Classic movie fans are always looking for ways to introduce their friends and families to their favorite films, and Ty Burr's 2007 book, The Best Old Movies for Families, is an invaluable resource for the adult cineaste who longs to educate the next generation about the delights of the silver screen. Well-written, fun, and clearly organized, Burr's book is both a good read and a useful handbook for organizing a kind of "Classic Film 101" for children of any age.
Burr helpfully divides his guides into different age groups, so you can plan a curriculum for your kindergartner or your teenager, and he also points out which films are good for all ages, in case you have to juggle the demands of a mixed group of kids. Beyond age divisions, Burr categories films by genre and also includes a section devoted to major directors and stars. These groupings are very useful because once the kids see one picture that they like they will want to see more in the same vein, and Burr always suggests a "next step" from the film being discussed so that parents won't have to wonder which movie is most likely to capitalize on the enthusiasm that has already been stimulated.
Burr employs a simple, personal style in the book; this is by no means a film school textbook, and even parents who are themselves new to the world of classic movies can appreciate and understand his writing. He doesn't assume the reader's familiarity with particular films or theories, but he writes in such a way that he never assumes one's ignorance, either. He does rely on personal anecdotes about his own experiences watching old movies with his two daughters, and, if the book has any real flaws, it might be that Burr's discussions lean more toward girl viewers' tastes. However, the breadth of the book's coverage ought to include plenty of movies that will appeal to boys, too.
Of the film books I have purchased and read in the last few years (and there have been quite a few), Burr's The Best Old Movies for Families is absolutely one of my favorites. I experimented with Burr's curriculum on my own daughter with great success; she rapidly became a huge Gene Kelly fan thanks to Singin' In the Rain (1952), and she developed quite a passion for classic musicals in general. It's worth exposing your children to classic movies just for the amusement of having them run through the house belting out "Gee, Officer Krupke" from West Side Story (1961) and quoting the "vessel with the pestle" dialogue from The Court Jester (1956). For parents looking to give their children a different kind of classical education, one that teaches wit, style, and an appreciation for all old things, Burr's book is a treasure.
Ty Burr is a film critic for the Boston Globe. His new book, Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame (2012), is due out in September. If you want more books about kids and movies, you might try Jeffrey Lyons’ 101 Great Movies for Kids (1996).
An earlier version of this review was originally posted on Examiner.com. The author retains all rights to this content.