Our A.V. Club Field Guide To Parenting is designed to guide you toward the best kids’ books, shows, movies, and music, just like we do with The A.V. Club for adults. Every month or so, we will feature a new subject with a few essential pop-culture takes parents should know, saving you from the mountains of kids’ dreck out there.
Call us crazy, but Halloween may be quickly overtaking those year-end holidays as our kids’ favorite season. Sure, no presents, but much more candy! Also there’s something slightly more fun about spooks and scares than frequent lame messages about having Christmas spirit and spreading goodwill to all.
Even if your kids are still little, it’s never too early to start sharing the spooky season with them. Below are suggestions from some of our A.V. Club parents to start your kids on the proper fright-filled path, with varying degrees of scares: from a generally benign Wallace and Gromit movie to the considerable terror involved in Goosebumps reruns. (Also: If your kids are super tiny, take advantage of the fact that they have no say in how you dress them, so you can pick the most outrageous costume of your choice at the Old Navy or Costco. Once they hit middle school, they’ll refuse to dress up as a box of popcorn or a little lobster, no matter how cute you might think it is.)
How young is too young for Young Frankenstein?
My husband has a much higher bar for childhood scares than I do—probably because his father took him to see Alien when he was only 9. Meanwhile, I grew up running out of the living room to avoid TV commercials for the Amityville Horror movie. So I was somewhat conflicted about exposing my offspring even to Young Frankenstein, as Madeline Kahn’s Bride Of Frankenstein character freaked me out as a kid. Fortunately, my children seem to be more like-minded with my husband than myself about scary movies, so we started our Young Frankenstein Halloween viewing tradition when they were about 8 years old. Yes, YF has its freaky moments, but they are completely eclipsed by the hilarious ones: I had forgotten that “Put… the candle… back” are the four funniest words in the English language. And corrected pronunciations of the name “Frankenstein” never get old. Hopefully our annual YF viewing will lead the way for other parody family films like Spinal Tap. But I’m still not down for Alien. [Gwen Ihnat]
The mysterious songwriter behind KidsTV123
Halloween is technically October 31, but it’s been Halloween in my house every day of 2017. That’s because the kids’ music we most like to play—indeed, the only kids’ music we can really stand—is made by the mysterious, elusive songwriter named A.J. Jenkins. Under the completely unremarkable moniker of KidsTV123, Jenkins has released somewhere around 200 songs for free, directly to YouTube, and I’m here to tell you that the jaw-dropping millions of views they’ve racked up (more than 490 million on “Phonics Song 2” alone) is no fluke. Jenkins has a way of crafting catchy kids’ tunes that are somehow not completely maddening—simple songs he self-records on just guitar and keyboard that come accompanied by crude animation (which he also does himself), and are sung in a voice that’s supernaturally soothing, like a heavily Xanaxed Raffi. Also, Jenkins fucking loves Halloween; he’s written at least seven songs about it, including my twin 2-year-olds’ favorite, “Spooky Spooky.” It’s why all four of us have spent the last year walking around softly singing, “Spooky, spooky, very spooky / Watch out, it’s a monnnn-ster,” and now that Halloween is actually here, we’ll surely be listening to it a whole lot more. Better investigative journalists than I have tried to track down Jenkins over the years, who prefers to remain the J.D. Salinger of internet-based children’s songs. But if I could find him, or he’s reading this, I would thank him for giving my family so much universally tolerated entertainment—and for making it feel like Halloween year-round. [Sean O’Neal]
Run, don’t walk, to Gravity Falls
We talk about this series a lot around here, but that’s because it is nothing less than spectacular. It also happens to be absolutely perfect for this time of year and households with grade-schoolers who like a little mystery with their humorous animation. Alex Hirsch based a lot of Gravity Falls on growing up with his twin sister, Ariel, and their own version of grouchy-yet-hilarious Gruncle Stan, but he translates all of that to a spooky, wood-filled town where bottomless pits, time travelers, and demons pop up with alarming regularity. The first season followed a bit of a “monster of the week” format; then the Gravity Falls conspiracies started stacking up like the town was Twin Peaks, resulting in “Weirdmageddon,” a three-part culmination in which an evil sentient being named Bill Cipher bends reality as far as he can without breaking it, featuring some of the most inventive animation and voice work ever. But at the heart of the series is the same theme that Buffy The Vampire Slayer did so well: Growing up is a scary time, and terrors come at you fast and furi