Category Archives: review

You’re My Little Cuddle Bug: A perfect gift for your baby or toddler (Book Review)

I always choose a book for my children’s Easter basket and if I had babies or toddlers, You’re My Little Cuddle Bug would be top of my list.

The rhyming text is simple enough to engage toddlers, or younger babies will enjoy pointing and naming the bugs and feeling the shapes as they pop off the page.  The illustrations are bright, engaging and extremely cute and the loving theme of little bugs cuddling with their parents makes it the perfect book to share with a child at bedtime.

You're my little cuddle bug

You’re My Little Cuddle Bug is a good-sized sturdy board book and will easily stand up to a young child’s rough handling. It would be a great new baby gift or first birthday present if Easter has already passed you by.

You’re My little Cuddle Bug is currently available for $4.99 at Amazon.com and will be released in the UK on May 3rd.  (These links are Amazon affiliate links, if you buy the book via one of these links, I receive a small compensation).

Play With Shadow Puppets with Black Forest Theater Presents Dinosaurs (Book Review).

Black Forest Theater Presents Dinosaurs is a book set with everything a child will need to investigate shadow puppets.

The set, hand crafted by Montana Toy Company, includes

  • A theatre backdrop
  • An interactive storybook about dinosaurs
  • An Led light that stands up
  • 5 dinosaur shadow puppets with removable sticks
  • A protective cover.

The backdrop is sturdy and stands up well. We set it up and assembled the shadow puppets and the light.

Black forest theater

 

The children had to figure out for themselves the best position for the light and puppets to enable the shadows to reflect onto the backdrop.  I feel that a page of instructions may have been helpful although there is also a part of me that liked them having to work it out for themselves. Perhaps a little section in the book about the science of shadows would be good?

shadow puppets montana toy company

 

The puppets are made of sturdy black card and the sticks have Velcro attachments so you can change the position if desired.  I can see these being popular in a pre-school especially as a prop for an overhead projector.  I would introduce the materials using the rhyming book and then let the children create their own stories.

My children enjoyed inventing their own story with the puppets.

Black Forest Theater – Dinosaurs retails for $29.99

Disclaimer: No payment was received for writing this review, we received a product for review purposes.

 

Pink is For Boys: Book Review

(This Post contains Amazon Affiliate links: if you buy a product using these links, I receive a small commission)

If you have been waiting for a book for young children that challenges and encourages discussion about gender stereotypes, then add Pink is For Boys to your library.

This timely and beautiful picture book rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empowers kids-and their grown-ups-to express themselves in every color of the rainbow. With the help of a diverse cast of characters, readers are taken through the spectrum of the rainbow demonstrating that gender does not dictate their favourite colour or hobby.

My family loved it. My teenager asserted ‘ this is great’ and my younger girls said ‘I love this book’. It feels refreshing and not at all preachy. The text is understated, follows a familiar pattern and is clear in its message, without being too obvious.  I love the illustrations, the children reflect diverse cultures and look like they are having loads of fun. My only criticism (and this may only be true of my advance review copy) is that the shade of yellow chosen, looks more like lime green.

Using Pink is for Boys in the Classroom

I can imagine using the book in school or preschool to open discussions about gender stereotypes. It would be a lovely introduction to an art or writing project describing their favourite activities entitled ———- is for boys and girls.  You could encourage children to bring in photographs of themselves doing activities traditionally attributed to a singular sex and talk about their hobbies. Start your discussions from the things you hear children say, or try one of these prompts.

  • Are there any boys who go to a dance class? How does it feel to be in a class with only girls? Would it be better if boys were in the class? What stops boys wanting to go to dance class.
  • Do any children play sports where only girls or only boys are allowed? Would they prefer mixed teams?
  • What would they say are boys toys and girls toys? Is there a difference? Should there be a difference?
  • Do boys and girls play different things at recess? Have you ever been told you can’t join in because of your gender?

Coincidentally, when my youngest came home from school today she told me a group of her friends go to girl scouts. ‘I wish I could go to boy scouts’ she said ‘Why can’t I?’.  Wouldn’t it be great if it were no longer segregated and children could simply go to scouts!  This would be a great talking point for kids – make a list of activities that are segregated by gender. What kinds of activities are they and why do the children think they are segregated. Do the children think these activities should be segregated or inclusive? Older children could write a piece of persuasive writing explaining their views.

Pink is for boys is written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban . It is recommended for children aged 4-8 years.

It is released in the US on 5th June 2018 for $17.99 and in the UK on 28th June 2018 for £12.99 pre-order is available.

 

Hamilton; The Hottest Ticket in Town: Does it live up to the hype?

Hamilton Seattle 2018

My first introduction to Hamilton was two years ago at the Tony’s. Around the same time, it took my daughter’s middle school by storm. She memorised every word and introduced Hamilton to her younger sisters, who were soon gripped by Hamilton fever.

The whole family took on the challenge to learn the songs and dress up for local Hamiltunes events and my two youngest daughters started a Hamilton club at school.

 

The long wait to finally get to see Hamilton was over this weekend, when we visited the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. Our only sure-fire way to guarantee tickets when Hamilton arrived in Seattle was to buy a seasons pass and we haven’t regretted it. Every show we have seen this year has been fantastic but Hamilton was the prize ticket.

With two years of hype and excitement, there was a danger that

  1.  The kids would be sick of Hamilton by the time it arrived.
  2. It wouldn’t live up to our expectations.

The show opened with a very different type of Burr to the Odin Jnr we were used to. The first five minutes were spent getting used to the new voices and intonations but by the end of the opening we had warmed to the new cast and we were carried away by the spectacular show.

It is solid testimony to the creators of Hamilton, that a show touching the hearts of the nation through the soundtrack alone, is such a visual delight.  The choreography, lighting and set are breathtaking but even more spectacular is the way in which all these elements work together to create the story.  If you feel you’ve heard the soundtrack, so don’t need to see the show, think again. Seeing the show provides not only a deeper understanding of the plot and characters but also an utter visual delight, incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Lin-Manuel Miranda has certainly set a high bar  for all future musical theatre productions. It feels truly groundbreaking,  similar to seeing Les Miserables for the first time in the early 90’s.

Shoba Narayan as Eliza and Ta’rea Campbell as Angelica will blow you away with their incredible singing voices and emotive presence. Even knowing the story so well, it is difficult to hold back the tears during the second act.  The party behind me (who I suspect didn’t know the story as well) sniffed their way through the performance from ‘Burn’ to the end of Act 2. The perfection of the final lighting cue, shows focused attention to detail and how carefully thought out every moment of Hamilton is.

Is Hamilton suitable for children?

My youngest children are 7 and 9 and big Hamilton fans.  Even if children are Hamilton fans, there are a few things to be aware of.

  • Act 1 is long – around 30 minutes before the interval my 7 yr old told me she was tired and started to get a bit fidgety.  If your children don’t know the story or the sequence of songs and are not good at sitting for prolonged periods, I would suggest waiting until they are older.
  • Make sure you get a booster cushion (we took an extra with us just in case). The theatre will be full and most likely there will be an adult sat in front of them.

Hamilton was a wonderful experience for our family. The children are regular theatre goers and know the show well.  If your children are not used to the theatre, children under the age of 8 may not get the full benefit of the experience. Also being aware that this is a once in a lifetime experience for many adults, may help you decide if your child will be a distraction or not.

The final verdict

Hamilton

Smiles all around.  Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town with good reason. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see Hamilton, wherever you are, don’t hesitate – you won’t be disappointed.

How to Find Treasures for your Classroom with Goodwill Online.

Disclaimer: Payment was received for writing this post and a gift voucher to try out what Goodwill online has to offer. All opinions are my own.

Teachers make the best treasure hunters. An early years teacher will always find a use in the classroom for bizarre objects you would otherwise throw away and they’re always on the lookout for bargains. If you have a list of weird and wonderful objects you have always coveted, then Goodwill Online could be the answer to all your wishes.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to visit Goodwill to find out more about their online auction site ( think Ebay, but where the money goes to a worthy cause) and learn tips about how to win an auction bid. We were given a chance to look around and I was amazed by all the cool things for sale.

A huge selection of musical instruments.

Bulk bags of Russian dolls

russian dolls goodwill online

Rock collections

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Old curiosities

and a whole warehouse of books

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Tips For Thrift Store Treasure Hunting

Tip 1: Patience and a long list is a virtue. Dee Arneberg, America’s top treasure hunter from Spanaway, never enters a thrift store with a specific item in mind. The key to brick and mortar thrift store treasure hunting is a large wish list and multiple visits to many sites over time.

As fun as it may be to spend hours browsing interesting items, teachers are short on time so use the PERSONAL SHOPPER to help. The personal shopper allows you to set up alerts for items you are looking for and get emails every time one becomes available in the Goodwill inventory. Let’s say you were looking for Lego ( which by the way they often auction by weight) then you would enter Lego into your personal shopper and an email would notify you as to which new Lego was available.

Search key words and try properly and improperly spelled words, to catch typos that might lead you to a treasure no one else has found. Program the personal shopper to scan both item titles and item descriptions and create your keyword list accordingly.
Tip 2: Comparison shop to know the treasure’s market value. Develop your list of online comparison sites such as E-bay and specialty sites for specific categories to know the market value of an item.
Personal considerations – such as a collector looking for the last item to complete a collection – can create an artificially high auction sale, so know your item’s value and
how much you are willing to pay.
Tip 3:  Household donors will often donate categories in groups,so check to see if one specific Goodwill is listing a group of luxury fashion brands or vintage lamps, or collectibles – all indicators of an estate donation of similar items. With knowledge of a specific Goodwill treasure chest, you can call up the inventory from that region and find other obscure items of interest!
Tip 4:  Knowing how to maneuver the site allows you to know how many bidders you are in competition with. You can also activate a cyber ‘proxy” to always
top the leading bid up to a confidential limit you establish. And if you
really want the specific item, plan to be online during the final half an hour
of the auction, as that is when new competitors and a flurry of
bids come in. Real-time bids go down to the last second on some
items so you want to be ready to override your proxy bidder if you
simply must have an item.
Tip 5: When you lose, you still learn … about the field of regular
competitors who are interested in your categories. Each completed
auction lists the bid history which reveals the beginning/end letters
of an email which you can track as unique and learn that bidder’s
tendencies over time. As an example, those same nine bidders for
say “vintage board games” will have two or three who bid in the final minutes and are willing to spend X% of retail market value. Learning the field will sharpen your competitive edge in the final frenzied minutes of some bids. And don’t worry, most of the time another of the same item will surface over time and you will have another shot.
Tip 6: Support your local Goodwill. Each participating Goodwill has a virtual “storefront” where their current auction items are listed ahead of the offers across the rest of the site. Each Goodwill maintains their own auction inventory and benefits only from their item sales. Goodwill’s local online helps support an $8.9 million career training and initial job placement effort across 15 counties in our region.

Watch out for shipping and handling costs and remember to add the price of shipping to what you are prepared to pay. Shipping varies according to weight, size and distance of travel but can also vary according to the chosen carrier. One of the items I ordered, had priority shipping, so the shipping costs were greater than other items using ground delivery. If you support a local Goodwill you can eliminate shipping costs altogether.
Tacoma’s operation is prototyping several new attractive features such as one-cent shipping, and an instant purchase price for an item (“buy it now”). Every local Goodwill offers pickup at their operations with only a small service charge eliminating shipping costs altogether.

My experience of shopping with Goodwill Online

Firstly, be warned, it is highly addictive and you may find multiple items you simply must have.  I decided to ask my personal shopper to look for puppets as this is my children’s current fascination.  I wasn’t prepared for the search to bring up such amazing quality puppets and it was really difficult to choose the ones I wanted most.

My first bid was for a Muppets Wotnot puppet. I am a huge muppet fan and after a little research, found that FAO Shwartz in New York, used to have a Wotnot Studio where fans could go and make a custom puppet. The reserve on the puppet was $9.99 and postage and handling around $10.  As this is a totally unique item, I wasn’t certain how far I would go with my bid but 5 mins before the auction ended, I joined the auction and decided to try a maximum bid of $35.  I was really pleased to win the item at this price.

puppet muppet

An even better surprise was when the puppet arrived. It totally surpassed all of my expectations. It looks just like a muppet, was larger than I expected and came complete with original booklets and receipts.

My 2nd puppet George was bought for $9.99 and I was the only bidder.  There were a number of similar puppets available at this time so I decided on my maximum bid a few hours before the end of the auction.  If I didn’t win the item, I would bid on a similar one later. The postage on this one was more that the puppet so be careful to check before bidding.

puppet

By this point I had to begin to be really selective about the puppets, as there were so many great ones. I decided only to bid on unique items or collections of puppets. I chose a Big bird and Bert puppet and my girls chose a pair of girl puppets because they wanted more female puppets. Both of these were won for under $20 with postage.

Just when I thought we were finished a 1970’s Kermit and Miss Piggy puppet came up on my personal shopper search. We have a Kermit puppet and a good Miss Piggy is hard to find so I couldn’t let this one pass. With an extra Kermit we can turn one into the evil Constantine.

Now I must stop looking at puppets because each new one that arrives is as irresistable as the one before.

What other interesting things could teachers find?

  • Building blocks
  • Overhead projectors
  • Old typewriters
  • Outdoor play equipment
  • Toy cars/trains in bulk
  • Globes
  • Beakers and test tubes
  • Maps and charts
  • Balance scales with weights
  • Shells
  • and my personal favourite, browsing the vintage section to find weird and wonderful old  objects like washboards, apple corers , record players, old cameras etc.

If you don’t want anything for your classroom or preschool Goodwill online is also the perfect place to find unusual and unique gifts for the people in your lives who have everything. I think this will be my go to place from now on.

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 mindful moments for kids to feel calm and focused – Book Review

I used to be a mindfulness sceptic. Being mindful, seemed like a short-term fad, soon to be replaced by another buzz word. My views changed last year, when one of my children had a teacher who promoted mindful activities. My daughter blossomed during that year, from struggling to cope with anxiety when things didn’t go her way, to recognising  her emotions were taking over and seeking ways to overcome them. It didn’t stop her rolling her eyes when we talked about being mindful but the strategies helped her to focus, make friends and practice self-control.

book about mindfulness for young children

Throwing my scepticism out of the window, I decided to review a new book promoting exercises for children to practice mindfulness, “Breathe Like a Bear”. I’m glad I did, because this really is a great book. It is beautifully presented, resplendent with Anni Betts’ vibrant illustrations and contains a variety of simple, fun exercises that won’t make you feel like you are leading a meditation session. The activities are developmentally appropriate for children young and old and might even be useful visualisations for parents and teachers.

“Breathe like a Bear” is written by Kira Willey, a children’s music artist and kids yoga expert. Kira provides enjoyable, engaging activities children will love. The book’s focus  on fun, rather than lots of explanations about the mindfulness message, makes it especially appropriate for young children.

The first section focuses on calming, for when children feel they can’t sit still. It is difficult for children of any age to sit still all day and many children become agitated after a period of time. These exercises are designed to encourage children to slow down. They would  be perfect for those days when children have boundless energy but can’t get outside to let off steam. The title “Breathe like a Bear” comes from one such activity. The children pretend they are a hibernating bear, breathing slowly in and out through their noses. Each section has a variety of exercises and encourages you to choose the one you feel most comfortable with. You may need to try a few to find what works best for your child or class.

mindfullness activity for children

Section two promotes concentration and focus. There are a mixture of activities in this section. Some are slow visualisations focused on breathing and others involve following actions, movement and sound. I particularly like how varied the activities are.

Section three comprises exercises that stretch the imagination. I think these are my favourites and can imagine using them during a rest time for young children, or to calm an older group when they get noisy or over excited.  They would also be useful for bedtime. They could be read to children before they sleep or recorded to play in  children’s bedrooms.

Section four is for energising children when they are feeling sleepy or lethargic. These would be great for the start of the day, to wake children up or during a lull later in the day. The exercises include moving your facial muscles, clapping hands, making twisting movements with your body and creating various sounds.

midfulness for children

The final section is relaxation for when we are feeling stressed. Stretching like a cat or scrunching and releasing sound deeply satisfying to me.

If mindfulness is your thing, I believe you will love this book. If it isn’t, why not try it anyway? You may become a convert, just like me. My next stop is to investigate Kira Wiley’s music, if it is as beautiful as her book, I’m in for a treat.

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon US  Breathe like a Bear available from Dec 2017 priced $10.99

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon UK Breathe like a Bear available from 13th January 2018 priced £11.99

Disclaimer: links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you order via this link I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price. No payment was received for writing this review. I received a complimentary review copy of the title.

My Top 3 Picture Book New Releases

From my most recent Picture Book new release previews ,the titles below are my favourites.

  1. For under 5’s and early readers

I Am BatI Am Bat by Morag Hood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the simplicity of I Am Bat. I can easily hear it being read in my own child’s voice and see her acting out and reciting the text as she does with Elephant and Piggie books. Bat is over dramatic in a similar way to Elephant and this really appealed to my kids.  The illustrations evoke the bat’s emotions perfectly. A wonderful book for younger readers.

2. For parents and middle children

Middle Bear

Middle Bear by Susanna Isern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a parent of 3 children, I love Middle Bear. It is heartwarming and uplifting without being overly sentimental and conveys perfectly the mediocrity of being a middle child. I love the shell-shocked/glazed expression of the bear and the use of child like illustrations, as they convey perfectly his perception of himself as unremarkable. As the story unfolds, middle bear find out that there are some things he is just perfect for. I loved the way this unfolded and it made me smile.  A perfect book for middle children everywhere.

3. For Teachers

Chocolate CakeChocolate Cake by Michael Rosen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book by Michael Rosen about stealing chocolate cake. What isn’t there to like? The sumptuous use of onomatopoeia and descriptive language makes it a perfect book to use in the classroom. Chocolate Cake would provide lots of inspiration for children developing their descriptive writing and would be a great opening to language and vocabulary lessons. I love the way the typeface changes to enhance the descriptive words as they work seamlessly with the pictures. The illustrations are atmospheric and  the boy’s expressive eyes are skillfully drawn to show every emotion throughout the book. (currently only available in the UK).

 

 

Disclaimer – Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission if you order via these links.

Max and Bird:Book Review

Disclaimer: The links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links meaning if you purchase any of the products through these links I will receive a small commission.

max and bird

When Max and Bird arrived on our doorstep, the illustrations were immediately familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them.  They were familiar because Ed Vere is the author of one of our favourite books, the story of a jazz playing gorilla called Mr Big.  Mr Big was chosen by the Book Trust as the official booktime book for 2009 and distributed to 750,000 British schoolchildren.

I had high hopes for Max and Bird and it didn’t disappoint.  Max and Bird is charming from start to finish. Ed Vere is wonderfully skilled at portraying emotion through his characters’ eyes and even before reading the text, you can’t help but fall in love with Max and Bird. The opening

This is Max.

Max is a kitten.

Kittens chase birds.

This is Bird.

Bird is a bird.

Birds get chased by kittens.

is a perfect introduction to the humour and tenderness present in every page.

Max and Bird is a book about friendship. Max wants to be friends with bird but also would quite like to eat him. That isn’t what friendship is about, so when bird needs help learning to fly, the two discover a way to celebrate their friendship in a way that is much more fun.

max and bird pigeon

The tension in the relationship and playful humour was a hit with my youngest daughter, an ‘Elephant and Piggie’ fan.  The girls particularly loved the British phrase “Not a sausage” and the manic, show off pigeon who tries to show Bird how to fly.

It isn’t often I receive a book to review that I instantly fall in love with. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, an absolute must for all teachers, librarians and parents. I have no doubt it will become a classic, favourite in our household. Now I’ve been introduced to Max, I can’t wait to read the other Max titles, Max the Brave and Max at Night.

 

 

Books to Teach Social and Emotional Skills.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase any of these products by following these links, I will receive a small commisssion.

If you haven’t heard of Boys Town Press before, as I hadn’t, Boys Town Press produce resources for educators, parents, and other youth-serving professionals, that give practical, real-world skills you can use to manage behavior, build strong relationships, and teach social skills to children.

I received 4 titles to review


The PROcrastinator by Julia Cook

Noodle finds it so hard to feed his cat, take out the trash, and (especially) get his homework done when there are a lot better things to do instead.  Noodle puts them off until he is hopelessly behind on homework and has a very hungry, angry cat. Noodle’s mum says he has become so good at procrastinating that now she considers him a pro at it. A PROcrastinator.
Noodle’s mum teaches him strategies to manage all of his responsibilities and have plenty of time to play new video games with his friends.

The book is written with child friendly phrases and includes many scenarios that children will identify with. There is plenty of humour and the strategies for managing tasks are simple and clear. The book is perhaps a little wordy but you could easily paraphrase it for classroom use.

Mindset Matters by Bryan Smith – teaches children how to see problems and dilemmas as opportunities to learn and grow, and reveals why failing doesn’t make them failures. Written for readers in grades K-5, this storybook also includes tips to help parents and teachers foster a healthy “ get it done” mindset in every child.

My middle child has been learning all about growth mindset this year at school, she thought her teacher would love this one. The illustrations are bright and cheery with lovely expressions on the characters’ faces. Though I liked the message, this one wasn’t my favourite, I found the story a little dry and it felt a little too worthy for my taste.

Hey Goose! What’s Your Excuse? By Lisa Griffin.  A heartwarming tale about spreading your wings and finding yourself, teaching readers that stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you to exciting and unexpected places.

This book for younger readers has beautiful illustrations and a simple text and is perfect for children who hesitate to try new experiences. It would be a lovely read aloud book in a classroom or a sweet bedtime story.

Freddie the Fly: Motormouth by Kimberly Delude.  A humorous take on the problem of never opening your ears while always flapping your yap. Appropriate for readers in pre-k to third-grade, this colorful storybook teaches kids how to control their conversations and be excited about listening to, and learning from others.

The illustrations are bright and comical and I think young children would love them. There are great characters in this book. I like the way the author describes how it feels to have an unstoppable urge to talk, but some of the descriptions are a little wordy for younger children. The message of the story is really clear and the strategies simple. Freddie learns the pleasure of listening as the story unfolds.  I particularly like the tips for parents and educators at the back of the book.

I’ll definitley be looking to Boys Town for books about social and emotional learning in the future.

Organise Your School Year Activities with The Busy Family Calendar

 

busy family calendar

Disclaimer: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. If you order this item by clicking this link, I will receive a small commission. All opinions are my own, no payment was received for reviewing this product.

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As a family of five, remembering the girls after school class schedule can be a challenge. Add in appointments, school events, birthdays, parties, concerts, rehearsals and homework deadlines and I regularly have a pin board loaded with lists and timetables.

I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to making lists and organising events.  I use digital calendars but I like to have a physical calendar to help me see the whole picture.

busy family calendar

It can be difficult to fit my family of five’s activities in one small square, so family organiser calendars are the perfect choice. I love the Busy Family Calendar from Quarto Books, because it has space for a family of five to record all their activities on separate lines.  Furthermore, the 2018 calendar lasts for 17 months, so I can start it at the beginning of the academic year and keep it going until December 2018 (by which time I may have remembered to buy a new one.)

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Additional features are a large calendar grid and handy storage pocket for appointment cards, invitations and such.  The charming seasonal artwork by Alison Cole is bright and cheerful to complement it without distraction. I particularly like the additional stickers for birthdays, medical appointments, school breaks etc. as they really help these events  stand out on the calendar. Some even have space to add your own content, like chores and meal planners.

The Busy Family Calendar is available in Canada and the US for an rrp. of $15.99 US and $18.99 Canada