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.

Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! By Janet Stevens & Susan Stevens Crummel

This is a fantastic book about Big Brown Rooster who decides he's sick of chicken feed and wants to become a great cook, just like his Great-Granny. He finds Granny's old recipe book and decides to make her delicious sounding strawberry shortcake! Dog, Cat, and Goose think that Big Brown Rooster is crazy, but he finds lots of support from Iguana, Turtle, and Potbellied Pig, who become his assistants in the kitchen. Turtle reads the recipe aloud for the funny foursome, Iguana keeps getting the instructions confused, and Potbellied Pig just wants to taste everything, but eventually the strawberry shortcake is made, but unfortunately it falls on the floor and Potbellied Pig gobbles it all up before anyone else has a chance to eat it. Undeterred the team of animals decides to make another shortcake that they share with Dog, Cat, and Goose. It's a wonderful tale of teamwork and friendship! Another neat feature of the book is that scattered on the margins of each page there is information about the ingredients, measurements, and techniques used to actually make the shortcake. Kids might not be interested in this, but the information helps adults answer the questions children may have about the cooking process. Where to Buy: Children's book sellers or on line retailers all carry this deliciously fun book.

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon by Janet Stevens & Susan Stevens Crummel

Almost everyone knows the nursery rhyme "Hey diddle, diddle/the cat in the fiddle/the cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such sport/and the dish ran away with the spoon. But what would happen if the dish and spoon never came back? This fanciful tale takes the reader beyond the nursery rhyme and examines what would happen if the dish and spoon really did run away together! The cow, dog, and cat (who is actually quite grumpy when he's not playing the fiddle) are afraid that their rhyme will end if the dish and spoon never come back. So they begin to search for the wayward spoon and dish and quickly find themselves meeting all sorts of other fairy tail and nursery rhyme friends. Some of the characters they encounter on their search include Little Boy Blue, the spider from Little Miss Muffit, and the Big Bad Wold from the Three Little Pigs. After a few misadventures they finally find the dish and the spoon climbing up Jack's bean stalk. The dish is broken in a nasty fall and his friends take him to a repair shop to be fixed. Finally, all of the friends are back together again and the nursery rhyme can continue! It's a really fun book to use with older children who can appreciate the unexpected twists and turns of this whimsy filled story. Where to Buy: Janet Stevens & Susan Stevens Crummel are popular and prolific children's authors so their books are widely available through children's book sellers. You can also find their books through many different on line retailers.

Ten Little Fish by Audrey Wood

Audrey Wood is the teller of classic children's stories like the Napping House and The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear. The story of Ten Little Fish is a creative counting book that combines simple rhymes and beautiful computer generated drawings of colourful fish that have almost a 3D quality to them. The book starts with 10 little fish, swimming in a line and gradually counts down until there is just one lonely fish left behind. This fish meets another fish and soon they have 10 little baby fish who swim in a line.
Older preschool children seem really curious about where the ten new little fish come from (which can be a little awkward in the context of a therapy session) but younger children just enjoy the rhymes and pointing to the colourful fish. It's a fun and simple counting book that seems to appeal to little children - the fact that each fish has a kind of "Nemo-like" quality to them probably adds to the appeal. Where to Buy: Ten Little Fish can be found at most children's bookstores and is of course widely available through on line retailers.

Little People Lil Pirates Sea Skiff by Fisher Price

This another accessory piece that can be added to the Lil' Pirate Ship play set by Fisher Price. The sea skiff comes with a pirate figure, octopus, boat, and really cool fishing pole. The pirate can actually sit on the end of the pole and it looks like he's actually catching a fish. Strengths: The boat has an open-ended latch on the front so it can be attached to the raft in the Treasure Hunt pirate play set, also by Fisher Price. It's durable and is a great addition to any fleet of boats. Weaknesses: Nothing that any of the children I work with have been able to discover. Price: ????? Where to Buy: I purchased my Sea Skiff set a couple of years ago at Toys R Us, but I've not seen it in the store for quite a while. When I googled the toy I did find it a, but it seems to be one that is difficult to track down. I'd check out stores like Big Lots or Smart and Final because they often carry toys that are no longer available through other major retailers.

Everyone Hide from Wibbly Pig by Mark Inkpen

This sweet lift-the-flap book has been a big hit with the toddlers I work with for a number of years now. Published in the late 1990's it's not always easy to find, but if you do find it, it's well worth your time. The basic premise of the story is a game of Hide-and-Go-Seek between Wibbly and his friends, Big Pig, Scruffy Pig, Pig Ears, Pig Twins, Spotty Pig, and Tiny Pig. Wibbly quickly finds all of the other pigs, except Tiny Pig. The friends join together to try and find Tiny Pig, and soon find out that he is very good at hiding from them. The part of the book that most of the children I use it with really like is the last page, where you have to lift several layers of flaps in order to find Tiny Pig. It's a simple book that is very reminiscent of books like "Where's Spot?", but the cute drawings and the unique ending really set it apart from other books of this type. Where to Buy: I've recently seen it in the children's section at Barnes and Nobel, but of course you can also find it on Amazon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Slice & Play Fruits and Vegetables by Just Like Home

Pretend food is a must during childhood and this set gives young children a chance to really play with their food! The set comes with a pineapple, grapes, eggplant, orange, peach, brussel sprout, strawberry, peas, tomato, and an onion. You can "peel" the peas, orange, and brussel sprout, but all of the other fruits and vegetables have to be "cut" apart because of the Velcro holding the two halves together. The set also has a little cutting board and a sturdy plastic knife that makes cutting a breeze. Strengths: Because all of the parts are plastic they are easy to disinfect (either with a spray of vinegar and water or a spin though the dishwasher). Weaknesses: All of the pieces of the set are great, except for the peel on the orange. It comes off in 1/4 sections and it's hard to get the Velcro from the peel to stick back on the body of the fruit once you get it off. Price: $15-$20. Where to Buy: I found mine at Toys R Us.

Peek-a-Blocks Alphabet Blocks by Fisher Price

This fun set of alphabet blocks is a nice addition to the Peek-a-Blocks family by Fisher Price. Each block is made of a clear plastic and has a little animal, character, or object inside that corresponds to the letter on the block. Strengths: These are a great size for older infants and toddlers to grasp and shake. Some of the characters move around, so you get the added bonus of having a block that's also a shaker toy. They're great for banging together and are fun to play hiding games with. Weaknesses: If your child likes to build tall towers these blocks will cause lots of frustration. Because the surfaces are slippery, it's difficult for many young children to stack more than 3-4 blocks before they fall over. Also, Fisher Price marketed these blocks as appropriate for children between 9 - 24 months, so the letters aren't really developmentally appropriate for a big chunk of the target population. The other problem with these blocks is the price. They were on the market several years ago, and were very reasonably priced, but now I'm seeing them priced as high $40 or more at on line retailers. They are nice blocks, but definitely not worth $40! You can get them at the on line Fisher Price store for about $27. Price: $27 - $48. Where to Buy: eBay, Amazon, Fisher Price on line store (

We'll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

This is an amazing book about a little girl, Emma, who is happily awaiting the birth of a new baby brother and sister. She carefully plans all sorts of fun things that they will be able to do together. Going on a safari, painting, playing ball, making faces, and go to her Grandfather's farm and feed the calves. When the baby is born Emma's Dad is very sad when tells her that Isaac has Down Syndrome. Emma immediately thinks that this means they won't be able to do any of the fun things she had planned, but as she and Dad talk they both realize that Isaac will still be able to do everything, he just might do a little later than they expected. The book ends with Emma meeting her new brother and telling him that she is going to teach him how to paint the octopus red. This is a terrific book that explains Down Syndrome in simple, straight-forward language that children can understand and also illustrates that disability doesn't mean that you can't live a fun filled life. There is a glossary at the back of the book that defines different terminology associated with the syndrome and answers questions that a child may have when he or she first hears the news about a sibling. Where to Buy: This book was originally published in 1998 but is still widely available. You can find it on line at Amazon or go directly to the publisher ( where you can find all sorts of other children's books that address variety of special needs conditions.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Play Ground Ball Barnyard by Crocodile Creek

This 5 inch ball is great for children at a variety of different ages or levels of developmental functioning. It's light, easy to roll, and has a textured surface to make catching a little bit easier for younger children or children with motor issues. The animals are painted on the surface of the ball and don't scrape or wear off. I have the barn yard ball, but it comes with many different pictured themes (e.g., wild animals, dinosaurs, the solar system, fire trucks) Strengths: According to the manufacturer the ball is made of natural rubber, so it is bpa, pvc, latex, and vinyl free. Weaknesses: The ball is fairly durable, but I did have one accident where it was accidentally sat upon by an adult, and half of the ball deflated. But that's not the issue. When I tried to find a pump so I could refill the ball I was told that there wasn't one available so I'd have to replace the ball. It's not that expensive but it was just the principle of the thing. Price: $8-$10. Where to Buy: You can of course find these on Amazon but they are also available through and (both of which are really cool toy sites and have a wider selection of ball themes that Amazon.

Fish Bowl Puzzle by Melissa & Doug

This is another wonderful addition to the Jumbo Knob puzzles produced by Melissa and Doug. It's a highly durable puzzle whose pieces fit easily into their respective holes. They have a snug fit, but aren't so tight that it's impossible for toddlers to get the pieces in. Strengths: These Melissa & Doug puzzles have been nothing than popular with the children I work with. They love the giant knobs, bright colours, and the fact that you can match the pictures on the pieces to the pictures on the board. Weaknesses: This toy is most appropriate for toddlers, but the packaging clearly states that because of the giant knobs, which could theoretically come off, that the toy should not be used with a child under the age of 3 years. Most children who are functionally at the 3 year level don't find this "baby puzzle" (their words, not mine) all that challenging or interesting. So, I guess if you're using it with a younger child (who will really enjoy it) make sure that the play is supervised or that the child can resist putting the knob into his or her mouth. Price: $8 - $14. Where to Buy: Many specialty toy stores carry Melissa & Doug puzzles (and other toys) as do large chain toy stores such as Toys R us, but they can also be purchased on line at or through Amazon.

Baby Signs Complete Starter Kit: Everything you Need to Get Started Signing with Your Baby by Susan Goodwyn & Linda Acredolo

Based on the Baby Signs sign language program for babies, the Baby Signs Complete Starter Kit has everything parents will need for a successful start to signing fun with their babies. The kit includes: (1) Parent Guide to the Baby Signs Program: (2) An illustrated step-by-step signing guide for parents and caregivers. (3)Parent DVD: A video introduction to Baby Signs and a Video Dictionary with demonstrations of the 100 signs that are most useful to babies. (4) My Favorite Signs DVD for babies that teaches signs through fun animation, playful puppets, and signing babies. (5) Signs at a Glance Flipper that includes 86 signs on a flip-card with magnetic backing. (6) A set of chubby board books with colourful illustrations of the signs. Titles include: My Mealtime Signs My Bedtime Signs My Bath Time Signs My Pets Signs. This is a great starter kit if you're interested in teaching a young child sign language, but you should know that not all of the signs presented are American Sign Language (ASL) signs, but rather simple signs that can be more natural for little ones to imitate and produce. So if you want you child to learn ASL this might be a disappointment, but if you're willing to use a mixture of ASL and non-traditional signs, it's a really wonderful resource to have.

Butterfly Spinner by Chicco

It's hard to beat this cheery little spinner that's filled with brightly coloured, bouncing butterflies and lady bugs. It's made out of a durable plastic that can withstand lots of abuse by little hands and feet. Mine has been dropped, and occasionally kicked, a number of times and it's still in great shape! Strengths: It's a simple cause-effect toy with a large plunger that's easy for little hands to grasp. I've also found that it keeps young infants interested during tummy time. Weaknesses: The recommended age for this toy is 6 - 18 months, but for children at the younger end of the age range it can be a bit frustrating when they try to use the toy independently. The plunger takes a bit of strength to push down, so it's best if an adult helps the child play with the toy. Price: $17 - $20. Where to Buy: Target usually carries Chicco toys and you can also find it on line by googling the name of the toy.

Water Baby by Real Water Babies

Water babies have been around since about 1990 and are wonderful little dolls. What is particularly ingenious about these dolls is that you can fill them with warm water so they actually take on the weight and warmth of a real baby. Each one is made from a phthalate free soft vinyl that is molded in a single piece so there aren't any leaky arm or leg joints. The only open seam that the dolls have is where the head is attached to the body, but water does not go into the head if you fill the body of the doll with water. The only time you need to worry about getting water in the head is if the doll is used for bath time play. Strengths: These babies are excellent for older children who like to play "Mummy", but they are also wonderful for older toddlers and preschoolers who are really drooly or still tend to explore objects with their mouths. Weaknesses: Because the dolls are made out of a soft vinyl, they don't bend really well, so you can't easily put them on a chair or in a stroller. But the children I've used my Water Baby with like the doll for so many other reasons that the sitting down issue isn't a big deal for them. Price: $15 -$22. Where to Buy: I've found Water Babies at Toys R Us (in-store not online) or you can go directly to the company website ( and find another retailer closer to you.