Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jungle Drums by Graeme Base

Jungle Drums is the story of a little warthog named Ngiri who was teased by the other animals because he was small and plain. He is given a set of magical bongo drums by a wise old wildebeest who tells him they will makes his wishes come true, but not always as he would expect. So one night Ngiri plays the drums and what results is a chaotic mix up with all of the other animals in the jungle. This is a great story for older preschoolers and school aged children that teaches a lesson about being happy with who they are. As with all books by Graeme Base the illustrations are fantastic and he provides all sorts of interesting details for children and adults to discover within the pictures. Where to Buy: All of Base's books are readily available at bookstores nationwide. You of course can also find them through online outlets like Amazon.

Three Little Pigs Playset by Melissa and Doug

As a Speech Language Pathologist I'm always looking for toys that help to promote both the use and understanding of language skills. This is an excellent toy that can help support not only the development of story telling skills, but it is a great way to teach colours, matching, and counting abilities as well. What I really love about the toy is that you children can retell the story of the Three Little Pigs by acting it out with these soft, squeaky figures that are just the right size for toddlers hands. The pigs can b hidden in the plush houses and the wolf slides down the chimney - both of which are really fun activities for young children. Strengths: This is a great toy for promoting pretend play and story telling as well as for teaching some basic concepts. Weaknesses: The houses are made of a plush fabric that is a little hard to clean, but this only matters if you are using the toys with multiple children. Price: $27 - $30. Where to Buy: Melissa and Doug toys are widely available at many toy outlets such as Toys R Us as well as specialty toy stores. They can also be purchased online directly through the Melissa and Doug website ( or through a vendor like Amazon.

Rolling Reflections by Discovery Toys

Mirrors are always popular with infants. What could be more fun that being able to look at and talk to the baby in the mirror? This is a great non-breakable mirror that rolls and jingles with the slightest touch, so it's a wonderful way to promote tummy time and movement in young infants. Strengths: As I mentioned this is a great toy to promote tummy time. Even babies who don't like to be on their tummies for more than a few seconds, are often interested is watching their reflections, so this can help them to build a tolerance for tummy time. Weaknesses: The mirror is a bit small, so it's hard for baby to look at both his or her face and the face of a parent in the mirror at the same time. Price: $10 - $13. Where to Buy: Discovery Toys no longer manufactures this toy, but Megcos Toys makes a really similar product. It can be purchased online through Amazon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Little Feet Like by Piggy Toes Press

This is another great giggle and grow book for infants and toddlers. It's actually advertised as a "Tootsie Touch and Feel Book", basically a texture book for feet. Just like "Little Hands Love", this book features large panels of textures (about 4.5 inches x 4.5 inches) that are easy for baby to feel. The textures themselves are unique as well. There is "fresh, green grass," "warm powdery sand," and crisp, crunchy leaves" to name just a few. Again the story pattern is predictable, which is highly popular with young children and the text is easy to follow, so it makes for a great "fill in the blank" book eventually.

Little Hands Love by Piggy Toes Press

This is an excellent texture book for infants and toddlers who enjoy having interesting textures to feel while they read. The thick cardboard pages play host to large texture pads (big enough for an entire hand of the child to feel the texture all at once) that include things like cardboard, tutu material, cotton, and crinkly flower petals. Each page starts with the text "Little hands love..." and then have a description of the texture featured. It's a predictable book filled with not so typical textures that will keep babies and toddlers coming back for more.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oval Xylophone by Plan Toys

This is another well constructed wooden toy offered by Plan Toys. The keys are strung on a flexible strong and the wooden hammer is easy to attach to the side of the toy with a ribbon or string. This is a great first xylophone for younger infants (8 months+) because it is easy to strike and is light enough that it won't hurt if little fingers grab at the keys. Strengths: Because the keys are wooden they make a soft, somewhat muted tone when struck, so they aren't as jarring as the tones produced by a metal xylophone. Also, the materials used in the toy are non-toxic, so they don't pose a danger if a child still likes to mouth objects. Weaknesses: If you are looking for a xylophone that lets you play true sounding songs where the notes need to be "in tune" this is not the toy for you. The tone quality tends to be muddy because the keys are made of wood rather than metal. Price: $20 - $23 Where to Buy: Most specialty toy shops carry wooden toys like Plan, but the toys can also be found through retailers like Amazon. Silly Goose Toys ( is an online outlet that carries a great range of wooden and specialty toys.

Russell's Christmas Magic by Rob Scotton

Russell the Sheep is finishing putting up the Christmas decorations, when suddenly there is a loud crash in Frogsbottom Field. Santa has crashed his sleigh and is afraid that Christmas will have to be canceled. Russell comes to the rescue by helping to fix the sleigh and making sure that Santa and his reindeer and sent safely on their way. It's a beautifully illustrated book, with expressive and detailed drawings. It's a great book for preschoolers, young school aged children, and anyone else who still believes in the magic of the Christmas spell.

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox

This is a story of a dear and bumbling Wombat who loves everything about Christmas, especially the Nativity play. When he is finally old enough to try out, the parts all seem to go to other animals. This is a touching story about how Wombat finally gets to participate in the play of his dreams and sends a Christmas message of joy and hope to all. It's a timeless story for preschoolers and older children that encourages you never to give up on your dreams.

The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas

This is a beautiful and biblically accurate portrayal of the story of the birth of Christ. The illustrations are delicate water colours that capture the tenderness of the story of a birth of a child. The text of the story comes from the King James Version of the Bible and the artwork is soft and enchanting. If you are looking for a story of the nativity, this is a must have for any bookshelf. What makes the story so brilliant is that the tale of the birth of Christ can be retold just through the pictures for younger children.

Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold & Vivian Walsh

This is a charming holiday tale about a little dog named Oliver, who after hearing the line of a song (All of the other reindeer....) thinks she must be a reindeer, not a dog. So Olive heads to the North Pole to help Santa and his reindeer deliver their presents to boys and girls all around the world. The other reindeer are a little confused by Olive, but soon learn to appreciate her special talents. This is an excellent Christmas story for toddlers and preschoolers alike.

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff

This is a Christmas installment in a great series of books by Laura Numeroff. It's a perfect holiday tale for older toddlers and preschool aged children. The story follows a mouse who goes to the movies and gets popcorn, which he then wants to use to decorate his Christmas tree. This energetic little mouse frolics through a host of different holiday activities. The story follows the same predictable pattern as all of the other "If you give a...." stories, but it's a great holiday offering that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

This is a story about a little girl named Treva who loves to decorate and get ready for Christmas. However, this year Treva notices that some of the presents she has wrapped and decorations she has made are disappearing. One morning she sees a small creature scurrying away with a Christmas pudding, so she follows it into the forest where her adventures just begin. This is a whimsical story about Christmas that would be delightful to children of all ages and once again Jan Brett's illustrations are beautifully detailed and tell a charming story all of their own.

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

This is a unique take off on the traditional story of Santa Claus that would be perfect for an older preschooler or young school aged child. The story focuses on a little girl named Sophie Kringle whose family loved Christmas and kept their decorations up all year long. Auntie Claus, who loved Christmas most of all, went away on a mysterious trip every October and didn't return until after Christmas, so one year Sophie decided to follow her. What results is a tale that makes you rethink everything you think you know about Santa Claus. It's a nice unpredictable tale that makes children realize that there is more to Christmas than just receiving lots of presents.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle

This is not your traditional Christmas story. It's the tale of a farmer and his animals named one, two, three, four, and five, and a tree named tree. The farmer is waiting for the first snow fall and when he falls asleep he dreams that he is being covered by a blanket of soft white snowflakes. What makes this is an interesting book is that each page has a plastic overlay with a white blanket that covers the picture underneath. Gradually all of the animals are revealed under their white blankets. The farmer wakes from his dream and delivers presents to all of his special animals, and decorates the tree as well. This is a lovely book for young children and the simple story is one that promotes counting and animal identification skills.

The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett

This is a beautiful retelling of the classic Christmas poem, The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore. The illustrations are rich with detail and could tell the story, even without the help of the text. Jan Brett's illustrations, as usual, provide foreshadowing of the story as it unfolds and her attention to detail is astounding. The book would be more effective for preschoolers and older children, but it's a great story to read on Christmas Eve as part of family tradition.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lace A Shape by Early Years

Putting beads on a string is an important developmental step for young children. Lace A Shape beads are a great way to help young children develop this important skill. The toy comes with 12 large, soft plastic beads an a long string with a hard 3 inch plastic "needle" designed to make lacing easier. Strengths: This is a wonderful toy to promote fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The bright and colourful beads can help children learn about shape and colour sorting as well. Weaknesses: It can be difficult to get the needle through the hole in the bead. Since the beads are hollow, then needle sometimes gets stuck inside if the child doesn't push it through perfectly straight. This can lead to some very frustrating moments for an already impatient toddler! Price: $18 - $22. Where to Buy: I found mine at Lakeshore Learning, but I'm sure they would be available on-line through places like amazon.

Busy Box by Tomy

This is a great activity centre that will keep toddlers busy for a long time. The box features six different sides,each with a different activity to offer. The activities include: a shape sorter; an unlocking door with retractable key; a telephone; a pop-up pal; a clock with clicking hands; and spinning, clicking gears. The box is large enough that it won't cause children to become frustrated with the activities, but rather encourage them to explore more. Strengths: It's a wonderful toy that offers lots of options for play. Toddlers can use it independently, but it's the most fun when Mum or Dad sits and plays with them. Weaknesses: The key that unlocks the door can be a bit awkward for little hands. Price: $20-$30. Where to Buy: Can be found in most specialty toy shops.

Barnyard Bingo by Fisher Price

This is an old but definitely great game for older toddlers and preschoolers. The concept is very simple, you just drop the animals coins into the barn then pull the handle to release a chip. Then you match the chip by colour and animal to one of the four bingo cards provided. Strengths: One of the greatest strengths of this game is that is doesn't require the child to be able to read or even talk, it's just a simple matching games. It's an excellent game for children who have been diagnosed with Autism because of the matching component and the fact that it doesn't require strong verbal language abilities. Weaknesses: It's no longer available through mass retail marketers. Price: $30-$40. Where to buy: The only place you can currently find the game is on eBay. There are usually a fair number of games available at any given time.