Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bats at the Beach & Bats at the Library

On a visit to the library a long, long time ago I asked Jack to pick out a book. He randomly picked up a book from the shelf. It was Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies. We didn't know then what a treasure he'd found.

We read this book constantly and pored over the detailed paintings. We learned about bats and laughed at the buggy food they ate. My kids fell in love with the bats.

The day I returned the book to the library, I went to the bookstore and bought a copy. Jack in particular fell in love with the book. I'm not sure what it was about it that he loved so much, but he would look at it and read it over and over.

The story is adorable: the bats fly out for a night at the beach. They do all the things people do at the beach, but in their own nighttime, batty way. All told in lovely, soothing rhyme.

Our love of this book has not diminished over time either. On Sunday night I was trying to find a book for Jack to take to bed. He turned down four or five before he agreed to Bats at the Beach.

Then Monday when I was volunteering at my kids' school book fair, I saw Bats at the Library just laying on a table waiting for me.

I walked past it many times, glancing longingly at it each time until finally I couldn't stand it anymore. I grabbed a copy and bought it. My kids were delighted as soon as they saw it.

It has the same type of delightful paintings, only this time the bats sneak in through an open window at the library to read books, play games, and swim in the water fountain.

I was also delighted to see the reappearance of the bat from the first book who wears a bright yellow life jacket. (We call him "Bananee" because my kids think he's holding a banana. I can't bring myself to correct them.) Inexplicably, he's still wearing the life jacket.

But since this is a book about reading bats, I'm willing to forgive the inaccuracy.

These books are so delightful. I highly recommend them for any children.

Honesty Clause: I purchased both of these books at full price. Brian Lies, his publishers, and their PR machines have never heard of me. I just feel the need to help spread the word about his beautiful books.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe

I have to tell you right off the bat that I'm Play-Doh phobic. I have all kinds of sensory issues and have a hard time making myself handle the stuff. Play-Doh brand playdough is the best. Homemade or other brands? I'm not going to touch it.

My kids, on the other hand, love it. So I had mixed feelings when I received the Playdoh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe to review. None of this is Play-Doh's fault. Or Playskool's, who makes the Ice Cream Shoppe.

Even with my Play-Doh aversion, I have to say that this is a cool toy. What I really like about it is that a lot of stuff comes with it. It comes with the ice cream maker (more on that later), plus dishes, "cones", spoons, and FOUR cans of Play-Doh. Even if you were starting with zero Play-Doh, this would set you up ready to play for a good long while.

Quinn was delighted with the ice cream maker and immediately set about making ice cream cones. The toy also makes sprinkles and different "toppings" to decorate your ice cream with. And there is not an inch of wasted space on the toy. There are molds all over it to make cookies, flowers, and other decorations. there is even a feature where you can create a cake with candles. It's pretty cool.

It does take a little strength to push the
Play-Doh through the ice cream maker.

I knew that I'm not the best judge of Play-Doh type toys, so I took it over to a friend's house. This friend and her kids play with Play-Doh a lot. I figured that we liked it, but I would see what some real connoisseurs thought.

They liked!

One of them unfortunately didn't read the warning on the box: "Fun to play with, but not to eat."

In her defense, they were creating some pretty delicious looking items . I think my friend had just as much fun as the kids did. I left the toy at her house so they could play with it some more. My friend reported the next day that her kids had woken her up at 7 a.m. to ask to play with it.

I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus.

Naturally, you will have to feed your
children ice cream after they play with the toy.

If your kids like Play-Doh and like ice cream, then they'll like this.

Honesty Clause: I received the Ice Cream Shoppe for free. It retails for $14.99

Kideo Personalized DVDs

Keep reading for a special discount for Things and Stuff Reviews readers!

When I first heard about Kideo personalized DVDs, I thought they sounded like a cool idea, but didn't consider them to be something that was essential to my life.

I underestimated these DVDs.

Basically, you send Kideo a photo of your child and they put their face and name in a 20-minute (or so) DVD with any of a variety of characters. You can get DVDs with Spider-Man, Barney, Dora the Explorer, Arthur, Baby Genius, Care Bears, or Gregory and Me.

I thought my kids would think the DVDs were cool, but would then forget about them. But all three of them adore them and keep asking to watch them. If your kids are like mine, and regularly pretend to be TV characters, I'm pretty sure they'll love the DVDs.

My personal favorite was the Arthur DVD we got that starred Jack.

Jack was sold from the second he saw the cover of the DVD with his name on it. The story is all about how Arthur wants to be friends with his pen pal Jack, who he'd never met before. Arthur thinks up all sorts of fun things to do when Jack comes to visit. Including going to space.

Considering we have never watched Arthur, I was impressed with how much Jack loved this. Once it was over, Jack pretended to be Jack and made me be Arthur and he pretended that Arthur was visiting him. We've had a lot of fun playing Arthur and watching this DVD. Every time he sees it, Jack gets really happy. And so do I.

I liked that even though I had submitted a photo of Jack that only had one ear, they switched the picture back and forth in different spots in the DVD, so it didn't look weird.

Quinn starred in a DVD about Gregory and Me. I've never even heard of Gregory, but the DVD was very cute and featured lots of stories about safari animals. And a tune called "Safari Samba" that I couldn't get out of my head for several days.

Here is a photo of Quinn on safari with Gregory:

Could you just die from the cuteness?

The last of the videos starring my children also starred Spider-Man, who is kind of a big deal around my house. The cool thing about this DVD is that your child actually IS Spider-Man in it.

The Spider-Man DVD does have some slightly older kid-type violence that you would expect with a superhero story. I felt okay showing it to my kids, but if you are uneasy about that sort of thing, Dora or Arthur might be better suited for you.

When I showed the DVD to Sam the first time, I waited until it ended, then asked him what he liked about it. His response was: "Everything. Can we watch it again?"

Kideo sent me a Spider-Man DVD for each of my three children. They all love them so much that they will sit through all three of them in a row, with the only difference being the child who is in the DVD.

I watched samples of the other DVDs also. Both the Barney and Dora DVDs are very much like regular episodes, except they feature the child prominently throughout the story. Both of these talk about the child as the birthday kid, so these would be great as a birthday present. And if you're having a Barney or Dora-themed party, this would be a very cute addition.

The Care Bears and Baby Genius, plus the Gregory and Me DVDs are definitely aimed at a younger audience and feature songs and dancing.

You can see samples of all the DVDs at the Kideo website. You can also place orders there. PLUS, they are offering Things and Stuff Reviews readers (that's you) a discount. Enter STIMEY on their website and you will get $5 off your order.

I think Kideo did a really good job integrating the photos I sent into the DVDs. The parts where the different characters say the children's names is obviously (to an adult) voiced by someone else. But none of my children (ages 3, 5, and 7) even noticed. They were just thrilled to hear their names.

If your children love one of these characters, they will get a real kick out of hearing their names come out of their mouths and watching themselves play with their TV friends.

Honesty Clause: Kideo sent me five DVDs starring my children for free. DVDs retail for $22.95 to $29.95.