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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : A bouncing puppy and a changing caterpillar hit video with characters intact

August 06, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adults aren't the only ones who eagerly await movie versions of their favorite bestsellers. Even preschoolers can supplement their reading pleasures with moving pictures.

This week, two kiddie classics become available on video: Sweet Dreams Spot and Other Delightful Stories by Eric Hill and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories by Eric Carle.

After 50 books and 15 years, Hill knows why his "Spot" books, with their peek-a-boo design, remain a favorite among children and parents. "It's the simplicity, the sweetness, the nice nature" of the stories, says the father of two from his home outside San Luis Obispo. The books started in 1980 as entertainment for his son, then 2 years old. Hill's "Spot" books have been translated into 62 languages.

The British-born Hill acknowledges it "took quite a long time to get my approval" to turn his stories into videos, but he's pleased with Disney's screen adaptations. "I wasn't sure if the simplicity of the story and illustrations could be captured in the best possible way." But as produced, he thinks the stories work.

The fifth and latest installment in the "Spot" series for Disney continues the adventures of a small, mischievous puppy. Also included on the new tape, which offers a voice for Spot by Jonathan Taylor Thomas ("The Lion King," "Home Improvement"), are "Spot in the Garden," "Spot's Lost Bone," "Spot's Favorite Toy" and "Storytime for Spot."

The "Sweet Dreams Spot" video is accompanied by a work booklet, which offers a look at helping your child sleep--courtesy of Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician, author and father of eight. Also included in the booklet are activities designed to help preschoolers think about numbers, letters, writing and nature.

"Caterpillar" author Carle reflects on the success of his more than three-dozen children's books from his Boston home. The author says he always comes to a similar conclusion about his books, which focus on bugs and animals.

"I see it as a metaphor for childhood," the father of two grown children says, citing "Caterpillar" as a prime example. The book lets children count along as a ravenous little caterpillar eats his way into a surprise transformation.

"It's about hope, about growing up, how this ugly shriveled thing becomes this beautiful butterfly," Carle says of the very popular book. "As children, we think we will never grow up, never become sophisticated."

Carle, who came to the United States from his native Germany, began as a graphic artist. His first work as an illustrator after leaving advertising 33 years ago, was for Bill Martin Jr.'s "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" Soon, he was both drawing and penning his own works. "Caterpillar" was first published in 1969.

"Caterpillar's" activity booklet features an interview with Dr. Dorothy Rich (author of "Megaskills") about teaching teamwork at home. For the kiddies, there are activities designed to help them think about numbers, shapes, colors, nature and more.

Both authors agree that they'd rather have children read their books first and then look toward the videos as supplemental.

"The videos just bring the stories to life so wonderfully," Carle says happily.

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories by Eric Carle" and "Sweet Dreams Spot and Other Delightful Stories by Eric Hill" (both 30 minutes) are available Friday from Disney Presents Bright Beginnings/Creatively Fun Preschool Videos for $13 each. For ages 2 to 6.

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