Caspar Babypants

What is it

If you ever wanted to hear the band The Presidents of the United States of America play Beatles covers and nursery rhymes, then have I got the band for you.

Chris Ballew, the lead singer and basitarist of P.U.S.A. has a side gig as Caspar Babypants and has put out eleven albums under that name.

Who is it for

Most of the songs are simple (covers such as the Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme, or Beatles tunes such as Hello Goodbye) and a few of the originals are slightly more complex, but all have a very professional arrangement and production. So, while kids of various ages may like the songs, older kids and adults can appreciate the musicianship.

What Kids Like

We discovered Caspar Babypants on WXPN’s nightly kids’ music show, Kids Corner where the host, Kathy O’Connell, played Caspar Babypants’ Crooked Crows. My kids became transfixed and asked to play the song over and over on youtube when we got home.

They like the simple, kid-friendly lyrics, but also like that the songs don’t sound like typical kid songs, which usually have very spare arrangement.

What Parents Like

I like that there is music for kids that I can actually enjoy, rather than merely endure.

What the Critics Think

Caspar Babypants was nominated for a Grammy in 2019 and got a PEPS award in 2016

Who Made it

Chris Ballew has led an interesting and enviable life (more on his Wikipedia page)

Fatherly has an article titled How Presidents of the United States’ Chris Ballew Became Caspar Babypants

He is married to artist Kate Endle

History

From the Caspar Babypants Wikipedia page:

Ballew’s first brush with children’s music came in 2002, when he recorded and donated an album of traditional children’s songs to the nonprofit Program for Early Parent Support titled “PEPS Sing A Long!” Although that was a positive experience for him, he did not consider making music for families until he met his wife, collage artist Kate Endle.[1] Her art inspired Ballew to consider making music that “sounded like her art looked” as he has said. Ballew began writing original songs and digging up nursery rhymes and folk songs in the public domain to interpret and make his own.[2] The first album, Here I Am!, was recorded during the summer of 2008 and released in February 2009.

Where Can I Get it

Caspar Babypants has a YouTube channel and is available on Spotify and other streaming services.

Goodnight Gorilla

Goodnight Gorilla

What is it

Goodnight Gorilla is a bedtime book about a zookeeper (and his wife) who are putting zoo animals to bed for the night.

Who is it for

Board books that are meant to be read at bedtime are normally best for younger children, 2 or 3, but Goodnight Gorilla has so many little details in the pictures that even older kids can enjoy it.

What Kids Like

The color-coding of the cages, the repetition, and identifying animals are fun. But on second reading, the kids start to notice the details. Does the elephant have a doll that looks like Babar? Does the armadillo have one that looks like Ernie from Sesame Street? Can you find the mouse’s balloon in each page? How many neighbors are in the window next door? There are so many little things to find that it becomes a game.

What Parents Like

The illustrations are charming and parents can’t help but identify with the zookeeper and his wife who have to keep putting the animals to sleep, even after they crawl back into the parents’ bed.

Scholastic has a review that helps explain the appeal.

What the Critics Think

Goodnight Gorilla gets 4.2/5 on Goodreads

92% Google users liked it.

From the book’s Amazon page:

From Publishers Weekly
“Universally understandable subject matter and a narrative conveyed almost entirely through pictures mark this as an ideal title for beginners,” said PW. Ages 2-6. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review
“In a book economical in text and simple in illustrations, the many amusing, small details, as well as the tranquil tome of the story, make this an outstanding picture book.” –The Horn Book, starred review

“The amiable cartoon characters, vibrant palette, and affectionate tone of the author’s art recall Thatcher Hurd’s cheerful illustrations. Delightful.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A clever, comforting bedtime story.” –School Library Journal, starred review

“Jaunty four-color artwork carries the story and offers more with every look.” –Booklist

Who Made it

Goodnight Gorilla was written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann, perhaps best-known for her Caldecott Medal-winning Officer Buckle & Gloria

Trivia: Peggy Rathmann’s husband is named John Wick.

Where Can I Get it

Google has a preview and the book is available everywhere.

Good Eats

What is it

Good Eats was and is a half-hour cooking show hosted by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Good Eats distinguishes itself from other cooking shows in 2 ways. The video editing and styling is very modern compared to the static camera typical of traditional cooking shows. In Good Eats, the camera is often placed inside the over or in a cabinet, and is often moving. The other way is that Alton Brown gets much deeper into cooking chemistry than most other shows, talking about why 350° is the magic number for baking, why sugar turns brown when you cook it, the difference between baking soda and baking powder, etc.

From the producer:

Equal parts smart and sardonic, creator and host Alton Brown uses a combination of classroom methods and wacky comedy sketches to explain not just how to whip up an excellent dish, but also why the ingredients interact as they do when you put them all together. Brown has said that the show’s inspiration is to combine Julia Child, Mr. Wizard and “Monty Python.”

Who is it for

This is a fun show for families to watch together, especially if the kids are interested in cooking.

The show is definitely not vegetarian or vegan, so young cooks avoiding meat and dairy will not find as much to enjoy.

What Kids Like

The editing and pacing is fast enough to not be boring. Alton Brown is avuncular and fun as a host. And the content has the right mix of humor, science, and cooking instruction.

Even if you don’t cook, or are not interested in the dishes being prepared, there is enough knowledge and entertainment to want to watch.

What Parents Like

I like that there is a show that I can watch with genuine interest along with my kids.

I also like that the explanation is about WHY to do something, not just HOW. Most cooking shows focus only on the how.

What the Critics Think

The show has been very popular since it debuted in 1999

9.4/10 on IMDb

8.7/10 on TV.com

and 92% by Google users

Concerns/Flaws

I don’t know whether this opinion is widely shared, but I much prefer the “classic” Good Eats episodes from the early 2000s. Alton Brown was more earnest then, still trying to prove himself. Brown’s persona now seems much more smug and often condescending. There also were more wacky antics with homemade props like you would see in a twisted episode of Mr. Wizard.

The older shows also had a wide open field of subjects, while now, twenty years later, he has to repeat himself or focus on more esoteric subjects.

So my recommendation is to watch the older episodes first.

A more general criticism is that there are often factual errors in the show. Not many, but enough that I (not a chef or chemist) have found a few.

And a final concern is that there are few if any vegetarian or vegan dishes prepared.

(Brown’s bio says he was born in L.A. but he speaks with a slight southern accent and is (or at least was) a big celebrity in the Atlanta area in Georgia. When I went through the Atlanta airport in 2009 there were huge [30+ feet high] banners of Alton Brown and Ludakris hanging from the ceiling. I mention that only to explain why I think the Good Eats menu seems to favor down-home country cooking. Another aside: the first time I went to Georgia I ate at some greasy spoon and noticed that the menu had a “veggie burger” only to discover that it meant the burger came with lettuce and tomato.)

Who Made it / History

The show began in 1999 by Alton Brown, who had made a name for himself as a videographer (he ran stedicam on an R.E.M. video). The ’90s were a busy time for the new Food Network, and many cooks (Emiril, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali) became household names.

The show ran from 1999 through 2012. In the intervening years, Brown has had many food TV roles, including as announcer for Iron Chef America as well as taking Good Eats as a touring road show. He has also had a surprising number of voice acting roles

The show has resumed production in 2019.

Where Can I Get it

Good Eats is shown on TV on the Food Network, and online on Hulu and YouTube TV. And you can buy individual episodes on YouTube and iTunes.

Prodigy math game

What is it

Prodigy is an online game that relies on math to engage in battles with fantasy creatures. The game is a MORPG (multiplayer online role-playing game) and there is a limited social element where players can interact with other players. The game is free but the user is occasionally bombarded with in-game ads for the full membership.

Membership costs $8.95 per month or $59.88 per year. Membership removes ads and allows the player to do additional things in the game. These things (e.g. permitting a player to have more than 8 in-game pets) seem trivial to me but may matter to kids.

Prodigy is essentially gamified flash cards. Prodigy does not teach math, but instead drills players with grade-appropriate questions. Getting the question correct allows the in-game character to use some kind of spell in a battle. Winning battles earns credits, which can be used to level up armor, buy pets, etc.

Who is it for

Our kids don’t play any other MORPGs, so this is the game that permits them to have that experience. A kid who already plays online RPGs would probably find Prodigy to be inferior.

The educational part of the game is essentially identical to ALEKS. But while ALEKS has almost zero visual design or user feedback, Prodigy has loads. So a kid who needs/wants math drills but is frustrated by the flaws in ALEKS, might enjoy Prodigy.

Prodigy is in no way a substitute for a math course. It is useful as an ancillary activity, reinforcing the concepts that a child has learned elsewhere.

What Kids Like

My kids loathe ALEKS and love Prodigy. They enjoy the virtual environment, having an in-game character that they can name, dress, etc. They like all the game aspects of leveling up and earning credits. The math part is sometimes frustrating – because there is never explanation of how to solve the problems – but the fun of the game is usually enough to motivate them to continue.

What Parents Like

I like that instead of just playing a game, the kids are getting some math practice. We’ve tried other forms of math exercise, but Prodigy is the only one anyone has stuck with.

I have not used these features, but Prodigy allows parents to set goals for the kids, and set the rewards. It also allows parents to monitor progress and receive Report Cards.

What the Critics Think

Prodigy has loads of critics. The fact that the game does not actually teach anything, and solely relies on drills, is a frustrating surprise for some.

Common Sense Media has very mixed reviews, but ultimately gives Prodigy 4/5 stars.

Concerns/Flaws

• The excessive pressure to buy a membership can be annoying. There are not ads for other things, as there are in many of the apps my kids play, but still the ads for Prodigy membership may be enough reason to not play it.

• The game relies on a thirst for violent competition. The violence is very cartoon-y, without blood or gore. And the competition is not really different from what you would see in a game of chess.

However, most math-education tools/games rely on the desire to solve problems as the motivator. Prodigy uses the desire to win as the motivator. This may seem a subtle distinction, but it will appeal greatly to some students and not at all to others.

Who Made it / History

Prodigy was founded in 2011 by Rohan Mahimker, Alex Peters and is now developed and maintained by a rather large (70+) team based in Toronto.

Where Can I Get it

The Prodigy game website

Children Just Like Me

What is it

Children Just Like Me is a book with profiles of children from around the world. Each profile includes a photo of the child (typically aged between 7 and 10) and family, a description of where they live, what they eat, how they play, and what they learn in school. It’s a fun, easy format that shows both how cultures and regions are distinct from each other as well as how most children have a lot in common.

From the publisher’s (DK) website:

A favorite in classrooms, libraries, and homes, Children Just Like Me is a comprehensive view of international cultures, exploring diverse backgrounds from Argentina to New Zealand to China to Israel. With this brand new edition, children will learn about their peers around the world through engaging photographs and understandable text laid out in DK’s distinctive style.

Highlighting 36 different countries, Children Just Like Me profiles 44 children and their daily lives. From rural farms to busy cities to riverboats, this celebration of children around the world shows the many ways children are different and the many ways they are the same, no matter where they live.

Meet Bolat, an eight-year-old from Kazakhstan who likes to cycle, play with his pet dogs, and play the dromba; Joaquin from New Jersey who enjoys reading and spending time with his family, and whose favorite food is bacon; or Yaroslav from Moscow who likes to make robots. Daily routines, stories of friends and family, and dreams for the future are spoken directly from the children themselves, making the content appropriate and interesting to draw in young readers.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this special project, all-new photography, maps, and facts give unique insight to children’s lives in our world today showing their homes, food, outfits, schools, families, and hobbies.

A passport to a celebratory journey around the world, Children Just Like Me is perfect for children who are curious about the children of the world and their stories.

Who is it for

Any kid who is curious about other children, is learning to understand the differences between peoples, could enjoy the book. It is most popular with our 6-year-old.

What Kids Like

Just like babies like looking at pictures of other babies, elementary school age kids like seeing pictures of other kids their age and learning about them. They are at an age when they are discovering the concept of “normal” and sometimes wonder whether they are normal, and who else might be normal, or not, and whether it matters. And part of that process is seeing the limits of what normal is, and also seeing that what is normal in one country may be very strange to us, and vice versa.

Honestly, when I first saw the book, I thought it was one of those books that parents and teachers think will be good for kids, but that kids wouldn’t actually like. But to my surprise, the kids like it. It’s frequently pulled off the shelf and handed to me for bedtime reading.

What Parents Like

I like that the kids learn about other cultures in an easy, fun way. My kids don’t have the patience to sit through a documentary and foreign travel is expensive. This book gets to the essence of geographical and cultural studies by showing what makes different nationalities distinct from one another.

What the Critics Think

Common Sense Media gives it 4/5 stars. They also say it is for ages 9+, which doesn’t seem right to me.

Who Made it / History

From the Amazon page:

Published to coincide with UNICEF’s fiftieth anniversary, a celebration of children around the world is based upon interviews with young people from all walks of life and reveals their diverse cultural backgrounds and universal similarities.

After the original book was published in 1995, several more related titles and an updated version have been published.

There are now a total of 9 books in the series.

Where Can I Get it

The publisher’s page has links to the book’s pages at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and IndieBound

Parts – Tedd Arnold

What is it

Parts is a book about a kid who thinks his body is falling apart.

There are also two sequels: “More Parts” and “Even More Parts”

The book is written in rhyme:

“I stared at it, amazed, and wondered,
What’s this all about?
But then I understood. It was
My stuffing coming out!

And has whimsical, cartoon-ish full-page illustrations.

Who is it for

Kids from 4 to 8 are the core group, but younger kids might enjoy it. There is a bit of gross-out humor (boogers and ear wax) so kids of the age to enjoy that are the right age.

What Kids Like

The book is funny. The character gets increasingly anxious as he thinks he’s discovering evidence that his body is falling apart. The pictures are fun in their detail.

Part of the pleasure is having an anxious kid finally realize that there’s not really a problem after all

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is for this book, but it’s one of the few that gets pulled off the shelf at bedtime every few months. The kids remember it, even after months have passed, which is much more than can be said of most of their books.

What Parents Like

There is just a hint of education in the book, with simplified explanations of the relationship between skin and bones and teeth and guts. It’s not much, but it’s enough to spark curiosity about anatomy and lead to conversations about it.

What the Critics Think

Parts gets 4.3/5 on Goodreads

and 4.7/5 on Amazon

There is a review at the-best-childrens-books.org

Who Made it / History

Parts was written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold and published by Picture Puffin Books.

Arnold is probably best known for his “Fly Guy” series.

On Beyond Zebra!

Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 books, many of them selling 10 million or copies or more over the past several decades. While “On Beyond Zebra!” has never been as popular as “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”, it is one of his better ones, in my opinion.

I don’t actually recall how we got this added to our collection, but it was probably a gift. And of all the Dr. Seuss books on our shelf, this is the one the kids pull out most frequently. “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” is fun, and we read that to the kids when they are very young, but they lose interest in that once they begin learning to read on their own.

And while I frequently push for titles such as “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”, that just doesn’t resonate with the kids as much as “On Beyond Zebra!”

What is it

The book is typical of most of Dr. Seuss’s books, where each page is a nearly standalone depiction of a whimsical creature in a whimsical location, with a few lines of verse. In the case of this book, however, each page is also devoted to an exotic novel letter. That is, the book suggests there are letters that come after ‘Z’, which are needed to spell these creatures and their locations.

Who is it for

“On Beyond Zebra!” is ideal for kids in the first few years of learning to read, but also appeals to older kids who enjoy wordplay. I would say ages 4 to 8

What Kids Like

The kids like the exotic creatures, such as the cow with 98 udders or the “Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs” that float around as living stepping stones. They also like the invented letters. For new readers, the standard alphabet is already strange and foreign, so introducing them to ever stranger, more foreign letters actually gives them confidence about the standard letters that they do know.

What Parents Like

It’s a book that’s fun to read, and the images are so fantastical that I’m able to maintain my interest. And more than many other books, “On Beyond Zebra!” inspires questions about words and animals.

What the Critics Think

Goodreads gives “On Beyond Zebra!” 4 out 5

Oliver Jeffers has

Concerns/Flaws

Some of Dr. Suess’s books have not aged well, with depictions of people or cultures or places that are now seen as offensive. This book has none of that, however.

Google has a preview

Someone has taken the time to add the “Seussian” letters of “On Beyond Zebra!” to the Unicode standard: http://www.evertype.com/standards/csur/seuss.html

Mug Brownies

What is it

A mug brownie, or brownie-in-a-cup, is a single serving of brownies made in a mug and cooked in the microwave. They take just a few minutes to make, are vegan, and very tasty.

Mix equal parts flour, sugar, cocoa powder, oil, and water in a mug. Microwave for a minute. Done.

i.e. in a big mug
1/4 cup flour
+ 1/4 cup sugar
+ 1/4 cup water
+ 1/4 cup cocoa (this is unsweetened baking cocoa, not hot chocolate mix)
+ 1/4 cup oil

or:
50 ml flour
+ 50 ml sugar
+ 50 ml water
+ 50 ml cocoa
+ 50 ml oil

You can easily halve the recipe for smaller servings

Optional:
• a pinch of salt brings out the chocolate flavor
• add a dash of vanilla extract and/or almond extract and/or peppermint extract add/or a few shakes of cinnamon
• add 1/4 tsp (1 or 2 ml) of baking powder to make it a bit fluffier
• replace some (or all) of the flour with the same amount of cocoa powder for an extra chocolate-y brownie

Who is it for

Mug brownies are for anyone with a sweet tooth, but the activity of making them is for anyone who can manage a measuring spoon. 3+ is probably right.

What Kids Like

Kids are motivated by the speed of the process. From saying, “Let’s make brownies!” to actually having them in your mouth can take as little as three minutes. Cooking is a great activity to do with kids, but they often get bored or frustrated having to wait.

What Parents Like

Cooking is a great way to teach some basic math (how many teaspoons in a tablespoon? [3] how many milliliters in a quarter cup? [~60]) as well as basic cooking concepts (mix the dry ingredients before adding the wet, leveling the measuring spoons before dumping it) and this recipe lends itself to some scientific inquiry. For example, what happens if we add half the sugar, or half the oil, or use brown sugar?

Concerns/Flaws

Now, teaching kids to wait, and be bored for a bit is actually an essential concept these days, with instant access to almost anything, and these brownies are the food equivalent of on-demand streaming media, but they are fun and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Idle Human

What is it

Idle Human is a game app that teaches human anatomy in a surprisingly fun way. It’s not easy to gamify a subject as dry as anatomy, but the developers of Idle Human (Funcell Games) have managed to do so.

From the iOS app page:

Have you ever wondered how the human body works? In IDLE HUMAN we give you the unique chance to discover and create the various parts of a human right from the first cell! Discover the amazing sequence in which a human body unravels, starting from the very first bones to every organs leading to the nerves and muscles then, finally, a complete human body!

Ultimately, it is an ‘idle’ game, which means lots of mindless clicking in order to unlock levels and components. But unlike other idle games, the things being unlocked are bones, organs, and facts about the human body.

Who is it for

The app is rated 12+ but that’s only because it shows certain body parts. The game is not at all explicit when it comes to sexual organs and the developers handle that is a tasteful way. I would say the game is appropriate for kids 5 and up and adults looking to learn something while killing time would enjoy it as well.

What Kids Like

The benefit of idle games is that you can’t really lose, you control how quickly you win. So there’s no frustration like there often is in action or strategy/puzzle games. The gamification is strong and there is constant feedback about achievements and unlocking new bones and organs.

What Parents Like

Idle Human is both genuinely educational and actually fun. Our 6-year-old literally said, “This game is making me smart” and it’s obvious that there is a lot of knowledge in the game: names and positions of the organs and bones and “Snapple cap”-level factoids about the body, such as “The cornea is the only part of the body that does not need a blood supply. It gets oxygen directly from the air.” I did not know that.

What the Critics Think

Idle Human gets
4.8/5 on the Apple iOS/iTunes App Store
4.4/5 on the Google Android Play store
5/5 from Sensor Tower – which is a meta app review aggregator

Concerns/Flaws

The game does have ads. They are not as intrusive as on many other games, but a disadvantage of clicker-type games is that when you’re actively tapping the screen an ad may suddenly appear, which you then inadvertently click.

I have mixed feelings about idle/clicker games because they are so passive. The kid playing is not actively engaged the way he/she would be with a different kind of game. If the game were not educational I wouldn’t want my kids to play it.

Who Made it

The developer of Idle Human is füncell games, a very small (3-person) development team in India. The game is published/distributed by Green Panda Games which is a developer and publisher based in France.

History

Version 1.0 was released in July, 2019 and version 1.5 in October, 2019

Where Can I Get it

Apple iOS/iTunes App Store
Google Android Play store

Fireboy and Watergirl

What is it

Fireboy and Watergirl is a series of five free collaborative/cooperative online 2d platformer games.

One player uses the WAD keys to move Watergirl and the other uses the arrow keys to move Fireboy. Watergirl can’t touch fire and Fireboy can’t touch water. They have to help each other unlock doors in order to collect the gems and reach the doors at the end of each level.

Who is it for

Anyone who likes puzzle games would enjoy these games, adults as well as kids as young as 5 or so. A child can play by themself but it’s more fun to have a teammate.

What Kids Like

My kids like the idea of multiplayer games, although I’m reluctant to let them do much with that yet. And we sometimes play “hot seat” games where we hand the iPad back and forth to take turns, but this kind of game that requires sitting side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder is novel to them and is much more intense, and thus that much more satisfying when a level is completed.

What Parents Like

I love that there are games where everyone can win or lose together instead of always being a zero-sum situation where one child has to lose. Collaborative games force situations where the kids have to work together and communicate effectively – not just criticizing for a bad move, but encouraging and helping when possible.

Concerns/Flaws

The games were originally created with Flash, which is very near being completely unsupported. You can still activate the Flash plugin in your browser but it’s a bit cumbersome to do so. Fortunately, some fans have made HTML5 versions of the game, which run anywhere, even on iOS devices (which didn’t support Flash at all). However, these versions tend to be on sketchy sites with loads and loads of ads. And I’m not sure whether these copies of the games provide any income to the initial developers

Who Made it

The games were made by Oslo Albet and Jan Villanueva and have since been adapted with new levels made by fans of the original.

Where Can I Get it

Flash versions of the game are easy to find. Here is one place https://www.freegames66.com/platform/fireboy-and-watergirl/

And the HTML5 versions are pretty easy to find as well: https://www.fireboynwatergirl.com/