask the StoryBots” is available for streaming on Netflix. They have a Spotify channel and multiple music albums as well.

    More at storybots.com and Wikipedia

    The Fixies

    What is it

    The Fixies is a Russian cartoon series about a family of tiny (1cm tall) fairy-like creatures who repair everyday items, and in the process teach about physics, electronics, and other useful DiY knowledge.

    Who is it for

    The show is a big hit with our 4-year-old but a lot of the content is sophisticated enough for much older kids as well.

    What Kids like

    The characters are fun, with the kids getting into and out of trouble and the parents offering guidance when necessary. The animation is bright and engaging. The theme song is catchy and the show makes good use of music.

    What Parents like

    I like the fact that it’s Russian. It’s nice to have a reference to Russian culture that has nothing to do with politics. And I like having influences from other countries. Geronimo Stilton is from Italy, P.J. Masks from France, many (most?) PBS Kids shows are from Canada, and lots of the more cutesy cartoons are from Korea and Japan. Although each cartoon has basically the same formula (a group of young people work together to solve problems) each one has a slightly different feel to it that is representative of its country of origin.

    In the case of The Fixies, the subject matter is significantly more in-depth in terms of engineering/STEM topics. For example, one episode had a bit on pipe fabrication, how pipes can be made by rolling and welding a sheet of metal (which results in a seam) vs. extruding a solid block to make a seamless pipe. I can’t imagine any American show covering that level of detail.

    Each episode includes a 40-second bit on how things work, in a fun and educational way.

    There is also a typically Russian attitude toward toughness and responsibility. While most American and Canadian cartoons seem to value self-affirmation over anything else, The Fixes put that value below those of being responsible and getting the job done. One episode had the children try to do a quick fix in order to earn a prize and at the end the father gives them a cheap, flimsy award to reflect the quality of work they did.

    But really, the Russian-ness is not obvious. I wouldn’t have noticed or guessed. if I hadn’t looked it up. (The one big clue is the catchphrase the characters use when they’ve fixed something, “tideesh”, which sounds very slavic to my ears.)

    Another quality of the show, that may have something to do with it being Russian, is that there is a strong message about the importance of fixing what you have as opposed to throwing something away just because it’s broken.

    What the critics think

    I haven’t seen any reviews of the show. They have a sparse IMDB page and nothing on Wikipedia despite having several hundred episodes (~140 dubbed into English) and a feature movie. The show was nominated for an APKiT award, which is, as far as I can tell, a Russian equivalent to the Oscars.

    Concerns/flaws

    I found no flaws with the show itself, but it seems to be available only via YouTube and has multiple ads to skip in each 12-minute episode.

    Who made it

    The show is made by Aeroplane Productions in Moscow

    Lots of info on their website https://www.thefixies.com/

    They are doing what lots of other children’s media companies are doing, creating related apps, games etc. Most of the Fixies games are in Russian and don’t yet have English translations.

    It looks like the company is actively looking for licensing in other countries and it would be great if Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or PBS Kids picked it up.

    When was it made/history

    The original, Russian show began in 2010 and the English version was released starting in 2015.

    Where can I get it

    As far as I can tell, it’s only available via The Fixies channel on YouTube

    The Little Penguin: Pororo’s Racing Adventure

    IMDB and other review sites don’t seem to like this movie much, but the kids and adults in our family thought it was great, exciting, well-paced, and very entertaining. It was made by a Korean company, and has a slightly different feel to it compared with Japanese animations, and certainly different from American or European ones.

    The story is of a little penguin and his animal friends racing and overcoming obstacles such as bullies as well as physical obstacles.

    Not much to say about it really. It is just a kids’ movie, but we liked it a lot and have frequently sought it out again, but haven’t been able to find it streaming anywhere.

    Boss Baby

    Technically the movie is titled, “THE Boss Baby” but we don’t call it that. This is not a movie I would have picked as a likely candidate for movies that get re-watched in our household, but the kids love it.

    In the past few weeks we’ve seen other kid-friendly movies (The Road to Eldorado, Atlantis) but none of them resonated well with our kids and we didn’t even bother finishing them. We’ve seen Boss Baby maybe 10 times now.

    The movie is made by Dreamworks, which I have a somewhat low opinion of. Their movies, in contrast to Pixar, seem to go for cheap laughs and get by with making every character either a wisecracking cynic or a bumbling idiot. This movie is not all that different, but it’s very well-made and has a good message about jealousy and getting along.

    Alec Baldwin does the voice of the baby, and his performance alone makes it worth watching.

    Kubo and the Two Strings

    This is a movie that flew under the radar (at least my radar) and I hadn’t heard of it until we stumbled upon it on Netflix while searching in vain for a Miyazaki movie. Of course, since having kids my culture and media radar is essentially non-operational and I know next to nothing about new TV shows, bands, or movies.

    The movie starts out pretty dark and there is enough violence that I came close to turning it off a few times, but our kids never seemed to mind it and we finished it and the next day they wanted to watch it again. I guess violence isn’t so scary when it’s done to and by little puppets. It’s an intense movie and worth watching even if there aren’t kids around.

    Kubo was made by Laika, best-known for Coraline, and uses the same stop-motion style. We adults loved Coraline when that came out (10 years ago! geez) but it was spooky and scary enough that I’m not ready to share that one with the kids.

    The art and animation is very attractive and there are lots of making-of videos on YouTube.

    Details on the Laika site