“Art and Max” by David Wiesner

Master painter, Arthur, a work of magnificent reptile art himself, is putting the finishing touches on his portrait when energetic Max bounds onto the scene, ready to paint. New to this venue, Max asks his mentor, “What should I paint?” Taking Art’s reply literally to “paint me,” Max proceeds to cover the lizard’s skin with paint. What follows is an amusing series of blunders by Max as he works to morph Art to his original color and form. The acrylic scales brake off of Art, revealing a soft watercolor patchwork to which Max turns on the fan to blow off the color. As Art drinks a glass of water, his colors wash away, leaving just his line drawing. Tugging on Art’s tail, now a mere sketch of his technicolor scaly self, Max unwinds this colleague into a tangled mess. Reconstructing his friend takes several attempts, but Max adds the “pointy bits” and details to recognize Art. Reversing the vacuum cleaner that had sucked up the paint, Max streams it back on Art like a Jackson Pollack mural. Now the friends are ready to get back to work, for some shared painting. Caldecott winner Davide Wiesner provides an amazing backdrop for a simple story of few words. Characters’ stances, expressions, and gestures tell the story visually and prompt a child to fill in the story verbally. Kids studied the pictures and added the narrative–“He drunk the water and the paint get offed!,” “Where’s Arthur? He’s in the line!” “Art and Max” encourages using language to express abstract concepts of losing  form and color and how to restore it. I have found that kids love this book, especially creative ones!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Book Review, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

“The Word on the Street Junior” by Out of the Box Publishing

This “wacky war of words” was unique and got even more fun, the longer we played it. The street is divided for two teams and the letter tiles of the alphabet run down the median strip. A team selects a category card–a school supply, something soft, or something found in a locker–and brainstorms words in that group. Times up and your team has to select one of the words and spell it out, moving the letter tiles to their side of the road, left or right. Three moves and your letter is off the board and “captured” by your team. The first team to capture eight letters wins. The thoughtful category cards and ensuing brainstorming is a wonderful language activity as players think of words connected by a concept. Strategy changes as the game progresses and there are fewer letters available to win. You can play offense or defense, look for double consonant words to speed your letters into  your camp, or try to formulate words using the letters on your half of the road. This game keeps the thinking going and changing for learning and fun.

Recommended Age: 8 and up

The above opinions are solely those of the author. “Word on the Street Junior” was provided for review by Out of the Box Publishing

Posted in 8 years and up, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Dabble” by INI, LLC

A simple “fast thinking word game,” “Dabble,” entertains the whole family. Each player is given 20 word tiles and a graduated bleacher on which to place a word of  two, three, four, five and six letters in just five minutes. Play may take several timed rounds to declare a winner, or in my case, an especially adept word master friend got it on the first try! The winner earns points from the value of the tiles left unused by his opponents. This is a game that can be enjoyed at many levels–competitive adults, families, younger kids with an option to limit the length of words required and even teams. A suggested adaptation gives bonus points for forming words within a pre-selected category such as clothing, food, or house objects. Categories up the level of play but also add language learning value as players have to formulate words while thinking within a category. Lots of conversation ensued explaining strategy. One mom suggested her kids start with the longest word. A dad was methodical in grouping vowels along the center and lining up common beginning and ending consonants to draw his words from. Building vocabulary, language. literacy and thinking skills, “Dabble” makes learning fun!

Recommended Age: 10 and up

The above opinions are solely those of the author. “Dabble” was provided for review by INI, LLC

Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Twisterz’ “Alphabet Matcher”

Kids are delightfully intrigued by this twistable tube of rings, searching to match up pictures that begin with the same letter. The tube holds six rings—the first rotates to select a letter, while the remaining five rings display six pictures each to match to their beginning letter. Start with “K” and spin the rings to find the picture of a kiwi, kangaroo, key, kettle and kite. When you master matching the six letters on the tube with their corresponding pictures, you simply unscrew the end and slide one of the three additional color-coded sets to start the game over again. My testers kept “trying out” their letter sound, repeating it verbally, as they searched for the corresponding picture. This added practice linked the sound with the picture too.  Twisterz’ suggestions for creative language learning variations are most helpful. Mix the rings from different sets and line up pictures by new categories like animals, shapes or food or use your tube of pictures as a story starter. All that fun and learning without batteries—just your brain to keep it going.

Recommended Age: 3 and up

The above opinions are solely those of the author. The Alphabet Matcher was provided for review by Twisterz.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Reading, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Go With Me Mobile” by Blue Box Toys

Blue-Box toys has just made hanging out in a crib a lot more fun! With the cast of characters from their new BKids  product line, bebee the monkey, fefe the elephant,  and zuzu the giraffe dangling above baby, there is plenty to gaze at and entertain. The soft animals and tube to attach to allow for plenty of movement to soothe your baby. Angled for baby’s best view, these animals can circle the mobile or unsnap and travel most everywhere for fun. The unique “Loop ‘n Link System allows  parents to connect the characters for a line-up menagerie, stringing it on the stroller, carriage, car seat or even a grocery cart. Each animal is attached to a loop that connects through a Velcro leaf. Play with them individually or connect them for a parade of play. Moms loved how soft the animals were and babies concurred as they grabbed, chewed, and explored their new little friends, babbling at their friendly faces. Blue-Box’s theme “to bring kids together, connecting for a better world” inspires all of us to hold hands and play together.

Recommended Age: 6 months and up

The above opinions are solely those of the author. “Go With Me Mobile” was provided by Blue-Box Toys for review.

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Soft Peek-A-Boo Block” by Blue-Box Toys

I love when siblings join in and play with a toy together but at different levels of learning These colorful, soft blocks were easy for our 8 month-old tester to grab for exploration by hand or mouth. The moulded  pictures on each side of the blocks  revealed peek-a-boo parts of beebee and his friends, and numbers and shapes that interested his older 3 year-old brother. Add the three harder hinged block covers that open and close with cut-out shapes for further peeks and combinations, and an infant’s sibling or friend can learn by doing too. Our older tester starting matching the peek–a–boo windows in the outer cased blocks with corresponding images on the soft inner blocks such as roaro the lion’s trees  with the tree cut-out  and the oval to encase the alligators’s jaws. What fun to watch his mind work as he carefully selected pictures to correspond with shapes. See the thinking and listen to the language generated with this toy! Playing together sparks plenty of talk and babble between siblings and a fun shared experience.

Recommended Age: 6 months and up

The opinions above are solely those of the author. Soft Peek-A-Boo Block were provided for review by Blue-Box Toys.

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“Tell Tale” by Blue Orange Games

Open this tiny tin of fun and start your story-telling, weaving through a land of imagination, prompted by the 60 double-sided picture cards. Who can make up a story using picture of a question mark, a robber, a shower and the desert? Kids can. “After chasing the robber through the desert, I needed a shower, but where did he go?”  A family game of fun, “Tell Tale” can include kids of all ages as they construct stories on their level. Older children can use the pictures to lunch a more abstract story while little ones are more concrete. One of the best features that I like is the inclusion of several “emotion” cards depicting people scared, surprised, sad or frightened. Another option for play would be to start with an emotion card and tell whey the person feels that way, while spinning your story. A perfect travel game, “Tell Tale” is contained in a cute little tin for easy transport.

Recommended Age: 6 and up

The above opinions expressed are solely those of the author. “Tell Tale” was provided for review by Blue Orange Games

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Quercetti Magnetino Carry-On Letters”

Learn your letters and begin to tell stories with this self-contained case of 66 pieces including magnetic letters, pictures of animals, food and objects, a dry erase pen to add features, letters or dialogue, and a shape tracer. With such a variety of pieces, children can mix their media as they tell a story–begin with a picture story, using the magnetic cat, house, lion or fish, and move on to inventive spelling with your letters or advance to writing out the theme with your pen. Don’t we all love  easy clean-up as kids gather up the pieces to store in the case? Perfect for travel entertainment, the Magnetic Carry-On Letters is sure to occupy your emergent reader for hours of fun.

Recommended Age: 4 and up

The above is solely the opinion of the author. The “Magnetico Carry-On Letters” were provided by International Playthings for review.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Dino Constructables” by Tomy

Kids are fascinated with dinosaurs so being able to construct your favorites and invent new ones adds up to a hit. With just 18 chunky, high quality pieces, children can create their own motorized models with moving mouths and legs, propelling them forwards and backwards. Make a Mastadon with his large ears, tusks and trunk, a Brontosaurus with his long swinging tail, a Triceratops with his bumpy spine and double-tusk head, a T-Rex standing tall on his hind legs or a unique creation of your own. Designed for kids 3 and up, littler ones will need some help pushing the pieces into the main motorized unit but that didn’t stop our little toy testers from eagerly making their dinosaurs. When kids first saw the models move, their eyes were wide with fascination–just the reaction you want to see to a toy set for great pretend play and conversation!

Suggested Age: 3 and up

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author. “Dino Construcables” was provided for review by International Playthings.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Lil’ Shopper Playset” by Earlyears

Grab your recyclable bag and head off to your pretend grocery store with your “Lil’ Shopper Playset” by Earlyears. Babies learn all about textures, colors and sounds exploring this bag full of food. The shiny blue carton of milk was popular as kids opened the top Velcro and peered at themselves in the mirror while the apple had appear for it’s easy rattle and stem with a leaf on top. The orange opens to reveal a cross section, the banana can be peeled, and the lettuce shakes and crinkles. Prominent smiley faces on each food invites kids to interact and talk. This shopping bag will hang out for a while in the playroom as your child gets older and starts to play pretend. Toddlers and preschoolers loved creating imaginary scenarios with the soft

Recommended Age: 12 months and up

The above is solely the opinion of the author. Both products were provided for review by International Playthings

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment