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Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: What’s your opinion on this movie?

Q: What do you think about this movie for my kids?

A: Here’s what goes through my mind when I hear this question, which happens a few times a week:

  1. I really appreciate your effort to figure out what’s best for your children!  

  2. Image that made Isabel cry in Schoolhouse Rock.I need to know a little about your children. I might ask you; “How old are your kids?” “What movies have they enjoyed lately?” “Which of those movies seemed just right to you?”

  3. I need some parameters for what you usually find suitable & appropriate for your child.  “We prefer realistic movies, not fantasy.” “We’re looking for movies that don’t follow old-fashioned gender roles.” “No violence! We don’t believe in that.” “It’s okay if there’s fighting, but not too much.”

  4. What’s enjoyable and exciting for one child could be disturbing, offensive, or boring for another child – even in the same family. Give me an anecdote. “She burst into tears watching Unpack Your Adjectives in the Schoolhouse Rock animation.”Marzipan Pig - a movie that is not for everyone, but some people love it!

  5. What can I recall from previous conversations with other patrons about this movie? What age were those children?  “My 4-year-old son & I adored The Marzipan Pig.” “The Ring of Bright Water was such a sweet movie! But we were horrified when the otter died!”  

Based on your answers, I’ll give you my feedback on the movies you selected, or suggest a few for you. It’s a fun game for both of us. On the other hand, as Maimonides might say, “Choose a movie for a patron, and she’s entertained for a day; teach her how to choose a movie for herself, and she’s entertained for a lifetime.”

How To Train Your Dragon - a very popular movie with wide age-range appeal.When it comes to film, parents are motivated to find content that resonates with their values rather than contradicting them. People don’t do this as much with books. It’s as if a book is invited into our consciousness as a visitor who we can safely be open to, whereas moving-pictures are more like a group of invading guests, who could easily bowl us over, dominate, and take control.  

Moving visual images seem to bypass our intellectual process to some degree, and connect viscerally to our psyche. Adults know that these responses may stay with us for a lifetime.

How can you help your children weather the invading-guest’s philosophies and values, and hold on to their own values and principles?

  • Observe your child watching a film, to guide future choices. Maimonides thinking up good quotes that could be used 800 years later on Hanukkah in an overly long blog.

  • Pick appropriate films at each stage of development. See details below.

  • Maintain a dialogue with your child. Routine conversations about mundane films build a habit that you can rely on when something is upsetting.

  • Build their healthy self-esteem. Children with a strong sense of self are not as vulnerable to the manipulations that are often found in media. But that’s a topic for another day!

So the question is; How do we pick appropriate films?

I suggest you consider ALL of the following aspects. No single aspect is sufficient:

  1. Length in minutes. DVDs under 30 minutes are usually intended for under-5-year-olds, and DVDs over 1 ½ hours are usually for over-9-year-olds. If a DVD contains multiple shorts, count only one, but for television episodes, 25 minutes is standard for all ages, so you can’t use length alone to determine intended audience.  

  2. Visual imagery on the cover. Does it appeal to your child? The Lego Movie is not something we need to advertise.

  3. Synopsis. Look on the box, in the Oakland Public Library catalog for the DVD, or on a website such as Common Sense Media, or IMDb.

  4. Age suggestion from the film-maker.  See same sources as the synopsis.

  5. Rating. The Common Sense Media ratings of “Off, Pause, & On”  are much more useful than the MPAA ratings, because they relate to developmental benchmarks for each age.  

  6. Reviews. See databases mentioned above. Common Sense Media gives the perspective of their own reviewers as well as ordinary parents and children.

  7. Trailers. Available directly from IMDb or YouTube.

  8. Friends’ advice. They know you and your child, and you know them, so you can triangulate over time.

It takes time to gather this information. Remember you can place a hold on the DVD at Oakland Public Library – you can place up to 10 holds at a time, you can check out 10 DVDs at a time, you get to keep them for 3 weeks, and you can renew them for another 3 weeks. Free!

A library made of Lego.Nevertheless, that’s a lot of work just to watch some movies, right? Feel free to ask the librarian for suggestions. Remember; we librarians are most effective when it’s a two-way conversation. Your feedback on what books & movies you & your children enjoy (and don’t enjoy) helps us give better suggestions to everyone!Click this link to submit a question to the children's librarians

Oakland Public Library Children's Librarians answer your questions on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month.