July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

Hip and easygoing without being condescending, this 32-minute tape provides an introduction to American history for children up to about fifth grade. It combines animated vignettes from ABC-TV’s Schoolhouse Rock! series with live, transitional segments hosted by Cloris Leachman. Leachman seems an odd choice, wearing a headband and flouncing around while she sings, “Clapping our hands/ Tapping our feet/ Learning while we dance/ To a crazy beat.” The animated sections, though, are lively and backed by clever songs. The project’s musical director, Bob Dorough, also was an unlikely choice—he’s a pony-tailed, cool-jazz pianist-singer. But the tunes are adroitly turned. Lynn Ahrens’ song about the Mayflower includes the lines, “They finally knocked/ On Plymouth Rock/ And someone said, ‘We’re there/ It may not look like home/ But at this point I don’t care.” Dave Frishberg adds a tune about the legislative process: “The Congressmen discuss and debate/ Whether they should let me be a law/ How I hope and pray that they will/ But today I am still just a bill.” Dorough’s own women’s rights ditty is based on the refrain, “We were suffering/ Until suffrage.” The music and witty animation make it likely that children will watch the tape more than once, and their parents may learn something too. (Golden Book, $9.95)

(Thaddeus Novak, 7, adds, “What I like mostly is the songs, because they usually sort of rhyme.”)

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