Imaginarium Discovery Wooden Block Set – Toy Review

For ideas on how to get the most out of block play,  watch the 3 minute video here.

Durability 5 stars These blocks are tough. They don’t chip or splinter over time.
 
Play quality 5 stars The possibilities for block play are endless. Once your child has lost interest in building, check out the nontraditional ideas on the internet.
 
Safety 4 stars The edges are rounded over. They are small and light. However, there have been recalls of other Melissa & Doug Imaginarium blocks with lead paint.
 
Age interest 5 stars From two to eight, their use changes with age but there’s always a new way to use them.
Storage and portability 5 stars The bucket holds  them all neatly. As an added bonus, there is a built in shape sorter on the lid.
Price 4 stars $40-50 at ToysRUs, $50-$60 on Amazon, $84.00 at Best Buy.
 
Strongly recommended. An essential toy.
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Three Random Questions Interview with Lindsey Craig

 

 “Ms. Craig has been awarded KIRKUS BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS 2016, Best Books for Kindergarten 2017 by We the Teachers, NAAPA PARENT’S CHOICE GOLD AWARD, Wilde Awards Best Children’s Books, Fred Roger’s Best Baby Books 2011, and included in Texas 2X2 reading list. She has also received excellent and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and was featured in the New York Times Book Review.”

Bonnie Ferrante:   I have two of Lindsey Craig’s Silly Scientists picture books. My review for the  Silly Scientists Take a Tip-Toe with the Tadpoles is here and the second will be on my blog next Wednesday. Both are delightful and informative. Welcome, Lindsey. Most of your books seem to be about nature or science. Why are you drawn to these topics? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Lindsey Craig: Firstly, thank you so much, Bonnie, for taking the time to interview me. You’ve done wonderful work with your blog, interviews and excellent reviewing skills.

My interest in science and nature stems from my wild childhood of growing up on a saltwater bay in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve loved the beaches, water and surrounding forests for as long as I can remember. Nature was sacred to me even then. My younger siblings and I spent hours running about our little town, picking blackberries, swimming with the tides, sleeping under the stars, and making up stories of forest witches and sea monsters. It was a wonderful childhood, and a vital one. That is to say, I believe that nature is vital to each of us–to our very spirits–without it we are lost. It is my hope that my books will help kids find this connection to nature again.

Ferrante: Your two latest books about the Silly Scientists address the solar system and the metamorphosis of tadpoles, one huge and one tiny. Which interests you the most and why, the miniscule or the enormous?

Craig: I love learning, so both topics interested me very much. However, my book Silly Scientists Take a Peeky at the Solar System took me over a year to finish the research. I’d taken basic astronomy courses in highschool and college, but it took quite a bit more serious reading to truly understand complex phenomena such as: gravity, electromagnetism and star formations in order to explain in to children (or to myself!).  And then, putting those ideas into rhyme was particularly challenging. I was delighted to have my my NASA advisor to help me.

Ferrante: Several of your books play with sound, Farmyard Beat and Dancing Feet for example. You also used music and lyrics in your video about the solar system.  https://youtu.be/IPdDWipLC1w Why do you choose to work in this style? Can you explain the process involved in creating something like this?

Craig: Music has been a big part of my family. Someone was always banging on the piano, or singing. Though, I should say, no one sang well, believe me, but that didn’t stop any of my siblings, or me, or my own children from singing merrily.  Kids love music! They’re always be-bopping around, and I guess I am, too. My idea for the Silly Scientists Series was to make rap music that would get kids singing about science. I’d seen a woman teach disadvantaged youths with rap music, and I thought, I’ll do that, too. However, rap was too strident and negative for my ear. I love to rhyme and I wanted something more joyful, so I tried emulating Raffi (my own kids’ favorite singer) and Sesame Street’s wonderful Schoolhouse Rock. I wanted my science books to not only be fun, but to be so catchy that kids couldn’t help but learn and by that learning want to go outside and explore nature.

Ferrante: Dance also appears in more than one of your books, for example, Try Try Try. What part does dance play in your life? How does it help you with your writing?

Craig: I’ve been a dancer all my life from ballet, to jazz, and now, with my husband we’re learning swing dance. Dance like music is just a part of who I am. And again, kids love to dance. Plus, I get most of my ideas when I’m walking, and walking is a sort of dance. My stride matches my thoughts or becomes the rhythm of my rhymes.

Ferrante: In addition to your Silly Scientists books, wacky humor appears in much of your work. Do you feel it is necessary to have humor in a picture book in order to engage children today?

Craig: No, I think there are fabulous children’s book that don’t use humor. I just happen to love wacky humor. I’m kind of a silly gal, love to tell jokes, love to laugh, and often wake myself up in the night laughing. Humor is something very special and I’m glad it is in my life.

Ferrante: Why do you write for children and what do you hope to achieve by this?

Craig: Primarily I want to get kids outside into nature again.  My moto for my new Silly Scientists books is: ”Learning science, loving nature”. I believe that when you  learn about anything you start to fall in love with it. However, as much as I love nature, I also love technology, and these things are here to stay, but I think if we are to progress as human beings we need to find balance and a big part of that balanced-equation is nature. Humans need to surround themselves with trees, butterflies, bugs, rocks and especially the quiet, slowness of nature if they are to be healthy mentally and physically. I think a lot of the problems we’re seeing today are due to a lack of nature in our lives.

Ferrante: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would like to share with my readers?

Craig: Yes, boredom. I think that boredom is super important for kids because it fosters creativity. Too many kids have constant occupations, and/or distraction; and parents are way too quick to solve the “pain” of boredom (and other problems) for their kids. Nature can be super boring because it’s slow, as well as cold, uncomfortable, and messy, to name a few problems, but then, so is life. Nature teaches children so much, but those lessons are not given with the flip of a switch. To be part of nature we need to realize we’re not better than nature, or above all it’s messiness. We are nature too, just as the trees and turtles and flowers are nature, so are we.

Three Random Questions

Ferrante: What you have trouble giving away or getting rid of?

Craig: You know, not much. I am super attached to anything my children made from dioramas to handprints to  reindeer christmas ornaments. Oh, and I also love photographs. But most other things, I give away easily. My parents both died when I was in my 20s and I think giving away things is a way for me to ease that pain, because often things represent memories, and some of those memories are hard to bear, even now.

Ferrante: What scared you the most as a child?

Craig: I suppose the usual: death and not being loved. But also, I feared not being smart enough. My mom was very smart, and my two older sisters were thirteen and ten years older than me, so I often felt out of the loop. And being naturally goofy as I am didn’t help. Once my oldest sister called me stupid, and I remembering standing up to her and giving her the what for right back. Being intelligent and learning has always been important to me and I crave understanding all these incredible mysteries  around us.

Ferrante: If you could master any instrument at symphony level, what would you choose and why?

Craig: The violin. Gosh! I love the almost human-like sound of that instrument. It’s has such an eerie, otherworldly quality to it. I did play the flute in junior high. A disaster, that. But if I were to suffer through band class again, then the violin would be the instrument for me!

Thanks again, Bonnie, for this chance to talk with you and your readers.

Ferrante: Thank you, Lindsey, for sharing your wonderful work and experiences with us.

Lindsey Craig’s Links

lindseycraigsbooks.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPdDWipLC1w

https://www.facebook.com/lindseycraigschildrensbooks/

Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzles – Toy Review

Durability 5 stars Has been dropped repeatedly and still works.
 
Play quality 5 stars Children enjoy making the sounds happen over and over and over! They will experiment with the puzzle to figure out how the sounds are triggered and what happens when a wrong piece is used. The instrument puzzle is great for vocabulary extension.
 
Safety 5 stars Only for children who are past the stage of putting things in their mouths.
 
Age interest 5 stars Engages children from 3 to 5 years old.
Storage and portability 3 stars There is no storage box. Once the wrapping is removed, it needs to be kept in a box or bag.
Price 5 stars There is a large variety of sound puzzles to choose from depending on the child’s age and interests. The average price is $15.00, reasonable for a special toy that lasts and teaches.
 
Highly recommended.

Laura Monster Crusher by Wesley King. Book Review.

This book is suitable for middle-grade to early young adult. This will be a favorite with readers who love fantasy and unusual female heroes.

Laura is a big girl who has been bullied since childhood about her size. Her family moves to a new town and enrolls her in a different school to give her a fresh start. Unfortunately the bullying begins again but this time two other victims befriend her. When Laura fails to stand up for one of them, her new relationship is at risk.

But the real challenge is navigating the secret world Laura can only access through a hidden elevator in her closet. She discovers she is destined to be a monster crusher and without her rising to the challenge, her family, friends, and world are in great danger. Laura, however, is neither athletic nor nimble. Night after night, for this is when she can secretly train, Laura fails to acquire the necessary skills of a monster crusher.

The danger rises to the point of crisis when her beloved blind little brother is kidnapped by the monsters. Betrayed and vastly outnumbered, Laura must pull off a miracle in order to save her family.

The affectionate relationship between Laura and her humorous little brother, her struggle with self-identity and confidence, her desire for friends, and her reluctant courage make her an endearing and interesting hero. An enjoyable read that picks up pace and increases in suspense as it progresses. Although it has a satisfying ending, the danger is still imminent and a sequel or series is possible.

BUY LINK

Upholstered Crocheted Chair – Part Three of the Dollhouse Series

If you can crochet without a pattern or glue scraps of fabric, you can make beautiful upholstered furniture with your child.

For more pictures and detailed instructions, watch the video here.

Have your child glue craft sticks in a log cabin pattern for the seat. The square should be about 4  X 4 inches wide and deep and 2 inches high.

Have your child make the back support 4 X 4 as well but only half and inch deep.

Now it’s your turn. Crochet a 4 X 4 square. Fit it on the frame and crochet up the sides tightening the corners as you go. Once you reach this point, add the back support and stuffing.

Put glue on  the bottom 2 inches and shove it behind the seat. The crocheting will hold it in place until it dries.

Because I had cut the sticks, the edges were rough against my fingers.  I covered them with masking tape. This will make it stronger as well.

Then I crocheted the seat in smaller squares meeting in the middle. You can choose to  go from one side to the other. Whatever works for you.

Then I crocheted up the back support going around in a circle from front to back and then stitching it shut at the top.

I glued two sets of sticks together for the arms. Then I crocheted over them, sewed them shut, and sewed them to the seat and back support. I glued four squares of wood to the bottom to make it less wobbly.

The second time I tried to make it better by making the bottom separate, putting a solid bottom on, and wrapping it in tape to cover the rough edges.

Then I crocheted over the bottom and up the four sides. I made a back and glued it in place. I crocheted a square flap for the seat and put in stuffing.

Then I crocheted up and over the back and stitched it together. I glued two popscicle sticks together and crocheted over them. Then I sewed them on. Unfortunately, these are rather fragile. I glued on  feet again. This one wobbles less because of the solid bottom.

For more photographs and detail, go to https://youtu.be/I7G5IXc_2h8

Next week, making a couch and other furniture.

Grand Prix Marble Works – Toy Review

This is an older version of marble works. I bought a newer one to expand the set and found out the pieces aren’t compatible. There are several cool and intricate sets out there now but I’m just going to talk about the basics.
Durability 5 stars The first set lasted an entire generation. I even brought it to school for my students to use when my son became too old for it.
 
Play quality 5 stars This is science, problem solving, and creative play all rolled into one. Kids  may need some direction  when starting out.
 
Safety 5 stars The marbles are small enough to choke a child but this isn’t  suitable for children under three anyway. Otherwise, I  haven’t encountered any issues other than marbles rolling everywhere.
 
Age interest 5 stars Kids from four to forty  will love this. I recommend more than one box so they can really get creative. Start with a single route to the bottom and then challenge them to  create alternate paths. How can they influence which way the marbles roll? Does the type of marble matter? Can they fix a race?
Storage and portability 4.5 With a lot of patience, you can fit all  the pieces back in the box. Reinforce the edges with tape as the cardboard is rather thin.
Price 4 stars. Price for a basic set varies from $16.00 to $37.00 on Amazon so shop around on their site and other places.
*Be warned. This sucker is a NOISY activity.
 
Well recommended.

 

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.

BUY LINK

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.

Buy link