High Fives for Highlights High Five

My mom bought a High­lights High Five sub­scrip­tion for Abra­ham a few years ago. He loves it, and I make sure to leave it in the mail­box for his retrieval each time a new issue arrives. Read­ing to Abra­ham is always great fun, but I am quite con­scious of how dif­fi­cult it is to find books that fea­ture father/child inter­ac­tion. The per­cent­age is ter­ri­bly small rel­a­tive to books with moms in them. Once upon a time I Asked Metafil­ter for rec­om­men­da­tions of books with heav­i­ly fea­tured fathers, and received quite a few great titles that I’ve since added to our library.

In the two years Abra­ham has had his High Five sub­scrip­tion, I noticed a sim­i­lar trend and final­ly decid­ed to write a let­ter to the edi­tor about it. It went much bet­ter than I expect­ed. Our exchange is below, shared with her per­mis­sion.

Kath­leen,

My 4 year old son and I look for­ward with great antic­i­pa­tion to receiv­ing our month­ly sub­scrip­tion to High Five. He imme­di­ate­ly tears out all of the lit­tle ads just like I did with my High­lights sub­scrip­tion when I was his age. At first his favorite sec­tion was the hid­den pic­tures (again, just like me), but now as he’s start­ing to read a bit, he enjoys Tex and Indi the most.

Your mag­a­zine helps pro­vide a lot of fun, edu­ca­tion­al, qual­i­ty time with my boy. As a sin­gle par­ent, I try to max­i­mize those attrib­ut­es when we play togeth­er. Thank you so much for the excel­lent work you and your staff do each month.

There’s only one aspect of the magazine’s con­tent that both­ers me: the dis­tinct lack of involved dads in most issues. In the most cur­rent issue (Octo­ber 2012) there are only two pages (12, 16) with a father present. In con­trast, moth­ers and female fig­ures are involved in much of the rest of this issue (pp. 2, 4, 7–8, 13, 20, 22–23, 26, 30) and most oth­ers. I make a dis­tinc­tion between “pres­ence” and “involve­ment” here, because when fathers appear in your mag­a­zine, they’re often not active­ly engaged with car­ing and learn­ing with the chil­dren. For exam­ple, in the cur­rent issue, the Papa squir­rel on page 16 is just being watched by the child squir­rel, they aren’t bury­ing nuts togeth­er.

This is not an issue that affects your mag­a­zine alone; I have a heck of a time find­ing children’s books that fea­ture father/child inter­ac­tion as well.

I think if you begin to include more involved dads in your mag­a­zine you will pro­vide an exam­ple to all chil­dren that dads can be involved in their kid’s lives. Addi­tion­al­ly, you will be teach­ing lit­tle boys that they can and should be involved with their own chil­dren one day.

It might be nice to start with Tex and Indi’s dad. I assumed their mom was a sin­gle par­ent for quite a few issues until dad made a brief appear­ance.

I’d be hap­py to cor­re­spond with you fur­ther in this regard and the boy and I are already eager­ly await­ing the Novem­ber issue.

Sin­cere­ly,

Adam Har­vey

A few days lat­er I received this response:

Dear Adam,

Thank you so much for writ­ing. I’m pleased to hear that you and your son are enjoy­ing High Five. And I’m sor­ry that since you’ve been sub­scrib­ing, you’ve noticed a lack of fathers in our sto­ries.

I can tell you that in Novem­ber, Dad helps Tex and Indi make the Thanks­giv­ing stuff­ing, and in the verse a mom and a dad and their son help make a pump­kin pie. Then, in Decem­ber, in the English/Spanish sto­ry, a lit­tle girl goes out in the snow with her Dad. There’s no indi­ca­tion that there is a Mom in that sto­ry. We also pub­lish sto­ries about Bert and Beth who live with their grand­fa­ther. We do try to make sure that all kids see them­selves reflect­ed in the pages of our mag­a­zine, and that includes dif­fer­ent types of fam­i­lies.

But I’m also very glad to have heard from you. Your let­ter prompt­ed me to swap out a Mom and replace her with a Dad in a sto­ry that will appear in ear­ly spring. It’s always good to be remind­ed — so thanks for tak­ing the time to write.

Sin­cere­ly,

Kath­leen

What a great response! I half-expect­ed some sort of form let­ter, but instead I received thought­ful­ness, under­stand­ing, and spe­cif­ic exam­ples address­ing my issue. And the icing on the cake is a lit­tle bit more “dad” in the mag­a­zine. It’s nice to know that High­lights still has the best inter­ests of chil­dren at heart. This response even mit­i­gates the near­ly unfor­giv­able fact that they nev­er did pub­lish my Ram Bo Jack­son draw­ing that I sent in when I was 8.

Samurai Spy

A part of this view­ing listCri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #312: Masahi­ro Shinoda’s Samu­rai Spy.

Hav­ing read Shusaku Endo’s Silence many years ago, the per­se­cu­tion of Catholi­cism dur­ing the Toku­gawa shogu­nate was some­thing that imme­di­ate­ly grabbed me here. It came as only a slight sur­prise to dis­cov­er that Masahi­ro Shin­o­da direct­ed an adap­ta­tion of the book six years after mak­ing Ibun Saru­to­bi Sasuke (this movie). Saru­to­bi Sasuke is an employed samu­rai in a clan who has yet to take sides in a brew­ing con­flict between Toku­gawa and Osa­ka. Addi­tion­al­ly, he has his own ideas in regard to the use­ful­ness of war in the first place. He gets roped in to some espi­onage and intrigue by being a badass do-good­er in the wrong place at the right time.

Lots of peo­ple die. Sasuke gets blamed for mur­ders he doesn’t com­mit, and no one seems to care about the folks he actu­al­ly does kill on his was to safe­ty and a mod­icum of secu­ri­ty. The joke here, if you want to call it that, is that Sasuke doesn’t have a goal apart from safe­ly nav­i­gat­ing the com­pli­cat­ed cur­rents he’s found him­self in. Though he’s not explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian, (nor is he explic­it­ly not Chris­t­ian), the heavy involve­ment of a secre­tive Chris­t­ian group, and it’s unlike­ly con­nec­tion to an apos­ta­sized, lep­rous spy­mas­ter gave this samu­rai film a fla­vor unlike any oth­er I’ve seen.

It’s also beau­ti­ful; shots with max­i­mal depth of field, shift­ing fog and silences, abstract pat­terns of light and shad­ow, and unique­ly appro­pri­ate cam­era shifts all evoke the uncer­tain­ty of things hid­den in plain sight and in shad­ow.

The Red Shoes

A part of this view­ing listCri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #44: Michael Pow­ell & Emer­ic Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.

I wasn’t real­ly expect­ing to enjoy this movie, as I haven’t had much luck with Pow­ell & Press­burg­er in the past, but it was good. The cos­tum­ing, make­up and oth­er pro­duc­tion val­ues were well sit­u­at­ed to make the most of Tech­ni­col­or. The plot was put togeth­er to delib­er­ate­ly par­al­lel, in theme at least, that of the Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen sto­ry that fea­tures so promi­nent­ly through­out the film.

The only detrac­tions were the fre­quent­ly used spe­cial effects to high­light these par­al­lels. They broke the sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief that was watch­ing a bal­let­ic per­for­mance, and beat the view­er over the head with dra­mat­ic irony. I can see that this might have been a glimpse into Vic­ki Page’s sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, as well as an artis­tic deci­sion, but the sto­ry & film itself was so well craft­ed up to that point, and any and all spe­cial effects so notice­ably absent up to the first per­for­mance of The Red Shoes, that I think the film would have been stronger with­out their pres­ence.

While danc­ing kills pro­tag­o­nists in both the lit­er­al and meta-lit­er­al sto­ries, Pow­ell and Press­burg­er effi­cient­ly and poignant­ly turn the fairy tale into some­thing more con­tem­po­rary and com­plex. The inter­lock­ing love tri­an­gles and tough choic­es that the main char­ac­ters make (not always wise, but always pas­sion­ate) make a much deep­er point about what it means to die for what you love than any fairy tale could tell.

Death of a Cyclist

A part of this view­ing listCri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #427: Juan Anto­nio Bardem’s Death of a Cyclist.

I can’t recall the last time I saw a film where the scene tran­si­tions were han­dled so mas­ter­ful­ly. One char­ac­ter blows cig­a­rette smoke to end a scene, a cut, and in a dif­fer­ent time and place anoth­er char­ac­ter gets smoke blown into hers. Fire flick­ers on María’s face when she’s with her hus­band, a cut, and in a dif­fer­ent time and place, fire flick­ers on her face while she’s with her lover.

The care with which those shots were planned car­ries through­out this film; fre­quent cuts, a pre­pon­der­ance of close quar­ter inti­mate con­ver­sa­tions, and strong sight lines do an excel­lent job of tun­ing the ten­sion, but at times it becomes almost melo­dra­mat­ic, soap oper­at­ic. The wealthy mis­tress and her pro­fes­sor fling run over a cyclist and leave him to die alone. Mean­while, anoth­er fel­low is on to their infi­deli­ty and tries to black­mail them over it. They’re not ini­tial­ly guilt-rid­den over the death, but are intent on hid­ing it, and they assume that is what the black­mail is about. What fol­lows is quite a bit of excel­lent innu­en­do, ver­bal fenc­ing that nev­er quite strikes a mor­tal blow.

Things do get tense enough that María runs over her lover, and in an end­ing that’s just a tad too iron­i­cal­ly pat, she runs off the road and dies try­ing to avoid hit­ting anoth­er cyclist.