Steam Powered Giraffe

Price: $8.99

It has been fascinating to watch this band evolve over the past ten years. From busking at Balboa park in San Diego to a huge theatrical production on a constant nationwide tour.

From their website:

Steam Powered Giraffe is a musical project from San Diego, California. It was formed in 2008 by twin siblings David Michael Bennett and Isabella “Bunny” Bennett. Together, along with a cast and crew filled with theatrical backgrounds, the group takes on the guise of singing antique automatons and the fictional robotics company that made them.

The quirky act combines comedic sketches, improvised android banter, and original music fused with multimedia visuals, billowing steam effects, and robot pantomime.

Our 4-year old often asks to watch their songs on YouTube, the two below being the favorites:

The concept is of self-aware robots that perform music, but the story is far deeper than that, with an almost unbelievable amount of backstory that explains the origins of the robots as well as a set of very surreal comics.

The songs are fun and energetic with a combination of old-timey melodies and steampunk stylings. Although some aspects of the performance are outrageous, it remains family-friendly.

More at their site

Sandra Boynton

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)

Our kids love “Philadelphia Chickens” in particular.

More information about her books at sandraboynton.com

Kratts’ Creatures – Zoboomafoo – Wild Kratts

It all started when brothers Martin and Chris Kratt grew up in New Jersey, went camping, and took some pictures of local wildlife. This blossomed into lifelong love of nature and specifically of documenting it and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Their first show together was Kratts’ Creatures in 1996. They evolved the concept a bit and ran Zoboomafoo in 1999, Be the Creature in 2003, and Creature Adventures in 2008. They have been making the current incarnation, Wild Kratts since 2011. This more recent version has much more animation, which my kids find appealing. (They aren’t so interested in long-form nature documentaries with nothing but video clips of animals)

The older content, such as the Zoboomafoo series, has aged well (although the brothers themselves are visibly much younger) and I’ve found used DVDs for very cheap. (The hard part about DVDs these days is finding a working player).

There are also several free onlne spinoff games on PBS Kids Games. Monkey Mayhem is my kids’ favorite.

There are also lots of books based on Wild Kratts and even action figures, and even also a live stage show!

The Kratt Brothers’ enthusiasm is infectious and I find myself jealous that these guys can travel the world, making a living from doing what they love.

The videos and everything they do is wholesome, entertaining, and educational. It’s the kind of thing I have no hesitation of letting my kids watch during their allocated screen time.

There are free videos, games, and other activities on the Wild Kratts website at PBS kids dot org.
(The games are all done in HTML5 so they work on all types of computer, iPad, etc. with no need for the now-deprecated Flash plugin.)

Pete the Cat

I first heard of Pete the Cat in 2008 or so. A local bookstore had a huge poster of the cat and books signed by the author. I did not understand the appeal and thought the writing and illustration was so crude and simple that anyone could do it. It made me think that I could write a children’s book if this thing could get published.

But I haven’t written a children’s book and not only did “I Love My White Shoes” get published, there are now 40+ titles in the Pete the Cat series. And regardless of my initial impressions, kids love it. They love the illustration style and the attitude of the main character, Pete, and they love the repetitive say-along style of the writing.

We have several of the books and frequently check others out of the library.

Pete the cat is now an icon with his own musical and his own TV show on Amazon Prime.

More about the series and the author and illustrator

B. Fish N’ Splish

Price: $21.99
Was: $29.99

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
• Mirror
• 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

Disney Pixar Storybook Collection

This is a collection of abbreviated versions of all the Pixar movies in book form.

It has been published a few times, each time with a few more movies added. We have the third edition of this book from 2016 which includes:

  • A Bug’s Life
  • Brave
  • Cars
  • Cars 2
  • Finding Nemo
  • Finding Dory
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • The Incredibles
  • Inside Out
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Monsters University
  • Ratatouille
  • Toy Story
  • Toy Story 2
  • Toy Story 3
  • Up
  • Wall-E

The kids don’t need to be familiar with the movies to enjoy the stories. In fact, we had never heard of some of them (e.g. the dinosaur one, which was kind of a weird story). The plots are highly abridged in order to fit into ~10 pages so the stories as they are retold may not even be all that familiar anyway. And some movies that were duds in my opinion (e.g. Cars 2, Monsters University) actually work better as books than films. The plots are streamlined, with extraneous side-plots removed, leaving only the central character arcs and lessons about honesty or friendship or whatever.

It’s a hefty book with many hours of story time inside. A typical bedtime for us will be each kid gets to pick one of the stories, which ends up being half an hour or so in total. The book is almost like having 17 little golden books in one massive tome.

The illustrations are fun. They are not simply stills from the movies but have been redrawn to better evoke key scenes from the stories.

The Doghouse

Price: $7.99

Some books become standard objects in the home, as familiar as a piece of furniture. And this is one of them. I couldn’t say why exactly because the story and illustrations are so simple, but perhaps that is part of the reason.

Regardless, this is one of the few books that many of us in the family will quote, even if months have passed since the most recent reading – the most popular quote being, “Duck for dinner?!?!?!?!”

The story is of a group of animal friends who are all afraid of the local dog, but it turns out that he’s actually nice. So the themes are of friendship, overcoming fear, and not judging someone solely on appearances.

A fun book to read aloud with a kid because of all the different voices.

Mudpuppy Puzzle Wheels

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.

Love, Triangle

Price: $15.28
Was: $17.99

This is a cute book about the friendship of three shapes that gives rudimentary geometry instruction while telling the story. In addition to basic shape names (circle, square, triangle) the text includes usage of words including ‘angle’ and ‘apex’. Toward the end of the book, one of the characters has to come up with an invention in order to resolve the central dilemma.

I wouldn’t categorize this book as STEAM (or STEAM) but I might consider it a proto-STEM book because it places value on knowledge of geometry and on the ability to use ideas and invention to solve problems.

And the kids like it.

PJ Masks

Price: Check on Amazon

I didn’t think the world needed yet another cartoon series, but this one is pretty good. It’s based off a series of French books (“Les Pyjamasques”) which gives it a certain je-ne-said-quois that differentiates it from the standard cookie cutter format of most American shows.

The idea is of three kids who have superpowers and solve crimes at night as Catboy, Owlette and Gekko (not ‘Gecko’), and they learn valuable lessons about friendship, teamwork, yada yada.

Disney is behind this, so expect the usual flood of board games and figures and spinoff games, etc. The cartoon is very wholesome, though, so I don’t mind.

They have their own official YouTube channel with live streaming of new videos, and the series is also currently streaming on Netflix.