We watched a bunch of these on YouTube. They’re corny and dated but the kids loved them. And the old cartoons from the 60s seem so much less violent than those from other decades.
The animation style is pretty simple, so older kids probably won’t be into it. But it has that classic theme song:
“Spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can.
Spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies.
Look out. Here comes the spiderman.”
This was my dad’s favorite book when he was a kid, but I didn’t know it until I happened to see it among a set of Little Golden Books at the grocery store.
Little Golden Books were a big part of my childhood but lately the brand has been diminished a bit since they now let just about any story be published with that distinctive gold spine. But the classics are still worth reading and still appeal to modern kids.
This is now one of my favorites as well. Margaret Wise Brown has such a distinctive rhythm and this may be her best work. The words on each page dance. Perhaps my favorite page in any book is this one:
“And suddenly Brush woke up and Hush woke up.
It was morning.
They crawled out of bed into a big bright world.
The sky was wild with sunshine”
The illustrations are also lovely and strange. Just a wonderful book.
This is a clever game that got a lot of media attention when it came out, touting its ability to teach STEM concepts, specifically logical thinking.
The box says for ages 4 and up but I don’t think 4-year-olds are able to grasp all the rules of the game, which are a bit complicated even for me. However, once we laid out all the pieces, we came up with all sorts of new games to play and had quite a lot of fun building ‘snow forts’ and taking turns trying to move the ‘lasers’ around in order to melt them.
My son got quite obsessed with the game in fact, even though we had yet to actually play it according to the official rules, and every day for about a week he wanted to play again, until he eventually got tired of it. It sits prominently on a shelf in the living room and we’ll get it down again soon. The reason we haven’t yet is because the rules are complex enough that an adult has to sit with the kids and walk them through each step.
This is based on a book by Mo Willems. None of us were familiar with his stuff until after we got the game, but that didn’t matter.
The box says it’s for ages 3 and up, but the rules are too complicated for our 3-year-old. However, the board and pieces lend themselves to making up new rules and we’ve been able to have fun playing the game even when skipping some of the rules.
The box also says for 2 to 4 players, but it’s not much fun with only 2 players. It’s much better with 4. So I wouldn’t advise this game if it’s just going to be, for example, one parent and one child playing.
The spinner is cheaply made and was sometimes frustrating to spin, but generally the look and feel of the board and pieces are very appealing to children and they wanted to play it as soon as they saw it, even without any understanding of what the rules were.
LEGO has a free magazine that comes out 5 times per year.
In some ways the thing is one huge ad, but the puzzles and activities (mazes, code-breaking, etc.) are pretty fun and our 6-year-old looks forward to it coming in the mail.
The cost is free, but you do have to sign up for a Lego ID, which means giving your email address.
I had never heard of Ask until we got it as a gift. It’s somewhat in the same vein as Ranger Rick, but with a much snarkier tone. There is Marvin, a raccoon character in Ask, but unlike Rick, Marvin is a bit of a jerk.
There are no ads and each issue is a mix of long-form articles and comics.
What is most striking about Ask is the articles are quite deep and detailed. Articles on candy, or explosions, or glass get into the chemistry and physics of the subject with much more detail than is found in most media aimed at adults.
In this digital age, tangible media like postcards and magazines are special for children. I like magazine subscriptions as gifts because they continue being a part of the child’s life for months later.
Ranger Rick Jr. is the version of Ranger Rick for younger kids and comes out 10 times per year. It is published by the National Wildlife Federation and it focuses on animals and nature.
Unlike some media aimed at kids, the tone of Ranger Rick is very gentle and mild and there are no ads for sugary breakfast cereals or whatever.
I remember seeing “A Grand Day Out” at an animation festival around 1990, and then seeing “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” a few years later. I was so thrilled by them (not least by the incredible chase scenes toward the end of ‘Trousers’ and ‘Shave’) that I seriously considered animation as a career.
Our kids love these, in particular the first one, “A Grand day Out” in which Wallace and Gromit build a rocket to visit the Moon. We’ve tried to show them more recent Wallace and Gromit adventures such as “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” but they found them to be a bit too scary.
The themes are very much G-rated and are hilarious for both kids and adults.
It’s hard to know what books will resonate with a child, but this one sure did. Even a year or two after first reading it, our four-year-old still pulls it off the shelf and wants us to read it.