Archive for December, 2014

Gift Ideas for Future Scientists

Friday, December 12th, 2014

microscope_02Science is everywhere. From the backyard to the kitchen table, earth’s core to outer space, and everywhere in between. It’s great fun to discover something new. Here are a few gift ideas to spark discovery.

Keen observers ages 3+ will enjoy Educational Insights’ My First Microscope; their older siblings (8+) Nancy B’s Science Club AquaScope and Underwater Wonders Activity.  

Good scientists need to know how to add and divide; Math Doodles and Slice Fractions are two wonderfully creative apps for those who love numbers, and those who should. Great fun and great learning at $2.99 each.

Thames and Kosmos sets a high bar for serious science kits, especially for those ages 8+. From glowing chemistry to solar mechanics, electronic circuits and the science of gyroscopes, the kits deliver experiments and activities for hands on learning. The comprehensive instruction manuals are a treat to read.

And speaking of reading, those not yet old enough for the PG 13 movie The Theory of Everything will delight in George’s Secret Key to the Universe written by Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy. Readers ages 6-9 will enjoy a subscription to the magazine, Ask that takes scientific ideas and concepts, and makes them relevant through stories.

The Magic School Bus kit The Secrets of Space (ages 5+) is a fun and inexpensive way to test the interests of future space scientists; Vito Technology offers a universe of apps in the original Star Walk line.

At risk of being labeled the Oracle of the Obvious, museum visits and memberships are a must do and must have for future scientists and the people who love them. The bonus will be learning something new – together.

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Is there a Picasso in your house?

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

paint_splash_png_by_absurdwordpreferredAlthough most of us think of Picasso primarily as a painter, he was also a sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright. In celebration of his varied interests and artistic media, we offer the following to encourage creativity across disciplines.

Wee Society – Wee You-Things Blocks (Ages 3+) are whimsical, instructive and made in the USA. From across the pond comes PlayShapes (Ages 4+) by designers Zoe Miller and David Goodman. But act fast; looks like inventory is low, but shipping is free on Amazon.

For those who haven’t yet mastered the tripod grip, try Crayon Rocks (Ages 3+). For those who have, the

Colossal Art Set (Ages 3+) and 50ct Connector Pen Bucket (Ages 6+) are terrific choices. Author/artist Monica Dengo treats handwriting as an art form in her book titled Pick Up Your Pen.  As Art and Max illustrate, art is all about new perspectives. And Chuck Close Face Book , an autobiography in which answers questions from curious 5th graders, is all about perspective. (Ages: 8+)

MoMA Art Lab App lets players create artworks in the styles of the greats and offers inventive tools to create a sound composition, a collage, and more. (Ages 7+) Family museum memberships are one of the most overlooked and undervalued gifts. Use the Children’s Museum Association comprehensive search tool to find children’s museums around the world.

And with our own nod to the “unboxing” phenomenon, the cardboard box, some crayons, and scissors will fuel imaginations, and power creativity long after the holiday hubbub subsides.

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Books to Give: Part Three

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

From Kemie Nix, founder of Children’s Literature for Children, three books for readers ages 7 and up.

Ages: 7 -10
Author: Bibi Dumon Tak Illustrator: Philip Hopman
Publisher: Eerdmans

Mikis and his family live on the Greek island of Corfu. One day after school, Mikis’ Pappou (grandfather) has a surprise waiting for him in the stable. It’s a donkey, and Mikis can name her. After telling the donkey to blink when she hears her name and after much consultation, Mikis and the donkey agree on Tsaki as her name.

Pappou works Tsaki much too hard, forcing her to carry huge loads of wood down the mountain, chiding Mikis who feels that Tsaki is being mistreated; she’s a working farm animal, not a pet, Pappou explains. On Sunday, when Mikis is allowed to take the donkey out for the day, he discovers that the donkey is bleeding where the straps for the heavy baskets have cut into her flesh. His solution to the problem causes him to have a certain notoriety in the small village.

Love between a boy and an animal, plus friendship between a boy and a girl, are universal, and Mikis and the donkey are delightful characters. With a slightly tall format, very loose brown ink sketches, and brown lettering, this book is a pleasure to hold and read.


Ages: 10+
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis  Publisher: Scholastic

Buxton, Canada was a community in the woods built by runaway slaves. By the turn of the twentieth century, children born in Buxton knew only freedom. Thirteen-year-old Benji understood woodland lore and loved the nearby forest where he and his friends enthusiastically played American Civil War games. Although rumors of a “madman” living in the woods abound, neither Benji nor his friends knew the truth.

In the nearby town of Chatam, a boy of Irish heritage, Alvin Stockhard, dubbed “Red” for his flaming red hair, lived with his widowed father and mean-spirited Grandmother O’Toole. Red wanted to be a scientist, and Benji wanted to be a newspaper reporter. These two bright, very different boys from dissimilar backgrounds became unlikely companions and ultimately friends.

Told in alternating chapters, the lives of the boys inexorably are drawn closer until an amazing denouement involving the so-called “Madman of Piney Woods,” teaches the boys lessons about their own characters and seals their friendship.


egg__spoon_gregory_maguireEGG AND SPOON
Ages: 12+
Author: Gregory Maguire Publisher: Candlewick

Elena Rudina’s family is falling apart. Her father died, her mother is dying. The eldest brother Luka has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, and Elena’s other brother Alexei, has been carried off to be a servant to the local landowner. Crops have failed, and the peasants in the village of Miersk are literally starving.

Elena scavenges widely, reduced to stealing acorns from a squirrel’s cache to make soup for her mother. Desperate, Elena declares that she is going to the Tsar to ask for help. When the local vetrenarian tells her she doesn’t know the way, Elena replies, “I’ll ask Baba Yaga, the old witch of the woods, if I have to,” she cried. “Don’t think I won’t.”

Magic begins to creep into Elena’s life. A long forgotten train passes through the abandoned train station on the way to Saint Petersburg where the Tzar is wintering. On board, Elena meets and talks to a girl who is traveling with her great-aunt to be presented to the Tsar’s godson. As the two girls become acquainted, Ekaterina unlocks an intricately carved wooden box to show Elena the prized ceramic egg that is her great-aunt’s gift for the Tzar. When the train starts abruptly, the expensive gift begins to roll away. Ekaterina dives after it and falls out of the train, leaving Elena behind. The rich girl and the poor girl have inadvertently exchanged places.

The author plays out this old and appealing theme in the misadventures of both girls with the elements of magic, as viewed inside the egg. The intriguing tale is told by an old man imprisoned in a tower, with our author standing behind him. This multi-layered story is a wonder of richness, embedded humor and complexity that amazingly sorts itself out.



Noodle on this, Future Chefs!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

The alphabetically second holiday gift list we cooked up for is for the Future Chef.

julia2Cooking is a lot more than getting pots dirty. It’s a hot topic in playgroups and Pinterest. It’s also a learning opportunity. From color recognition to chemistry, mouth-feel to math, healthy and nutritious meals are on everyone’s minds – if not their lips.

When your child shows an interest in cooking, tap into that hunger (for knowledge). Start the day with a short stack and a tall tale Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake. For those who like potato pancakes, read the late-great Eden Ross Lipson’s Applesauce Season illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. (Ages 5+). After breakfast, play Pancake Pile-Up!™ Relay Game (Ages4+). For sous chefs needing a break, ABC Food and Toca Kitchen (Ages 3-6) are two apps with fun-filled learning snacks.

The cooking classes continue. Encourage healthy eating with Hello Sweet Potato games and activities. (Age 5+). Gobble up the lessons of making rainbow ice and exploding marshmallows with Clifford Food Science (Ages 3+). Playful Chef Deluxe Cooking Kit (Ages 6+) and Cook It In A Cup (Ages 6-14) deliver hands on lessons. Is kiwi good on a pizza? Play Menu Mash-Up (Ages 12+) and find out. For those who’d prefer to strategize than cook, Sushi Go (Ages 8+) is a fun way to do so. A subscription to ChopChop Magazine (Ages 5-12) will inspire any recipient.

And our list would be incomplete without a salute to the doyenne of TV cooking shows. Bon Appétit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child is a picture book biography for cooks of all ages.



Gifts for Future Novelists

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014


Any novelist worth her salt knows that the way to become a better writer is to read, read, read.

Reading creates opportunities to learn and to travel to worlds both real and imagined – past, present, and future.

Parents can help even the youngest develop a love of reading. There’s not much cozier than sitting on Mom or Dad’s lap listening and watching the story unfold. And wordless texts invite pre and established readers of all ages to tell the story the pictures offer. These Arthur Geisert classics, Lights Out, and Hog Wash are a few of our favorites.

Audiobooks are another way to share stories when one lap just isn’t big enough. Tales2Go is a deliciously comprehensive “must have” streaming audiobook service for any listener/reader.

Puppets are an enchanting way to create characters and bring them to life, inhabiting stories that may last a lifetime. Funny Frog Puppet (Ages 3+) Grunting Pig Puppet (Ages 3+) and Ostrich Puppet are just a few of the charming, the ready, and the willing.

Play games that build vocabulary, the cornerstone of a good story. Zingo!® Word Builder  (Ages 5+), Jumbo Bananagrams (Ages 7+), Chain Letters (Ages 8+), Last Letter ™ (Ages 8+), Rory’s Story Cubes (Ages 8+) and Noodle Speedoodle (Ages 8+).

Digital natives will like Sago Mini Doodlecast (Ages 2-6), Hue Animation Studio (movies are stories too. Ages 5+) and Book Creator (All Ages).

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