Archive for July, 2010

For Less Than a Tank of Gas: Plan a Family Game Night

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Just like movies, family games are an ideal way to gather family members of all ages together for a few hours of pure family fun that’s also economical.  Look for games that appeal to each family member’s age and interests.  Our selections offer games of memory, matching, strategy, scavenging — and old fashioned giggling.

Pig Tails

Pig Tails
Ages: 3 & Up
Price: $14.99
On each turn, players roll three dice to determine whether they may collect a pig card, and if so, how many (determined by the number of curlicues on the tail) and which of three colors. But if the Big Bad Wolf turns up on a die, instead of collecting pig cards, the player must give up from his or her collection the color and numbers of pigs shown in that roll. An advanced version allows players to roll the dice a second or third time in hopes of getting better cards.
The Original Ultimate Spinner

The Original Ultimate Spinner

Ages: 4 & Up
Price: $49.95
Manufacturer: Robbins Toy

If your kids are like ours, and change moods and interests in a matter of seconds, The Original Ultimate Spinner is just what the doctor ordered. By simply swapping one of the five colorful and inviting cardboard game face spinner discs for another, they can change games just as quickly. The 12 games and activities ranges from Al-Fe-Bet to Pin Spin Bowling and includes games for the mind as well as the body. The 100% USA handcrafted white pine toy components are Maine-grown and certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Turtle Shells

Turtle Shells
Ages: 3 & Up
Price: $14.99

This memory game includes lots of hands-on activities that appeal to children: colored dice to roll, three plastic turtles with colored shells to mix and match, and 27 memory cards with pictures of the turtles. The object of the game is to collect the most memory cards. Start with all the memory cards face down. Beginners take turns placing one card face up. If the card matches one of the three plastic turtles, the player keeps the card and switches at least two of the turtle shells; then it’s the next player’s turn. If the picture on the card does not match any of the plastic turtles, the player returns the card, face down exactly where it had been.

Can You See What I See? Bingo Link

Ages: 6 & Up
Price: $15.99
Manufacturer: Gamewright
It takes sharp eyes, good memory, a little planning, plus a bit of luck to make a continuous path of objects that connects the same colored border on opposite sides of the hexagonal game board. Each player’s game board contains 61 images. Although each picture is on every board, they appear in different locations. On each player’s turn s/he calls out the name of any object on the board, then covers the picture with a game piece, and waits until all the other players have located and covered the same object on their boards. Play continues until one player wins by creating a continuous path that connects one colored border to the matching color border on the opposite side of the board.


Ages: 6 & Up
Price: $16.95
Manufacturer: Bananagrams

Pairs in Pears is a word-making game (for 2 to 4 players) consisting of 104 tiles of four differently-patterned alphabets (solid, outline, lines and dots) packaged in a pear-shaped and colored bag.In this quick, fun word game players work swiftly to create overlapping pairs of words while paying attention to which alphabet pattern the letters belong. Individual players form pairs of words sharing a single letter, competing to be the first to finish the required number of pairs of words made of matching letters, or to create the set of highest-scoring pairs of words. Observing and distinguishing the patterns is what adds to the fun and challenge.



Ages: 6 & Up
Price: $16.95
Manufacturer: Bananagrams
Within the apple-shaped pouch are 110 letter tiles ready to be played on a bare surface – free of the confines of a gameboard. Rules for three games are offered. “Make a Snake” requires each successive player to add to the preceding layout in such a way that the first or last letter of the word being laid down must attach to the first or last letter of the snake. “Apple Turnover” allows a player to replace a previous player’s word with one that is longer. While the winner of the first two games is the one who uses all his or her tiles, the third game, AppleScore” uses a bonus point scoring system to determine the winner.

Zingo! 1-2-3 Number Bingo

Ages: 4 & Up
Price: $19.99
Manufacturer: ThinkFun Inc.
Zingo! is a number-matching game that helps youngsters learn to count, add, and recognize numerals — all within the fun of a Bingo-like game. The game components and the packaging are functionally designed. Unused tiles are reloaded into the top of the Zinger, where they will eventually work their way down the stack. The Parent’s Guide includes variations of game play and other tips.


Ages: 8 & Up
Price: $24.99
Manufacturer: LEGO Systems, Inc.

The aim of this two-to-four-player game is to be first to move one’s own “heroes” into a secret temple hidden inside a labyrinth, being careful to avoid the mythical Minotaur who guards the temple. The basic game is played on an 11-inch square game board that fits neatly into the box it came in (the better to keep the tiny playing pieces from falling out of range). A template simplifies the placement of the obstacles both avoidable (hedges) and impassable (walls). Testers were enthralled to be able to use their beloved Legos to create and play a boardgame; eager onlookers jostled over the players’ shoulders to watch the action.

Rory’s Story Cubes

Ages: 8 & Up
Price: $7.99

Manufacturer: Gamewright

Rory’s Story Cubes is a set of nine six-sided picture dice (a total of 54 unique pictures) that are rolled and used to inspire impromptu storytelling. The pictures are very basic (e.g., a key, a hand, a house) and therefore very flexible. Players roll the cubes, then tell a story using all nine images that are displayed. Recommended for ages 8 and up, it can really be used by any individual or group trying to wake up creative language skills, from preschoolers still working on vocabulary and learning to tell simple, one-sentence stories to adults struggling with writer’s block.

7 Ate 9

Ages: 8 & Up
Price: $9.99

This quick-action game is a race to play all of one’s cards. There are no turns; a card may be played as soon as a player determines it meets requirements. The game begins with one card placed face up in the center of the table to create the “center pile” upon which all cards will be played. The remaining cards are dealt face down to all players so each has the same number of cards, which become their personal draw pile. Each card shows a yellow number from 1 to 10, and a plus or minus number, 1, 2 or 3. If the card on the center pile has a yellow number 5 and a + number of 1, any card with a yellow number 4 (5-1=4) or 6 (5+1=6) may be played. The first player to play all of his or her cards wins. Testers were pleasantly surprised to see how the options for play kept changing.

Word on the Street Junior

Ages: 8 & Up
Price: $19.99

This might be the only word game in which you never see a word completely spelled out. The game board, which has five “lanes,” is placed between two teams on opposite sides of the table. Each “road sign” letter tile is placed on the corresponding letter printed on the middle lane of the game board. The other two lanes on either side of the middle lane are resting places for the letters that are in the process of being captured. Category cards determine the word that each team chooses to form. Players from the team on the street (in play) brainstorm words that fit the category printed on the Category Card, and must decide before the 30-second timer runs out. One player from the team on the street now moves the letter tiles that spell the word they selected away from the middle lane and towards their side of the game board. Players capture letter tiles by selecting words that contain the desired letters and pulling the letters off the street before the opposing team can pull them back. When a letter has moved off the game board, it has been captured. Teams alternate taking turns on the street until one team has captured eight Letter Tiles.

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Next Friday, stay tuned for: “Get in the Olympic Spirit.”

Back When…Historical Fiction for Middle-Grade and Teen Readers

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Beginning in late elementary school and on through middle and high school, I pored over any book that could take me out of my own time period and into another.  Nineteenth century America, medieval Britain, World War II Europe were all fair game.  I would happily zip back and forth between centuries and continents, just so long as I could go somewhere (or somewhen) else.  At the time, I would not have known the difference between a well researched historical fiction novel and a bad one, and I’m sure I absorbed plenty of historical inaccuracies, none of which dampened my enjoyment—or my interest in learning about non-fictionalized history.

Later, as a teacher, I noticed that some students who were unmoved by fantasy, teen romance, or “realistic” school stories would light up if given a book about “real” events.  Some students devoured reading materials about war, others liked books about historic disasters and tragedies, and still others preferred “slice of life” books about “how people lived back then.”  Often, when different elements mixed—for example, when a novel like The Summer of My German Soldier introduced the domestic life of the home front to my World War II strategy fanatics, or when a book like Red Scarf Girl allowed students to simultaneously learn about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and to experience a personal memoir—students became more open to other genres and interested in other aspects of the reading beyond the history.

More and more good historical fiction for young readers has become available in recent years.  Much of it is based on memoir or primary documents like diaries, which is appealing to those readers who like to think that they are reading a “true” story.  Increasingly, historical tales are told in a variety of forms—there are novels for the lovers of a straightforward story, but there are also stories told in poems and in illustrated diary format.  Here is a small selection of recent publications for middle-grade and teen readers.  These books represent a wide range of places, times, and events, and also a wide range of writing styles, but all of them will successfully transport readers who wish to inhabit other times and learn about other places.

Take Me With You by Carolyn Marsden (Candlewick Press, 2010. Ages 10 and up.) Pina and Susanna have always been best friends, and family, too, since they live together at the Neapolitan home for abandoned children. But now that World War II is over, their friendship might be threatened.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy (Hyperion 2010. Ages 10 and up.) German schoolgirls kept poesiealbums, scrapbooks for their friends to record notes, drawings, and favorite quotes. For Jutta Salzberg, in the year 1938, the poesiealbum was primarily a place for her Jewish friends and relatives to record farewells, warnings, and wishes for better times.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, and Company, 2010. Ages 10 and up.) Lanesha is accustomed to being teased and left out of everything. After all, everyone in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward knows she was born with a caul, that she talks to ghosts, and that she has grown up with Mama Ya-ya, who sees the future.

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.  $16.99.  Ages 12 and upEveryone who lives around Lake Conemaugh says that one of these days the dam will break. They all say it-the well-heeled businessmen who vacation at the South Fork Club, the villagers down in Conemaugh, the miners further down the river in Johnstown-but nobody really believes it. But in the spring of 1889, people begin to believe.

City of Cannibals by Ricki Thompson. (Boyds Mill Press, 2010. Ages 13-17)

Dell’s depressed, drunken father has always warned her about London, the City of Cannibals; after all, it was the vices and lechery of King Henry VIII that forced  her beautiful mother’s escape from court and then to her death at the hands of the King’s soldiers.

For Less Than a Tank of Gas: Plan a Family Movie Night

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Summer may be all about fun, but learning something new isn’t far behind.  Every Friday, through the end of August, Parents’ Choice will be exploring this theme of what fun can be achieved for less than a tank of gas. Hope you enjoy the ride with us.

Plan a Family Movie Night

Family movie nights offer a great opportunity to learn and laugh together. Try planning a summer movie series. To create a series, pick a theme the whole family will enjoy such as fantasy/magic, mysteries, travel adventures or even Hitchcock. Let each family member take turns picking a movie that fits the series.

Family Travel Adventures
Here are a dozen films available for home viewing that will send your kids’ imaginations to the far corners of the earth-and even back in time.

Summer Film School: Hitchcock 101
To study an artist’s body of work sharpens critical thinking, and Hitchcock is a great opportunity for that. Your children, after a few films, will spot themes and even signature techniques; they’ll compare and contrast plotlines.

Next Friday, stay tuned for “Plan a Family Game Night.”

Audacity: New Graphic Biographies

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The authors of “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived” make the case that imaginary characters (King Arthur, Cinderella, Nancy Drew, and others) are more likely to shape our lives than real life folks. I don’t need to be persuaded; the biographies available during my childhood– lives of historical figures, celebrity athletes, and Catholic saints–were uniformly dull. These four new biographies, however, are different: not only because they are interesting, but in their graphic presentation and shared message. Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, and Pablo Neruda were audacious. They didn’t hang back but went on to strive for much more.

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean

By Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle (Ages 9-12.  Hyperion Books. $17.99)

An interesting episode of history is presented here as a graphic novel. Famous aviator Amelia Earhart waits in a small Newfoundland town for the right circumstances to begin what would be the first transatlantic flight by a woman. In the meantime, we learn about her past, about her female competitors, and about her eventual disappearance in the Pacific. All of this is recorded by a young girl who lives in the town, Grace Goodland, a cub reporter who admires this feminist exemplar.

What is striking about the work is its comic-book format, a product of The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. In two-color panels, the style recalls Tintin books but with an even cleaner and more economical design. And here’s the amazing thing. The book looks backward to the classic era of comics (for example, the words “Amelia Earhart” are printed in a font that recalls Flexible Flyer sleds) and forward to the era of manga (with characters that seemed to have stepped off Hayao Miyazaki’s sketch pad).

Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down: How Elvis Shook Up Music, Me and Mom

By Mark Alan Stamaty (Ages: 4-8.  Knopf. $17.99)

It’s rare to read a book and know exactly who it should be given to. This picture book is meant for Ella (a little girl living in San Francisco) and it should be given to her by her grandfather Larry (a famous literary critic who regularly performs Elvis Presley tunes on karaoke night at Carlee’s Bar and Grill in Borrego Springs, California). The inscription should read: “For Ella, So the younger generation will understand why Elvis was important.”

Why was he important? Imagine, if you can, a world without Elvis. It would look like the movie “The Truman Show”: the gray flannel suits and boredom of the 1950’s extended to the horizon. But Elvis did come along and the world forever took a left turn and woke from its Eisenhower-era coma.

Comic-strip creator Mark Alan Stamty tells this story in miniature by describing his own schoolboy past in hilarious drawings: how his mom brought the snake into the garden by giving him his own bedside radio and how the wild sounds of Elvis and rock-and-roll then infiltrated the peace of their suburban home; how slicking his hair back into a pompadour convinced Mark’s mom that he was on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent until his performance as an Elvis impersonator at a Cub Scout dinner wowed the adults present and made his mother proud. It’s all true. I was there.

Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World

By Jonah Winter; illustrated by François Roca  (Ages: 4-8. Schwartz and Wade. $16.99) 

In quasi-Biblical language, Jonah Winter describes the Coming of the Prophet who was Muhammad Ali. From the time he won gold medals at the Olympics and changed his name from Cassius Clay, through his taking the Heavyweight Boxing crown from Sonny Liston, the Champ was different. As Winter rightly observes, other boxers growled and grunted, but Ali talked and talked–mostly about himself and how he was The Greatest.

This was an era when James Brown was singing, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” This was a time when the Powers-that-Be were made uneasy by an outspoken African-American who wouldn’t take a back seat and was a member of the Nation of Islam. Threatened by Elvis, the draft board sent the crooner into the Army; the same was done to Ali but, a conscientious objector, he refused to go and was banished from boxing for five years. Ali eventually undid that injustice in court and made his comeback in Africa, at the Rumble in the Jungle, where he beat George Foreman and marched to acclaim in the streets of Zaire.

The Dreamer

By Pam Muñoz Ryan; illustrated by Peter Sis  (Ages: 9-12. Scholastic. $17.99)

Out of twelve books we read this semester, this was my students’ favorite. They loved the lyrical prose of Pam Muñoz Ryan, an author best known for her prize-winning immigration story Esperanza Rising. And they loved Peter Sis’ drawings, which make this book into something close to a graphic novel.

This is the story of the Chilean childhood of Neftalí Reyes who later became the Nobel-Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Here is his truculent father, his summer days at the ocean, his secretly caring for injured swans, his writing love letters on behalf of classmates, and his growing concern for the indigenous people known as the Mapuche. Throughout, in wonderful imagery inspired by Neruda’s poems, words slide off the page or go marching or fall asleep or travel to “the heaven of lost stories.”

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Jerry Griswold is the Director of San Diego State University’s National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. His most recent book is Feeling Like a Kid.

Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs

Monday, July 19th, 2010

At TEDxEdmonton, Cameron Herold makes a powerful case for parenting and education that teaches kids to be entrepreneurs.

Watch now >>

About Cameron Herold:
An entrepreneur since childhood, Cameron Herold wants parents and teachers to recognize — and foster — entrepreneurial talent in kids.  For 20 years, Cameron Herold has been coaching entrepreneurs on five continents , helping them build their companies. He started BackPocket COO to coach and mentor young, fun companies — and help them make their dreams happen.  Herold was a leading force behind one of the most successful new business ventures of the last decade, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He was Chief Operating Officer for nearly seven years.