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.



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.

Buy link


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.



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.

Buy Link

Melissa and Doug Reusable Vehicle Sticker Pad – Toy Review

Durability 5 The vinyl stickers are very durable. You need to be a little bit careful when removing them for the first time.
Play quality 5 Children can do a lot with these stickers beyond the obvious of making a picture. With an adult’s input, they can learn a great deal about the modes of transportation. They can be used to tell a story like felt boards were used in the past. Kids can make up funny scenarios like my granddaughter did with the people in her picture flying to work. You can play “possible/impossible” where you take turns making a picture and decide whether it is feasible representation of reality. Children will come up with new ideas on their own.
Safety 5 I wouldn’t use these with any children under 3 years old or children who still put things in their mouth. The vinyl stickers, like balloons, are choking hazard.

Age interest 5 Children aged 3 to 6 will enjoy playing with this sticker book. The older the child, the more sophisticated the pictures will be. They will probably get to the point where they start to move stickers from one sheet to the other and  may also create an entire town. For a fun and educational afternoon, the child can create different pictures that tell a story. They can photograph them, print them out, and writing the words for a personal and impressive storybook.

 Storage and portability 3 The stickers peel off easily and go back to their original page. However, the pages rip out, which can be useful, but also tend to fall out during transportation. The package is pretty large to carry around. I wish it came with some type of envelope. This can be easily rectified by stapling together pieces of Bristol board and cutting out a handle or using a cloth bag, purchased or homemade.
Price 5 It sells for around $6.00, well worth the price.
Highly recommended.

Chad Valley Kidpad – Toy Review

Durability five stars This toy has been dropped on the floor, in the yard, in the car and on  the steps and is still going strong.
Play quality five stars There are a variety of activities to engage a child. Children learn numbers, counting, the alphabet, beginning letter sounds, songs, sounds of items and animals, shapes, and French. There is also a sing-along component.
Safety five stars The batteries are locked away  with a screw. There are no sharp edges or small pieces.
Age interest five stars This will engage three to six year olds and older children learning French.
Storage and portability five stars 19 cm X 24cm (7.5 in x 10 in) is small enough to carry in a tote. Very light.
Price five stars I bought it on sale for less than five dollars but it’s worth $20.
Highly recommended.

Lego Friends – Emma’s Photo Shop 41305

Durability four stars  The pieces do not stay together very well. For example, whenever you try to put the pet in or on the flowerpot as suggested in the pictures everything around it collapses including the pot.
Play quality three and a half stars The pets are adorable as are the little attachments you can put on them. The pictures and the camera are really cool but everything is so small and precariously connected that, whenever you try to play with it, things fall over and fall apart.
Safety five stars Definitely for children past the age of putting things in their mouths. Unfortunately, kids tend to bite the pieces apart. Don’t leave them on the floor where you walk.
Age interest four stars. My four-year-old granddaughter has been able to put together Legos in the past but this is definitely for five and up. The instruction book did not have enough detail. I found some pieces were challenging especially the light reflector and the photo printer. Small children will be fascinated by the little pieces but frustrated by the fragility.
Storage and portability four stars  It can all fit back in the box if you take it apart but you’ll have to put an elastic around it. In all likelihood the pieces will most likely mix in with all your other Legos. It’s small enough to fit in your purse if you’re bringing it to a special event to keep a child busy. If you want to keep it all together, I suggest putting the pieces in a ziplock bag before putting them in the box.
Price four stars $13.94 USD on Amazon.
$12.99 CAD at the lego store.
$11.17 CAD at Target.
$10.00 USD at ToysRUs.
Somewhat recommended.

Friends Emmas photo
Play quality.
Eight interest. I thought
This was affordable and worth the price.

Monsters on my Mind by Lauren Tortora. Book Review.

This picture book is a hardcover 8 by 10 . The illustrations grab the reader’s attention. They’re made with acrylic paint and black ink and fill the pages with bright colors. The cover shows a child frightened and hiding below a blanket. From the title and picture, it seemed the book would mostly be about monsters but they actually play a fairly small part.

I had mixed feelings about this book so I decided to solicit my granddaughter’s opinion. She’s almost 5 years old but listens to a wide variety of books, some for much older children. The book held her interest throughout.

Lily is a child who loves imagining. She practices making pictures with her mind. She snaps an imaginary shot like a camera but she also has a camera hanging around her neck in several of the pictures.  From the author’s note at the back, I figured out this was a cardboard camera. My granddaughter and I were unsure whether she was literally taking pictures.

The line between reality and imagining is difficult to discern in this book. Lily starts to make excuses for the disappearance of her mother’s silver mirror and her dad’s deck of cards by blaming it on the monsters in her room. Has her imagination taken over to the point where she is using it to excuse things she’s not supposed to do? We weren’t sure what was happening. She even blames the monsters for eating her homework. She throws away her camera.

But then she has a magical dream where in, “I didn’t remember seeing any more scary monsters! I just remembered all the fun I had with my camera by my side.” She decides to reconnect with her imagination and from that point on, she controls what she dreams. The monsters are no longer scary and she doesn’t let them get her into trouble.

We decided that the story was telling us to use our imagination but to not let it run away with us. We had an interesting discussion about whether we could really control our dreams.