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Follow the Adventures of Little Orphan Emily



Peppermints in the Parlor. Listening Library/Random House. 3 cassettes or CDs (5 hours, 12 minutes): $22 and $33. Ages 10 and up. (800) 243-4504, Ext. 1.

Turn off the TV, take a long car ride or just gather 'round the family sound system for some prime entertainment as Angela Lansbury performs Barbara Brooks Wallace's deliciously gothic, Dickensian adventure about orphaned heiress Emily.

Expecting that her wealthy Aunt and Uncle Twice will be caring for her after her parents' deaths, Emily instead finds that she is penniless and must work as scullery maid to the terrifying Mrs. Meeching, who seems to own the mansion that once belonged to Emily's aunt and uncle.

Why is Aunt Twice now little more than a prisoner in Sugar Hill Hall, scuttling about as housekeeper? Who are the sad old shadows that live under Mrs. Meeching's iron-fisted rule, and why does no one touch the tempting peppermints in the parlor? Above all, what has happened to Uncle Twice?

Lansbury gives a spellbinding performance of a spellbinding book, making the most of each suspenseful moment and bringing every character--wicked and good, young and old--to vivid life.

Wild and Woolly Wiggle Songs. CD: $15. Cassette: $10. Ages 5 to 8. (504) 861-2682.

With her Louisiana country and Cajun cadences, her whimsically educational lyrics and tuneful melodies, Johnette Downing gets inside the skins of some rather unusual animals. A depressed chameleon has "the blues all over," a "cool cat" froggie be-bops on his lily pad, and an iguana is a traveling companion on a trip to Tijuana. Downing sings about a smart little bookworm, zebras, "ants in your pants" and "shrews in your shoes"; she also sings that "animals need caring hands." Nonsensical or soulful, all of Downing's songs have a message of respect and love for the creatures of the earth.

Mother Goose Rocks. Volumes One, Two and Three. $16 each.

Rock 'n' roll-style children's songs are far from rare; it's one of the most ubiquitous styles around. But this trio of well-produced nursery rhyme releases offers a new twist: Every song parodies the sound of a different pop artist, and with wicked precision.

"Old King Cole" has a Dixie Chicks ("Pixie Picks") treatment; "The Old Woman in a Shoe" is hilariously recrafted Cher-style ("Share, the Diva"), and "The Three Pigs" is memorably Ricky Martin-ish ("Wolfy Martini").

There's a mournful "Little Boy Blue" by "Lilith McMerchant"; a swing "Hickory Dickory Dock" by "Cherry Seltzer Revue" and a smooth "Jack and Jill" by the boyish "Handsomes." Other songs parody Britney Spears, Anita Hill, Celine Dion, Madonna, Pearl Jam, the Wallflowers, the Spin Doctors and many more.

Created by Richard Snee, it's undeniably clever (Robert Berry did the varied instrumentation), but not necessarily toddler-friendly. A 3-year-old may enjoy the beat and will find many of the lyrics familiar, but these novelty CDs will have greatest appeal for older siblings and adults who can appreciate the source material.


Animal Safari, A Learning Journey: Volume 6, Animals and Man. Coyote Creek Productions. $20. Ages 6 to 10. (760) 731-3184.

An entertaining addition to the "Animal Safari" series, featuring Fallbrook-based Pacific Animal Productions, a rescue and educational center. Karla Majewski, relaxed and knowledgeable, hosts the show, introducing a variety of animals: Dusty the chinchilla, Mickey the capuchin monkey, Opie the opossum, Julie Ann the llama, and Tequila the parrot.

Speaking about their history, habitat, behavior and interaction with man as either companion pet or helper, Majewski's respect and affection for her animal charges, her easygoing, spontaneous style, the surprising amount of information that she imparts--and the furred and feathered little beasties themselves--are genuinely engaging.

Awesome Adventures: Paradise and Polar Ice. Blackboard Entertainment. $13. Ages 5 to 12. (800) 968-2261.

Despite the mild "Xtreme" sports-type tone it takes with its pop music scoring and frenetic film editing accents, this real-life adventure series offers young viewers some scattershot education in an entertaining, you-too-can-see-the-world format.

In the two adventures here--one in Belize, one in Iceland--alternating hosts J. August Richards and A.T. Montgomery, along with a couple of young teenagers, see a coral reef up close, hike in the rain forest, visit a Mayan ruin, encounter tarantulas and scorpion spiders, hike up the side of a volcano, snowmobile across a glacier and soak in hot springs.

The hosts' attempts at humor that punctuate the sincere bits of history, geography and natural science that give the "adventures" context are easy to take. And, while the guided tours have a secure quality to them, even in rugged and risky terrain, they do crack open a window on the world.

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