Loony Over Toons

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"Mama, that's Jerry's cousin Larry. He's a really good magician," Grace, 7, tells me with complete certainty as we're watching "Tom and Jerry." Since neither Tom nor Jerry ever speak a word, I realize she has deduced her facts from observing only moments of action and music.

When I ask how she knows all this, she says, "They're cousins because they hugged each other like family." She adds, "He's a magician because he's wearing a magic hat (top hat), a cape, and has a wand." And as for the name Larry, she explains that his suitcase had his name on it. So much for my powers of observation.

This whole interaction gets me thinking about animated shows and how Grace's "old school" choices all seem to follow a certain format that's short on dialogue. After watching many of my favorite shows again with Grace, I realize these characters -- Tom and Jerry, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, the Pink Panther, and the classic Mickey Mouse -- rely on music, action, zany sound effects, and the occasional label or sign to communicate most of the story, which leaves a lot of room for kids to use their imaginations to put the pieces together.

Deciphering the stories has become a little tradition between Grace and me. I'll nonchalantly ask what's happening in a cartoon and will get the funniest or most creative narrative based on her version of the story.

And while I love the golden oldies, Grace does fit some 21st century stuff into her TV-viewing budget -- "Kim Possible" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" -- which conversely requires me to explain things. And we've discovered a new show that fits right in with our vintage favorites: a claymation series with characters spun off from the "Wallace and Gromit" series, called "Shaun the Sheep" (www.shaunthesheep.com/).

As a parent, it's a little dose of liberation to approach the TV (usually the sworn enemy) in a more lighthearted manner. And while I'll never advocate for more TV time for my kids, I have found a way to look at things a little differently.

Have you found yourself watching cartoons with your kids? Which ones do you prefer they watch? Click the comments link below to share ideas.

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Loony Over Toons

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