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Holiday Gift Guide. | For Children

Top-Rated CD, DVD Picks to Brighten Holiday Season


The year's best family video and audio entertainment has something for children of all ages, including DreamWorks' very fine biblical epic, 19th century American poetry with remarkable child appeal, a certain beloved cuddly blue puppy, and a very cool city mouse, plus spins on fables, school blues, wacky romps and musical sunshine.


*** IMAGINATION STATION. Aesop's Fables. Imagilot Entertainment. CD: $15. (310) 854-4196; Children's Book World, (310) 559-1665. A jazz-loving city mouse? The cat who channels Mae West? This highly entertaining spin on familiar fables is a hoot, inventively performed as a romp in town and country by theater troupe Imagination Station, radio theater-style.

**** LOU DEL BIANCO. Lost in School. Storymaker Records. CD: $15. Cassette: $12. (800) 923-2692. With inventive tunes, witty lyrics and theatrics, Del Bianco vividly re-creates the up- and downside of being a grade-schooler in his wacky musical romp about a new kid and the people he meets while lost in his new school.

**** COLLIN RAYE. Counting Sheep. Sony Wonder, Family Artists Series. CD: $17. Cassette: $10. Nashville star Raye's first family album is a sheer, from-the-heart delight. Original and traditional songs, unexpectedly varied with top-notch country, pop and jazz stylings, are presented with true warmth and playfulness.

**** ROBBO. A Kid's Life. Blanket Kid Productions. CD: $17. Cassette: $12. (661) 799-9994. Celebs do the spoken- word song intros, but it's singer-

songwriter Robbo's empathetic, sensitive and tuneful "everything we do becomes our life"-themed songs that make this such an inspirational, ego-boosting treasure for children in grade school and middle school.

*** GUNNAR MADSEN. Old Mr. Mackle Hackle. G-Spot Records. CD: $14.95. (800) 711-3627. In his first children's album, Madsen, co-founder of the avant-garde a cappella group the Bobs, mixes trademark zaniness and a resonant understanding of childhood fancies and sensitivities.

*** KATHY REID-NAIMAN. Say Hello to the Morning. Merriweather Records. CD: $16. Cassette: $10. This remarkably sunny collection of folk songs, traditional and contemporary songs for young children, performed by Reid-Naiman and other top-notch artists, is irresistible for sing-along and play-along fun.

*** BILL HARLEY. The Battle of the Mad Scientists. Round River Records. CD: $15. Cassette: $10. (800) 682-9522. National Public Radio humorist and master storyteller Harley serves more gleeful, irreverent and inventive kid-savvy tales about teachers, principals, adventurous kids, marshmallow peanuts (ugh), and "gotcha" ghosts.

**** TED JACOBS. The Days Gone By, Songs of the American Poets. Music for Little People. CD: $16. Cassette: $10. (800) 409-2457. Breathtaking. Poems by James Whitcomb Riley, Poe, Longfellow, Dickinson and Eugene Field are winning fans of all ages, thanks to composer Jacobs' gift for creating the perfect musical voice for each vivid rhyme, beautifully performed with his terrific band.


**** JOSEPH: KING OF DREAMS. DreamWorks. $25; DVD: $27. Visually beautiful and striking, with a great voice cast headed by Ben Affleck, this big-screen-quality telling of the biblical story of Jacob's favorite son is an absolutely lovely family film, made with dignity and heart.

**** BLUE'S BIG MUSICAL MOVIE. Paramount Home Entertainment. $20; DVD: $25. Everybody's favorite blue pup, human host Steve Burns and all their pals shine in the first feature-length, direct-to-video, music-themed release of Nickelodeon's stellar children's show, a creative gem. Characters voiced by Ray Charles and the Persuasions are a must-see.

**** TOY STORY 2. Disney/Pixar. $20. 92 minutes. Lantern-jawed space hero Buzz Lightyear leads Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog and other toy pals to the rescue when Woody, the 1950s-era TV cowboy doll, is stolen to be sold for big bucks. Last year's sequel is every bit as delightful as the first "Toy Story": The computer-generated animation is a visual feast; the voice cast, led by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, is top-notch; the story, including Woody's discovery of three new companions--cowgirl Jessie, Bullseye the horse and prospector Stinky Pete--is witty and surprisingly layered.

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