June 03, 2010

Get Caught Shreking

Shrek + Monsters and Miracles: A Journey Through Jewish Picture Books

One of the most successful animated films of all time, Shrek is based on an endearing upside-down fairy tale by illustrator and author William Steig. In the final sequel, Shrek Forever After, (currently in theaters) our warty hero finds himself in an alternate universe (think It's a Wonderful Animated Life) where he struggles to be reunited with his family, and his beloved Princess Fiona. Shrek, which leapt from book to screen in 2001, wins our hearts by telling the truth about romance, giving ugly a good name by teaching that true beauty lies within. Celebrity voices from Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow and Eddie Murphy (as a motormouth donkey) put the movie on the map -- all return in Shrek Forever After -- but the savvy modern sensibility will keep the lovable ogre in our hearts forever.

Most kids haven't a clue that Shrek sprang from the pages of a picture book, and but a wonderful new show at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles offers families the chance to know the green star's first incarnation - a belching, stinky (and very, very cranky) ogre in a story by author and illustrator William Steig. A simple illustration of a fat green ogre on a donkey hangs quietly in the gallery, and it's incredible to think how big an empire was created from this single image. Other seminal works hang inconspicuously nearby: drawings by Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, H.A. Rey, Mordicai Gerstein and many others.  Monsters and Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books is presented in galleries that have been divided up by huge, ceiling sized book covers and each little nook and cranny of the clever space has a station that will intrigue kids -- from dressing up your own monster, to drawing your own illustration to listening to celebrities read books on one of the many iPod Touches that are situated around the gallery. Shrek isn't the only monster in the show; the show traces scary picture book demons back to Jewish golems and dybbuks  - suddenly, the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are seem less random.  Best of all is the chance to meet hilarious characters from contemporary authors such as Lemony Snicket and David Goldin. With iPod Touch stations around the exhibit, and gallery-sized books that cleverly divide the space, you'll know you're in book heaven. (Show travels to the Eric Carle Museum of Art in Northampton, MA from October 2010 to January 2011).

The Film

Film Title: Shrek
Directed By: Andrew Adamson & Vicki Jenson
2001, Rated PG, 90 minutes

KOTC Kernels

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film;

  • Why It's Worth It: The original film is pure delight - the filmmakers took great pleasure in having audiences fall in love with their disgusting main character and clearly revel in sending up the traditions of the Disney fairy tale. The message of the film is also wonderful - that true loves lies within and that beauty is only skin deep. A staple of childhood.
  • Red Flags: The film has a wicked sense of humor, so any child to whom the sanctity of fairy tales is an issue will not appreciate the way our conventional ideas of romance and form are sent-up in Shrek.
  • Further Viewing: Of course, there are three sequels -- the most recent of which will be released on May 21, 2010. Kids should definitely read Steig's book, which is decidedly more dastardly and even lustier than the cleaned-up animated tale. The poetry of love between Shrek and Fiona is classic and hilarious. Take time to explore his other books, including Pete's a Pizza, CDB! and Caldecott Winner, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
Cinema Savvy

Our Tips for Talking with your kids about this Film:

  • Literary Savvy: William Steig was a cartoonist for adults for most of his life, writing for The New Yorker; he didn't start drawing kids stories until he was 60 years old. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is one of his most beloved stories. Click here for a link to a show about Steig organized by The Jewish Museum (NY), that includes an online gallery of drawings.
  • Sequel Savvy: Kids can begin to develop critical thinking skills by comparing the four Shrek films. Why is one their favorite? Do they think the 3D technology helps the latest Shrek film?

The Adventure

Monsters and Miracles: A Journey Through Jewish Picture Books

Exhibit ongoing at the Skirball Cultural Center through August 1, 2010

2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, LA 90049

Exhibit travels to the Eric Carle Museum of Art from October 2010 to January 2011

125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA 01002


Age Recommendation: 6 and up

Time Allotment: an hour

KOTC Kernels

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • The Skirball Cultural Center's Website: One of the most innovative museums in LA, the Skirball focuses on Judaism as a historical and cultural phenomenon, singular in ancestry but plural in expression and takes as its inspiration the parallels between Jewish values and American democratic principles. Their Noah's Ark exhibit is part of the childhood experience of most Angelenos, and we recommend that anyone visiting the city (with kids or without!) take an afternoon to explore the diverse programming in this exciting museum. Explore the many wonderful exhibits at the Skirball by clicking here. You'll find adult education, teen programs and plenty of intellectual stimulation.
  • The Eric Carle Museum: In Northampton, MA, a whole museum is dedicated to the artwork of Eric Carle, of The Very Hungry Caterpillar fame. Curators put on shows featuring many other illustrators, such as this large scale show produced in association with the Skirball. If you are ever in the area, it is worth stopping by to see a place wholly devoted to the art of childrens' book illustration. We loved our visit this past spring, and felt it was a wonderful family destination - with picnic areas, a clever cafeteria and an awesome bookstore, this is a worthy stop on any family trip in New England. Click here for more information about this gem of a museum.
City Savvy

Our Tips for Making this a Reading Summer:

  • Get Caught Reading: We have always organized book clubs with our kids, their friends and their parents. Even if the kids only meet twice a year, and stumble through the discussion, it's pretty nice for kids to get a few books under their belts. If you love reading, be sure to let your kids see you reading, or engaged with your friends about books. These are powerful influences.
  • The Reluctant Reader: Click here for a previous Popcorn Adventure about helping your reluctant reader fall in love with reading.
  • Visiting the Library: A visit to the library is a great way to set the summer off. Once the summer reading list comes in, march into your librarian and seek her help. Better yet, set the kids loose with that assignment. Click here for a previous Popcorn Adventure about visiting the library.

Cultural Connections

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Film Festival Click here the visit the Kids Off the Couch store at Amazon.com. Books Click here the visit the Kids Off the Couch store at Amazon.com.