Children’s Book Recommendation: Big Bot, Small Bot

Front cover

 

Marc Rosenthal’s Big Bot, Small Bot: A Book of Robot Opposites is short and simple, but wonderfully executed.

The book is just what it says: through colorful images and some imaginative flap-lifting, kids and parents follow some “retro-futuristic robots” through opposites like wet/dry, full/empty, and so on.

When you lift the flap, the opposite is revealed. So you start with this:

 

Quiet

 

And end up with this!

 

LOUD

 

I really wanted to just take a picture of every opposite and show it to you, but I will simply recommend the book, instead. The target ages are 2 to 5, which seems spot on to me. (You can see more images here, if you like.)

The book is funny, clever, and engaging. My 3-year-old was a fan from the first time she read it. The paper is nice and thick, too. That means it will give up a pretty good fight when your toddler decides–in a fit of unexplained and inexplicable rage–to rip all their books. (I’ve heard some kids do this.)

It makes for some excellent parent-child reading and interaction.

Find the book at POW! Kids here, or at Amazon here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at POW! Kids Books for sending the book for review, though that did not influence my opinions.

Children’s Book Review: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories!

daniels-grr-ific-stories!-9781481443913_hrDaniel Tiger (a.k.a., “D. Tiger,” according to our three-year-old) continues to be a hit around here. I expressed some skepticism two-and-a-half years ago toward a tiger replacing Mr. Rogers (see here). And of course no one could ever fill those shoes and that sweater. But Daniel Tiger–both the character and the show–has turned out to be pretty awesome.

 

Now… Books!

 

Yes, we enjoy the show. And the music is a favorite soundtrack at home. Last year our three-year-old (then two) got the toy trolley and some character figurines for Christmas.

I wonder whether the franchise has been slow to merchandise since heavy consumerism isn’t exactly a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood value. However, I have wished on numerous occasions for D. Tiger books to read to my daughter. Now Simon & Shuster and The Fred Rogers Company are releasing a slew of volumes for children.

 

Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories! (6 of Them!)

 

One such release is the surprisingly affordable six-book boxed set: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories. It includes six short stories (22 pages of story text in each) with full-color illustrations:

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood!
  • Daniel Goes to School
  • Goodnight, Daniel Tiger
  • Daniel Visits the Doctor
  • Daniel’s First Sleepover
  • The Baby Is Here!

As with the show, each book uses an interesting (and, let’s admit it, cute) narrative to help children deal with the many and diverse feelings that life throws their way.

Daniel is a big helper with the new baby–he helps get her room ready, holds her when she’s born, and even helps change a diaper! Smoother sailing then one might expect when a new baby comes and shakes up a family dynamic. (This may be one reason Honest Toddler does not like Daniel Tiger.)

The books are true to the show, which is nice–you’ll see, for example, familiar songs here:

Daniel is not sure what he’s going to do at the sleepover. He sings, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!”

Daniel and Prince Wednesday have a pajama dance party and brush their teeth together, but then Daniel gets scared:

Now it’s time to turn out the light and go to sleep. But wait! There is a great big shadow on the wall. It looks scary to Daniel! What could it be?

But, lest you worry our own child should get scared, the authors are on it:

Daniel remembers, if something seems scary, “See what it is. You might feel better.”

Sure enough (spoiler alert), “It’s just Mr. Lizard!” It was only a stuffed animal.

“When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!” comes up, too, when Dr. Anna sings it to Daniel in his check-up. Nothing to fear. He’s growing stripes just as he should!

All six of the books are of the quality you’d expect. (Though, be advised: they’re paperback.) Your kid may want you to read all six before going to bed, but one or two or three will probably fill 10–15 minutes easily enough. There’s a lot of good content here.

The illustrations are well-done, too:

 

Welcome to Music Shop

 

Waiting for Doctor

 

Baby Sister

 

Plus, A Super-Cute Growth Chart

 

Also included in the six-book box is a full-color growth chart parents can put on the wall. It starts at 17 inches (so you hang it 16 inches above the floor) and goes up to 59 inches. Daniel, Miss Elaina, Prince Wednesday, O the Owl, and Katerina Kittycat are all there cheering for your growing wee one. A nice touch is that at three parts there is, “Now I’m big enough to _” that you can fill in.

 

Growth chart

 

Where to Get It

 

Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

 

Box Contents

 

You can find the boxed set at the publisher’s page here, and here at Amazon.

For how much is here, both the list price and the discounted price on Amazon make it easily worthwhile.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Simon & Schuster for sending the boxed set for review, though that did not influence my opinions.

Toy Review: 2015 Hess Fire Truck And Ladder Rescue

Actually *two* trucks! (Image via Hess)
2015 Hess Fire Truck and Ladder Rescue (Image via Hess)

 

Only the Hess toy trucks at the babysitting room at our local Y have convinced our two boys to accept a drop-off there. They’re much better built and way cooler to play with than one might otherwise expect from a toy made by a gasoline station.

Hess, it turns out, has been producing its Toy Truck line since 1964. The first make was a tanker trailer, modeled after the ones that brought gas to the stations. For $1.29 (including batteries!) you could put the tanker trailer under the Christmas tree for your little one.

2015’s model is especially awesome:

This year’s Hess Toy is a red Fire Truck with oversized tires, swiveling chrome-detailed fire hose nozzles, LED lights including a high-powered pivoting LED searchlight, a slide-out ramp and 4 realistic sound effects. The accompanying Ladder Rescue features a rotating extension ladder with a movable nozzle and push-activated friction motor.         (source)

Here it is (click on any image in this post to enlarge):

 

Hess Box

 

Hess Box Open

 

You’re really getting two trucks for the price of one. Which is good, because the toy is $30.99. That’s more than most parents I know would want to spend on a truck for their kid, but it also includes free shipping and batteries. Given its high-quality construction, the truck looks like it will last a long time, so I don’t think it’s an unfair–if high–price, especially considering all its features.

Here’s what the trucks look like with lights on:

 

Both Trucks Lit Up

 

I got quite a start when I pulled out the ramp at the back of the larger truck–it makes a robust sound that you’d expect from a real-life mechanical ramp. It’s not the kind of annoying sound that will bug you when on repeat, but this might be a toy for kids to take out of their brother’s bedroom and into the living room when they wake up at 6:30 a.m. to play. The ramp makes for an easy entrance/exit for the Ladder Rescue truck to go do its own thing.

The Fire Truck has more sounds than the ramp. There is also an Ignition button (very realistic), a Horn, and a Siren. Each sound plays for about 10 seconds and is–this is worth repeating–not something to play with while baby sister is napping. But that makes the toy all the more fun and awesome. The horn sounds like there’s a real emergency at your house. (Not to mention the siren!) If need be, you don’t have to wait 10 seconds for it to stop; you can just push the button again to silence it. (That’s a thoughtful feature!) So long as your neighbors know it’s just the Hess Toy Truck and don’t go calling 9-1-1 on you, you’ll be fine.

You can turn just the lights on via the switch under the truck. There are two options: you can have the lights solidly on, or turn them on in flasher mode. Regardless of what you do at the bottom of the truck, turning on any sounds causes the lights to flash. There’s also a button on top of the truck that turns just the spotlight on.

The wheels are on both trucks really securely, so you can run them across the kitchen floor at full speed and not worry about it running into the fridge. It’s a smooth ride.

The smaller Ladder Rescue truck is fun in its own right. It’s got a fully extendable plastic ladder with a small water spout (not real!) on the end. Both trucks are sturdy and made of hard, solid plastic. The trim pieces (mirrors, ladder hose, front visors) feel a little flimsier than one might hope, but it would take a child’s deliberate act to break anything here. (Not outside the realm of possibility.) The ladder swivels a full 360 degrees and can be snapped into place when not extended.

 

Ladder Rescue Lit Up Extended Ladder

 

The Ladder Rescue truck also lights up via an on/off switch on the bottom of the truck. What this means for parents is that your child will turn off all the lights and find the darkest place in the house right away, so as to test the truck properly. 🙂 Parents will also want to make sure to turn the toy off at night so as to not let the batteries drain.

You can’t open the doors to either truck, so your LEGO minifigures will have to latch on somewhere else, but there is plenty of room for them to hop on and go fight fires.

This is really an awesome toy, and the more I played with it (yes, I played with it), the more I enjoyed it. Hours of countless fun for children are inevitable. Both trucks are thoughtfully designed and excellently executed. And the Fire Truck is pretty giant as far as children’s toy vehicles go, so you could do well to make this the “big” present you’re getting your child(ren) this Christmas.

 

Back of Ladder Rescue

 

One other cool thing: Hess has made 100 individually numbered Silver Editions of the Fire Truck and Ladder Rescue toy. I got the expected red one and was not disappointed.

You find out more and purchase the truck here. You can find the Hess Toy Truck on social media (#2015HessToyTruck) here: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.

 


 

Many thanks to the fine folks doing PR for Hess who set me up with the free product sample for review, with no expectations as the the review’s content.

Cozy Classics: Best Board Books Ever

I finally read War and Peace last week… in about two minutes!

At first I thought Cozy Classics, 12-word board book summaries of classic works of literature, were gimmicky. But then I read War and Peace and Les Misérables. And the cuteness nearly melted me. (“So adorable it makes our hearts hurt,” rightly said one reviewer.)

My kids (ranging in age from pre-school to lower elementary) love the books, and my littlest one can easily memorize them. They’re perfect reading practice for my middle child.

Yes, it’s really impressive that anyone could even attempt to summarize such massive tomes in a dozen words. Les Mis begins:

poor
rich
sad

But what stands out even more is the beautifully detailed images of needle-felted characters. Check out the detail of the first page of Les Mis. (And note the page in the background!)

 

 

From the adult version of the book:

Cosette was made to run on errands, to sweep the rooms, the courtyard, the street, to wash the dishes, to even carry burdens… It was a heart-breaking thing to see this poor child, not yet six years old, shivering in the winter in her old rags of linen, full of holes, sweeping the street before daylight, with an enormous broom in her tiny red hands, and a tear in her great eyes.

Or, as the Cozy Classic puts it:

sad

 

 

Both Les Mis and War and Peace initially make for a quick read, as you might guess. But my kids have really enjoyed the detail of the images (as have I!), and having so few words makes them easy to understand and retain. I did have to explain “stroll” to my three-year-old, but that provided a nice little vocabulary lesson.

 

Image from War and Peace
Image from War and Peace

 

These books are not only adorable; you’ll feel like a great parent in introducing your kids to these classics.

Check out Les Mis’s product page here and War and Peace here. All the Cozy Classics are here. AND… there is now a Star Wars trilogy.

 


 

Thanks to Simply Read Books for the review copies, given with no expectation as to the content of the review.

The Rain for Roots CD Winners Are…

image

 

The forthcoming Rain for Roots Advent album is phenomenal. Read more about it here.

Today I’m posting with the results of the giveaway contest my review post included. I’m pleased to congratulate the two winners, Ruth Ohlman and Elisabeth Kvernen! Nice one!

(I will be in touch with both of you via email to make sure the CD gets sent to the right place.)

In case you’re curious… I didn’t count duplicate comments, but did count one entry for a comment and one additional entry for a comment that said a person shared on Facebook or Twitter. There were 59 entries total. I used a random number generator to pick.

 

image

 

Thanks to all who commented! There were a lot of really meaningful reflections on Advent that folks shared, and I only wish I could more fully engaged with each of them, but I read them all and loved it. Rain for Roots has some pretty great fans.

And thanks again to the good folks at Rain for Roots for sponsoring the giveaway and–more importantly–for writing, recording, producing, and releasing this fabulous record for a season of waiting.

Rain for Roots’s Waiting Songs for Advent (and CD Giveaway)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

Rain for Root’s Waiting Songs releases November 10. You can pre-order it here now with a 20% off discount using code WotW.

Also, Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release, about which you can learn more here.

Finally, there are a few more days left to enter to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots. I’ll randomly select two winners from comments made at this link. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” For a second entry, share a link to that post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners Thursday.

Almost, Not Yet, Already: Rain for Roots’s New Advent Album (and a Chance to Get the CD Free)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

There are notoriously few tools for parents to use in engaging Advent with their kids. Rain for Roots this year offers a new and creative resource, Waiting Songs. The album is a joy to listen to, even as it draws out the difficulty of waiting, and helps the listeners to enter into the sometimes awkward liminal space of Advent.

The band explains the genesis of the album:

 

 

Here’s a brief, track-by-track overview.

1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The album begins with a beautiful, stripped down version of my favorite Advent hymn. I’ve always taken this song to be the quintessential articulation of both Advents (so far!) of Christ. What better place to begin a season of waiting (“until the Son of God appear”) than with this classic prayer-hymn?

 

2. Come Light Our Hearts

The full band is in on track 2: guitars, piano, lots of great harmonies, bass, banjo, drums…. Sandra McCracken affirms,

For you, O Lord, our souls in stillness wait

Truly our hope is in you

It’s a compelling and reassuring waltz, giving language to those who wait.

 

RainForRoots94

 

3. Isaiah 11

Next is a twangy, string-bending, rollicking country-ish number. “A little child will lead them,” sing some wonderful mothers! Partway through there is a child reading from Isaiah 11:10, using Eugene Peterson’s Message. The song goes from, “A good, good king will lead them” to, “A good, good king will lead us.”

 

4. Every Valley (It’s Hard to Wait)

Have you ever wondered how to explain Advent to a child? This gentle bluesy, soulful song does a great job:

When you write a letter to a friend

And you don’t know when

You’ll hear back again

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

When the one you love leaves on a plane

And you’ll know that she’ll

Come back some day

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

BUT!

There is gonna to be a day

Every low valley he will raise

There is gonna to be a day

Hills and mountains gonna be made plain

There is gonna be a day

Winding roads gonna be made straight

Comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort!

I noticed it was getting awfully dusty in my room as that song played.

 

5. The Weight of the World

I’m not a lover of the kind of the stylized vocals that carry this track, but the song itself is—like all the others—a good one: memorable, meaningful, and singable.

 

6. Mary Consoles Eve

First of all, I just saw this “Mary Consoles Eve” image last Advent for the first time ever.

 

“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve,” Sister Grace Remington, http://www.mississippiabbey.org

 

And now there’s a song that accompanies it perfectly:

Almost, not yet, already

Almost, not yet, already

And

Eve, it’s Mary

Now I’m a mother, too

The child I carry

A promise coming true

This baby comes to save us from our sin

A servant King, his kingdom without end

This whole album is so catchy and well-written–even more so than their previous album on the Kingdom of God, if that were possible!–and this is perhaps the song that will stick with listeners the most.

 

7. Zechariah

“Zechariah” is pretty funny, because not only is the story of Zechariah’s speechlessness kind of funny (in retrospect! probably wasn’t for him), but this song gives kids and parents a chance to talk and sing in a babbling, tongue-tied manner.

 

8. Magnificat

“Magnificat” is another catchy—if somewhat somber—tune. This track stands out less to me than some of the others, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be hitting fast-forward when it comes to track 8 on the album. Flo Paris Oakes’s vocals and Kenny Hutson’s guitar and mandolin work call to mind Lead Me On-era Amy Grant… which is, now that I think about it, the album I am going to listen to while I work on my sermon this morning.

 

9. Great Rejoicing

Yet more beautiful lyrics:

The troubles of this world

Will wither up and die

That river of tears made by the lonely

Someday will be dry

There’s gonna be a great rejoicing

Also, while playing this song with my wife and three-year-old in the room, I asked my wife, “Do you like this music?” To which my three-year-old replied, “I DO like this music!” The pedal steel and Skye Peterson’s lead vocals partway through the song are icing on the cake.

 

Don't you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat
Don’t you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat

 

10. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Waiting Songs ends much as it began: with a beautiful, stripped down version of a classic Advent hymn. (Side note to worship leaders: yes, there are Advent hymns in the hymnal! And you should sing the few of them that exist as many times as you can in the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.)

Rain for Roots’s addition to the hymn will stay with you for days, even after your first time hearing it:

We are waiting

We are waiting

We are waiting for You.

McCracken’s “Hallelujah, what a Savior!” background vocals float above the “We are waiting,” bringing the album to a satisfying close. Advent purists ought to be able to overlook the use of “the H-word” during Advent here. Or does “Hallelujah” sung on top of “We are waiting for you” deliberately point to Christ’s third Advent, when he comes again in glory?

 

Final Thoughts and Where to Get It (or Win It)

 

I really love this record, not just for myself, but for my kids, and for any other kids and families that have the privilege of hearing it! Also, I’m totally going to teach some of these songs to our congregation during our intergenerational Sunday school hour this Advent. They’re excellent.

I was a big fan of Rain for Roots’s previous album, too–it is still on regular rotation in our house, especially on road trips. But Waiting Songs even tops The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This. It’s a remarkable record.

The album releases November 10. You can (and should) pre-order it here. AND… three more cool things for you before you go:

  1. Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release. Find out more here.
  2. If you use the discount code WotW you can get 20% off the album when you pre-order (in various formats) here. That code is good through November 9, the day before the album releases. (EDIT: Should have clarified–the code is applicable just to the digital download option.)
  3. Want to have a chance to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots? I’ll randomly select two winners from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” Or, you know, just say, “Yo.” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners in a week.

 


 

Thanks so much for the good folks at Rain for Roots for the pre-release stream of the album so I could review it.

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

image

 

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.

 

image

 

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.

Children’s Book Review: The Little Snowplow

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.