I’ll admit it, I preferred Pierre

This morning’s news that Maurice Sendak has passed away feels like another little part of my childhood has fallen away.  But not in the way you might think. I was terrified of Where the Wild Things Are. I was so scared that I made my parents promise that the book would leave our house. How could they guarantee that the wild things wouldn’t come to visit us?  Much to the chagrin of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Bernstein, I told all of my friends at the Book Fair that they should not buy that book!

I was quite surprised as an adult to find our copy of Where the Wild Things Are tucked away in the back of my Dad’s closet.  My 6-year old self felt the sting of the moment.  A literary fib on their part?

On the other hand, I LOVED The Nutshell Library. Holding that little box in my hands is one of my first memories of connecting with books.  How could they make such little books with such deliciously fun stories?  Pierre was my guy.  I don’t think my folks ever pointed out that the author was the same person who wrote Where The Wild Things Are – in fear that this little gem would end up in the back of the closet!!


Is your toddler addicted to your iPad & iPhone?

Today’s toddlers and preschoolers have a new addiction. Forget the boob tube and those pesky videos – now we’re talking about little fingers that are incredibly adept at navigating  APPS  on your pricey iPad and/or  iPhone.

What’s a toy maker to do? How can they compete with such amazing graphics?

Wasn’t it bad enough that video games have rob them of the tween market?

Here’s the industry response to date…

1. The “Can’t beat them, join them” approach.  It seems like everyone has an APP  for your child. Barbie, Leapfrog, Hot Wheels, Thinkfun….everywhere we went at Toy Fair…there was an APP we needed to “let our readers know about.” (Except of course for the dizzying number of embargo dates). And yes, we will have to start taking a closer look at all of these toy related APPs.  I haven’t gotten to play with it yet, but I do have to say that the Barbie Fashionista APP–looked really appealing (this coming from someone who really didn’t play with Barbies).

Barbie's Fashionista APP

2. “This is not your father’s iPad” – really. Toy makers are rolling out there own versions of iPad inspired tablets for your child.  LeapFrog and VTech will  go head to head with their platforms.  Are they cheaper? Yes.  Will your child be satisfied? Maybe.  As with any of these toys, they just don’t have the sizzle of the real thing (which is why toy companies are hedging their bets with approach #1.)  We will have to take a look at each of these products to review the content (remember that?) and whether the interface is pleasing.  I have a sense that if your toddler or preschooler is already schooled in your gadgets, this is going to be a hard transition.  On the other hand, if you start here–you may get to play with your gadget without the constant refrain of  “my turn!”

Vying for attention (all to be released later this year):

LeapFrog Explorer Tablet

LeapPad Explorer Tablet (LeapFrog)- Promises to come with a 5″ screen and leverages the library of games and content from this educational toy company.  It will also come with a built in camera. Suggested retail will be $99.99.


InnoPad (VTech) -Also features a 5″ touch screen, promises educational games, ebooks,  USB port, a headphone jack.  Suggested retail will be $79.99.

We’ll have to take a look. Sadly, both companies have moved away from partnerships with traditional publishers –leaving the ebook experience to the domain of mostly licensed materials. On this point alone, you may want to invest in a Color Nook–if you don’t want to go the bigger bucks on an iPad.  Technology only goes so far.  The CONTENT is still what should rule the day. We want our kids enjoy reading quality picture books no matter the format.  Disney Princesses and Scooby Doo are fun–but they shouldn’t replace children’s books as part of your child’s daily experience.

3. The “Ok, you can play,  but please don’t break it” approach. Handing  off  your  expensive toys to a toddler or preschooler is a balancing act between achieving calm (at the grocery store, at the restaurant, in the car, etc.) and the possible damage that came come to such gadgets from liquids (those pesky sippy cups) or a plain old “oops” moments. For those parents, Fisher-Price hopes to be of assistance with their new Laugh & Learn I Can Play Case that puts your smart phone into a bigger case with easy-to-grab handles. We look forward to trying this case–will little fingers find the case too intrusive? Of course your 3 year old will find this way too babyish.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn I Can Play Case

Best Bedtime Books 2010

Read our article about the best bedtime books for 2010. Joanne worked on this article,  so, of course she did not include her book, The Prince’s Bedtime–that she wrote for me when I was little. It remains the BEST BEDTIME BOOK EVER. While I admit that I am completely biased about this particular book–it is still a must have for that 3-5 year old set that will see (and appreciate) the humor of the little prince that didn’t want to go to sleep.  Long before this book was published, it was the story I wanted to hear again and again!!

Read Joanne’s response to NYTs article on Picturebooks

Last week the NYTs ran an article Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. Be sure to read Joanne’s take on the state of picture books in our culture.  As the author of more than 50 books for children and a former first and second grade teacher, her take is really informative.

Mine–is more a gut response.  Most of the children’s books we are sent for review are terrible.  There’s no other way to say it.  There seems to be a growing disconnect between the intended reader (young children) and a new crop of children’s writers.  It’s not just one or two books that seem off, but dozens and dozens of books that look like children’s books but seem much more appropriate for adult readers.

Encouraging kids to write: Creativity for Kids Create Your Own Bitty Books

Maybe because I grew up with my little Nutshell Library,

Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak

I’ve always been fond of little books. There’s something so pleasing about them-especially when you’re small. So when we first received the Create Your Own 3 Bitty Books from Creativity for Kids, I was psyched. The kit is beautifully made–each of the books is hardcover and comes with 12 pages,  kids can illustrate and/or use the pre-printed stickers to tell their own stories. The three little books come with their own holder. To watch our video discussion, click here.  To read reviews of this kit and other new craft kits, visit www.toyportfolio.com

If you love worms, you’ll love Yucky Worms

Fishing with my Grandpa

I’ve raised two city boys…both completely wigged out by bugs, spiders, worms, etc..  Having grown up in the country, I’m always amused by their reactions.  One of my favorite moments was an early fishing expedition.  “Great, we’ll need to get a cup of worms!” I couldn’t wait to share this experience with them…after all what was better than a cup of worms?    “Gross, no way!” – they both let me know that the worm thing was not going to be part of their fishing ritual.

As a child, getting the cup of worms was part of the day I spent with my grandfather (he’s in the background on his dock). In my mind I’m much more grown-up than the six or seven year old in the picture. He was a man of few words- so I guess the whole be-quiet-while-you-fish concept suited him well.  Looking back, I realized that he put up with my constant chatter about “when do you think we’ll get something?” “we’re going to put it back? right?” (we always put them back), “do you think we’ll ever catch that really big cat fish?”  If I got really bored (almost every time), I would jump into the water and dive for mussels (we were never allowed to eat them)…he never seemed to get upset that I was disturbing his fishing.  It was our time.

My early fond experiences with worms is probably why I love Yucky Worms (Candlewick Press) by Vivian French and beautifully illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. In this spot-on early science book, it’s the little boy’s Grandma that shows her grandson how useful worms can be in the garden.  The story is full of information without being dull or preachy–and the illustrations of what’s going on above and below the garden are the type of pages children will enjoy poring over.  In addition to the story, there are little factoids throughout the book that will also appeal to kids that love knowing trivia about the world around them.  For a full review of the book, visit www.toyportfolio.com. We have given this title an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award.

Please note that Yucky Worms does not discuss using worms as bait…but because my mother knows of my love of worms, she told me to stop playing with the bubbles today and read this book. I’m glad she did. Great science books for kids are hard to come by…Yucky Worms hits just the right balance of story and information for young readers.

The big cat fish? On our last fishing adventure together (I was now a teenager and rarely joined my Grandpa on the dock), we finally caught it.  I was so scared by the whiskers, the thrashing-that I remember screaming, crying and laughing until my grandfather forcibly got it off the hook and back into the water. I think he was even a little taken aback by the ferociousness of this particular fish.  We sat there for a while – taking in that we had just accomplished,  a goal we had shared for years – even if the whole moment wasn’t exactly what we had had in mind.  We did it. My grandfather died not long after.

One of my favorites: Sheep in a Jeep

Sheep in a Jeep

Just received a board book edition of Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw and illustrated by Margot Apple. If there is a toddler in your life, this is must have for your own library. The story and illustrations are a treat!   First published in 1986, it has been followed by many other sheep stories (my other favorite, Sheep Out to Eat).  Both books are at Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Blue Chip Classics.  You can also visit Nancy Shaw’s site and read more about Margot Apple at her publisher’s site.

Free Game: To Go With Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear?

Chances are you have a copy of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s Polar Bear Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Here’s one of the games we recommend in Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers that you play after you share the book with your child.

I Went to the Zoo

Borrow the refrain of “Polar Bear, Polar Bear…” as you pull your child’s toy animals out one at a time. Before long your child will be adding animals as you both say…”I went to the zoo and what did I hear? A little lion growling at me!”

Make a “zoo” for the animals with a collection of shoe boxes or blocks that your child can continue to play with alone.

(from p. 46, Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers)

Star Wars Heroes…the saga continues

Board books are great–they make books much more accessible to toddlers.  They can enjoy “reading” a book even when they are in the search, destroy and taste zone!  Recognizing that publishing a picture book in board book format gives a title two bites of the apple, books stores are now chock full of books that aren’t really for toddlers in terms of their content — but they are sturdy!  We’ve written about this before.

But now we’re seeing books that aren’t even really for preschoolers in board book form.  Earlier in the year there was Star Wars Spaceships.

Now there’s Star Wars Heroes….I LOVE Star Wars…but not for kids in the knowing and naming stage of toddlerhood. Somehow we’ve lost track of the developmental stage here–where they do not have the reasoning to make the distinction between real and make believe.  So take a look at these images and ask yourself are these important images to know and name?


Maybe these books are really intended for Urban Outfitters and the teen/adult market–that’s fine.  I just hope they’re not in any toddlers stocking this holiday.