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Books and Movies: Tutoring and Education

Tiffany Smith
Jan. 24, 2010

Our favorite books and movies with a tutoring and education theme

The Care.com Editorial Team has compiled a list of our favorite books and movies with a tutoring and education theme. You'll find a wide range of both fiction and nonfiction books and movies on the topic. Refer to the list when you're stuck with nothing to do on a rainy day, or when you want to reinforce your kids' appreciation of the value of learning. Hopefully, you'll find a few books and movies that will become family favorites!

Books for families

Title: Zen Shorts

  • Author: Jon J. Muth
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: K-4
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • Date of publication: 2005
  • Review: Gorgeously illustrated, this book tells the story of a wise panda, Stillwater, who befriends three children and teaches them lessons about life. Interweaving dialogue with the children and storytelling sessions, each story's Zen-inspired principles -- such as letting go of the burden of anger -- no doubt will garner appreciation and provide important lessons for kids and adults.

Title: Zen Ties

  • Author: Jon J. Muth
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 9-12
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • Date of publication: 2008
  • Review: Stillwater strikes again (see Zen Shorts), teaching the children -- Addie, Michael, and Karl -- about compassion, friendship, and the unexpected ties that people have to one another. I especially love the multigenerational element. Elderly neighbor Miss Whitaker initially intimidates the children, but Stillwater teaches Addie, Michael, and Karl that they are, in fact, able to relate to her on several levels.

Title: Miss Nelson is Missing!

  • Author: Harry Allard (James Marshall, Illustrator)
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: Ages 4-8
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
  • Date of publication: 1985
  • Review: This was one of my favorite books as a kid and seeing my daughter absorb Miss Nelson clearly shows its longevity. When the kids in Room 207 mistreat their teacher Miss Nelson into disappearing, they learn the consequences of their behavior -- and how to turn it around -- when whip cracking substitute Miss Viola Swamp shows up.

Title: The Dangerous Book for Boys

  • Author: Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: 'Tweens and up
  • Publisher: Collins
  • Date of publication: 2007
  • Review: For parents eager for more hands-on activities and less TV/video, check out The Dangerous Book for Boys, which provides excellent inspiration for inquiry. The book offers a descriptive and pictorial how-to on everything from survival (knots, first aid, spy codes, tree houses), to gadgets (batteries, timers and tripwires), to literacy (grammar, poetry, Latin phrases), to sporting rules, to world history and landmarks, to tales of bravery and adventure.

Title: The Daring Book for Girls

  • Author: Andrea Buchanan & Miriam Peskowitz
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Reading type: Family reading
  • Reader age group: 'Tweens and up
  • Publisher: Collins
  • Date of publication: 2007
  • Review: Appropriately desiring equality, The Daring Book for Girls came out after The Dangerous Book for Boys and is similar in coverage of survival, literacy, sport, and history. Girls also explains topics and rules vaguely understood during my days in the schoolyard (palm reading, hopscotch, jump rope, friendship bracelets), and ones I'm keen to learn about now (how to tie a sari or put your hair up with a pencil, and offers information on some fabulous women in history).

Movies for families

Title: Akeelah and the Bee

  • Genre: Children & family
  • Director: Doug Atchinson
  • Date of Release: 2006
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: A young girl seeks to spell her way to a better life.
  • Review: How can you not root for an underprivileged 'tween attempting to make a better life for herself via her talent for spelling? Although central character Akeelah Anderson struggles to find support from her mother, she rocks her way to the National Spelling Bee thanks to her talents, plus the encouragement of school staff. This film should inspire kids who have a dream -- even one that their parents may not share -- showing them that by pursing that dream, and eventually excelling at it, they may find that their parents ultimately come around.

Title: Dead Poets Society

  • Genre: Drama, teens
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Date of Release: 1989
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: A teacher inspires students to follow their dreams.
  • Review: Central character Neil Perry suffers a tragic end, but that doesn't take away from the inspiring impact that Dead Poets Society can have on teens to "seize the day." Robin Williams (also excellent in a similar mentoring role in Good Will Hunting) encourages students via poetry to live life to the fullest and go after their dreams.

Title: Mad Hot Ballroom

  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Marilyn Agrelo
  • Date of Release: 2005
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: Ballroom dancing is taught to elementary students in New York City
  • Review: This film is gritty yet full of joy. Ballroom dancing is part of gym class. Many of the kids have never seen this type of dancing -- some are reluctant to try it. Their teachers are motivating and kind while handling tough issues facing inner-city schools. The kids share their dreams and fears with the camera artlessly. The all-school dance competition at the end is the best kind of tear-jerker. Groups of kids dance their hearts out and parents go crazy for the success of their kids and love of their teachers. My kids loved the film!

Title: Music of the Heart

  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Wes Craven
  • Date of Release: 1999
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: A music teacher battles to bring music to impoverished kids.
  • Review: Based on a real person, the story of a violinist teacher battling to bring music to Harlem kids could be seen as sappy, but it's tough not to be inspired by Meryl Streep's passionate portrayal. This story will appeal to parents with a similar desire to keep the arts alive in school and no doubt will make kids who currently enjoy the benefits of public and private music and art lessons grateful for what they have.

Title: The Karate Kid

  • Genre: Children & family, teens
  • Director: John G. Avildsen
  • Date of Release: 1984
  • Rating: PG
  • Basic Plot: A martial arts teacher teaches a young student lessons on life, love, and martial arts.
  • Review: A lot of spoofs (think crane position) emerged from The Karate Kid, but this movie actually carries helpful lessons for teens. Through the teaching relationship between Danny LaRusso and his martial arts teacher, Mr. Miyagi, cultures and generations intersect and complement one another. And through Mr. Miyagi's lessons, Danny also learns to follow his heart and stand up, successfully, to bullies.

Title: The Miracle Worker

  • Genre: Classics, classic dramas, biography
  • Director: Arthur Penn
  • Date of release: 1962
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Basic Plot: Basic Plot: A teacher's creativity and persistence break through the sense-deprived world of Helen Keller.
  • Review: The Miracle Worker was probably the first biography I saw as a little girl and seeing the grit and development of Helen Keller made a huge impact on me. The story -- which recounts how Helen's parents were at their wit's end in handling their daughter's tempestuous behavior, and how teacher Annie Sullivan was called in, and with persistence and creativity got through to Helen and helped her learn to communicate -- should inspire families of any children with learning problems or special challenges.

    Tiffany Smith is the senior associate editor here at Care.com. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter @tiffanyiswrite.
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