Friday, December 10, 2010

Shake and Stack Vehicles - Stacking Farm Animals by Fisher Price

If you are looking for a fun and simple "first toy" for a young child this is definitely one that's worth a look. Even though the toy is designed to be stacked, which is beyond the motor capabilities of very young children, each piece is fun to use all on its' own. The cow has a jingle bell, the pig squeaks when you push it's nose, the chicken rattles, and the tractor is just fun for older infants and toddlers to push back-and-forth. What's nice about the Stacking Farm Animals Toy is that the ways it can be played with actually change as children get a bit older and develop better fine motor skills. Initially the toy really is a simple cause-effect toy, where babies can poke, shake, and squeak their favourite animals. Once they get a bit older they can stack the animals on top of the tractor and take them all for a ride. Because each animal has two sturdy bristle-block like surfaces, the animals can be put together in many different ways as children learn to explore size concepts. Overall, a fun little toy!

Pets Jumbo Puzzle by Melissa and Doug

Just like all of the other Melissa and Doug Jumbo wooden puzzles this is a wonderful one for older infants and toddlers. The pieces are large, the knobs easy to grasp, and the pictures are big, bold, and beautiful! The pieces are easy for young children to remove from the puzzle board and even if they aren't able to get the pieces back into the right spots, there's still fun to be had by matching the pictures to one another and making fun animal sounds. I really like that Melissa and Doug do "theme" puzzles (pets, farm animals, fish bowl, etc.) because it's a wonderful way to help young children learn about categorizing and similarities/differences. I have found these puzzles to be extremely durable and don't hesitate to use them with children who still like to chew or mouth toys. I've heard some complaints that the pictures will peel off of the wooden backings after awhile, but I've never encountered those kinds of difficulties.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Toddler Barn by Fisher Price

I'm not sure if the actual name of this toy was "The Toddler Barn" but since it's no longer commercially available, that's what I call it. This is another one of those toys that I've had for over 20 years and am truly disappointed that Fisher Price no longer makes such a simple and fun barn for very young children. The barn, which is the size of large lunch box, is very portable and of course durable. There is a door on each end of the barn that open up to store the farm animals and the silo is actually a chute that the animals can slide down. It doesn't sing, light up, or make animal noises - it's just a fun toy to play with. I don't remember what animals originally came with it, but I have found that most of the current Fisher Price animals fit into it quite nicely. It's an old but wonderful toy, definitely something to check for on eBay or at yard sales.

Toddler House by Fisher Price

I have used this house in therapy for about 25 years and it is still as interesting and exciting to young children as it was all of those years ago! The house is very simple, but includes some excellent opportunities for exploration for young learners. The door bell rings, the front door opens and closes, the garage door opens and closes, The roof opens up into a little bedroom, and the chimney is actually a great sliding chute. What's nice about the house, is that little people from more current play sets sit fit in nicely, so you don't have to worry about tracking down all of the old people pieces to use with it. There are not a lot of bells and whistles on this toy, but if you're able to find one on eBay or at a yard sale, grab it because it will be an investment that will give your child hours and hours and hours of uninterrupted play fun!

Little People Zoo Train by Fisher Price

This is a great first train for young explorers (9 months+)! The train consists of three cars that can be easily attached/detached from one another and the animals are a great size for little hands to hold. When you push down on the animals, a song plays. What makes this piece one of their best is the movement of the pieces when the train is pushed around. The giraffe spins in a circle, two other animals are able to tetter- totter and the parrot (I've lost my parrot and replaced it with a peacock, but it still works just wonderfully) swings back and forth on his perch. Children seem to enjoy putting the train together in different combinations and like to include animals from other Fisher Price sets in their play. The pieces are bright and don't seem to fade. This is also a toy that is very easy to wash.

Cow Peek-a-Boo Rattle by Infantino

This is a small, plush rattle that has lots of great sights, sounds, and textures for infants to explore. Some of the loops surrounding the cow's head are a hard textured plastic that is great for chewing on while the other cloth pieces make different crinkling and rattling sounds when moved even slightly. The best surprise about the rattle is that when you flip the cow's head back, there is a little unbreakable mirror inside, so babies can spend time looking at their faces. There is also a boomering on the top of the cow so it can be clipped to a stroller or diaper bag quite easily. The rattle is small enough (and textured enough) that it is easy for little hands to manage. It's a great early rattle because of the size and materials used to construct the toy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Big Frog Can't Fit In by Mo Willems

This is a really unique pop-up-book by one of my favourite children's authors Mo Willems. The idea behind the story is that Frog is so big that the book simply can't hold her in. She wishes she was smaller or more bendable, but nothing she did would help her fit inside the book. But with the help of many of her smaller friends they finally discovered a way to help Big Frog - they made the book BIGGER! The story is simple, and some of the pop-up figures a bit hard to get folded up again, but I every child I've used it with has loved the impossibility of Big Frog's problem. They try to figure out how to fit their bodies into small spaces, so it's actually a great story to promote all kinds of problem solving four young children!

The Late Talker: What to Do If Your Child Isn't Talking Yet by Marilyn Agin, Lisa Geng, and Malcolm Nicholl

As a speech-language pathologist, I'm not really a big fan
of lots of books that tell you "why" your child might not
be talking. But this book not only addresses why some children can really be identified as late talkers, it tackles the issue of apraxia of speech in a way that makes sense to families. This is not a "How to Book" or something that will give you great hands-on activities to do with a child who is not yet talking, but it does offer some great insights to parents, teachers, and therapists about what could potentially be the cause behind this developmental difference. The book isn't for everyone, and if you're looking for a "This is how I teach my child to talk" book - this one is definitely not the one for you. I found it to be very interesting and shared some of the chapters with families I work with and have received very positive feedback from them.

Elmo and Grover Full Body Puppets by Sesame Street

These fluffy hand puppets are soft and easy for little hands to manipulate. Each puppet has a movable mouth that let's the puppet chew, talk, and blow kisses to their adoring toddler fans! What I like the most about my puppets is that they are surface washable and their mouths are fairly easy to operate, even for toddler hands. Each puppet stands about 15" tall but can be snuggled into a smaller ball if your child wants something soft to hang on to. Each puppet costs about $15 so they aren't cost prohibitive for many families. Besides, as any toddler knows, you can get a lot of play value out of these furry little friends!

Handy Manny's Talking Tool Box by Fisher Price

This busy little tool box is popular with a wide range of children at different ages. It comes with Pat, Turner, Dusty, Stretch, Felipe, Squeeze, and Rusty and when the Manny button on the front of the box it pushed, the tools come to life! They sing, "Hop Up, Jump In", "dance", and say handy tool phrases like "Let's get to work!" The tools are a great size for little hands and I've found that the children I work with like to incorporate the toys into all kinds of other play activities (e.g., fixing the tires on a car and building a play doh house to name only a few). The only draw back is that the music on the toy is a little bit on the loud side and since there is no volume control button - you get Manny full blast at all times! I've taken the batteries out a few times when I just couldn't take the singing any more and for the most part the children I work with still loved the toy and didn't seem to miss the sound.

Building Blocks Sevilla by Haba

This is my largest set of Haba blocks. There are 25 unique shapes with creative designs on each of the pieces. As usual, they are made out of beech wood and decorated with a non-toxic solvent-free dye. There are some of the blocks that contain a rattle, bell, mirror, magnifier, peephole, and prism. Like all Haba block sets these are beautifully crafted and can stand up to chewing, throwing, dropping, and just about everything else an active toddler can throw at them! They are great size for a toddler's hand and some of the larger pieces are actually quite easy to stack. Whenever I use them, I'm always reminded of how much fun play can be when using just a basic, simple toy. They are a bit expensive (about $60- $70) but the quality of each piece is worth the extra price. I've had mine for some time now and have found them to be extremely durable and highly popular with children of all ages.

Cordoba Blocks by Haba

This 16 piece block set is made out of beech wood are painted vibrant colours that seem to be appealing to children and parents alike! The blocks contain a rattle, bell, mirror, and prism features, which are very popular with young explorers! The shapes of the blocks are fairly unique and while you don't get a lot of blocks for your money (they cost about $35 for the set) they are certainly worth it because of their durability and overall play value. This set is also nice because it can be incorporated into other Haba building sets quite easily. I've used my set quite a bit for the past year and they still look great and I find that they are popular with children at all different ages! The building possibilities are endless for older children and the bells and mirrors hold special appeal for young children (12 months+).

Click Clack Ball Track by Haba

If you're looking for a wonderfully sturdy ball track for your older infant or toddlers this is one that is definitely worth checking out! The wooden track which measures about 19" x 6" x 16" is natural wood painted with water-based, solvent free lacquers. There are three golf ball sized "marbles" that come with the toy and are easy to make roll down the curvy track and drop through the big holes at each end of the slanted levels. The track is the perfect size for 12-18 month old children because they can sit in front of it and still drop the balls through the holes. What I like about it is that there are relatively few special effects like music, buzzers, or lights that go off as the balls make their way down the track. It's a bit on the expensive side (about $119-$125) but worth it! Sometimes the green ball falls off the track, but for the most part it's a fun and quality ball track that children can enjoy for a long time!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

T-Rex Trick or Treats by Lois G. Grambling

It's Halloween night and T-Rex still hasn't decided what costume to wear. He wants to have the scariest costume of all of his friends. He thought about going as a ghost, a skeleton, or a witch, but when his friends came to get him they had used all of his costume ideas. As T-Rex tries to figure out what costume to wear his frown gets bigger and bigger, until it's so big that he scares himself when he looks in the mirror! So he goes out dressed as himself wearing a big scary frown and gets lots of treats. But when he starts to smile with his long, sharp, pointy teeth, people seem to be even more afraid of him. So the ultimate question is: Is T-Rex more scary when he frowns or smiles? The friends decide they will figure out that problem next year. This is a fun, not to scary, book that's wonderful for preschoolers. It's a great way to help them act out feelings and practice making different facial expressions. It's always been a highly popular book on my shelf.

I'm Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman

What more could you ask for from a Halloween book than pictures of ghouls, howling werewolves, and ghosts? The hero of the story, Simon, tries to convince his friends that he is brave and definitely not afraid of a haunted house. In rhyming text he proclaims, "I'm not afarid at the Vampire Feast. I can handle these blood sucking beasts! I bare my neck and face my fate. I help myself to a dinner plate. I'm Simon Lester Henry Strauss, and I'm not afraid of this haunted house." Simon continues to explore the creepy house and keeps telling his friends that he's not afraid, until the very end when he encounters a ......mouse. This is a fun and engaging book that lets children know that even the bravest person can still be afraid of something. This has been a big hit with my preschool crowd!

The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis

This is a rollicking story of a giant pumpkin that gets cut free from the vine by Buck and Billy Baxter. The pumpkin starts to slowly roll down the hill, but quickly picks up speed and zooms down the hill. The pumpkin breezes past Mama Baxter and Grandpa Baxter, until Poppa Baxter figured out how to stop the pumpkin. The Baxter's took the pumpkin home and made pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pie to enjoy at a Halloween feast. They even carved a jack-o-lantern out of the pumpkin shell. It's a fast paced, fun story and the repeating chorus of "Thumpety, bumpety, thumpin', bumpin, round and roll-y runaway pumpkin" is one that children like to shout out (between giggles).

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Although this isn't technically a Halloween book, it seems to fit in with stories about autumn and pumpkins! The story is of three friends who all live together in a pumpkin house. Cat, Squirrel, and Duck are friends who made the best pumpkin soup ever. Cat sliced the pumpkin, Squirrel stirred the water, and Duck adds the salt! But one morning Duck decides he wants to stir the soup! The friends have a fight and Duck leaves. Cat and Squirrel wait for him, but he doesn't come back, so they make the soup without any salt. Soup without salt wasn't very tasty, so Cat and Squirrel decide to find Duck and tell him that he can stir the soup if he comes back. When Duck returns he stirs the soup so fast it slops out of the pot and the pot gets burnt. But the friends still insist that it is the best soup they have ever tasted. This is such a great story, filled with lively characters, that I've used with fairly young children and have always gotten a positive response from them.

Pumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming

This is an eye catching book for young children that offers up all of the glorious and spooky delights of Halloween! The text is comprised of simple rhymes that are paired with lush, pulpy pictures of all of the different sights that make Halloween a spooky night. As the story progresses the rhythm of the text quickens and keeps little listeners glued to the book. The pictures and text create a wonderful energy when reading and I have found that some of my older two year olds really enjoy the story. It's a classic tale of Halloween!

Room on a Broom by Julia Donaldson

This is a story about an affable witch who makes room on her broom for a variety of animals friends. The story starts with the witch and her cat flying along on a windy night, when her hat suddenly blows away. She and the cat search for the hat, but can't find it until a friendly dog brings it back. The dog joins the duo and the three fly off on the broom. Next the witch loses her hair bow, which is found by a bird who joins the other animals on the broom. The next thing this happy witch loses is her wand, but it is promptly recovered by a frog who decides to ride along with the others. Suddenly, the witch's broomstick snaps in two and she falls into a cloud where she is discovered by a scary dragon who plans to eat her. But her animal friends form together to make a creature that scares the dragon away leaving the witch safely with her friends. The text has a great rhythm to it and the moral of the story is that together we can all be greater than the sum of our parts. It's a fun book for preschool children.

Hoodwinked by Arthur Howard

Mitzi is a little witch who is searching for the perfect, creepy pet. She goes to a pet shop called Cackle & Company that specializes in scary pets. Mitzi tries a toad covered with slime named Mumps, but he wasn't all that creepy. Next, she tried two bats she named Toothache and Earwax, but all they did was hang around one another. Mitzi returned the bats and decided to think long and hard about the pet she would chose. She went home and soon there was a scratching at her door. When she opened it up she found an adorable marmalade kitten - YUCK. But as Mitzi gets to know the kitten, she discovers that she likes him and wants to keep him as her own. She names the kitten Hoodwink and even all of her creepy relatives like him. Despite the pictures of witches and other creepy critters, this is a very uncreepy, sweet, and fun picture book suitable for little ones who are just getting into spooky things.

Guess What? by Mem Fox

Let me start by saying that I really enjoy this book, but it is definitely not one for young children. It's filled with off beat humour and style that only a truly simplistic story could pull off so easily. The story opens with the simple statement "Far away from here lives a lady called Daisy O'Grady". What follows is a series of simple questions and quirky (and a little creepy) pictures that gradually reveal who Daisy really is - she's a witch, but not a mean one. The pictures give you clues to the answers of the questions (all of the answers except for the last one is a resounding "YES"). The simplicity and predictability of the text would lead you to believe that this would be a great book for really young children, but the pictures seem to be geared towards slightly older children. If the text had been paired with more whimsical drawings it would be a perfect toddler Halloween book, but as it stands it would be much more appealing to an older preschooler or even young school aged child.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Little Mommy Baby So New Deluxe Play Set by Fisher Price

As anyone who has read this blog or even casually glanced at it you know that I am a fan of Fisher Price toys. As a clinician I need to have toys that are durable and can stand up to lots of use (sometimes abuse), and Fisher price toys are well known to have that kind of durability. So when I found this toy set I was really excited because I love toys that promote relational and early pretend play and thought that this would be an excellent addition to my baby centre (it also matched the stroller and rocking cradle that I have and love). Strengths: The bed and high chair are cute and match other pieces in the baby so new series. They are easy to put together and because they are made of a hard plastic, easy to clean. The bed seems to be a bit more durable than the high chair. Weaknesses: My biggest disappointment was the overall quality to these items. The first time one of my kids tried to put the baby in the high chair it fell apart. I quickly put it back together, but as soon as this little girl tried to put the baby in again the chair once more fell apart. By the end of the day (after using it and putting it together countless times for 7 other children), the chair just fell apart. The seat no longer stays attached to the legs and the tray will fall off of the chair when even lightly bumped. Maybe I just got a lemon, but given my bad experience with this set I'm not willing to go out and buy another one to see if the quality is any better. Price: $30 - $35 (much to expensive for the quality of the toy I got). Where to Buy: Toys R Us, Amazon, or the Fisher Price website (

Deluxe Wooden Barnyard Animals Jumbo Knob Puzzle by Melissa & Doug

This is another great introductory puzzle for older infants and toddlers (1 year+)! The easy grasp knobs, extra thick pieces, and brightly coloured pictures all combine to make this an appealing puzzle for young children. The children I have used the puzzle with love to take the pieces out and put them in trucks or incorporate them with other farm toys, which further increases the play value of the puzzle. Strengths: The pieces are very easy to manipulate and this reduces frustration on the part of the child when he/she is trying to manipulate the forms into the openings. I also like the matching element of the puzzle. Children who are first learning to do puzzles can match pictures as well as general shapes. The pieces are also just fun to bang together if that is what a child is interested in doing. Weaknesses: I have heard some people complain that the layers of wood on their puzzles have separated, posing all kinds of safety issues, but I've used mine for over a year with lots of different children and have never encountered this issue. Price: $8-$14. Where to Buy: Toys R Us, Amazon, speciality toy stores, or directly from the Melissa and Doug website (

Wheel Pals Jungle Journey by Playskool

This is a simple cause-effect rolling toy that has cute little jungle animals zooming down a curvy ramp. Although the toy is simple there are couple of interesting elements to it. The lift-and-go launchers helps the animals on their journey down the ramp and the bridge is actually collapsible, so the animals can fall through the opening if you want them to. Each set comes with two wheeled animals vehicles, but you can add more characters is you want to. Strengths: The animals are a great size for little hands and they roll easily down the ramp. It's simple to operate and gives children lots of options for where to hide and place the animals. Weaknesses: When I first found this toy I thought that it was really cute and would be lots of fun. So far I've had more fun with it that any of the children I've used it with. They are initially interested in how the trap on the bridge opens and closes, but that's where their interest seems to end. I don't know if it's just that the ramp is to short and it doesn't provide enough action for these kids, but overall I haven't seemed to get my money's worth from this toy. Most of the children I work with like carrying the animals around and driving them on other surfaces, but the ramp just isn't all that exciting for them. Price: $11-$16. Where to Buy: I have seen these play sets in stores like Target, Toys R Us, and WalMart.

Duck and Cover by Jackie Urbanovic

This is another great addition to the "Duck" series by Jackie Urbanovic. In this outing Max the Duck helps Irene give shelter to an alligator named Harold who has run away from the zoo after being accused on eating someones pet dog. All of the other animals in the house are worried that Harold will turn them into a snack, but Max knows what it's like to be scared and alone so he does his best to protect Harold. The brave little duck and his friends try hiding Harold as well as disguising him (my favourite is when all of the animals pretend to be alligators) so the zoo detectives won't find him. Even as Harold becomes more comfortable in the house, the other animals worry that he will turn them into snacks because even Harold admits he has a very big appetite. Finally the zoo detectives find Harold and admit that he didn't eat a pet dog (which is what they thought originally) but rather a hot dog. So Harold returned to the zoo and the animals didn't have to worry anymore that he was going to eat them.

Building Blocks Torrino by Haba

This set of six stacking blocks is a lovely early block set for toddlers who are interested in stacking up and knocking down small towers of objects. The pieces are made out of beech wood and finished with water based, non-toxic lacquers that seems to retain the colour quite nicely. The tower is only about 9 inches high when stacked, so there is very little chance that the blocks could do serious damage to floors or fingers when knocked over. Strengths: The pieces are a nice size for small hands to manipulate and they stack together easily. These blocks can also be incorporated into other Haba block sets and this allows for even more creative building opportunities. Weaknesses: According to the manufacturer, these blocks are good for children as young as 12 months, but I have some concerns about the small red ball on the top of the pink cone. It looks like it may be a separate piece of wood that has been glued/attached to the larger piece. Maybe it's all one piece, but I just can't tell. Therefore, I'm always hesitant when using this particular block with children who still like to chew or mouth toys. Maybe I'm worrying needlessly, but it just looks like the little red ball could pop off. Price: $17 - $20. Where to Buy: Oompa (, Moolka (, and Padilly ( all carry Haba block sets.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shape Sorting Caterpillar by The Little Toy Company

This is a great wooden shape sorting toy that is designed for children 18+ months of age. Each "peg" on the caterpillar is a different shape and has two rings that fit onto the shape fairly easily. The rings are a great size for little hands and are easy to manipulate. Strengths: This is a nice to for promoting fine motor and cognitive skills. I like the fact that it has shapes other than circles, squares, and triangles, which are the shapes that many sorting toys come with. Weaknesses: There is one major design flaw with the toy, especially if it is to be used with younger children. The pegs that you put the shape rings on aren't actually attached to the caterpillar board. It does add another dimension of difficulty to the toy, which is nice for older children with more well developed fine motor skills, but it is incredibly frustrating for younger children. The children I have used it with will become very agitated when the peg slips out of the hole just as they are about to put the ring on. I solved this problem by gluing the peg to the board! The toy isn't as challenging for some of my older children, but at least I'm not facing any tantrums when the younger ones knock the pegs over. Price: $18 - $25. Where to Buy: You can find this toy online at Fat Brain Toys ( or at the Little Toy Company's website (

Sarah Lynn & Her Camping Adventure by Fisher Price

This zippy little car and sleek camper are packed with everything kids need for a fun camping adventure! The set comes with two figures, Sarah Lynn and her friend Maggie, who can bend to sit comfortably in the car. They can go fishing, sit around the camp fire, and at the end of the day crawl into their sleeping bags for a good night's sleep! The camping set includes a two-seater car, cooler (with picnic supplies), pop-up camper with a sleeping and kitchen area (stove, sink, & refrigerator), 2 chairs, a campfire, fishing rod, and two sleeping bags. Strengths: This is a great pretend play toy for older toddlers and preschoolers. The car and camper are fairly durable and everything stores inside of the camper (except the car) when play time is done. Overall, it's a fun toy that can be used easily with some of the other Little People play sets to extend imaginative play even further. Weaknesses: It can be difficult for little fingers to try and fit the fishing pole on the little girl figures. Price: $30-$35. Where to Purchase: You can find this set on Amazon or go directly to the Fischer Price website.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dr. Toy's Smart Play, Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High PQ (Play Quotient) by Stevanne Auerbach

It has been said that play is the work of the child! Therefore being able to build strong play skills early in life is a wonderful foundation on which to build all kinds of developmental, communicative, and social skills. Dr. Toy (aka Stevanne Auerbach) provides an excellent advice on ho to choose and use toys with young children.Often actors such as safety, durability, flexibility, and age appropriateness complicate the challenge parents face in choosing the right toys for their children at the right time, but don't worry Dr. Toy is here to help. There are excellent tips on how to choose toys for children at different developmental stages, how to present toys to children, and how to use these toys to build exciting social relationships between parents and their children. This is an outstanding resource that should be on the shelf of every parent, teacher, therapist, and any other person who has important children in their lives. Where to Buy: Most major bookstores would carry this title.

Taggies Grabby Elephant by International Playthings

This cuddly blue elephant is actually a winner of the Gold Oppenheim Toy Award! It is soft and snugly, just like all of the other Taggies toys. There are lots of different ribbons and tags attached to the elephant that make him easy to grab and fun to snuggle. It's basically a teething toy, but is light enough for infants to carry around for lots of sensory fun. Strengths: It is much more than just a rattle or teething toy because there are great opportunities for all kinds of exploration with this wonderful elephant. Babies can grasp his ears, his nose, and pull on the jiggly mouse inside of the elephant's tummy. I really love this toy and so do the children I share it with. It's a great size to carry around and it's light enough not to pinch or hurt little fingers. Weaknesses: Because it is made out of a soft, plush material it's not the easiest thing to throw in the washing machine for a quick cleaning. I spot clean mine when it needs it! It's a little extra work, but the toy is just so irresistible that it's worth a little extra work. Price: $15-2o. Where to Buy: There are lots of different places that you can find taggies toys. Some of the best sites to shop include: Baby Bungalow (, the Taggies site (, Sensational Beginnings (, and Genius Babies ( It's a really lovely toy and the perfect gift (I got mine from a really great family that I work with!)

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Zoo Blocks by Haba

This is a set of 25 wooden blocks painted in fun colours to resemble different zoo animals. Each block is a slightly different shape and this allows children to use their imagination about what kind of animal they want to build! The fact that you can mix and match shapes and colours seems to be especially appealing to toddlers who like to explore the limits of their imaginations. Strengths: These are great blocks for toddlers-well made, durable, good for small hands, colorful, and a good addition to other Haba block sets. Weaknesses: They are a little it pricey (over $40) but they give you terrific play value for the money. They are wonderful for toddlers, but older preschool children seem to enjoy them just as much, Price: $40- $45. Where to Buy: You can most Haba block sets through Moolka toys (, Oompa toys (, and of course Amazon. I usually go with Amazon for these kinds of toys because they are usually less expensive that some of the other toy retailers, but I got this set through Moolka and paid less for it than I would have through Amazon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner

This is an imaginative and fanciful book about a science project that seemingly goes very wrong. On May 11, 1999, Holly Evans from Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey launches vegetable seedlings into the sky. Each in planted in a little box and tied to a balloon. Holly wants to study the effects of extraterrestrial conditions on vegetable growth. But in late June, 1999 giant vegetables begin to land on earth. Cucumbers circle Kalamazoo, lima beans loom over Levittown, artichokes advance on Anchorage, parsnips pass by Providence, and cauliflower carpets California. Holly, who initially thinks that her experiment has been a huge success become confused when vegetables she did not plant start floating down to earth. There is a wonderful twist at the end of the story that clearly explains where all of the giant vegetables came from. I have found that some of the older children I have worked with really enjoy the book. It sparks all sorts of imaginative play and is a great book for "thinking outside of the box". Where to Buy: I have recently seen this at Barnes and Nobel, so I would assume that it is still available in most children's bookstores.

Huggly Takes a Bath by Tedd Arnold

This is a fun book that takes readers on the bath time adventure of a monster named Huggly. Huggly lives under the bed of a "people child" and one night he decides to explore the house. He quickly finds the bathroom, and not knowing what it is decides to look around for some snacks. Huggly eats the soap and toothpaste, scrubs between his toes with toothbrushes, and uses the side of the tub as a slide. Once he gets into the tub he fills it with water and starts to add all sorts of "slime" (bubble bath, shampoo, etc.) to the water. Soon the tub is filled with bubbles and Huggly exclaims that this is the "Best slime pit ever!" He covers himself with bubbles to become a snow monster, a dragon, and a ghost. But just as Huggly is having so much fun the "people child" comes into the bathroom and Huggly races back to the bedroom where he once again hides under the bed. The children I've used this book with seem to love all of Huggly's silly actions and laugh riotously when he eats the soap and toothpaste. They especially seem to enjoy it when Huggly uses the family's toothbrushes to scrub between his toes. The end of the story is a little lame, but the rest of the book is great and promotes lots of pretend play. Where to Buy: Huggly Takes a Bath was published about 12 years ago so it can be a little bit hard to find in some of the larger children's bookstores, but it's still available on-line and would probably turn up in lots of used book stores.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Duck Soup by Janet Urbanovic

Max the Duck loves to make soups of all kinds, including Fish Soup with Curry and Pickled Lemon, Cracker Barrel Cheese and Marshmallow Soup, and Squash Gumbo. But one day he decides that he will make a soup masterpiece. As he chops, mixes, and pours he realizes that he has left the most important ingredient for the soup out in the garden. While Max is outside collecting this herb several of his friends stop by to see what he's up to. What they find is a pot on the stove with a feather floating in the soup. Immediately they begin to search for Max, thinking that he has fallen into the pot and has made himself into soup! It's a silly story with a great lesson - things are not always as they appear. The children I've used it with absolutely love it and it teaches them a great deal about what it means to be a friend! Where to Buy: This is a fairly recent publication (2008) so it is easy to find in all types of bookstores with children's sections and of course through a variety of on-line retailers.

I Have to Go by Robert Munsch

Every time Andrew and his parent go somewhere they always ask him before they leave the house if he has to go potty. His answer is always a resounding "NO". But as soon as Andrew is in his snowsuit and strapped into his car seat he yells "I have to go"! Naturally his parents become frustrated with this pattern and are therefor pleasantly surprised when one night Andrew gets up with Grandpa one night to go to the bathroom and doesn't wet the bed. It's not really a potty training book, but has wonderfully expressive drawings that every parent will recognize as the least convenient moment for their child "to go". This is a fun story that seems to have special appeal for young preschoolers who are already potty trained. Robert Munsch is a very well known and prolific author of children's books, so you can rarely go wrong if your decide to purchase or check out from the library one of his addicting books. Where to Buy: Most major children's book sellers carry a fairly wide range of Munsch books so they aren't that difficult to find.

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

Hooway for Wodney Wat is the story of a timid little rat named Rodney who has a very common misarticulation - he pronounces 'w' for 'r'. Initially Rodney is shy around the other students in his class because they make fun of how his speech sounds. However, one day Camilla Capybara joins the class and announces that she is the biggest, meanest, and smartest rodent there is. All of the other rodents are terrified of her, especially Rodney. But when the class decides to play Simon Says and lets Rodney be the one who calls out directions, Camilla soon discovers she's not really the best rodent of the bunch. Rodney emerges as the victor and all of the other little rodents cheer him on as their hero. As a speech-language pathologist I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the book. I like the fact that Rodney is seen as a winner despite how his speech sounds, but I'm not to crazy about the bullying aspect of the story. The children I've shared the book with really seem to love it and request it on a regular basis. They cheer when Rodney triumphs over Camilla and take heart in the fact that even though their speech might not always sound like everyone elses', they can still be the hero of the story. Where to Buy: Most major children's book sellers carry the book.

David Goes to School by David Shannon

David, an energetic, enthusiastic, and slightly out of control little boy, takes to the classroom in another installment of the "David" series of books by David Shannon. David goes through his school day with very little regard for how his behaviour might be impacting upon other members of his class. He pulls pony-tails, stares out the window, cuts in line in the cafeteria, and draws on thetop of his desk! Despite the ongoing warnings from his teacher, David continues to wreck havoc in the classroom. At the end of the story David stays after class and washes off all of the desks for the teacher. She tells him he did a good job and rewards him with a gold star. Kids seem to really enjoy this book because they have the opportunity to tell David not to do things and can then come up with options for better classroom behaviour. I have found that even two-year-olds can recognize what not to do and have some excellent suggestions for David improving upon his behaviour. Where to Buy: Any major children's book seller would probably have this book in stock.

10-Step Guide for Living with Your Monster by Laura Numeroff

This is the quintessential guide for choosing and living with the monster of your choice. The book begins with helpful hints on how to select a "good" monster for you and ends with how to tuck your monster into bed at night. The illustrations are just the right blend of cute and scary, and children seem to love trying to figure out what else you can do to take care of your monster. I like the book because it helps children learn how to predict why you should or shouldn't do certain things with your monster in a fun and appealing way. It also helps to encourage children to think about novel events they could do with a monster/pet. Additionally, it helps children learn how to respond to those all important "Why" questions. I've had two-year-olds who have really enjoyed this book and five-year-olds who like it just as much! Where to Buy: The 10-Step Guide is available at most children's book stores and naturally though on-line book sellers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Market, To Market by Ann Miranda (illustrator Janet Stevens)

I love Janet Steven's work, so whenever I see a book that she has written or illustrated I just have to get it. This book starts off with the rhyme "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggity, jig". This part goes well, but when the Grandmother in the story goes back to buy some more groceries things definitely go wrong. When she gets home with the hen (her second purchase) the pig has escaped from his pen. Then she returns to the store to buy a goose, but when she gets home the hen is loose! The story continues in this manner, with the Grandmother looking more and more disheveled along the way, until she decides to take all of the animals with her to buy some fresh vegetables to make a nice soup for lunch. The book ends with Grandma and the animals all lying on the floor taking a nap. This is a really fun book with lots of unexpected twists and turns, and Stevens illustrations make the story come alive before your eyes. Children of all ages seem to enjoy this book because it's just so funny on so many different levels. Where to Buy: I would assume that you could find it in most children's book stores and naturally it's always available on-line.

Bumpety Bump by Kathy Henderson

This is actually a lap game book for babies. Slumpety, humpety, tumpety, everyone in the family gets a chance to hold the baby in this book that is filled with bouncy rhythms and bright illustrations. after the baby has been bounced, tossed, given a horsie back ride, and cuddled went back to her crib for a nap. This is an extremely simple book that encourages lots of participation from children. If you pause at the end of the sentence before the action starts, even very young children will move their arms and legs to get the story going again. It's a fun, action packed story to share with young children. Where to Buy: The book was originally published in 1994, so I'm not sure if it still in print. However, I have been able to find it on Amazon (naturally) and have found it in a couple of bargain bins at large chain book stores, like Barnes & Nobel.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

This is a charming story about a a house where everyone is sleeping. It starts out with a snoring Granny sleeping in a cozy bed. Soon she is joined by a sleepy child, a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, a slumbering mouse, and finally a wakeful flea. While everyone else is asleep on top of Granny the wakeful flea bites the mouse, who scares the cat, who claws the dog, who thumps the child, who bumps the granny, who breaks the bed. And now no one is sleeping inside the house. This is a really simple premise for the book, but toddlers and three year olds seem to be overjoyed with the silly actions and reactions of everyone sleeping on the bed. The illustrations are fantastic and they add a dreamy quality to the first half of the book and them give the characters an aura of excitement as everyone is forced out of bed. Where to Buy: This is an incredibly popular book and can be found in both hard cover and board book form at most stores that sell children's books.

The Magic Hat by Mem Fox

Mem Fox has long been one of my favourite authors of children's books. The Magic Hat is a story of a hat that floated into town one day and landed on the head of a little old man and immediately turned him into a toad. It then landed on the head of a fruit seller (who juggles bananas) and turns him into a baboon. The hat, followed by a group of giggling and amazed children, lands on the heads of many different adults and turns all of them into funny animals. Finally a wizard appears and turns all of the animals back into people. When he leaves the own the magical hat sits on top of his head and presumably gets ready for its next big adventure. The text contains simple rhymes that seem to help children guess what animal might turn up next in the story and the pictures themselves are expressive enough to stand alone without any text. I enjoy using the book with older toddlers and preschool children, and it never fails to get a smile or laugh from them.

Good Night Pillow Fight by Sally Cook

Every child longs to stay up past their bedtime! It's always a battle of bargains to get to stay up just a little bit longer. Using just a few rhyming words that wind and wiggle their way across the pages in a variety of sizes and colors, this charming story typically has the children I work with giggling before I get to the third page. The story centers around a block of city apartments with different families all trying to get their children to go to be. Parent's try to use calming words like "Good night", to which the children reply "Pillow fight". "Kiss my cheek" turns into "Hide and seek". When the parents finally become frustrated the children in the apartments begin to come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they shouldn't go to bed. Things like, "No more juice", "Mother Goose?","But you haven't read" all keep the book moving joyfully towards the time when all of the children finally go to bed. The drawings a vivid and expressive and the text is simple but very appropriate for the night-time battle. The publishers suggest that the book would be appropriate for children between the ages of 4-8 years, but I have 2 and three year olds who really enjoy the antics of the children in the book. Where to Buy: Major children's book sellers usually carry this title and it can of course be found through on-line retailers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Good Job, Oliver! by Laurel Molk

Oliver the bunny is determined to win the annual strawberry growing contest, despite the taunts from the bigger bunnies who think he is to little to grow good strawberries. He might be young, but Oliver is very determined and hard working. He protects his precious strawberry plants from hungry birds, ravenous gophers, and even from a group of hungry bears. In the end Oliver grows the biggest and brightest strawberries and wins the contest! Everyone celebrates with him and they turn his beautiful strawberries into an array of yummy treats! This book is wonderful for alder toddlers and preschoolers and teaches great lessons about confidence, hard work, and the importance of strong support from people (or bunnies) who love you. Where to Buy: I haven't seen this book in any traditional bookstores lately but it can be found through on line retailers.

Baby Steps by Peter McCarty

This is a beautifully illustrated album of the first year of little Suki's life. The pencil sketches and simple text are appealing to young children, who can relate their own growth to that of Suki. It's not a book that I use a lot in therapy, but is one that I've given many times as a gift. This is simply a beautiful and simple book and captures the important moments of baby's first year of life. When doing things like sitting up, napping under a blanket, or tentatively standing with some support, baby Suki is charming and her father has provided an amazing tribute to the first year of his daughter's life. I have found that toddlers love this as a read aloud book and get very excited when able to identify the "baby" in the pictures.

Alice the Fairy by David Shannon

Alice, who is a Temporary Fairy (because she has to dress up to become one) longs for the day she will become a Permanent Fairy (but she has to pass a lot of tests before she can become one of those). Because she is only a Temporary Fairy, her magic is limited but exciting none-the-less. She turns her Daddy into a horse, changes his cookies into hers, makes leaves fall from the trees with her wand, draws pictures on the water, and can make herself disappear by turning off the lights or hiding under her blanket. Alice has a wonderful imagination and uses fairy dust (sugar) to turn oatmeal into cake and dreams for the day when she can turn the water in her bathtub into strawberry jello. This is a wonderful book that sparks the imagination of young children and helps them think of all sorts of fun things they can pretend to do or be. The illustrations have a lovely "fairy-like" quality to them and the text is relatively simple. However, the pictures themselves are so expressive that this is a book that can easily be read based on picture description only. Where to Buy: Any children's bookseller or on line book dealer should carry this great book!

The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann

This intriguing book tells the story of the day the adults had a pie eating contest and were so busy eating that all of their babies crawled away! Nobody notices this mass exodus of infants except a toddler in a fireman's hat who immediately begins to chase the babies, round them up, and bring them back to their parents. However the babies are clever and prove to be adept at hiding from the determined toddler. The hide in trees, a cave full of bats, and a bog. The toddler makes juice for the babies by mashing up blackberries with droplets of dew, and then takes them back to their happy parents. This is a great book and there are a couple of really unique features about it. First, it is drawn entirely in silhouette, and the black shapes are set against beautiful shifting coloured backgrounds that change shades from early morning to evening. It's a really unique way to illustrate a children's book and offers a surprising number of details for such simple drawings. The other aspect of the book that I really like is the perspective it is written from. Basically it is a mother talking to the hero toddler about what happened on the day the babies crawled away. The opening sentence is "Remember the day the babies crawled away?" and the rest of the book recalls the antics of the brave little toddler and all that as done to save the wayward babies. This book has been a big hit with with toddlers and preschoolers alike over the years that I have used it. It's a wonderful read aloud book and one that can be easily retold by children who have limited language. Where to Buy: Children's booksellers or on line book dealers.

Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells

This is a funny story about two little bunnies, Max and Ruby, who decide to each bake for their Grandmother's Birthday. The story very clearly depicts the rivalry between a bossy (but patient) older sister, and a younger brother who's determined to make his own special contribution to the process, even though he doesn't know how to read. Max continually disrupts Ruby's cake making project and finally decides that he will make his own special cake: earthworm cake with red-hot marshmallow squirters. He makes multiple trips to the grocery store with beautifully written lists (in his own incomprehensible hand-writing that the grocers can't understand) but is able to get his message across through a variety of unique non-verbal signals. Max may seem like an innocent little bunny, but he is determined to make sure that he can share the spotlight with Ruby on grandma's special day. The illustrations are fantastic and the text is simple and straight forward. This is a big hit with older toddlers and preschoolers.
Where to Buy: Children's book stores typically carry this book and it can also be easily found through on line retailers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Baby Bach Piano by Baby Einstein

This is a simple and fun cause-effect toy for very young children. The four big buttons on the top of the "piano" each light up and produce a different musical tone when tapped and if your child wants a longer musical experience, pushing the green button on the front of the toy will make a longer song play. Strengths: The buttons are very easy to push, so even if a child has low upper body strength, they should be able to get this toy to light up and make sounds. Weaknesses: There is no dedicated on/off switch, so the music plays at the slightest touch or jiggle. Price: ???? I bought mine about 10 years ago and I think it was about $20. Where to Buy: Good luck finding one! I've seen a couple on eBay, but other than that I'm not sure if the toy is available any more.

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox

Mem For is not just a prolific writer of best selling children's picture books, she also talks to parents about the importance of reading aloud with their children from a very young age. Because babies are born learners, Fox discusses the importance of books from a very early age. She also provides suggestions for parents about How to read to their children so they will develop a life long love affair with books and the printed word. Additionally she provides ideas about things parents can do to help their children become more independent readers. Sadly she doesn't provide examples of age appropriate books for children, but there are so many other wonderful aspects to this book that it actually seems like just a minor flaw. Where to Buy: Large bookstores with a children's book section should carry it. It can also be found through many on line retailers.