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Alpha: The NATO Alphabet for Kids (and Their Parents)

October 5, 2015



With Isabelle Arsenault’s Alpha, I finally have a tool to keep the NATO phonetic alphabet in my head. That’s more useful to me than you might think, not least of which is because I really do have to spell both my first and last name quite often when talking to various phone reps. (A… B as in Bravo… R… A… M as in Mike.)

It’s first and foremost a children’s book–though also a good visual aid for learning what is also known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet.

The book’s cover is actually a fine way to judge its contents in this case: It is the clever illustration–a paper airplane–for Delta.




The next spread, Echo, has a child at school throwing such an airplane at the child sitting in front of him.

Each letter of the alphabet receives a two-page spread: the word at left and an illustration at right. Some illustrations you might have guessed–like the couple dancing the Foxtrot. Others are more subtle and creative–like Hotel, which is the Monopoly hotel piece. Romeo and Juliet share a ghostly motif that ties the two images together, separated they are by some pages (and… uh… other impediments).

The letter under consideration has its own color, so that with even younger children you could focus just on A, B, C, D, and so on. Of course, my eight-year-old can appreciate that this section of his Dangerous Book for Boys now has some visual reminders to help him with his NATO alphabet.

There’s no storyline to follow, of course. But it’s been an interesting (and visually pleasing) read for each of my three kids, from three up to eight years old.

The sewn binding and high-quality paper will find approval with parents who want a book that will withstand a few throws across the room. (From the kids, not the parents.)

Alpha is a smart, nice-looking, and useful take on the classic children’s abecedarian.

Find Alpha at Amazon here, or at Candlewick Press’s page here. See Isabelle Arsenault’s page (with lots of images) here.



Thanks to Candlewick Press for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of the review.

First Picture of My New iPad Pro, in One Hand

October 1, 2015

For those of you following me on the Twitter, sorry to show you this twice.

For everyone else: my new iPad Pro arrived today, ahead of schedule. And I cannot wait to fill up its memory:




But, seriously. Find out more here.

T Muraoka’s Biblical Aramaic Reader (2015)

September 29, 2015

Muraoka Aramaic


Any time you see a T. Muraoka volume that retails at under $30, it’s worth paying attention to.

Peeters has released the short but sure-to-be excellent volume, A Biblical Aramaic Reader: With an Outline Grammar.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

This reader is for anyone very eager to read the story of Daniel in the lions’ den and many other fascinating stories in their original language, Aramaic.

A brief outline of Biblical Aramaic grammar is followed by a verse-by-verse grammatical commentary on the Aramaic chapters in the books of Daniel and Ezra. Both the outline grammar and the grammatical commentary presuppose basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Constant references are made in the commentary to relevant sections of the outline grammar. The commentary is written in a user-friendly, not overtly technical language. Some grammatical exercises with keys and paradigms conclude the Reader. Also suitable for self-study.

At just under 100 pages, it looks great. Find it on Amazon here.

Baron Fig’s Confidant Notebook, Reviewed

September 28, 2015

The first thing I noticed about Baron Fig’s Confidant notebook is that the paper is a delicious off-white. The paper’s thickness is perfect: there’s not very much writing bleed-through at all, even when using a Pilot G2 07 gel pen. That’s probably my first desideratum in a notebook, and Baron Fig nails it here.

The Confidant comes with blank paper, ruled paper, or dot grid paper, which is what I reviewed for review. The grey dots are visible and usable as guides for diagramming or sketching or writing… but they’re also subtle enough to stay out of your way. A great balance here.


Confidant Page Up Close


The Confidant lays flat, just as Baron Fig claims, though sometimes a bit of pushing down on the pages is required for them to stay flat. But this will happen naturally as you’re writing or sketching anyway. The binding itself lays flat as you’d hope. As you can see:


Baron Fig Confidant with writing

You guessed it: I started this blog post in my Confidant notebook


The acid-free paper means the book is built to last. And the dimensions just feel perfect to me: 5.4 by 7.7 inches. It’s 192 pages, with 12 pages at the back of the journal which are perforated. In other words, it’s enough space to keep you supplied for a while, but not so much that you’ve got a bulky journal to carry around. The portability is right on.

The cloth cover looks and feels good. The binding is sewn (yes!), which is, of course, one reason it lays flat so well.

I was not as impressed with the aesthetic of the binding: I thought it could have used maybe a thicker piece of cloth to cover up the binding construction that is so easily visible? I might just be missing that the look is intentional, but it didn’t appeal to me.




But let me step back for a moment. The packaging is top-notch. The notebook comes in its own attractive case, so that it’s gift-ready:


Confidant Gift Box


And as design goes, these folks are impressive. (See their Website here, for example.) Here’s a little clip from the insert that comes inside the box with the journal:


Confidant Design


The Confidant notebook comes with a ribbon for marking your place. I greatly appreciated this. It is about twice the thickness of most other ribbon markers, though, so it felt to me like it was out of step with the rest of the notebook. I have gotten used to this over time.


Overall, the critiques above notwithstanding, I’ve had a positive experience using the Confidant, which gives me a notebook I really do want to reach for and write in! It goes with me in my satchel just about everywhere I go now.

You can learn more about the Confidant here and order it here.

Bonus paragraph: Baron Fig also makes the pocket-sized Apprentice notebook, which I think is an A+ in its class. It fits perfectly into even small pockets and isn’t a nuisance there. I’ve been carrying one of those around, too, so I don’t have to whip out a device every time I want to write down an action item I’ve committed to. The 3.5″ by 5″ little guy comes in a three-pack. More info on the Apprentice notebook is here; you can order here.



Many thanks to the awesome people at Baron Fig for the notebooks for review! Check them out here.

Children’s Book Review: The Little Snowplow

September 25, 2015

The Little Snowplow


We need the little snowplow in our neighborhood. Last winter we saw more than 100 inches of snow pile up. The kids loved it, and we parents sort of did, but it made getting around a challenge. And it got old fast.

Enter the little snowplow:

On the Mighty Mountain Road Crew, the trucks came in one size: BIG.

That is, until a new snowplow joined the crew.

“You’re such a little snowplow,” the big trucks said.
“Leave the heavy lifting to us.”
And off they roared.

My five-year-old was enraptured at this point. And what young child wouldn’t identify with the little guy in the story? Each night he does his “reps” (raising and lowering his plow ten times). He pulls blocks of concrete. “Just in case.” Had he been training for 2015 in Massachusetts, he would have been oh-so-glad for all the hours he put in.

Then a blizzard hits–more than the little snowplow can handle, and the plow driver has to call for backup. In the end, against the odds, the little snowplow turns out to be a real hero, with his place secured among the Mighty Mountain Road Crew.

Most grown-ups will see the story coming–the motifs are familiar ones. One thinks of the setting and improbability of Katy and the Big Snow, with echoes of The Little Engine That Could, and a scene reminiscent of Little Blue Truck. The story ends with the little snowplow ready to bed down, though the “He could hardly wait for sleep” ending felt a little less satisfying than expected.

Still, The Little Snowplow is engaging. It’s an important idea that one can succeed even though small or dismissed by others. The message of the book is a good one, and the story moves along nicely. My three kids are all fans of the book.

The Little Snowplow is Lora Koehler’s first children’s picture book. Jake Parker illustrates the story. And the illustrations are great. They’re colorful, clear, and absorbing. They really make the book. There are enough of them, too, that a non-reader can easily enough make his or her way through the story. (See a few more illustrations here.)

I don’t even want to think about winter coming soon, but I’m sure we’ll continue to reach for this book when the snow comes–and we are reading it now, even with potential blizzards months away.

Find The Little Snowplow at Amazon here, or at Candlewick Press’s page here.



Thanks to Candlewick Press for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of the review.

New Caspian: Tomorrow

September 24, 2015

Dust and Disquiet Cover


Reminder: Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet releases tomorrow (iTunes/Amazon/band). You can read my review of it here. A rock-solid record (emphasis on the rock), and pretty moving, too.

Review of WaterField’s External Keyboard Slip Case

September 23, 2015

Logitech makes an amazingly good external keyboard, the K811, which I reviewed here. At the time I noted:

It would be nice if the keyboard came with a carrying case or simple sleeve, though–you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

And, boy, did I figure it out! Turns out a San Francisco manufacturer named WaterField makes just such a product: the Keyboard Slip Case. Here’s their description:

Thin is in. The Keyboard Slip Case offers gentle protection in a slim ballistic nylon case with a lightly padded liner. A piping trimmed edge lets you choose to add a splash of bold color, or to stay under the radar with subdued tones. Pack it up and off you go.

I can at last not worry about whether my keyboard keys will pop off inside my messenger bag, and my neighbors and friends can now avoid the unseemly sight of my walking around with an external keyboard in my hand. (I mean, not literally just walking around with it. But going from point A to point B.)

The dimensions are 12″ x 6″ and 3 ounces, perfect for the Apple wireless keyboard and my Logitech model.

To remind you, here’s what the K811 looks like:


Image via Logitech

Image via Logitech


And now, in its case:


Keyboard in Sleeve


Pretty awesome, yeah? I know–I’m too excited about a piece of gear, but I use my K811 a lot, and am glad to protect it well.

The inside is protective yet soft:


Soft Inside


It’s made in San Francisco, so you’re buying a made-in-the-U.S.A. product with WaterField.

There’s even a nice little piece of trim that gives it a slight pop:




Here it is next to an iPad:


With iPad Air 2


The slip case is well constructed, and looks like it perfectly blends being lightweight with protecting your keyboard.

The keyboard fits snugly, so the lack of a closure is no loss. I’d initially wondered about this, but it’s not a problem. And it’s still easy to slide the keyboard in and out. (But if you’re worried, you can get this model.)

My only critique is that the nylon exterior is a little slippery. When carrying around an iPad and notebook and keyboard-in-its-case today, I felt the iPad slip against the keyboard case. So be aware of that so you don’t drop something!

Otherwise, the K811 has found its perfect match. Or as I put it in a six-word review on WaterField’s site:

Just what my external keyboard needed.

WaterField makes a lot of other really cool-looking gear, which you can learn more about here. Find the Keyboard Slip Case here.



Thanks to WaterField for the product review sample, given to me for purposes of review, but with no expectations or influence on the review’s content.


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