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Reviews and Professional Commentary about The Busy Little Engine


Comments about The Busy Little Engine on the website of our friend, best-selling children's author, Mary Pope Osborne, January 6, 2007

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Mr. Bezo [Mary's dog] loves watching TV. Last winter, he particularly loved a children's video called The Busy Little Engine made by our friend Desmond Mullen of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The video was about a pig and a train. Every time we played the video, Mr. Bezo would dash to the TV, sit down in front of the screen, and start talking back to the pig. Mr. Bezo can get restless and barky late in the day, so I began playing the video every evening around dinnertime. One day I forgot and watched the news instead. Mr. Bezo started talking his voice getting louder and louder, until finally I realized what I'd done. I immediately put his pig video on. He stopped talking, settled down and contentedly watched his show.

Review of The Busy Little Engine in the American Library Association's Booklist, November 15, 2006

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REVIEW: The Busy Little Engine (and His Friend, Pig). 2005. 34min. Squirrel Tracks, DVD, $15.95. Grades PreS-K.

Biz, a hardworking, animated toy freight train, chugs alongside real trains through towns and the countryside, while an onscreen hand puppet named Pig asks questions (both silly and serious) about what different train cars carry and how the train works. An offscreen narrator's practical responses accompany helpful visual stills, such as a tank car portrayed as a bottle on wheels. Biz travels to farms to collect ingredients (butter, sugar, flours) for cookies. Viewers then see how each is processed from raw materials. Biz brings the ingredients to a factory, where they are made into cookies, which are then packaged and shipped by rail to stores. Three original songs stress learning through imagination and curiosity in this fun DVD. Bonus features include a neat "making of" short. - Abby Alpert

Review of The Busy Little Engine in Parenting Magazine , July 2006

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REVIEW: (From Parenting Picks, "Best books, music, DVD/videos, and software") The Busy Little Engine

A sweet musical tale of a little wooden train that pretends to be real. The story chugs along at just the right clip, as a friendly pig narrator doles out the basic choo-choo-ology. ($16 DVD, Squirrel Tracks, busylittleengine.com) -B.K. [Bruce Kluger]

Review of The Busy Little Engine in School Library Journal, June 2006

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REVIEW: The Busy Little Engine (and His Friend, Pig). DVD. color. approx. 34 min. Squirrel Tracks Wooden Trains 2005. $15.95.

PreS-Gr 1 -This animated adventure featuring a wooden train and his puppet friend, Pig, is a tale about a wooden train who pretends to be a real train. It also offers solid information about actual trains. With the help of an off-screen narrator, Busy Little Engine and Pig explore the world of real trains and encourage viewers to use their imaginations. Three original, catchy songs, written and performed by Jimmy Magoo, are age appropriate and complement the story line. Bonus features include a sing-along of Magoo's songs and a special short about the making of the video. A nice supplement to general viewing collections, and useful in transportation units for the youngest students. -Kirsten Martindale, formerly Menomonie Public Library, WI

Review of The Busy Little Engine in Video Librarian Magazine, May/June 2006

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REVIEW: The Busy Little Engine 3.5 stars [=Good/Excellent, 4 stars is the top rating] (2005) 34 min. DVD: $15.95. Squirrel Tracks Wooden Trains. PPR. [=Public Performance Rights granted] Color cover.

Combining live action and computer animation, The Busy Little Engine tells the story of a toy wooden train that pretends to be real (his CGI alter-ego is superimposed onto actual train tracks), embarking on an imaginative journey to gather the necessary materials for a factory to make cookies, and accompanied by his question-asking puppet friend Pig. Along the way, young viewers will visit a farm and meet animals, learn about different train cars, and hear three infectiously fun original songs by Jimmy Magoo. DVD extras include a sing-along version of each song and a simple "making-of" featurette geared toward young children. Given the preschool crowd's perennial interest in trains, this fun and educational program is highly recommended. Aud: K, P. [=Preschool-Kindergarten, Public Libraries] (R. Reagan)

Review of The Busy Little Engine on DVD Verdict, April 20, 2006

EXCERPT: "I received the Busy Little Engine DVD on Thursday. It is now Saturday, and my non-TV-addicted three year old has watched it at least three times. He's been singing the songs (and so has my wife, and so have I) all day. He's reworked his train table into a reasonable fascimile of the layout in the video. And he repeats the jokes at the dinner table, following each one up with 'that pig is funny.' In short, The Busy Little Engine has almost instantaneously become the pinnacle of our mountain of kid's DVDs.

This Borg-like assimilation of my child's imagination is somewhat unexpected. The Busy Little Engine comes in an unassuming package with no corporate slogans or FBI warnings. The feature follows a simple pig puppet and his wooden train pal, Biz, who learn together what trains are and what they do. Biz learns that his job is to pick up trainloads of ingredients and move them to factories (or 'fack-rees' as Pig calls them). Biz's journey takes him from downtown Dinkytown to the farm, and through a city that looks suspiciously like Chicago. The whole thing is told in plain language with few sound effects or camera moves. It wouldn't seem to be a presentation that would hold a tike's interest for long.

Yet the three kids I've shown it to have been rooted to the screen. Creator Desmond Mullen, formerly of Industrial Light and Magic and a current producer for the Morehead Planetarium, makes an interesting observation: Pans, cuts, and other cinematic shorthand are not natural. We have to learn what they mean. Kids don't intuitively understand that a jump cut means something. Pig's straightforward manner and The Busy Little Engine's static framing mimic the way a child interprets the world. The proof is self evident: Kids dig this DVD.

That's great for kids and even better for parents. The Busy Little Engine isn't selling anything but imagination and curiosity about the world. Mullen is genuinely interested in what kids will get out of his DVD rather than what he can get out of kids. With its urban footage melded with the animated train Biz, The Busy Little Engine evokes favorable comparison to retro Sesame Street shows. My son was equally interested in the animated train, Pig's antics, and the real cars and people waiting at the train crossings."

Review of The Busy Little Engine in About.com's Parenting & Family section, March 23, 2006

EXCERPT: "The Busy Little Engine's sweet story is perfectly paced for children of the targeted age group. By not trying to cram too much information into a 30 minute time frame, the movie allows children to take the time to soak up the details of the story and take in the images and ideas as informative parts of a whole - the whole being a fun adventure. In this way, although the DVD presents information and facts, children do not feel like they are expected to learn something. They just see a fun story about a lot of interesting things they didn't know before.

The DVD also features music by Jimmy Magoo that kids will love, and his music fits the story so well. I have two little girls, and they adored the DVD, but I can just imagine a little boy who loves toy trains watching this and singing the music all day long. The Busy Little Engine captures the simple charm of the toy train - a toy which has been long treasured by children and has in fact become a symbol of childhood."

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As a pediatric occupational therapist working with children who have difficulty knowing how to play with toys in a rich and varied manner, I especially appreciate the manner in which The Busy Little Engine sparks a child's imagination.

The measured pacing, calm narration, and simplicity of the visuals engage the child and invite participation like a favorite board book. Singing-along with the songs is especially fun with lyrics that are easily understood, developmentally appropriate, and interesting for the young child.

Children's programming should not be a passive experience used simply as entertainment, but as a tool that can potentially - if chosen carefully and used appropriately - help engage children more in the real world. The Busy Little Engine helps engage children and supports their growing interest in the way the world around them works.

Amy Loesch, Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OTR/L)

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