Play-Doh Fairy Tale Sets

Here is a link.

In a more perfect world we’d just play this way without the need for the specialized molds – but I really think these are brilliant and smart marketing for Hasbro.  A very good preschool birthday gift idea – includes parental involvement, reading, acting, emotion and improvisation.  That is the makings of a quality toy.


All-Ages Comics for Emergent Readers

I credit comics for some of Bee’s early reading skills (and some of my own interest in reading as a kid). Below is a list of recommended all-ages comics.  Attached to the title links you’ll find a diversity of reviews, previews, publication sites, creator sites, and articles.

Bookmark and share this page.  Use it when you want a gift idea, report card reward, non-cash chore payday, birthday party gifts for classmates and friends, gift ideas for grandparents and godparents, and local library wish listing.

Luke on the Loose
Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever
One Stormy Night
Zig and Wikki
Little Mouse
Jack and the Box
Adventures in Cartooning
Amelia Rules!
CryptoZooey #1
Dinosaurs Across America
Dreamland Chronicles
Ed’s Terrestrials
Lions, Tigers and Bears
Magic Trixie
Poetry Comics: A Literary Postcard Book
Robot Dreams
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade
Tiny Titans
Little Lit publications edited by Art Speigleman

Support independent booksellers when possible.

For more information:

Update:  I just came across this great resource, too!  Click on the image below to go to the site.


Fantastic Morning at 2010 Lititz Kid-Lit Festival

Due to the no-sleepinest baby this side of slumberland, we contemplated bailing on this event but thankfully we got it together early enough to make the trip.  Missing it would have been a big mistake.

Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA is one of those rare wonders still weathering the business model that is Independent Bookstore.  You can shop them online (soapbox: and you should, if you love books – and are aware of the effects of mega-store monopolies, online and off, negatively impacting selection and living wages for creators of the writer, graphic designer, printer, publisher and illustrator varieties).

Today was their annual Kid-Lit Fest. Now that my Kid (Bee) is Literate we made attending this year a big priority, and it was a great way to spend our day.


I’d like to promote the authors that made the biggest impact on us:

(Nightbear & Lambie ©Kerry and Matt Royer – image used for review)

Writer and Illustrator couple Kerry and Matt Royer are creators of the book Nightbear & Lambie (and two other forthcoming titles, one is a holiday sequel to N&L, and one involves Spring Peepers).  The book is well written, lovely in its simplicity and bound to resonate in any family where there are favorite stuffed-animal friends installed among sleeping kiddos.  The illustrations are particularly nice – oil paintings with a skillfully consistent and appealing style and palate, many of which would make choice stand-alone prints.

First editions of Nightbear & Lambie are sold out, save for a handful of stores local to the creators (list).  Also, the book is available at Pottery Barn Kids, as part of a cool deal they struck since that retailer originally sold the toys in question to the Royer family.

There is karmic value here too, for those of you who have young families similar to my own.  They are a hard-working couple with young children, making the effort to strike out creatively despite the demanding schedule.  What they’ve accomplished thus far is commendable and I wish them continued success.


(images © their respective publishers/creators – used for review)

Illustrator (and author) Amy Wummer was present (here is a Random House profile), and I quickly recognized her by her work as a contributor to High Five Magazine (a junior version of Highlights, for the 6 and under set).  Amy draws a regular feature in the magazine that Bee is fond of (Tex and Indi and their cat named Cow), and she also does at least one cover for the magazine each year.  Turns out – she is incredibly proficient and has A LOT of other (award-winning) credits to her name.

Her style is very recognizable while, somehow, also unobtrusive.  It is perfect for storytelling, as it does not overpower the story and she’s so practiced that the consistency is seamless and the coloring perfectly suited.  Especially exciting for us is that Bee sort of stood out in the readings, she asks a lot of questions and volunteers personal perspective easily – after the reading, and having two books signed to Bee (reminder: I don’t use our real names in this family blog) – Amy told Bee to expect a surprise in a future illustration, she’s going to slip Bee into a story where a child is called for (presumably a background character).  Well, Amy got herself a friend for life with that gesture :).

The two books we purchased from her today (signed) are:

The third book in The Milo and Jazz Mysteries, called The Case of the Haunted Haunted House.  Bee is a big fan of the A to Z Mysteries, and while I can’t give an experienced opinion on the matter at the moment, the Milo and Jazz Mysteries seem to be a very good series to graduate towards after the A to Z Mysteries – the stories appear to be a bit more mature, complex, long (not overly so), and they contain ‘super sleuthing puzzles’ – brain stretchers, logic puzzles and focus on motives matching to crimes.  Young mystery readers are a lucky bunch in this day and age!  Also – thanks to Lewis B. Montgomery for furnishing the store with signed copies of the book, so we have both creator signatures.

Our other book illustrated by Amy is Samuel’s Baby.  A perfect choice for a 4-6 year old expecting a baby brother or sister.  Our little Pea is a year old now, but certainly we feel the change to our family dynamic still taking hold.  I imagine this story will further solidify Bee’s memories of this transition The book is clever and funny, as a class of kindergarteners share in Samuel’s experience in a unique and teachable way.


(image © respective publisher/creator – used for review)

Our third creative treasure trove was Laurel Snyder.  From her web page bio: Laurel Snyder is the author of  three novels for children, “Penny Dreadful,” “Any Which Wall” and “Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess” (Random House) and two picture books, “Inside the Slidy Diner” and “Baxter the Kosher Pig.” (Tricycle).

Laurel was a delight to talk to, and she obviously loves her work.  She traveled the farthest of any of the creators we met today, having come from Atlanta for the event (see how cool Aaron’s Books is?).  She read both of her picture books to the kids gathered at the event, and Bee wasn’t happy that we had to only choose one.

We bought Inside The Slidy Diner, and after reading it – I am sure we’ll be investigating her novels in due course.  Laurel does some creative (and probably therapeutic) venting about the unpleasant side of working for a greasy spoon diner – in a wonderful ‘taken to the extreme’ manner that any kid would appreciate and enjoy.  She challenges the kids to count the mice.  I myself spent more time spying out the insect life (giant mounted ‘trophy’ roach hanging on the wall of the diner FTW).  A girl spends her days like a fairy tale servant, after being caught swiping a candy from a crone (alla classic fairy tales, like Hansel and Gretel, only entirely contemporary).

The witch in question is a hair-netted crone who scratches her itchy back with the grill spatula, leaving fly guts smeared on her sweater.  Yeah, it’s that good.  The illustrations (by Jaime Zollars), are wonderful as well (Snyder hopes to work with her again because they are a dream team).

Check out Snyder’s new novel, Penny Dreadful, when you see it hitting stores in late September.  The hyperlink I’ve attached to the title is an advance copy review compliments of Kate Messner (a discerning children’s book author).


This isn’t typically a review site – I hope I’ve been helpful, though.  These are books I recommend to people like me – people in young families full of brilliant young budding bibliophiles.  Choosing picture books can be daunting – I feel that all of these would please a discerning fan of the medium.  Also – these folks put in the legwork.  They love what they do.  They spend their perfect, sunny, crisp, mid-September Saturdays trying to expose folks to their work.  In my opinion, that commitment deserves an audience.

You can find (hopefully) your own local independent book sellers here:

To Easy Bake, or not to Easy Bake?

This shouldn’t be such a hard decision.

Bee has this at the top of her list of gifts she’d like for the holidays.  Our hesitation isn’t because the toy oven has an age recommendation of 6 and up.  No… wait, is it 7 and up?  I’ll go look… hold on… holy cow, you aren’t going to believe this – they have it as 8 and up!?  You should be 8 years old to be able to place your hands carefully near a lightbulb?!

Anyway, no, the reason is that she made pancakes on the stove top just this morning (she’s 4), and has been cooking with me since she could stand.  She helps cook everything already.  It is true that she can’t reach the oven to put things in, or take things out – – but it is also true that the Easy Bake oven says that adult supervision is required (so that oafish 8 year old of yours doesn’t get in trouble with a lightbulb).

She wants to bake independently – and the toy isn’t even recommended for that.  It costs a good 6 bucks every time she’d want to make a cookie-sized little cake (pro-tip, you can make 3 actual cakes for that money).

The marketing and package design are sexist and entirely dismiss boys as a consumer.  Cooking isn’t for girls any more than it is for boys.  That notion is absurd and reflects an ugly history of keeping women tied to the home while men go out and earn – as offensive to the men who would prefer to be caregivers as it is to the women who want to pursue careers.

To some people, that is going to sound unfair. It turns out that (according to the reviews I’ve read) a big audience for this toy is the mothers that wished they had it as a child and now want to live vicariously through their children.  That it doesn’t occur to them to just bake with their kids is odd to me – but I know how nostalgia can be a heavy motivator.  There is the underlying point that their own parents didn’t get the oven for them for some reason.  I’d be willing to bet that ability to afford the toy isn’t the main reason (though it may have been the main reason given) – I imagine that since their own parents did a lot more cooking than parents do today, they had similar reasons for denying this toy to their kids:  they cooked regular food with the child instead.

And there is the problem area.  The “we’ll just cook normal food together, honey” solution didn’t satisfy the children in question (the one’s desiring to live vicariously through their kids today).  Maybe it is a sort of desire to do miniature cooking – maybe the tiny frivolousness of the venture is the main attraction and shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly?  Or – maybe it’s the advertising blitz this toy relies on.  Bee doesn’t watch commercial TV much at all (only on occasional Saturdays does she watch network cartoons) – and yet the commercials she’s seen for the EBO have made a big impression.

I don’t want this to be her Red Rider BB gun – the thing that she sits back and says “yeah, these are wonderful presents, but what I really wanted was that Easy Bake Oven”.  I’ve heard some interesting arguments for allowing your child to pick out trashy toys from time to time, so that they get a sense of self-determination and learn that sometimes things look better than they are – and that mom and dad are sometimes right about something being a piece of crap.

A substitute idea we have had is to get quality kid-sized baking impliments for baking real food in the real oven.  She already has a few – and we’ve seen some good ones out there.  The play kitchen, while not a complete waste of time/money/space has not turned out to be something she’s very interested in.  She wants to do the real thing – and more power to her.

Here is the part we came up with that I think might be brilliant:

Some complaints about the EBO are that it is too expensive, and that you can get a good quality toaster oven for that price.  Do see where I’m heading?  The mini muffin trays and cake pans we’ve seen on the market could fit in a toaster oven (I’ll check on this to be certain, but I know at least a mini cookie tray would easily fit).  We could also use it for strictly practical uses – heating/baking small things at lunch time, etc. (with more energy efficiency).  So – what if we had a chat with Santa about getting a real oven for Bee instead of a plastic piece of crap with a lightbulb in it and decals for temperature gauges and timers?  It wouldn’t cost any more – she could make a wider variety of things – it won’t end up unused in a closet somewhere even if it didn’t hold her interest.  So – a couple of kid-sized pans, good children’s oven mitts, and a run-of-the-mill toaster oven could be ideal.  Rational compromise.

We’ll run it by the man up north.


While you can get a regular toaster oven for less than an EBO – it would be of poor quality or too small a size, so we are 86ing the EBO subject in favor of just using the kitchen as usual.  Some kid-sized muffin pans and oven mitts are in order, though – hopefully they will scratch some of that EBO itch for the Bee.  Also, the notion of losing more counter space was weighing me down.  Maybe the suggestion would work for someone in other circumstances, though – and it seemed like a fun, smart alternative at the time.

stop the press:

Here is exactly what we wanted. Real non-stick cookware, real recipe cards with scaled ingredients.

Li’l Gourmet is the brand – they have some real sets and some play ones, the real ones are right on the money for us.

They also have a cupcake making set, a cake baking set, and others – – each have more decorating accessories than the Easy Bake brand, and they make food with ingredients you have in your cupboard, in actual batches.  The price is lower as well.

Safety Tats

logo_safetytat3Safety Tats are temporary tattoos that you add your cel phone number to – and they seem like a smart idea.

I worry a little that they could make parents a little less vigilant, and I want to emphasize here that teaching your child to stay close and to know how to handle themselves if they become separated, or are approached by someone they don’t know, is most important (see this post).  But these temporary tattoos mimic the arm band programs offered at some amusement parks, and could obviously be helpful in some circumstances.

Check out Readeez™

I want to call it a fusion of Ben Folds and Edutainment – and since it is my blog, that’s just what I’ll do.

Here is an introduction, in their own format:

Introduction Readee

readeez(image ©Readeez)

“Readeez are exactly as entertaining as they are educational. Which is to say, “very.” Kids like the stories, songs and characters. Grownups like the fact that reading instruction happens automatically, all the time.

Every syllable of a Readee answers that perpetual kid-question “What does this say?” The written and spoken halves of a Readee reinforce one another. In other words, it says what it says. Watch a few yourself and you’ll see!”

Check out the website, watch free samples galore, become a fan on Facebook, check out their YouTube channel, read praise from a more professional blogger,  – and buy some up – clearly a positive venture by creative family people who work hard to make cool stuff your kid can learn from.

I have a special appreciation for father/daughter collaboration.  Also, I look forward to Bee’s reading independence (closer every day) more than I looked forward to her ability to walk – so, Readeez, thanks!

(ps- not affiliated with Ben Folds in any way that I know of)

The Safe Side: Stranger Safety Resources

I stumbled upon this site this evening – if you can consider coming upon exactly what you were looking for on a search engine stumbling.  I can’t vouch for the quality just yet.  I’ve only requested a copy from my library.  I can, however, point out that it is John (friggin) Walsh whose lifetime devotion to helping put criminals behind bars stems from his son’s abduction – and this is a program he’s helped to create and he endorses, which is designed to prevent such things from happening to your kids.

It also involves Julie Clark… who encourages parents to use their TV as a babysitter from birth onwards, and is associated with learning deficiencies using the giant mistake known as Baby Einstein… but on the bright side, she has the sense to contribute her marketing expertise to this worthy project.

The subject of ‘stranger danger’ was starting to crop up around the edges of our day to day life (me and Bee’s).  She’s confident and outgoing – and has begun feeling comfortable being out of my sight in public places.  Before I screwed her up too badly with only my scattered recollections of how this subject is handled – I Googled.

Turns out even the word ‘stranger’ should be handled with care – and that its use in this program is apparently minimal (possibly even limited to the name on the DVD).  So I’m already learning something.


And, very helpfully, this LINK takes you straight to a page of several free downloads, including:

Stranger Safety Family Guide

Internet Safety Family Guide

Stranger Safety Teacher Guide

Internet Safety Teacher Guide

and even presentation guides for safety coordinators and law enforcement officers.

How cool is that?

Not cool enough?  How about the fact that a significant portion of proceeds go towards the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children?  Or the fact that you can even use this worthy program as a Fund-raising Opportunity?  Still not convinced?  You are one cold SOB, I don’t know what to tell ya.

Quoted below, you will find a message from John Walsh taken from the site.  I haven’t used it with permission – if they ask me to cut it out, I will – but I’m thinking they would probably appreciate the word getting out.

edited to add:  here’s my review

A message from John

I’m the host of a television show that I wish wasn’t needed, but is. I am the Host of ‘America’s Most Wanted.’

In 1981, the lives of my wife, Revé, and I were changed forever. Our beautiful son Adam —the joy of our lives—was abducted from a mall in a nice neighborhood of South Florida. Sadly, two weeks after launching the biggest search for a child that Florida had ever seen, our son was found murdered.

In my quest to find justice in the name of my son, and to fight back for victims everywhere, I lobbied Congress to change the laws and to change how police search for missing people—and in particular—children. My life’s work has been to protect children and others by changing laws and by catching criminals. I’m proud to say that the movement I started is still going strong. There’s not only a national organization dedicated to helping children (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), but now this country and its media are beginning to understand that our children are precious and need to be informed about how to stay safe.

In 1981 not much was known about child abduction and exploitation. Parents knew very little and, tragically, children knew even less. Today we’re proud of some of the knowledge and awareness that children have about the dangers that face them. Children see images everywhere of kidnappings, exploitation and the horrible consequences attached to these events. We only need to think about some of the scenes that parents and children have seen in the media in the past year — religious leaders who are pedophiles, Internet predators, and others who are in positions to take advantage children’s trust in them — to know that kids are still being victimized at an alarming rate.

I hope that’s about to change. As a crime fighter and host of a television program that has saved countless lives, I’m proud to be teaming up with a woman who knows how to teach children — the right way. Kids want to know what to do, and parents need to be prepared. Like me, Julie Clark is a parent who cares. She has the proven track record of teaching kids on both a local and national scale, and her passion and experience make this series of safety videos for children something that parents will want to have, and kids will want to watch.

The sadness that my family and others have experienced doesn’t have to happen. Now, thanks to my new partnership with Julie, parents and kids will do what I’ve been doing for more than 23 years — they’ll fight back with knowledge and awareness. Knowledge is power.