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Adrienne Krock, editor

Summer Reading

Hit the stacks with two books about Walt Disney

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Blast To The Past: Disney's Dream

Beware of press releases. When I was offered the opportunity to review a book about Walt Disney, the following phrase caught my attention: “The release date is perfect for the 50th anniversary celebration at Disneyland.” Immediately I made assumptions about this book that I carried with me until I began to read it.

School-aged girls have enjoyed The American Girls book series of historical fiction for years. The Magic Tree House book series recently expanded the audience to girls and boys. This year, striking while the iron is hot, Simon and Schuster has introduced the Blast to the Past series of historical fiction featuring famous historical figures. The second in the series is Disney's Dream. But does this book live up to the marketing tie-in to Disneyland's 50th Birthday and will the children of Disney fans enjoy it?

The fictitious series tells the story of four friends whose teacher, Mr. Caruthers, has invented a time machine. Unfortunately, as soon as he invented the time machine, famous Americans began disappearing from history books because they gave up on their dreams. To remedy the situation, Mr. Caruthers calls on Abigail, Bo, Jacob and Zack to go back in time and convince these famous Americans not to give up. In Disney's Dream, Walt is struggling to make Steamboat Willie. The kids have two hours to go back in time. They arrive on September 18, 1928, and witness Disney announcing that he's going to quit the Steamboat Willie project. Their challenge is on.

The story is not really about Walt, but about Bo, Abigail, Jacob and Zack. In a 100-page book, Walt's name isn't even mentioned until page 22, and the last chapter is spent wrapping up the storyline involving the kids. The story focuses on the kids saving Steamboat Willie by convincing Walt not to give up, with bits of trivial information from Disney's life and career tossed in occasionally. The students mention early on, “Without Steamboat Willie there'd be no Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, Walt Disney movies, or the Disney Channel on TV.” But one of Abigail's biggest concerns is, “No Steamboat Willie meant that on Saturday mornings we'd be watching cartoons without sound.” A little melodramatic, no?

Certainly Walt Disney was not the only person working to bring sound to animated or live-action movies. In Disney's Dream, Walt carries a bitter resentment against Charles Mintz, his former business partner who claimed the rights to Oswald the Rabbit thus leaving Walt penniless in his quest to create animated movies. Walt's obsession with Charles Mintz gets more page time than his brother Roy Disney and their business partner, Ub Iwerks combined, who are the two other real-life figures mentioned in passing in the story. Many of Walt's accomplishments are vaguely mentioned in passing but are buried in the fictitious storyline. Fortunately, at the end of the book, the authors clarify where they took artistic license and briefly describe the actual historical events on which they based the story.

Am I overanalyzing a chapter book geared towards 7- to 10-year-olds? Maybe. I've met plenty of Disney enthusiasts, though, who might do the same, so I'm just warning you. If you open the book with your children looking for a biography of Disney or a historical backdrop that leads to the building of Disneyland, it is not there. The 50th Anniversary tie-in is a disappointing marketing gimmick that we've seen before this year with Disney merchandise, and that we are likely to see again for the next 12 to 16 months.

As I read it, the authors' have a noble goal: Challenge children to pursue their dreams even when they seem impossible. The historical clarifications at the end of the book are a nice touch. This book provides a good opportunity to open a discussion with young children, “What would have happened had Disney not made Steamboat Willie?” (This is a good opportunity to clarify that little misconception that cartoons would never have sound if he had failed.) The story is short and would be a good choice for children ages 7 to 10.

The Blast to the Past Series is written by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon, and published by Simon & Schuster. Disney's Dreams is the second in the series and was just released this month. The authors provide a Web site for more information about their books (link), the authors, how to purchase their titles and—as promised in the book, to learn more about Walt Disney. When you go to find more information about Walt Disney's life—the site provides links to the official Disney site and three fan sites. Although the official Simon & Schuster site has a teacher's guide available for Lincoln's Legacy the first title in the series (link), they only have a regular Web page for Disney's Dreams for now (link).

Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker

If you are looking for a biography of Walt Disney, you might check out another Simon and Schuster title, Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker, by Marie Hammontree. This book is part of the 70-year-old Childhood of Famous Americans series and was originally written in 1969. Although the book focuses on Walt Disney's childhood, it eventually chronicles his entire life in its final chapters. It is a chapter book with 192 pages

Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker is a fictionalized biography of Walt's life, told as a story with his real-life family and friends represented as characters and at times engaging in dialogue. The characters and stories are based on real people and events in Walt's life. Having been written in 1969, one early episode in the story stood out for me when Walt and his brother Roy wondered about encountering “Indians” on their train journey from Chicago to Marceline, Missouri.

The tone of the book is generally light and optimistic: Disney faces many challenges but conquers them all. Although Walt's father is a bit rough, Walt's life seems pretty happy growing up. His professional career is rather quickly glossed over at the end of the book, where it mentions his first three Mickey movies, Snow White, his projects in World War II and then Disneyland. The book rather suddenly ends with one page about honors he received, one paragraph about the California Institute of the Arts (which was profoundly influenced by Disney), and no mention of his death, which occurred three years prior to the original publication of the book.

Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker is a bit longer than Disney's Dream so the targeted age range is a little higher: 8 to 12 years. The Simon & Schuster Web site provides a generic teacher's guide for the entire Childhood of Famous Americans series (link).

Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker is available from MousePlanet advertiser MouseShoppe (link).


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Adrienne here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being Matthew and Spencer's mom.

Adrienne, Matthew and Spencer visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy.

Besides Matthew and Spencer, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain the award-winning Happiest Potties on Earth here at MousePlanet.

You can contact Adrienne here.

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