High Fives for Highlights High Five

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

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

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

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.