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The Wiggles Have Fun by Being Nice



Wake Up Jeff! The Wiggles. Lyrick Studios. 30 minutes. $13. (CD: $11; cassette: $7). (877) 259-7425.

The 1960s-pop-style Wiggles, Australia's answer to musical dinosaur Barney, are an acquired taste for adults, but these four not-so-young, relentlessly cheerful Aussie guys in their signature black slacks and tucked-in pullovers are a phenomenal success at home, Australia's biggest-selling children's entertainers ever.

With recent tours and video and audio releases in the U.S., the clean-cut foursome--Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Greg Page and Jeff Fatt--and pals Dorothy Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, Captain Feathersword and Henry Octopus are making inroads here too.

This effervescent video is filled with sing-along and play-along songs, mild tot-pleasing humor and puppetry, real kids playing and dancing and an excerpt of the Wiggles on tour. You may wince at the guys' wide-eyed, ever-smiling enthusiasm, but you'll appreciate how kids respond to the sheer uncomplicated niceness of their approach.

Behind the Scenes With Robert Gil de Montes (Volume 9) and Behind the Scenes With Joann Falletta (Volume 10). First Run Features Home Video. $15 each. Ages 7 to adult. (800) 488-6652.

These are the last two videos in the brilliant, blissfully entertaining 10-volume series, originally on PBS, that explores the art of creation with a marvelously creative approach of its own.

In the series, songs, animation and film segments punctuate absorbing, dynamic visits with painters, stage directors, conductors, dancers and other noted artists as they work, from David Hockney to "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening.

In Volume 9, artist Robert Gil de Montes paints a vivid self-portrait, his celebrated use of color serving as a springboard for an exploration of how artists use color to tell a story, create a mood and supply focus, dimension, time and place.

In Volume 10, conductor Joann Falletta shows how a symphonic piece is made up of layers of melody and how she orchestrates musical dynamics. The lesson is underscored and expanded by droll cartoons about singing dogs and cows, a pop music recording session and series hosts Penn and Teller's off-the-wall but remarkably clear demonstrations. The entire series is absolutely fascinating, no matter what your age.


The Days Gone By, Songs of the American Poets. Music for Little People. CD: $16. Cassette: $10. (800) 409-2457.

Taking its title from James Whitcomb Riley's wistful recollection of childhood pleasures, "when life was like a story," this beautiful recording opens a window into a vivid and gentle child's-eye world created by 19th century poets.

Produced and composed by Ted Jacobs with a sensitive ear for each poet's voice, and expressively sung and performed by a variety of vocalists and instrumentalists--including Jacobs--it's a breathtaking follow-up to Jacobs' first release in Music for Little People's "Famous Author" series, "A Child's Garden of Song," featuring the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson.

As much for adults as for children, it also includes Riley's "When the Frost Is on the Punkin," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Arrow and the Song" and "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls," Emily Dickinson's "Will There Really Be a Morning?" and "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers" and Edgar Allan Poe's "Eldorado" and "Alone."

Eugene Field's lullaby odyssey, "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" and his "The Sugar-Plum Tree" (it "blooms on the shore of the lollipop sea, in the garden of shut-eye town") are fairy tale treats. Field's parental soliloquy "Some Time" is the achingly tender finale.

More American Heroes. Jonathan Sprout Recordings. Sprout Recordings. CD: $15; cassette: $10. (888) 386-7664.

There's a bland, overly mixed quality to much of Jonathan Sprout's pop instrumentals, but his heartfelt songs (Dave Kinnoin and Peter Bliss are credited too) paint inspirational portraits of men and women who changed American history.

These heroes and heroines range from the Wright brothers ("When They Flew") to Neil Armstrong, from Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony to Eleanor Roosevelt ("Eleanor" begins with an actual recording of one of her speeches), from Frederick Douglass ("Agitate") to Jackie Robinson.

Other songs celebrate Helen Keller ("Keep Your Face to the Sunshine"), Shawnee leader Tecumseh and Johnny Appleseed. The album's finale, "A Better World," encourages young listeners that "even a solitary spark / Can chase away the dark."

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