Friday, November 27, 2009

Ocean Wonders Musical Fishbowl by Fisher Price

This is a great toy for children 8 months+ who like to drop objects into containers, and who eventually will become interested in dumping them out as well. The toy plays three soothing songs, makes calming ocean bubble noises, and lights up when turned on. It also rocks back and forth when the fish are dropped in. This is a simple and great cause-effect toy that helps children learn about the impact of their actions on a object. Strengths: It encourages the development of simple problem solving skills (figuring out how to activate the toy) and motor skills (learning how to grasp and release as well as encouraging sitting/balancing). Weaknesses: Some children tire of the toy quickly, but that's true of most toys. There are very few toys that appeal to every child all of the time. Price: $17-$20. Where to Buy: This toy is available at retailers like Toys R Us, WalMart, Target, and on-line through Amazon or the Fisher Price website (

Peek-a-Baby by Karen Katz

This is a charming lift the flap book that will help older infants and toddlers learn about body parts. Under each flap, which is a piece of clothing, hides another body part: hands in mittens, ears under ear muffs, feet in boots, and tummy under a shirt. The text is simple and the premise is a fun way to help children learn their body parts, which is an import skill for them to start developing around 12 months of age. Where to Buy: This book can be found at most large bookstores, children's bookstores, or through on-line retailers like

Spin & Spill Cement Truck by Fisher Price

This cement truck comes with three large, hard plastic balls that spin in the "cement mixer" when the lever is pulled down. The wheels click and the spinner on top of the cab of the truck makes a beeping sound when spun. Strengths: The truck is a good size for older infants and toddlers and is easy to push across a hard surfaced floor. The balls are great for shaking and throwing. Weaknesses: The "cement mixer" on the back of the truck tips over very easily if even a small amount of weight is placed on it. Also, the lever that you pull to make the mixer spin snaps back quickly and can easily pinch little fingers. Price: $25- $30. Where to Buy: This toy isn't widely available, but is still available through Amazon ( I've also sen it at discount retailers such as Big Lots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

If you're looking for a book that is inventive, funny, and will help your preschooler look at the world from a new angle, this is the book for you. The books begins with the cows finding a type writer and writing a note to the farmer "Dear Farmer Brown. The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets. Sincerely, the Cows". When the farmer refuses to give them the blankets, the cows go on strike and what follows is a whimsical story of the troubles the farmer has with all of his animals. The best character in the book is the Duck, who serves as the go-between for the animals and the farmer. The recommended age range on this book is 4-8 years, but I've used it with 2 1/2 year olds and 3 years olds with great success. This is a Caldecott Honour book, so the illustrations are wonderful. Where to Buy: Any major book seller or it can be purchased on-line through vendors like Amazon.

Pull Along Zebra by Plan Toys

This eco-friendly wooden pull toy is one that brings to mind a simpler time in the world. The toy doesn't light up, beep, or blink - it's just a well constructed toy that bobs along after a child when it is pulled across the floor. When the zebra is pulled the head moves up and down, but other than that there are no other special effects. Strengths: The toy is great for encouraging walking, reaching, grasping, and other motor movements. Weaknesses: Some children lose interest quickly because the toy doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles. Price: $15-$20. Where to Buy: Plan toys are typically available in specialty toy shops or can be purchased on-line through retailers like Moolka Toys ( or Baby Earth (

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eyes, Nose, Toes, Peek-a-Boo by DK Books

This is a fun lift-the-flap and texture book for older infants and toddlers alike. Each page has a picture of a baby looking for the eyes, ears, nose, and toes of toy animals hidden behind a heavy gauge cardboard flap. The pictures are bright and colourful and there is a wide variety of textured materials for baby to feel. Strengths: Like all DK lift-the-flap books, this one has heavy cardboard flaps that are difficult to rip or tear. Weaknesses: None that I children I work with have been able to discover. Price: $4 - $8. Where to Buy: This book can be purchased through most major book sellers,, or directly through DK Books (

Rain Forest Shake n' Chime Ball by Fisher Price

This is a cute addition to the Rain Forest line of toys by Fisher Price that is appropriate for young infants to play with. The chime ball moves easily and the little animals inside the ball gently rock back and forth when the ball is bumped by either a hand or foot. Strengths: This is a great toy for a young infant (less than about 6 months) and provides some great early learning exercises in cause-effect play. Weaknesses: The toy quickly becomes boring for slightly older infants, so the life of the toy isn't that great for the price you pay. Price: $12- $15. Where to Buy: This toy is available through most major toy outlets that carry Fisher Price Toys such as Toys R Us, WalMart, and Target.

Peek-a-Blocks Shape Sorter by Fisher Price

This is a well made, durable shape sorter that is very popular with older infants and toddlers. The four large shapes are easy for little hands to grip and the points on the star actually have a nice teething texture on them! Whenever something is dropped into the box a musical tune briefly plays, so babies who like music will enjoy this feature. Strengths: The shapes fit easily into their corresponding holes and are easy to drop into the top of the open box. Most little children also enjoy dumping toys out of the box as well. Weaknesses: The only flaw with the toy that I've found is that the handle can pinch little fingers when children are trying to dump toys out of the box. Price: $30-$34. Where to buy: This toy can be found at most outlets that sell Fisher Price toys, but can most certainly be found through

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti

This book is a great variation on the traditional lift-the-flap books that reveal babies playing peek-a-boo with the reader. Each page has a single picture of an animal on it (with the exception of the last page) with their hooves, paws, or wings up over their eyes and text that reads "Guess who? Peek-a-......". When the flap is turned down to reveal the animal's face the text fills in the animal's sound (e.g., Guess who? Peek-a-oink says the pig). It's a fun lift-the-flap book, with it's only drawback being that the flaps tear easily. Where to Buy: Children's book sellers generally carry this book, but it is also available through on-line vendors like Amazon.

Bright Baby First words by Priddy Books

This is an ideal vocabulary building board book for older infants and toddlers. Each page has a large colour photo of a single item of clothing, piece of furniture, piece of fruit, animal, or other item that would be familiar to a very young child. The pictures are easy to label and the only text that accompanies them is the name of the item pictured. There are actually three other books currently available in this series: Bright Baby Animals; Bright Baby Colours; and Bright Baby Trucks. Where to Buy: You can find these books at sellers like Barnes & Noble or Borders, but you can also purchase them online at Amazon or directly from the publisher Priddy Books (

Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton

Russell the sheep can't fall asleep no matter what he tries. This is the premise of this stylized and whimsical book. The illustrations are expressive and the text is simple enough for older toddlers and preschoolers to be able to enjoy the book, but offers some interesting words and problem solving solutions that older preschoolers would enjoy. Rob Scotton has also written two other Russell books that are just as enjoyable as the original Russell the Sheep: Russell's Christmas Magic; and Russell and the Lost Treasure. Where to Buy: Russell books, as well as other titles by Rob Scotton, can be purchased through children's book sellers as well as large chain book stores with children's sections

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

This is a great tale for preschoolers about a duck who lives on a farm and decides that he will learn how to ride the little boy's bike. Duck starts out slowly, but soon he is zooming past all of the other farm animals. each of the animals think that duck is silly for wanting to ride a bike, until some of the boy's friends come over to play and leave their bikes outside where the animals can find them. Soon the horse, goat, sheep, cow, dog, cat, chicken, two pigs, and a mouse are all riding around with duck. The animals return the bikes before the children find out that the animals have ridden their bikes, but duck has bigger plans. The story ends with him eyeing the tractor! This is a fun and whimsical tale that preschoolers enjoy greatly. Where to Buy: Books by David Shannon are readily available through most children's bookstores.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale: by Mo Willems

This is an ingenious book that is popular with older toddlers and preschoolers alike. It's about a little girl named Trixie, her Daddy, and her favourite stuffed animal - Knuffle Bunny. Trixie and Daddy go to the Laundromat where Knuffle Bunny gets lost. The story focuses on how Trixie tries to let Daddy know that the Bunny is gone and what Daddy finally has to do to find it. What really makes this book so different is the way the illustrations are presented. There are beautiful black-and-white photos of Brooklyn New York combined with expressive cartoon drawings of the main characters. Where to Buy: Mo Willems books are available through most major book sellers as well as online outlets.

Rainforest Nest n' Play Animals by Fisher Price

This is a set of three animal shaped nesting boxes that may be appealing to fairly young infants (3 mo+). Each box is shaped like a jungle animal and has lots of interesting textured surprises for babies & toddlers to explore. The elephant box has crinkly ear and a 3D butterfly and flower stitched to the sides of the box; the lion has a soft mane; and the zebra jingles. There is also a soft monkey that can be put in/taken out of the boxes. Strengths: They are a good size for little hands to grasp and are light weight enough that babies can easily manipulate them. Additionally, this is a quiet toy - no major bells, light, or whistles! Weaknesses: The boxes seem to be made out of a light weight cardboard so they don't seem to be all that durable. Additionally, there is limited play value for the toy because although you can nest the boxes (put them inside one another) they aren't easy to stack. Price: $14-18 Where to Buy: These are available on Amazon.

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

If your child likes books that are silly and whimsical Moo, Baa, La La La is a board book that you should look into. Basically the book reviews the sounds that familiar animals make (e.g., Rhinoceroses snort and snuff and little dogs go ruff, ruff, ruff!), but you never know when the three singing pigs will say "La, La, La." The text rhymes and is simple enough for children to learn quickly so they can participate in reading the story with you. It's a great book to read to one child or a group of children. Where to Buy: Sandra Boynton books are available at most stores that have a large children's book section.

Surprise Inside Cups by Fisher Price

This is a very simple stacking/nesting toy that seems to be popular with older infants (9mo+), toddlers, and young preschoolers. The three hard plastic, textured cups are easy to grip and stack solidly into a short tower. There is a jingly frog the fits snugly into the smallest of the cups, so children have a built in toy to put in/take out of the cups. The frog has soft feet that are a nice texture for teething infants and toddlers. Strengths: Each of the cups has a little surprise in the bottom: a mirror, a fish shaker; and a picture of a bumble bee. These provide fun little moments of discovery for younger children. Weaknesses: The bumble bee sticker in the bottom of the largest cup is easy to peel off and the handle, while a great idea, can be awkward for some children. Price: $5-$10. Where to Buy: These cups can be found at large toy retailers such as Toys R Us, WalMart, and Target, but can also be purchased through places like Amazon.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a Caldecott Honour Book, is a delightful story about a little pigeon whose only dream is to drive the big bus. The story starts with the bus driver telling the readers that he has to leave for a little while and asking us to make sure that the pigeon does not drive the bus. For the remainder of the story the pigeon does everything he can to convince the readers that he should be able to drive the bus. It's the perfect toddler/preschooler ploy for trying to get something they want. The illustrations are simple but compelling - the pigeon's facial expressions and body language are both highly expressive. This is a charming and funny book that older toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy immensely. Other "Pigeon" books by Willems include: The Pigeon has Feelings Too; Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late; The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog; and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. Where to Buy: These are all relatively new books and are easy to find at just about any store that has a large children's book section.

Animalia by Graeme Base

Animalia is probably one of the most beautifully illustrated alphabet books you will ever find. Because of the intricacy of the drawings, it's perfect for preschoolers and slightly older children who are still interested in alphabet books. Each letter is accompanied by alliterative text (e.g., An armoured armadillo avoiding an angry alligator; Ingenious iguanas improvising an intricate impromptu on impossibly impractical instruments) and a page full of lush drawing of pictures starting with the letter featured. Although the purpose of the book is to teach children the alphabet, adults will love the pictures for their detail and sense of whimsy. Where to Buy: Even though this is an older book (published in 1986) it's still widely available at specialty children's book stores and through large chain outlets that have a children's section.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crib to Floor Lion Mirror by Fisher Price

Babies love to look at their own faces, so unbreakable mirrors of any type will keep them entertained for long periods of time. This mirror by Fisher Price is one that is designed to be safely used as both a crib mirror and a free standing one during activities like tummy time. The lion's "feet" each offer a different sensory activity for babies to explore: two are hard rattles, one is a soft squeaker, and the last is a soft jingle rattle. Strengths: It's a cute portable mirror that is easy to take with you wherever you and baby go. Babies seem to really enjoy playing with the lion's feet. Weaknesses: The kickstand on the back of the mirror that is supposed to hold it upright when sitting on the floor doesn't work all that effectively - mine is always falling over unless I prop it up against something. Also, the surface of the mirror is small and the felt mane of the lion covers some of that surface, so it's hard to see more than one face in the mirror at a time. Price: $14-$17 Where to Buy: Toys R Us carries this mirror and it can also be purchased through online sellers like Amazon.

Amazing Animals Tubtime Tugboat by Fisher Price

This fun little boat and five characters are great for water play with toddlers. The walrus and seahorse both have clicking and poseable joints and soft teething textures. The set also includes a lobster scoop, a fist that squirts water, and an octopus that allows a child to scoop and sprinkle water. There are other pieces of the Tubtime friends line that can be purchased separately. These include a poseable turtle with a scooping crab and a poseable dolphin with a squirting starfish. Strengths: These are cute and engaging characters that children find visually interesting. The fish, lobster, and octopus are especially fun during water play. Weaknesses: Although the walrus and seahorse are cute they have limited play value as water toys. Both are very heavy so they merely sink when placed in the water. If your child likes to hold toys they're great, but if he or she likes more active play, these toys will quickly become old. Price: $17-$20. Where to Buy: The Tubtime Tugboat is available at Toy R Us locations and on-line through Amazon.