Bonjour! Let’s Learn French by Judy Martialay. Book Review.

This part textbook part picture book would be an excellent addition to a French Immersion or Core French classroom. It would also be wonderful for a parent to share with a child who is learning French.

While it tells the story a group of children building a sandcastle and a little snail declaring himself king of Le Chateau, the child is exposed to basic French vocabulary.  It employs humor and a bit of drama to old a child’s interest. Also included are list of common words, a skit, information on French culture, a song, and even a section on Monet the artist and a follow-up activity. There is enough information and plenty of activities to make this book a favorite.

The best thing about this book is the site that goes along with it. http://www.Polyglotkidz.Com expands on the information in the textbook. For those of us whose French is less than bilingual, an hour long download is available that gives the correct pronunciation for everything in the book.

I was dismayed to learn “only 25% of public and private elementary schools in the US offer any form of language instruction.” Because Canada is a dual-language country, French instruction begins generally in grade 4 unless you enroll your child in immersion which begins in senior kindergarten. The cultural, mental, social, and economic benefits of second languages are irrefutable. This book would be valuable in any situation working with children 10 years old and under.



Lighting (without electrical skills) – Part Two of the Dollhouse Series

The deeper the dollhouse and the fewer windows, the darker the interior. Here are some ideas for lighting up the rooms that your child can do with you.

Purchase strings of LED mini lights. As they become more common, the price is dropping. Tape them to the ceilings.

Only under total adult supervision should flood lights be added. They get really HOT! But, if your child wants to make a video, they’re great. Positioning in front is the best for lighting but too close to the child for safety. I mounted them beside the dollhouse and pointed them through the windows. I blocked the access. The second floor window should be bigger for this.

Another idea is to add battery operated tea lights. They can sit on the furniture.

Little tea light holders are fun and easy to make. Buy craft sticks like this at the dollar store. You also need the little wooden cubes.

Cut the circle away from the handle. Glue the circle in the middle supported by the cube. Have your child paint it gold or white or whatever she chooses.

Tape them to the wall. (Note,  tape doesn’t stick well to fabric but works on peel and stick paper.)

Try out other ways of using the tea lights in table lamps, floor lamps, chandeliers. The sky’s the limit.

Calico Critters Adventure Tree House – Toy Review

Durability 3 stars The tree houses made  of somewhat brittle plastic. dropping the tree or some of the pieces onto a hard tile floor could damage them.
Play quality 5 stars There are tons of little engaging pieces that will delight lovers of miniatures. There are nooks and crannies and numerous ways to adjust the furniture. The Calico Critters can have a barbecue, play on the small or large slide, go on a swing, read a book, or even play with their own miniature dollhouse. How cute is that? If you lose the critters, duplo people work just as well.
Safety 4 stars There are a lot of tiny, tiny pieces so this needs to be kept well away from children under 3 years old. It needs a decent space to avoid tripping over little furniture. Falling on this tree would really hurt.
Age interest 5 stars Children aged three to seven or eight will love this toy. Kids who pass the age of playing with cutsie little critters could certainly adapt this to a Lego treehouse or a pirate Island.
Storage and portability 2 stars As you can see from the picture, once you have set the Treehouse up, it isn’t portable. There are numerous small and large pieces, some missing from this picture, such as the large slide. It doesn’t stay on very well and so often gets  misplaced. The toy doesn’t come close to going back into the box. It needs a very large box for storage even if you take it apart every time you put it away.
Price 3 stars This is an example of huge price variations. I bought this on impulse from Toys R Us because it was regularly well over $100 on sale for 40% off. I see now that it is priced $70 on Amazon, currently $45 on sale. I really should learn to look up my impulse buys on my cell phone before heading to the cash register. It was a very expensive toy.
Recommended but shop around.

Blackflies by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Jay Odjick. Book Review.

This book follows the typical style for Robert Munsch of silliness and repetitive phrases. The thing I loved about it was that it takes place in the  Canadian North, in a community similar to many around Thunder Bay. It starts off in such a familiar way that it made me laugh out loud.

Helen gets up one morning and is thrilled to find the snow is gone and it is finally spring. But when she opens the door the black flies and mosquitoes drive her back inside. While it usually doesn’t all happen on the same day, this is a sadly repetitive scenario for those of us who live in the North. Children who live in this area, and similar locations across Canada, will completely identify with the protagonist. Although the family is of Aboriginal descent, the insect attacks will connect with everyone  who has had similar experiences.

I was happy to see that the family in this book was First Nations and the artist was from the Kitigin Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin community. While Aboriginal children are used to seeing native artists, it is inspiring to see someone using their talent to create picture books for the very young.

It would make a great gift for anyone who’s been driven indoors by mosquitoes and blackflies. Northern blackflies are not what you might be thinking. They are tiny insects that can get through needle size holes. In spite of their tininess, they take a good chunk out of your skin when they bite.

It is also terrific that Helen is the hero who saves her family from being overcome by the blood-sucking bugs of the North. I’m gratified to see more books with female heroes.

It is very difficult to find funny, picture books that feature First Nations families but connect with everyone. This is sure to become a classroom or camp favorite.

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Building (without carpentry skills) – Part One of the Dollhouse Series

There’s no need for hammer or nails or saw, just a trip to the dollar store. Your child can help with some or all of the construction depending on her age.

Assign a large work area where the dollhouse can be left in progress for several days. Trying to do it in one day is too much.

Purchase 12 or more styrofoam craft sheets from the dollar store for $1.50 each as well as several bottles of Lepages glue. You’ll benefit from a glue gun as well. This will allow you to work faster. Your child can spread the white glue and you can use the glue gun. If you’re making a two-storey, dowels or something similar can be handy.

Use three full sheets and two half sheets to create a box. At this point you are only using the glue gun.

Glue on a second layer for strength but make the pieces overlap the way you would lay bricks. Do this by scoring and bending the styrofoam but not splitting it. Have your child spread white glue all over the piece. You hot glue gun the edges. This will hold it in place while the white glue dries and you can keep working. If you are going to do a second floor, make a third layer for strength. You can clamp the edges together while it dries. I also glued two pieces together and made a half wall for extra support. I just hot glued that in place.

For more strength, I added pillars to the back corners. I was making a three storey so the bottom box would need to hold a lot of weight. I scored a piece of styrofoam to make it like a fan or accordion bellows. Then I soaked it with glue and wrapped it with masking tape.

I glued these into the back two corners. Be sure you cut the first piece the right height to fit snugly.

This is a good spot to stop for the day. That will give the glue time to set well.

I was concerned about the front of the storey sagging in the middle. If you’re only doing one floor or a one-and-a-half- storey, you can skip this.

I thought I could try to make a header for extra support. Using the cheap dollar store imitation legos at $5.00 a box (probably using almost three boxes) we made a 4 X 6 peg pillar. You and your child can work on this at the same time and then join your pillars to make one.

We used some scrap pieces to extend the top and then taped some craft dowels  to spread the support out.

We covered the post with the same sticky paper as we used to wallpaper the walls.

On the second floor, we just made three pillars for the two front corners and the middle. I taped them in place with heavy duty clear tape.

Pick a day to gather wall covering. Cheap sticky paper is available at the dollar store but it can be frustrating to  use. It’s a two or three person job. They also have small rolls of  fabric you can glue on the walls or floor. Be careful not to make the second floor too heavy with thick flooring. Let your child do as  much as possible. It won’t be perfect, but it will be hers.

You can use anything you like for wallpaper, flooring, or paint. I discovered it was super dark inside, so I added a window. This would have been easier to do as I went along. Too many windows will weaken the structure so use caution on the bottom floor.

I let my granddaughter pick the colors, etc. It’s her doll house so it doesn’t need to be showcase perfect. I printed out picture frames and she drew the art inside to tape to the walls.  You could use real picture frames but be careful how much weight you add to the second floor.

On another day, we built a half-storey and roof-top garden out of Duplo.

Next week: How to light the interior of the dollhouse when you aren’t an electrician. Ideas for you and your child.



Card Holder and Shuffler – Toy Reviews

In this high-tech era, the simple joy of playing cards is often overlooked. Cards can teach numeracy, addition, sequence, pattern, probability, remembering location, and matching. As well, children practice taking turns, following rules, accepting loss and win with grace, patience, hand-eye coordination, and social interaction. Families make more eye contact with each other than they do with video games.

We started with Go Fish, a simplified once through the deck version of War, and Concentration.

Here are two items that can assist the littlest child with card playing.

Durability 4 stars Made of thick plastic. Can be dropped and banged but could break with enough force.
Play quality 4 stars Holds five cards comfortably. Seven is a little tricky as two cards can accidentally be pulled at the same time.
Safety 5 stars Rounded edges, comfortable to hold.
Age interest 5 stars Can be used by anyone. Because Parkinson’s makes holding cards awkward, I’ve used it from time to time.
Storage and portability 5 stars Can be slipped into a purse or large pocket along with a deck of cards.
Price 5 stars Usually less than $5.00
Highly recommended.


Even small children want to take turns shuffling. This makes its possible without a mess.

Durability 5 stars This is my third card shuffler. It has already far outlasted the other two. I don’t know how long it will hold up, but after a few months it is still going strong.
Play quality 5 stars With the hassle of shuffling simplified, it’s much easier to enjoy playing cards with little ones. (I use it because Parkinson’s makes me clumsy.)
Safety 4 stars Little ones need to be taught to keep their fingers away from the wheels when the are running or they could get a friction burn. The box says 8 and up but younger children can use it UNDER VERY CLOSE ADULT SUPERVISION.
Age interest 5 stars Great for all card players.
Storage and portability 5 stars Slides easily back into the box. Can fit in a tote bag.
Price 3 stars  The  price varies from $10 to $50. I wouldn’t pay more than $20.
Well recommended.

Sunny Days by Jesse Byrd. Illustrated by Anastasia Ku. Book Teview.

This large 8 by 10 inch picture book is printed on sturdy glossy paper. The large format would make it ideal to share with children. The illustrations are double-page spreads featuring an expressive and lovable little girl named Martine.

Martine is a shouter. She is so happy that she inadvertently startles her neighbors with herenthusiasm. In spite of this, she is well-liked. She loves her neighborhood and the people in it. One day disaster strikes when a terrible rain storm damages much of the neighborhood. It loses its beauty and sense of community. People become depressed and isolated.

Martine refuses to succumb to despair. She walks around naming the sunny days the way the meteorologists named the storm. When she tells the barber this, he talks to others and people’s  attitude slowly changes. They begin to prepare their community. Martine helps whenever possible. Then they throw a neighborhood party to celebrate.

Although this is a story of great loss and recovery, the tone is upbeat and funny. There are so many things to discuss especially with regard to attitude, support, and rebuilding. In an era where climate change is bringing wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, ice storms, and more, this is a timely book to share with children and to remind adults that we are only as strong as we think we are.



If You Catch a Dragon

If anyone has sitting disease in addition to office workers and computer programers, it surely must be writers and illustrators. I’m not sure if it’s because I have Parkinson’s or I am getting older but I’ve become more obsessive about finishing something when I start it. It’s a bit disconcerting when the sorest part of your body is your butt, especially when I have so many sore parts.

One of my latest projects is a redo of If You See a Dragon now titled If You Catch a Dragon. My original illustrations were a quirky experiment that did not go over well. So I am redoing them with actual pictures of dragons. I did, however, stretch the concept of how a dragon should look in some spots. I’ve also polished up the rhyme and will be producing a video where I chant/rap the book aloud. Here are some of the illustrations. Let me know what you think.

Animal Ring Toss – Toy Review

Durability 5 The pieces are made from painted wood and rope. So far they have survived well but I believe that they shouldn’t be thrown or banged together to keep them looking good.
Play quality 5 It’s great to have an indoor activity (which could also be used outside) that encourages large motor skills and physical movement. Children learn the names of the animals and the colors as well. If you keep score, children learn how to add higher numbers. With encouragement, they can develop throwing strategies for better accuracy. Children can play alone or with a friend. There are enough rings for four people. It could be a fun center for a children’s birthday party,
Safety 5 Children should be encouraged not to run up to the pegs. Although, if they fell on them, they would likely not hurt themselves. The animal pegs have large heads and round edges. There are no stand-alone posts. Even though the pieces interlock like jigsaw puzzles, they would tip over easily if a child fell on them. They are built with safety in mind.
Age interest 5 Children 3 years of age and up will love playing this game. Just adjust the starting line closer or farther depending on the child’s development. It’s a game even adults will enjoy.
Storage and portability 5 All the pieces fit easily back in the sturdy box. You may have to reinforce it with some tape if the lid starts to tear.
Price 5 I purchased it on sale for $12 Canadian at Home Sense.I would definitely pay double that for it since it seems to be more safely designed than a lot of Peg Toss games out there.
Highly recommended.

Backyard Fairies by Phoebe Wahl. Book review.

This is a delightful picture book for the imaginative child. There are only a few words on each page; the detailed and intriguing gardens filled with secretive hidden fairies dominate.

If I remember my grammar lessons correctly, the book is written in present perfect tense thereby pulling the reader into the story and engaging them in imaginative response. It is also written in a gentle pattern of rhyming couplets. It begins, ” Have you ever found, while out on your own…/A tiny, magical somebody’s home?”  The illustration shows a little girl examining a tree stump with an opening perfect for habitation.

As the story continues, the little girl searches everywhere for fairies who unknown to her, are within Arm’s Reach. There are also other magical creatures like a rock gnome. The child leaves a gift for the fairies. It vanishes overnight and they give something to her. My granddaughter and I were so delighted to read this part. We have made fairy doors in her garden and done exactly that.

The reader  empathizes with the little girl who, despite her thoroughness and determination, is unable to spot a fairy. She goes to bed wondering if they really exist. During her sleep, fairies fly in with flowers and create a wreath for her head. She wakes up in the morning wearing it.

Phoebe Wahl not only writes her own text but does her own illustrations. They are incredibly detailed and intriguing. This is a special book that your child will ask to hear over and over and never tire of finding all the fairies.

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