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Red, White & True Mysteries Review by Melissa Theberge

Paul Niemann
2614 South 24th Street
Quincy, IL 62305

Quick, humorous, and engaging--that's what these mini mysteries are. Created and staged with a youthful audience in mind, these 60-second video segments entertain adults as much as they educate kids. Jam-packed with historical American biographies, these DVDs highlight the famous and the not-so-famous in brief vignettes that can be enjoyed over and over again. The "who am I?" format gives the viewer a chance to learn about adventurers, politicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, and more.

Paul Niemann is talented in his humor, his costuming, his delivery, and his ability to piece together an informative and educational product in such a unique format. There are three DVDs, each with ten mysteries. In total, each DVD takes only ten minutes to view, and I must confess that I was immediately wishing all 30 videos had been placed on one DVD rather than three, partially for the convenience it would be to have it all one disc. Nonetheless, these mini-movies are well produced and worthwhile. Each mystery begins with Niemann introducing himself and inviting the viewer to guess who he is. He then launches into a mini biography of an historical figure while wearing an informal and sometimes humorous costume. Some of the information would be considered fairly common knowledge, but other information is a bit more obscure and unusual, which makes it fun for adults too. Each minute-long segment concludes with Niemann sharing the answer to the mystery.

The videos incorporate several digitally produced features. During Niemann's character presentation, blue information boxes pop up around him, reviewing key information or dates for a visual aid. In addition, a black-and-white sketch related to the topic appears as an overlay, which adds interest and aids in identifying the mystery person. These sketches have a slightly cartoonish look to them, but they also aid in memory long after viewing, making it possible for our family to recall certain stories much later on.

The set is also digitally produced, though it is quite realistic. Niemann is actually a live character who is essentially placed into a digital set where he stands at a table covered with diagrams, a pencil, test tubes, a baseball glove, and other somewhat random items that a creative time-traveler might need. He is the sole actor in essentially every video, frequently changing into several costumes to suit the story he's telling. Some costumes are quite elaborate, and others involve nothing more than a shawl. Regardless of the outfit, the quick-paced monologue holds interest and ends in what becomes a familiar and entertaining closing where he tells the answer to the biographical mystery and then says with a smile, "But you knew that all along, didn't ya." Then he makes a humorous reference to the imaginary "satellite office" that he is supposedly broadcasting from. If you listen closely, these references are related to the story he just told, making the entire viewing experience entertaining to the last second.

While these mysteries are not specifically designed with homeschoolers in mind, they could be used to accompany history, literature, science, or any other topic that references the historical figures highlighted in the series. Once we enjoyed one video, we just had to watch more, which makes them great family entertainment as well. The only drawback is that the 30 mysteries are divided into three separate DVDs, making them a bit more expensive than I expected.

While these mysteries would not be the highest priority in my tight homeschooling budget, we truly enjoyed them and will use them repeatedly. If visual media is effective and motivating in your homeschool, Red, White & True Mysteries would be an asset.

Product review by Melissa Theberge, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2010