Melissa and Doug – Hammer and Bench Toy Review

Durability four stars The toy is made out of wood and it looks like it would last a while. I don’t know how well it would handle severe pounding since my granddaughter didn’t play with it much because it doesn’t work.
Play quality one star The holes are too big for the pegs. Not only do they fall right through if you hammer them once but sometimes they slide through on their own. I had to line the holes with felt to make them grip the pegs. Even then it doesn’t work very well.

Safety two stars There are no sharp edges. I don’t know if the pegs would splinter with a lot of pounding but the hammer looks like it might. However, I would not give this to a child under three as the pegs are easy to jam into a child’s throat. There should be a stopper at the top and bottom of the pegs so they can’t be removed from the bench.


Age interest two stars The idea is suited for children two and three years old but the product isn’t.

Storage and portability three stars It’s easy to carry and light however the hammer could easily be left behind as well as any pegs which have rolled away.

Price one star It was $10. It wasn’t worth a dollar.
NOT recommended.

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Deborah Bruss. Illustrated by Louie Chin. Book Review.

This humorous picture book imagines what would happen if you asked for help with birthday party preparations and participation from dinosaurs. Although this scenario is obviously totally imaginary, the names and illustrations of the dinosaurs are up-to-date and informative. The children’s favorites, like tyrannosaurus rex, iguanadon, and stegosaurus are there, but some may be new to the reader such as deinocheirus, argentinosaurus, and aliopleurodon.

I like the fact that a brother and sister are having a birthday together. They look as though they could be twins. Hopefully this will entice boys to read the book as much as girls. When the children solicit the dinosaurs’ help, they discover that the rezinosaurus cannot blow up balloons without popping them with his long claws and a tanystropheus will become entangled in the decorations due to his long neck. Each page is filled with humorous situations featuring dinosaurs trying to do the impossible.

I was pleased to find a small glossary at the back with an interesting fact or two about each of the dinosaurs. For example, the argentinosaurus was probably the heaviest of all weighing as much as 1500 people.

What makes this a cut above similar books is the tight and inventive rhyming. The reader cannot help but be impressed at Esenwine’s mastery of rhyme and rhythm using long and complex dinosaur names. “Don’t ask an ankylosaurus to come in through the gate or a tanystropheus to help you decorate.”

The illustrations effectively portray the children’s frustration and  laughter at the unfolding disaster. The text is seamlessly superimposed over the full page spreads.

Kids who like Robert Munsch, dinosaurs, or books about party disasters will love Don’t Ask a Dinosaur.

The authors will be interviewed April 25, 2018.

Recycled Sundays – Animal Karma

I am relieved to see that our Canadian animals are not following in the violent footsteps of their Old World Counterparts. I do hear stories of bear and cougar attacks every summer and nod. These animals know we are the enemy. They’ve seen us destroy their homes, clearcutting and pollution being the favored methods. They have watched us trap, poison, and shoot their kin. It’s open warfare.

What scares me is when the attacks come from an unexpected source — hoofed farm animals, for example.

I must admit, though, they were provoked. I had previously thought that inbreeding eliminated that wild eye for an eye, fang for a fang trait. Unfortunately, domestic animals have begun to show their true colors.

For example, in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Spain, the villagers drop a goat from the church belfry to start a religious festival. My first reaction upon hearing this was, what religion thinks this is a good idea? Is this the Church of the Holy Splattered Ruminants? These people have bats in their belfry. Each year, (I’m not making this up), the townspeople toss a goat from the 14 meter high belfry, catch it in a tarp, and release it, suffering only from vertigo and a new mistrust of crowds. This feat begins the Festival of Saint Vincent, the town’s patron saint. He was famous for his works of charity, especially to the sick, old, and orphaned. He must have had a taste for kid pancakes.

Fortunately, local police force lept to the defense of the goat. Unfortunately, villagers refused to take this butting in. They attacked the police at the last festival, and the journalists for good measure. It seems the only one who walked away unharmed was the goat.

Another hoofed fellow didn’t fare as well. A Romanian farmer in December 1991 wanted to clean the skin from his slaughtered pig. He usually used a vacuum cleaner to inflate the pig and burn straw over the skin to remove the hair. Do you suppose that’s where they got the idea of the giant Miss Piggy as a parade balloon?

The farmer’s vacuum broke so he used bottled gas. The pig went whole hog on revenge, exploding and injuring the farmer who spent three days in the hospital. I wonder whether a man who ignites a gas-filled creature should be allowed to work with sharp garden tools.

This is the kind of behavior I might expect from animals who have been treated as nothing better than a vegetable for consumption. But I didn’t expect vengeance from man’s best friend.

Last winter in Moscow, Gennady Danilov, at the young age of 33, was shot by his dog. His dog got his hind legs caught in a trap while they were out hunting. When Danilov tried to free him, the animal struggled and made the rifle discharge.

So far, these acts of vengeance have not spread to North America. Perhaps they are still to come by the poor unfortunate animals we use and abuse. However, I live with three cats. I would never allow my children to toss them. I lock the felines in the basement whenever I am working with any flammable substances. No firearms are allowed on the premises. But deep down I know this is futile. When they study me with six gleaming yellow eyes, I try not to imagine what kind of revenge they are planning in return for the last trip to the vet.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, June 14, 1992

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.

Recycled Sundays – Defensive Ballroom Dancing

My husband and I are learning how to ballroom dance. I’ve always liked dancing but never learned the difference between a box step and an I-stepped-on-his-foot step.
Square dancing is experiencing a revival. It looks like fun too, although I am kept from participating by the music. Country and western gives me a nervous twitch. The lyrics make me want to slap the person next to me. The nasal twang makes me want to kick them while they’re down. But the intricate steps and choreography are impressive.
So, too, with ballroom dancing. It’ll be a long time before I can ever cha cha with Charro or Viennese Waltz without counting under my breath but I like a challenge.
The most reassuring thing about dance classes is that everyone struggles together. We all learn at our own rate and since I’m in the couples class, we bring our own encouragement. The confidence is most noticeable in men. Remember in school when we learned square and folk dances? The boys all turned into Jerry Lewis. As adults, they have weathered worse and survived. The travelling step isn’t as daunting when you have lived through parenting or job loss or divorce.
We practice our steps separately at first and the males are a joy to watch. Every man has his own style. One keeps his mouth tightly closed in determined concentration. A dust molecule couldn’t penetrate those compressed lips. One blushes brightly when he stumbles, seemingly unaware that four or five other guys have made exactly the same mistake. The older gentleman is as smooth and debonair as Fred Astaire while the younger fellow performs with the rigid precision of a military drill. One dances to the beat of a different drummer. Then there’s the totally in control gum chewer who not only remembers the steps and keeps the beat but doesn’t even seem to bite his tongue.
The women watch from the sidelines as their partners learn a new step. They parade past us like graceful peacocks each subtly flaring their invisible feathers. They boogie, rock, sizzle and strut. Of course, it’s easier for them to look good since they get to go forwards. They are most challenged practicing the spins. I imagine it’s because they didn’t have the opportunity to spin in a flared dress as a child like many of the women have.
When we women practice, we have to dance backwards without anyone to lead us away from each other. Since most of us are wearing heels, we move rather tentatively, not wanting to impale the woman behind us onto the gym floor.
Finally we get to dance together. The instructor calls out the men’s steps. The women must reverse the footing and do it while dancing backwards. So, we struggle with gender imposed restrictions, one step forward and two steps back, madly translating the dominant patterns until it makes sense from our point of view – just like real life, eh? Later on we get to change partners and try to accommodate a different man’s body shape and size with its unique rhythms.
At this point I am anything but graceful. I sweat like a high school gymnast without a bucket of chalk dust. I vary between counting the beat and reciting, “long, long, short, short” like a tribal chant. Not exactly the romantic exchange I had in mind when we started.
My husband has trouble leading. It’s the first time in eighteen years I’ve let himcontrol me without an argument. When my husband asks the female instructor for help, she offers to go through the steps with him. He hesitates, hands raise and asks, “Are you being a lady?” She laughs good naturedly and says, “That’s questionable.”
Our favorites are the polka and the tango. I give my husband a little extra room so he doesn’t bang my sore knees when we twist in the polka. He gives me a lot of extra room when we do the lunge in the tango. He’s learned that falling to the floor and clutching oneself is not an option in ballroom dancing. We’re getting pretty good since we learned to dance defensively.




Don’t Ask a Dinosaur Blog Tour

April 6:       Michelle H. Barnes (Interview w/month-long writing prompt)

April 8:       Kate Narita (Trailer & activity sheet spotlight)

April 11:     Deborah Kalb (Interview w/Matt & Deb)

April 13:     Yours Truly (Interview w/Louie)

April 16:     KidLit Exchange (Blog post re: process of illustration)

April 17:     Momma’s Bacon (and I’ll be promoting the book’s release on my blog, as well)

April 18:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD review)

April 19:     Brenda Harsham (micro review)

April 25:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD interview)

May 2:        Unleashing Readers

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.


Recycled Sundays – Brick by Freaking Brick

When my husband – Mr. not so handy – and I – Mrs. impossible ideas – bought a home needing “a bit of work“ we consulted an interior decorator. The only good advice she gave us was to move the bedroom dressers side-by-side. Another suggestion was to re-brick the fireplace.
The real bricks in the tiny corner fireplace had been painted white to match the plastic ones on the upper half. The decorator recommended a kit that included half inch clay bricks, a cutting instrument, and mortar. It should take a weekend to complete.
We purchased enough materials to cover both the real and plastic bricks. Whenever a clay brick needed to be cut, I was to repeatedly score the line with the cardboard cutter-like instrument until the brick could be snapped in two. Sounded easy.
I laid out old newspapers and began. By the third day, I had completed the bottom two rows of the fireplace. Each brick had to be held in place for 20 minutes for the mortar to partially set.
Slicing the bricks progressed at the pace of a legless turtle. I measured the size of the brick needed, drew a straight line on the surface and scored – a misleading term for scratching. The instrument had the sharpness of a tomato. My nostrils were plugged with clay dust and I tasted like the inside of a kiln. After 40 minutes, the brick was scored enough to risk snapping it in two. Then I started over since it only broke properly every fourth time.
When we were half finished the neighbour expressed doubts that our floor could hold the extra weight. We can kept going.
At the three-quarter‘s completed mark we encountered little indented and protruding shelves which required scoring of dozens of bricks. We kept going.
We ran out of mortar. We ordered more and kept going.
Four months later we were finished. I had blisters, lung damage, and a hunched back. All that was left was to clean the draperies, furniture, and rugs. When the mortar dried completely we realized the last part, done with the second shipment, was a different shade. I resisted the urge to sledgehammer the whole fireplace.
At a party, our host said he had done similar work in his basement. We went to see. Two entire walls, floor to ceiling, were covered with thin clay bricks. I fell to my knees in homage.
“How long did this take you?“ I gasped.
“The long weekend.“
I demanded to know his secret, rambling on about my frustrating scoring and the box of broken bricks.
“I rented a machine,“ he explained. “You just plug it in, set the size , and feed in the brick. Cuts it perfectly every time.“
Our new home has a fireplace too. It’s a black metal Franklin stove. There isn’t a brick in sight.
First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
Sunday, September 16, 1990

Pukey Poetry – Tale Ticklers by Mz Millipede by Dorianne Allister Winkler. Book review.

First, I have to say that the illustrations in this book are hilarious. The pages are jam-packed with wonky, colorful, and detailed pictures. As well, kids will love looking for the millipede in each double spread and examining the gross elements.
As you can tell from the title, the poems are a collection of silly topics, many disgusting, that children will love. Winkler writes about a giant lollipop, a man who never cuts his toenails, and eating bugs. Children will love the topics though you might want to skip the one about the monster under the bed for your littlest listener.
All the poems are written in some style of rhyme. They are all entertaining and enjoyable but some vary in technical achievement. While they rhyme well, the changingsyllabication sometimes breaks the beat. On the whole children probably won’t mind in the least.
The most impressive poems are Toe-Jam Sam, Wafflerus or Pandacake, (a very clever take on a zany breakfast), and Secret Feast.
The style of these poems reminds me of the Canadian treasure, Dennis Lee. Reluctant readers who love gross stuff will actually sit down with this book. Parents who can get right into the mood of being thrilled by disgusting things are sure to make their children laugh and enjoy reading time.