Sandra Boynton has had children’s books in print for the past 40+ years, ever since publishing “Hippos Go Berserk” in 1977. Her distinctive and very recognizable illustration style may be more familiar from her many, many calendars, coffee mugs, and cards. By her own estimate, she has drawn between 4,000 and 6,000 greeting cards! Her most famous is probably the birthday card that reads, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”
We have several of her 60+ children’s board books and they are an easy and popular gift to give and receive. The drawing style is fun and whimsical and the “stories”, as simple as they are, are great for read-along time. Our kids essentially memorize entire books and then can read along with us.
Her most popular books include “Moo, Baa, La La La!”, “The Going to Bed Book”, “Barnyard Dance”, “A to Z”, “Blue Hat, Green Hat”, and “Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!” A complete list of her books is on her Wikipedia page
She also has several children’s music albums, including:
“Rhinoceros Tap” (1996)
“Philadelphia Chickens” (2002)
“Dog Train” (2005)
“Blue Moo” (2007)
“Boléro Completely Unraveled” (2010)
“Frog Trouble” (2013)
“Hog Wild” (2017)
Mouse Paint is a charming board book by Ellen Stoll Walsh that teaches primary and secondary colors. It reminded me a bit of the classic Color Kittens although Mouse Paint has its own style.
Who is it for
It’s a book to read to a toddler who is interested in colors and is learning color words, so children aged 1 to 3 would get the most out of it.
What Kids Like
The drawings are charming and the mice are cute. They are busy, getting into things. I don’t know whether the kids relate to that, but I think so. With books aimed at very young children, it’s often hard to know exactly why they like something. But our 2-year-old asked to read this about five times yesterday, which I consider a positive review.
What Parents Like
The art is appealing, enough that my attention is kept, even when reading it for the fifth time. There is just enough going on that the parent and child can have a conversation about what’s happening. The book encourages communication and engages the child, rather than simply letting them passively listen.
Plus-Plus is a building toy made up of pieces that look like two plus signs: ++
They are sort of like Legos, but also sort of like Play-doh
Who is it for
Anyone old enough to manipulate small objects and also old enough to know not to put little things in their mouth should be old enough to use it, so maybe 4 at the lower end. And anyone who still plays with Legos would enjoy Plus-Plus as well, so maybe 9 at the upper end. It would also be a decent office desk toy / stress reliever.
The company also makes a larger version (called, simply, “Big”) that is more than twice the size of regular Plus-Plus and is easier for little hands to work with and are too big to choke on. These would be fun for kids as young as 1 year.
What Kids Like
The bricks/blocks connect easily and it’s very simple to make a figure or vehicle or whatever. Unlike Lego, which more and more rely on special pieces, Plus-Plus has only one shape and size of brick and this uniformity actually makes it easier to design things because you always have every shape of brick you need.
Also, Lego requires rectilinear construction because of the way bricks fit together. But Plus-Plus can fit at angles, resulting in more organic, rounder creations.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect, for some, is that the creations end up looking like Minecraft creations.
What Parents Like
I like having multiple options for building toys.
I like that Plus-Plus are cheap. Because there are no special pieces, Plus-Plus bricks end up costing something like 5¢. The kids like taking toys in the car and on trips and when visiting people, and there is always the risk with Legos that a certain special minifig helmet or something will get lost. With Plus-plus, we can lose a few pieces and no one will notice.
What the Critics Think
The toy gets 4.6 stars at Amazon and 4.9 at FatBrain Toys
Mystery Makers highlighted as one of “2019 Most Trendy Products” at New York Toy Fair
Learning Express “Best Construction Toy 2018”
I keep comparing Plus-Plus to Legos because the similarities are obvious. Another similarity is that these things get scattered all over the floor and stepping on them is painful. They are a bit of a choking hazard as well for little ones.
Who Made it/History
The company was started in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark and now has an office in Greenville, SC
Where Can I Get it
Plus-Plus used to be something of a boutique toy, only available at specialty educational stores, but they are now everywhere: Amazon, Target, Kohl’s etc.
There are so many board books available for little kids, and it’s hard to know in advance which ones kids will actually like.
This is one of the few that our little ones keep pulling off the shelf
What is it
Shake a Leg! is a stanard-sized board book with a dozen spreads with drawings of Sesame Street Muppets rubbing their tummies, patting their heads, etc. With each picture there is an associated movement and sound.
Who is it for
This book is ideal for a child that is old enough to be read to and still learning body parts and basic sounds.
What Kids Like
The kids like that the book is essentially an ultra-simple yoga routine instruction. Reading it together becomes a fun 5 minutes of movement together.
What Parents Like
I like that the book, with its movement, is different from most other books. It gets me out of the chair and it’s fun for both of us.
What the Critics Think
GoodReads gives it 4.3/5. Amazon gives it 4.8/5
Who Made it
The book was written by Constance Allen, who has written dozens of books based on Sesame Street characters. The illustrations are by Maggie Swanson, who has illustrated several dozen kids’ books, many of which are Sesame Street books.
The book was first published in 2010 as part of the Big Bird’s Favorite Board Book series.
One of the kids dropped their grandma’s iPad last year. It landed on one of its corners on the wood floor and the glass front cracked. It was and is still usable, but we have to be careful with it because the shattered glass occasionally leaves a splinter in a finger.
So, when we got an iPad we made sure to get a case and we’re very happy we did because that thing has been dropped more than I can count.
I had never heard of this brand, and I imagine we selected it based on price. But it has been great. No tears in the rubber and looks brand new even a year later.
When the kids started kindergarten, we began the ritual of packing lunches, but were concerned about the cost, health aspects, and environmental problems with using little plastic sandwich bags. So we splurged (~$30) on a metal ‘bento box’ we found online.
We got the Three-in-one and we’ve used it every day (at least, every school day) since. It keeps food separate, which is not just for picky kids, but to keep damp food (baby carrots) from touching dry food (sandwich). It packs up compactly but holds enough food for a kid’s lunch.
It washes easily. We usually wipe it down at the end of the day and put in the dishwasher after every 3 or 4 uses.
The first time we used it, the metal clasps held the top on so tightly that our little one couldn’t open it. But we just bent the clasps slightly outward and now it has a snug fit but is also easily opened.
We though the kids would be excited about it, but they’re not. Just the parents are.
These things have been standard fare at childrens’ museums and science museums since they were developed in 2008. I had seen them many times but didn’t know what they were called.
Unlike some other magnetic toys, these are perfectly safe for infants to gnaw on. From the website:
“Each shape contains rotating Rare Earth Neodymium magnets, the strongest of their kind for guaranteed connectivity. Every magnet is kept safe and secure in Sonic welded, BPA free, HQABS plastic. This process of manufacturing ensures each magnet is encapsulated with the utmost security, providing a safe, long-lasting play experience.”
We found a box of them on sale and gave them as a Christmas gift to our kids and they have become standard fare in our house as well. The kit is a set of squares and triangles and other shapes with embedded magnets that allow the shapes to snap together.
It is one of the very few toys that is enjoyable and usable by kids as young as 1 as well as older kids. The magnets snap the pieces together so the infant doesn’t get frustrated when stacking them. The toddler likes matching colors and combining to make more complex shapes, and the older kids can make much complicated shapes and objects.
Magformers has recently vastly increased the type of kits they sell, with ones that let you build dinosaurs or vehicles or robots. Some kits come with gears and motors and other parts that allow you to make functional machines such as a working merry-go-round.
Like Lego, Magformers are fun just to fool around with, and are also fun to use when following instructions to make pre-designed objects.
Of all the toys in our house, this one has probably been played with the most (apart from legos). We got it as a gift for our oldest’s first birthday and it has been an essential part of the tub toy collection ever since.
It’s a well-designed toy with all the features that kids want:
• Cups to pour water
• Cups with holes
• Little captain figure
• Floating boat
• Fishing rod with fish
• Comb and brush
The fishing rod itself is an essential toy for us that has spent as much time outside the bathroom as in it.
The boat even has an elastic band that allows you to wind up the paddle-wheel in the back, which then actually powers the boat forward.
All the pieces fit inside the boat so you can keep things tidy when not in use.
And the components are designed with no deep crevices so there is no place for mold to hide, which has been an issue with some other bath toys we’ve had.
Highly recommended if you need a gift for a 1- or 2-year old
We get lots of gifts for the kids, and it’s very hard to tell in advance which ones will get played with a lot, and which will just stay at the bottom of the toy box. I don’t even remember who gave this to us, but it is one that each successive kid has pulled out and played with over and over. Even the older kids will play with it when they see it again, even if just for a few minutes.
The ‘puzzle’ is a circle with 6 pieces around a 7th central hub piece. Each puzzle is themed. We have the farm one, but the company has several others, such as construction vehicles and forest animals, as well as licensed images from Eric Carle, Babar, The Little Prince, etc. The puzzle has pictures on side and solid colors on the other
The theme doesn’t seem to matter much with our kids. The appeal is the size and shape of the pieces that even little hands can manipulate, pulling out of the box and putting back in. And for little brains, 7 pieces seems to be the right number in the balance between boringly simple and frustratingly complex.
The thick cardboard has gotten a little worn after so many hands have handled it, but it’s still in decent shape after the 5+ years we’ve had it.
We try to restrict ‘screen time’ to weekends and when we do let the kids use our phones or the iPad we try to limit video usage to PBS Kids, Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. YouTube is a special case because of the quantity of ads, but also because of the content of the ads, which often is not appropriate. Further, YouTube, with its vast store of content, is a rabbit hole of discovery that can lead to inappropriate videos. An innocent search for ‘batman’, for example, can turn up raunchy spoofs that a 5-year-old should not see.
There are some (many, really) exceptions however, and we try to make sure we are around to supervise in order to prevent wandering into the YouTube equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks.
One of these exceptions is the set of ~200 videos from the unmemorably-named KidsTV123 which has had over 3 billion views since 2009.
My kids have many favorites, but the ones we adults sometimes catch ourselves humming aloud are
Many of the songs are true earworms, and the songwriter is a master of melody. The animation is very simple – the kind of thing that would never get distributed by a commercial network, but the kids don’t seem to care. In fact, the simplicity is part of the appeal.
The singer (and presumably also the songwriter and guitarist) is a bit of a mystery. His FAQ is not generous with details. The Week tried to profile him but came up short. But that anonymity adds to the allure and helps separate the music from the creator.