It’s that time of year when families gather for togetherness and merriment, and it reminds me of childhood hours spent in the car heading to this relative and that relative. Carols, snow, big family meals, presents, baking. So much good stuff.
This made me think about books. That’s what happens when you’re a librarian, everything makes you think of books. Our original list of audiobooks for family road trips has some truly great picks, but what if you’re feeling a little extra festive? This is a list of great audiobooks that are about the holidays, but also some that are about families, and the love (and humor) that binds us. It’s a great list for that drive to grandma’s house, but maybe you want to stick one of these on when you’re wrapping presents and need a break from Rudolph and Burl Ives, too.
The 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, read by Martin Jarvis
We all know the story of those adorable puppies and the dastardly plot to turn them into a coat by ultimate villainess Cruella de Ville. But if you haven’t read the original 1956 novel it’s really a treat, and this narration is wonderful. The plot to rescue the puppies unfolds on the streets of London with a plan to get all the little ones back home just in time for Christmas.
December 18th will be like a national holiday for Star Wars fans. We’ve been waiting years for The Force Awakens to arrive, and it’s hard not to get swept up in all the excitement ahead of its release.
But what about your youngest Star Wars fans, who may be too young to actually see The Force Awakens in theaters? This is so variable from family to family, as you and your kids might feel ready at different ages to head to the theater for this one.
But for those with kids who are sitting it out, how can they participate in all the fun when they can’t see the movie? Here are some ideas to celebrate Star Wars fever with them:
Let’s just get this out of the way right from the get-go: I loved Ant-Man. It does not pass the Bechdel test, and it would be awesome if Marvel could get it together and do that one of these days. This is not the movie where they see the light.
Having said that, I still loved it. I haven’t been this excited to write up a movie in a while. As I write this, I just left a screening about two hours ago and couldn’t wait to talk about it.
Note: only minor and vague spoilers in this review.
When Ant-Man was announced, I wasn’t terribly excited. In the whole scope and scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was hard to imagine where he would find his place. What could they do with him? Paul Rudd’s casting helped, and then the trailers really helped. By this week I was so looking forward to it.
And it didn’t disappoint. Ant-Man the movie is completely aware that it is about Ant-Man. It’s light and fun and full of skeptical looks from Paul Rudd, like he is in on the absurdity of it with us. It plays with Ant-Man’s size in a way that takes advantage of all the action sequences a proper superhero movie should have. But it also throws in spot-on little jokes to remind us not to take it all too seriously. Because we are talking about an Ant. Man. The Thomas the Tank Engine scene was perfect.
Forget the science of how Rudd’s Scott Lang shrinks, and really forget the plot. Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket wants to sell shrink technology to the highest bidder, but Michael Douglas’s Dr. Pym, who invented the tech, wants to stop him. But that’s actually not what’s important.
The characters are the big draw here, along with a big save-the-world heart. Despite some occasional swearing, this is the most family-friendly superhero movie to come along in a while. The gore isn’t very gory, and the scares aren’t terribly scary. And Lang is doing everything to make his young daughter proud, and to protect her future.
The very first scene gives us a surprise appearance by a favorite Marvel lady, and somehow after that I just knew I was in for a treat. Paul Rudd is exactly the Ant-Man this movie needed to take a tiny character with Aquaman-caliber superpowers and make him worth a big screen. Michael Douglas’s Dr. Pym is a great genius trying to stop the bad guy (Corey Stoll) from letting advanced science fall into the wrong hands. Evangeline Lilly got a pretty awesome bonus scene during the credits.
But Michael Peña stole the show. He played Scott Lang’s prison buddy Luis, a man who was arrested for stealing two smoothie machines. He is glorious and surprising in every scene he’s in, whether he’s talking about wine tastings or “sublime” Mark Rothko paintings.
This movie did two things really well: It got back to the kind of humor that made the first Iron Man such a standout (remember when no one could picture Robert Downey, Jr. as a superhero?). And, it made an army of ants that weren’t creepy crawly. They are actually sort of adorable, and I didn’t think it was possible to make a movie that would give me all the feels about ants.
But I do, I have all the feels about ants. And Ant-Man. And Michael Peña. Stay to the very end of the credits, there are two bonus scenes.
GeekMom attended a promotional screening for review purposes.
If this isn’t a question you’re already asking before sending your child into someone else’s home, it should be. Whether that means asking the parents of their friends or your friends and relatives, it’s essential to ask about the firearm situation in any home your child visits.
It’s an uncomfortable topic. Talking about guns in America is tricky and delicate. Asking the question before sending your child to play in another’s home won’t protect them from stray bullets or celebratory gunfire. But it could protect them from tragedies like this.
Where do I start?
The first step is to define your own boundaries when it comes to firearms. I live in a northeastern suburb and don’t encounter many people who own guns. So far I’ve never gotten a “yes” to the “Do you own firearms?” question. But one in three homes with children have firearms, many of which are unsecured. It’s a matter of time before we’ll need to know what to do when we get a “yes.” Continue reading The Most Important Question Parents Should be Asking
It’s been a busy June for Lego. This week they made the huge announcement that they’re investing $1 billion and creating 100 new jobs to find a sustainable alternative to plastic for their bricks. Lego is trying hard to reduce its carbon footprint, and we think that’s great news from a beloved company that uses 6,000 tons of plastic every year.
Then last week in Washington during the National Week of Making, Lego announced the “Are You a Lego Maker?” prototyping challenge. The company will be giving away 50 “prototyping kits” to makers ages 13 and older. Each kit includes a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, thousands of Lego bricks and elements, access to a Lego Mindstorms Expert Builder, and a copy of the book Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation.
Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for Lego, said:
The same inventive spirit at the core of the maker movement is also at the core of every Lego building experience. The introduction of the Lego Mindstorms robotic toolkit in 1998 accelerated the Lego System of Play as a prototyping tool among builders around the world. Since that time, inventors of all ages and all levels of expertise have prototyped their inventions with Lego robotic sets and bricks, creating everything from a baseball mudder to a braille printer to a pancake maker. Many of these inventors manufactured products based on these prototypes that were often patented and sold to the public, so we look forward to seeing what the next generation of makers builds to life.
To encourage that ingenuity and love of tinkering, Lego launched this contest to give young makers the right tools.
To enter, visit the Lego Maker site and tell them what you want to build. The contest is open to U.S. residents only, and it ends July 13th.
I adore the work of Brian Selznick. If you and your kids haven’t read The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck, stop what you’re doing immediately and head to the library.
In my library classes, reading about Hugo and his automaton is a rite of passage. I’ve read it to every third grade class I’ve taught since it was published in 2007. I’ve read The Houdini Boxand The Boy of a Thousand Facesto various classes. I’ve given Wonderstruckas a gift, to friends and students. I keep an eye out for The Robot Kingin every used bookstore (somehow discovering it seems more appropriate than buying it used from Amazon). Sometimes my students rush up to me with the library’s copies of Ann M. Martin’s The Doll Peopleseries or Andrew Clements’ Frindleand excitedly show me who the illustrator was. His work speaks to me dearly, and I love sharing it with kids.
So when Scholastic invited me to a special preview of his newest illustrated novel, The Marvels, it was like being asked to prom. It’s been four years since Mr. Selznick’s last book (Wonderstruck), and I couldn’t wait.
The Marvels is about several generations in a family of London actors, and it is also about a house. Mr. Selznick gave an emotional presentation on his inspirations for the book (including the splendid Dennis Severs’ House). He showed us the first 60 or so pages, all illustrations, which had the entire audience at New York City’s Hudson Theatre in tears.
Mr. Selznick walked us through his process, including photos from the 3 months he and his husband lived in London doing research for this book. He showed us the thumbnail drawings he did for the book before moving on to the full-size illustrations. Which is, in itself, the most incredible thing to see.
He explained that there were hundreds more illustrations, followed by 200 pages of written text. He signed some ARCs of the book, and he also had a surprise for us: small versions of the book’s illustrations put together from all of those thumbnails.
It’s his most ambitious book, and I think it will be his most beautiful. It’s next on my to-read pile, and I’ll be writing a review of it for the book’s release on September 15.
GeekMom received an advanced reader copy of The Marvels.
The newest game from Sago Sago, Sago Mini Toolbox, was an instant hit in my house. My three-year-old daughter was a big fan of Sago Mini Sound Box as a baby, and we were excited to try this one. It makes toddlers into little makers!
It didn’t disappoint. It’s recommended for ages two to four, and it was perfect for my daughter, who also has some fine motor skill delays.
In each level of the game—which isn’t scored—an animal (or occasionally an abominable snowman) appears with a DIY project they need your help to build. You can hammer nails, wrench bolts, use a power screwdriver, cut with scissors, and even sew with a needle and thread to help the character build a mystery project. Once all the stages of the build are complete, you can see what you helped to build—a bike, a dollhouse, a basketball hoop.
There are a bunch of projects to work on; we’ve played this game almost every day since it was released on April 16th, and I haven’t noticed many repeats.
My favorite part of this game for my daughter is the variety of options for completing each building task. There’s a lot of opportunity for toddler success built in here; it’s well thought out. To use the screwdriver, you can glide your finger back and forth across the screen to make it move, or you can just tap the screen repeatedly and it will work. You can move your fingers like you’re working the saw to cut wood, or you can just tap the screen. You don’t even have to touch the tool; if your aim isn’t perfect, it will still work.
This turned out to be an awesome motor skill exercise for my daughter, who loved building each project and practicing with the tools. It’s a very simple and straightforward building game, but I thought it was delightful to look at and really satisfying to play.
Not a day goes by when my three-year-old doesn’t ask to watch “the Minions.” Of course she means Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, but, really. Aren’t the Minions why so many of us watch?
There’s a new trailer for Minions, the feature film starring everyone’s favorite little yellow henchmen.
Here’s the plot:
The story of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s Minions begins at the dawn of time. Starting as single-celled yellow organisms, Minions evolve through the ages, perpetually serving the most despicable of masters. Continuously unsuccessful at keeping these masters—from T. rex to Napoleon—the Minions find themselves without someone to serve and fall into a deep depression.
But one Minion named Kevin has a plan, and he—alongside teenage rebel Stuart and lovable little Bob—ventures out into the world to find a new evil boss for his brethren to follow.
In the new trailer, we see the Minions “helping” a T-Rex, Napoleon, even Dracula. But they just can’t find the right villain for them until they meet Sandra Bullock’s Scarlet Overkill. The trailer is hilarious, and my family and I cannot wait to see Minions when it’s released on July 10.
My favorite dorky librarian joke is that I was absent the day they taught the Dewey Decimal System in library school. This is 100% true. As part of my Masters in Library and Information Science, I had to take a class in cataloging. It covered all the different systems used in academic and public libraries, plus all the methodologies behind cataloging. Exactly one class period was dedicated to learning the Dewey Decimal System, and I had the flu that week.
So it’s not an impossible system to learn. Pretty much everything I know about Dewey was learned on the job and through osmosis as a lifelong library user and second generation librarian.
And now I live the Dewey Decimal system; naming the number for random subjects is my best party trick. I think it’s beautiful and idiosyncratic and a soothing constant of the universe. I love that animals are in the 500s (Natural Sciences), but farm animals and pets are in the 600s (Technology). I love that everyone thinks Dewey is just for nonfiction, but it’s actually for all books, period. There are just so many fiction books that it makes no sense to squeeze them into their rightful place in the 800s (I also love blowing a second- or third-graders mind with this fact). I should have a “WWDD?” sticker on my car.
I don’t expect kids in the 21st century to memorize the 10 main categories like we all had to do growing up. But I do hope they learn their favorite sections. It tells me more when a child can show a classmate that the dog books are 636.7 than if they can recite that the 000s are “General Information.”
And I can tell you, there is a shortlist of subjects (out of thousands of possibilities) that kids ask me for Every. Single. Day. Most of them are in the 500s, 600s, and 700s. They occasionally stray from the list, but it’s a pretty universal truth of childhood nonfiction reading that they will ask for something on this shortlist. If your child has a favorite, or if you ever need to make a library trip as quick and painless as possible, this is the list to save. Here’s a PDF version, too.
ooos (General Information) to 200s (Religion)
031: World record books
292: Greek and Roman mythology
300s (Social Sciences) to 400s (Language)
350s: Military (not including war or history, those are down in the 900s)
398.2: Fairy Tales (398 is folklore in general, including nursery rhymes). Fun fact: fairy tales are fictional, but they are kept in the 300s basically because they represent, and teach us about, the cultures they come from. You probably won’t find the Disneyfied versions here.
419: Sign Language
500s (Natural Sciences, far and away the most circulated nonfiction section)
500s: Science experiments
520s: Space (Astronomy, not space exploration–that’s the 600s)
550s: Volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and weather
567: “Fossil cold-blooded vertebrates,” otherwise known as dinosaurs
595: Insects, spiders, and worms. Such a great section.
597: Reptiles and amphibians
599: Mammals (each mammal has its own special number after the decimal, there are just too many to list)
610s: Medicine and health
620s: Engineering (including rockets)
629: “Other engineering” is a big one; it includes cars, trucks, planes, space exploration, AND robots.
636: Pets and farm animals
646: Sewing, clothing, costume design, hair, and makeup. A cosplayer’s best bet.
700s (The Arts)
709: Art history
720s: Architecture. But actual construction is back in the 600s with technology. See how the system makes order of the universe? I *big glittery heart* Dewey.
741.5: Graphic novels and cartoons. Oh, this is a wondrous number. Chant it in times of stress.
743: How to draw
745 and 746: Crafts
790-792: Theatre and dance
796.3 includes football, baseball, and basketball, each with their own number in the hundredths column.
800s (Literature, the magic number for fiction that we only use for some fiction)
811: North American poetry
818: Jokes and riddles. This one is tricky because officially jokes could also be under 793.27 or 808.8, but I’ve personally never seen them anywhere but 818.
820s: British literature
900s (History and Geography)
910s: Explorers and atlases
920: Group biographies (like the Wright brothers)
921: Biographies and autobiographies
930s: Ancient history
940s: European history (including the World Wars)
970s: American history (including Native Americans, the states, and the Revolutionary and Civil Wars)
Google “True Detective woman problem,” and you’ll find endless articles about the secondary treatment of all the female characters in season one of the newest HBO phenomenon, True Detective.
I don’t disagree with their arguments, especially the general feeling that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s characters were the only ones fleshed out in technicolor. The women felt like an afterthought painted in gray—even the victims of the show’s most brutal crimes. I really disliked Michelle Monaghan’s one-dimensional nagging wife (but I think she did what she could with that role), and the wonderful character actress Ann Dowd was almost criminally creepified in that finale.
But I still somehow enjoyed the show. Maybe enjoy isn’t the right word, I don’t know if you can really enjoy a show that dark and disturbing. I thought the two leads were exceptional, and the writing and pacing of the entire season was so on point. I appreciated the craft there.
So, despite the problems with season one, I am really excited for season two. And yesterday, HBO released a teaser trailer for a new season that promises more dark and disturbing and maybe also a little more dimension in its supporting characters. Vince Vaughn looks slick and dangerous here, and Colin Farrell looks way more disheveled and haggard then he did in his heartthrob days.
But in addition to those two leads, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch are seen in the teaser. And I like what I’m seeing so far. There isn’t any plot on display here, but HBO’s site says this season’s crime will bring three police officers and a career criminal together. There are some great little character moments in the teaser, and I like the intensity that four lead characters seems to be bringing to it.
So I’ll be watching when it premieres on Father’s Day (June 21). I seriously hope that premiere date wasn’t a deliberate choice to foreshadow squicky things to come. I’m still recovering from the Childress family.
Oh, Spoonflower. Your designers just own our hearts. Where else could we go to find the coolest fabric designs for our crafty machinations?
Spoonflower is such a game changer if you love fabric—especially geeky fabric. Anyone can upload their own design and sell it straight to consumers on a variety of fabric options. You can even just have your own stuff custom-printed for a project. And—ahem—the prints are also available as wallpaper and wrapping paper. Squee!!
I miss Harry Potter. All the time. I may just have to save my pennies and support these independent designers. My sewing machine is crying out for these. Click on the images below to buy from the site.
The Sweater That Lived by Designs by Mandrie It’s a Harry Potter print inspired by ugly Christmas sweaters. What about this is not completely amazing?!
Harry Potter Kids by id_insomniacdesigns Adorable little cartoonish Harries and Rons and Hermiones. I big glittery heart this.
Under Your Spell (Gryffindor Dark) by Implexity Designs This print is available in a bunch of colorways. It would look amazing in a quilt.
Ravenclaw Argyle by id_insomniacdesigns There are argyles for every house available, so pledge your allegiance.
Slytherin Baby by Small Pirates Darling little evil ties.
Harry Potter by 3 Peas Fleece The layout of this print just makes me want to sway and solemnly swear that I am up to no good.
Harry Potter-ch by closet_crafter I kind of really want to upholster a chair in this print.
Dark Mark by Studio Fibonacci I find this just darling, and I do not know how to feel about that.
Center Stage turns 15 this year, and every time it’s on TV I still have to watch it. And every time I watch it, I post about it on Facebook and am inundated with messages from girlfriends who are also obsessed with this movie.
I have no idea why the phenomenon of Center Stage has such a hold on so many of us. It’s not a particularly good movie—the acting is mostly cringe-worthy, and it’s a cliched story (but with dancers!). And yet somehow it is just…the best.
For the uninitiated (are there any left who are?), Center Stage stars a then-unknown Zoe Saldana, the voice of Rapunzel’s mom from Tangled as a tough-but-fair teacher, a bunch of dancers who are amazing dancers but not very great actors, and Peter Gallagher as the eyebrow—er, director—who rules them all.
It is the story of a young hopeful dancer who is accepted into the American Ballet Academy of the American Ballet Company in New York City. It’s like ballet college, so young Jody (Amanda Schull) is basically living out a freshman year existence in a dorm with other dancers. She and her classmates have a year to prove to the teachers and to the director of the company that they can make it as professional dancers.
The year culminates in a giant dancing showcase with representatives from every major dance company anywhere ever looking for new talent. (Do they all do these student showcases? Does every dance company also have an academy? I have no idea!)
So we spend a year following these students chasing their pointed-toe dreams. Jody’s the main event, and we watch her torn between two love interests. There’s earnest class crush Charlie, who seems like he would just like to hold hands and be utterly respectful until they’re 30, and then there’s company principal and bad-boy womanizer Cooper who takes her to bed the first night they hang out after an off-campus dance class. Guess whom she lusts after for most of the movie before finding herself?
It’s also kind of like The Wizard of Oz but with dancers. Jody is all heart and hard work, but her footwork is just the pits. She cannot use her hips to turn them out any farther. Eva Rodriguez (Zoe Saldana) has flawless technique, and she’ll work hard when she needs to, but her sassy attitude towards everyone in authority is pretty terrible.
And Maureen (Susan May Pratt) has been there forever, pushed by her stage mom into a dancing destiny (I don’t remember why some of the students are new this year and others seem to have been born at ABA). She is all perfect technique and hard work, but secretly she hates dancing and how it’s kept her from a normal teenage life. Maureen is the mean girl of this group.
Except that she isn’t. This is, I think, part of the appeal of this pretty gentle movie. In reality, there is very little girl-on-girl crime in this movie, and from an era that brought us Mean Girls and every late-90s teen comedy with a nasty villainess, that’s pretty awesome. Eva risks her own already-bad relationship with teachers to stick up for Jody, and she is constantly encouraging. Jody is nice to everyone, even Maureen.
Maureen’s criticisms of her competition are largely correct, if harsh, and she readily admits when their dancing is great. She makes jabs with her mom about poor Emily, who gained weight over the summer and has a doomed future in dance. But, it doesn’t take long to reveal that she’s actually miserable and just trying to satisfy the mother of all mothers. And once she starts to relax and live a little, and show some of the struggle she’s had to stay perfect, she becomes pretty human.
And some of that is thanks to poor overweight Emily and her mom. Emily, who is actually adorable and in no way fat, and her glorious mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz, of many a Law & Order episode) who sweeps her up when the school expels her for gaining weight and essentially says that this is some bullshit, helps Maureen see that this isn’t what she wants. Even my college self in 2000 appreciated a mom in this movie who was present and stepped in when her kid needed her. Rare in teen movies.
Yes, this movie kind of floats over the issues of weight maintenance in the dance world, but it at least talks about them. Listen, I don’t watch Center Stage for a scathing indictment of fat-shaming in dance culture. Emily, my year-2000 self would have happily spent all night walking around Manhattan with you eating those fruit tarts Eion Bailey was serving. They looked divine.
It also deals with YA issues like sex, breakups, parental pressure, drinking, and fear of the future. But it’s lighthearted about it. This is not an angst-filled movie, but it’s also not chaste. They just have sex, it’s part of life and no big deal. They go out and have a good time like perfectly normal teenagers. There’s no judgment and no moral lesson here, just teens figuring stuff out. You have to live to create art, and all that.
Then there’s the dancing. The final dance is the reason that at least two generations of women know all about Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat,” and we can probably do a few of the moves. The ending is pretty solidly girl power. Even Jody’s final dance (choreographed by bad-boy Cooper) is about giving up on the boys and concentrating on yourself.
Maureen walks away from dancing, Eva learns not to be so combative and becomes a star, and Jody finds her own niche. She has a lot of somewhat painful speeches for everyone in the final scenes as her dance future is decided after the performance of a lifetime (and several magic costume changes), but I still love her and her beautiful dancing soul with terrible feet.
It’s been a wet and snowy winter, and while my heart is plotting spring adventures, my brain reminds me that it is, in fact, only February. We have not seen the last of snow, and I’m starting to wonder if the whole “March goes in like a lion, out like a lamb” thing will be more applicable to April this year.
So, here are some tips for surviving the rest of the snowy season. And I don’t mean the snow angels and snowmen season of kids frolicking and having the time of their lives when school is closed. I mean the “I have to get to work and my driveway looks like an Ice Road Truckers route” kind of snowy season.
Artisanal marshmallows. You’re a grownup, but that doesn’t mean hot chocolate isn’t still the greatest thing about a snowstorm. If you want to tszuj up a cup of cocoa, try some fancy marshmallows. Whimsy & Spice make amazing fluffy squares in flavors like cardamom and maple. Keep a stash in your desk at work or in your cabinets at home for when you need some relief from cleaning off your car or shoveling the white stuff.
Get out the snow paint. Fill some squeeze bottles with water and food coloring, and get the kids to help you decorate your driveway and yard. This will in no way change the fact that the driveway still has to be cleared, but you’ll have a much more festive view when you do get around to it.
Invest in a UE Megaboom. Clearing snow deserves its own anthemic soundtrack. The UE Megaboom ($299.99) is a 360-degree portable speaker with a waterproof and stain-resistant skin. That means it can hold its own against splashes of snow and road salt while spreading sound throughout the neighborhood.
The Megaboom is lightweight and delivers a surprising amount of bass for a Bluetooth speaker. It comes in a bunch of bright colors, and it does not come in white. This is an instant pick-me-up when the latest snowmageddon covers the world like the White Witch from Narnia has paid a visit (winter all the time and never Christmas… sounds like January and February to me!).
The Bluetooth range is 100 feet, so you can keep your phone in your pocket while you work. Park this speaker on your porch or in your garage, and play loud and epic music while you shovel. Like “Eye of the Tiger,” or Pat Benatar, or something. At the very least, get in the Super Mario Bros. theme, and don’t mind those looks from the neighbors. You have got this!
Wax your snow shovel. Here’s a tip from This Old House: Put two thick coats of car wax on the business end of your snow shovel, and no more sticking snow when you’re clearing your front walk. Genius.
Build an igloo with the leftover snow. That snow has to go somewhere. Instead of piling it at the curb or on the front lawn, try this igloo tutorial from Your Modern Family. This is also an incentive to get the kids to grab a spare shovel and help.
Bake cookies and bring beer to the neighbor on your street with the biggest snowblower. In my experience, those who buy large, powerful pieces of outdoor equipment are dying to use them. All. Over. The. Neighborhood.
When all else fails and you simply cannot face that driveway one more time, ply this neighbor with sugar and booze… but not right before he (or she!) is set to go out and plow. Drop by the night before a storm with provisions to see them through it, and chances are you’ll have your driveway cleared for you by morning. This strategy works equally well in the summer for the neighbor who has a rider mower. You’ll thank me later.
On Monday, the American Library Association announced all the award winning books for children and teens at its annual midwinter conference. The awards include everything from the Coretta Scott King award for African American authors and illustrators making outstanding books for children to the Sibert award for outstanding nonfiction.
But the biggest are always the John Newbery Medal for “outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” the Randolph Caldecott Medal for “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and the Michael L. Printz Award for “excellence in literature written for young adults.”
This year, there were two Newbery Honor Books, four Printz Honors, and six Caldecott Honor books in addition to the medalists. In each category, a graphic novel took an honor. One book took two.
It was a great year for diversity in the Newbery category. The Newbery Medal went to The Crossoverby Kwame Alexander, a novel in verse about twin basketball-playing brothers. That book also took a Coretta Scott King Honor, given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding children’s books. The two Newbery Honor books were the astounding Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir Brown Girl Dreaming (the Coretta Scott King winner) and El Deafo by Cece Bell.
El Deafo is Bell’s memoir, a graphic novel about her childhood experiences with hearing loss and an awkward, oversized hearing aid.
This One Summerby Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, a YA graphic novel, took a Printz Honor and a Caldecott Honor. This is the first year ever that a book for teens has gotten a Caldecott award, typically reserved for picture books (with rare glorious exceptions like The Invention of Hugo Cabret). And to get an Honor in both categories is a pretty raving testimonial to this book.
Yup, books about Frida Kahlo, Vasily Kandinsky, and Peter Mark Roget all won picture book awards this year. It was that kind of glorious, unusual, genius year.
Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Suntook the Printz Medal this year. This is another story of twins, told in two halves. Noah tells the story of his early years with twin sister Jude, and Jude tells the second half of the story, the teen years, when the siblings have drifted apart.
One of my many New Year’s resolutions for 2015 was to declutter my house, and magazines are a consistent clutter culprit for me. This is especially true around the holidays, when I buy extra piles of magazines for their gift guides.
So I’ve been checking out Next Issue, a magazine app that offers unlimited access to more than 140 magazines for a monthly fee. Plans are available for $9.99 or $14.99 a month, and the only difference between them is that the $14.99 plan includes all the weekly magazines in Next Issue’s catalog (not just the monthlies).
I’m kind of loving this service. I can link five devices to one account and share access with my family. The catalog is pretty extensive, with more than 140 big name titles like Time, Vogue, and Food + Wine. I don’t read a lot of weeklies, and I probably spend $10 a month for magazines on average. That would get me all of the titles Next Issue offers that interest me, plus all of those back issues. The back issues are marvelous to have, and they go back to fall of 2013.
The favorites option puts your most-read periodicals in one place, and you can set push notifications that will tell you as soon as the newest issue is available. I do not have to stalk newsstands anymore, which can be embarrassing for the occasional guilty pleasure read. Another bonus: No one visiting my house has to see all the piles of Martha Stewart Living and Food Network Magazine that I accumulate.
Next Issue can link to your Evernote account and whatever other share options you have switched on for your device. Evernote has been a very cool way for me to bookmark pages I want to save, and the combo is helping me fulfill even more of my resolutions.
I’ve got files for recipes and crafts I want to try this year, makeup and clothes I want to check out, articles I want to read, even travel reviews to help with vacation planning for the year. My Evernote is becoming like Pinterest for my magazine bookmarks. This is so much better than the magazines I hold on to for years or the pages I tear out and inevitably lose (in college, I actually put those pages in clear sleeves and kept them in binders by category—I was a librarian before I even knew it, apparently).
There are, of course, a few downsides to Next Issue. The biggest one is that you really need to read a lot of magazines to make this worthwhile, especially if you already subscribe to some and have access to those digital versions. And the smaller, niche titles (like School Library Journal and all the quilting magazines I read) aren’t available with the app, and that’s where I spend the bulk of my magazine budget.
Sharing with my family’s devices is great, but I couldn’t make separate user profiles under one account. So, we all see the same list of favorites and get the same push notifications when new issues are available.
And the download time can be a bit sluggish. You have to download each issue to view it, and those are big files. So, if you’re planning to read on the plane you’d have to remember to download what you want the night before.
But to me those were all small downsides for what I think is a really worthwhile service for heavy magazine readers. I am cutting back on so much magazine clutter these days, and that alone is totally worth the price.
GeekMom received free unlimited access for review purposes.
Who isn’t excited about the return of Twin Peaks next year on Showtime? Food & Wine is so excited they put together a list of all the coffee Agent Dale Cooper drinks on the show. Then they deduced how he would rank each cup. Check out the list here to see which coffee in Twin Peaks earns a “damn fine” from Coop.
Recently, I realized just how far behind I am with my Avengers universe watching. I only stuck with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few episodes during the first season, and I haven’t seen the most recent installments of Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America. So I decided that I need to catch up on all of it in time for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron (especially after seeing that second trailer).
Then, I decided I wanted to re-watch all of it—the movies and TV—in the right order. I’ve forgotten a lot, and I like an excuse to binge-watch pretty much anything.
But, what’s the right order?
This was a hard question. Marvel’s Agent Carterhas started, but I kind of want to watch it all after Captain America: The First Avenger—to see what Peggy Carter gets up to without the boys.I also want to re-watch Ang Lee’s Hulk, which I haven’t seen in 10 years. I know Marvel Studios likes to pretend it never happened, but that seemed like the most sensible place to start. And from there, my ultimate Avengers playlist took shape.
Hulk (2003): Again, I know the first Hulk movie never gets mentioned alongside the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After Universal put out Ang Lee’s version to all kinds of mixed feelings, Marvel got the rights back and completely reworked the story for the reboot in 2008. But, it’s still where it all started. Remember Eric Bana?
Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes.
Iron Man (2008): The first “real” movie in the Avengers franchise, and the movie that made Robert Downey, Jr. an action hero.
The Incredible Hulk (2008): Edward Norton’s portrayal of Hulk is really fun, and I like anything with Tim Roth. Wow, I’d forgotten all about Roth’s Blonsky until starting this list. And Robert Downey, Jr.’s first (very brief) crossover appearance as Tony Stark. Must hurry up and get through the first two movies on my playlist.
Marvel’s Agent Carter (2015): I’m saving my episodes of Agent Carter for when I’ve made it this far in my playlist. Because I love what I’m hearing about the miniseries, and I really want to revisit her in Captain America first to refresh my memory.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One episodes 1-7 (2013): I made it through the first six episodes of the show when it first aired, and then I lost interest. But then everyone told me it really picked up a couple of episodes later, after Thor: The Dark World was released. So, I was *thisclose* to getting hooked. I will try again.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One episodes 17-22 (2013-2014): GeekMom Corrina told me major Winter Soldier spoilers abound at the end of the first season, so this is where I will pick up the series after watching the latest Avengers universe movie.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two (2014-2015): I’m hoping to squeeze in the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the big event in May, but obviously, I don’t know yet if the show will wrap around the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since the movie’s release is May 1, I’m guessing at least the last couple of episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. may pick up after the movie.
Happy New Year’s Eve! I asked the GeekMoms what their favorite movies of 2014 were because I hardly ever get to the movies. I needed a list of what I’d missed that was worth seeing. Turns out, a lot of us do not get out to see many movies. And most of what we do see we saw with the kids. Hello, parenthood.
Here’s what we did see and like. Ruth and Andrea win the Going to the Movies award.
Jackie: I realized that Godzilla was probably my favorite of the year. Probably because I saw it by myself on a day out in New York City, so it was like a vacation. But, I’ve barely seen anything. I don’t even remember what else was out.
Jenny: I haven’t been to a movie in the theater in many years! I honestly can’t remember the last movie I saw that wasn’t Netflix or a DVD. I really don’t get out much.
Rachel: I loved Big Hero 6… and not just because it was one of the few (only?) times that I went to the theater this year. Otherwise, I’m going with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great imagery, great cast, and downright hilarious. I hope to see Ralph Fiennes do more comedic work like that in the future. He was awesome!
Sarah: I didn’t get out much. Maleficent would win, though.
Helene: Hands down Guardians of the Galaxy was the BEST movie of 2014.
Rebecca: The Lego Movie would be my top pick. I took my son and his friends to see it, and we all really enjoyed it. Watched it again at Christmas with the extended family. But some others I saw…Transcendence was thought-provoking and great for discussion afterwards. Chef was a great feel-good movie. Made me happy. My dad took my daughter and me to see Lucy. It sparked really good conversation for the rest of our day. X-Men: Days of Future Past was well done, and I love that universe. BTW, I didn’t see all the movies in the theater—online as soon as I can. Movie tickets are too expensive!
Natania: Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, totally. Finally saw Snowpiercer, and that was pretty amazing. Oh, loved Winter Soldier. Maybe this is the year of I Adore Chris Evans and I Don’t Know Why.
Andrea: LOVED Birdman and Budapest Hotel. Very much enjoyed St. Vincent. Enjoyed Into the Woods, but I know the musical production too well to LOVE love it. I found Citizen Four compelling but wish it had come out two years ago—Glenn Greenwald is a brilliant man and Snowden is still such a cipher for me. Found Guardians of the Galaxy mindlessly enjoyable. Theory of Everything of was poignant. Dear White People was GREAT. Great timing on discussing race, too. Skeleton Twins was a lot darker than I expected, good but not great. Watching The Fault in our Stars was surreal: sitting in a theater and sobbing along with two hundred teenagers was oddly cathartic. I liked Divergent, nice to get reacquainted with Mr. Pamuk. He is soft on the eyes. Chef was my favorite sleeper hit of the year.
Patricia: Big Hero 6. The Lego Movie. And (for the most cerebral date night ever): Interstellar.
Corrina: Didn’t Winter Soldier come out this year? Am I a year behind? That’s my favorite with Big Hero 6 just behind.
Melanie: My favorites were Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla.
Jules: I’m in the same boat as Jenny. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been to a theatre.
Maryann: Ninety-nine percent of the movies I get to see in the theater are ones the kids want to go to. While I enjoyed Big Hero 6, can I honestly say that I enjoyed Planes: Fire and Rescue more? I know that sounds silly. The first Planes movie really wasn’t very good, but I did find the second movie to be much better. I got all the adult humor with the Village People songs, etc.
Lisa: Guardians of the Galaxy was a family superhero favorite. Big Hero 6 topped animation, and I can’t help it, I cried at the end of the final Hobbit, although I was hoping the ending would mirror the book more.
Ruth: OK, I finally got my list together. That was hard! I tried to put them in order, but there was a lot of good stuff. I mean, The Lego Movie fell further than halfway down! But then it’s also pretty hard to compare a Lego Movie to a Chef. Grand Budapest Hotel hit the bottom because it just didn’t do it for me like other people. Unlike almost all of these, I saw it on a plane instead of a theater, so maybe that’s part of it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Winter Soldier How to Train Your Dragon 2 Big Hero 6 Mockingjay Into the Woods Spider-Man 2 Earth to Echo The Theory of Everything The Monuments Men The Lego Movie Knights of Badassdom Godzilla A Million Ways to Die in the West Neighbors Chef 22 Jumpstreet Grand Budapest Hotel
If you’re a magazine junkie like me, all those issues pile up around the house and haunt you with thoughts of tree sacrifice. Maybe it’s time to stop hoarding and get a Next Issue subscription for you or the magazine lover on your holiday list.
Next Issue is a subscription app that gives you access to more than 140 popular magazines, including Rolling Stone, TIME, and Entertainment Weekly. No more hauling all of those mags on your next plane ride; just subscribe to the app and bring them all with you on your tablet. It’s like Netflix and ebooks for your magazines.
And, they’re having a Black Friday sale. Usually the subscription is $14.99 a month, but from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, you can get a three-month subscription for the price of one. That’s $14.99 for three months of magazines versus the regular price of $44.97 for three months.
If you want to give this as a gift to someone, go here. If you want to give it to yourself, go here. Happy reading!
Earlier this month, my family and I were invited to attend an event in New York City to celebrate the release of The Penguins of Madagascar. DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox hosted several bloggers from the area for a great day at the Bronx Zoo followed by a screening of the film, which opens on November 26th.
The weather was a little grim, but my daughter, husband, and I still had so much fun. This was the day after Halloween, so we got to see some of the Boo at the Zoo set up. And my daughter Hannah, who is two-and-a-half, wore her costume. She was a cow; She loves animals and got to see lots of them during the visit.
She also loves the Madagascar movies, especially the third one (“Afro circus, Afro circus, Afro polka dot polka dot polka dot circus!”). This was a huge treat for all of us.
We met up with the group at the Residence Inn Central Park, where we were invited to stay overnight. We were bused up to the zoo (along with Corrina and her kids, who were there for GeekDad—it was great to see them!), and the bus ride was possibly the biggest highlight of Hannah’s day. We had a base camp outside of the Dancing Crane Cafe, and the food was pretty delicious. A hot breakfast and a nice lunch were hugely appreciated on the dreary day. And the Penguins even made an appearance!
It took Hannah a chunk of the day to warm up to the penguins, but eventually she did. In fact, by the end of the day she was up there dancing with the penguins.
Despite the chilly rain, we spent the morning seeing the giraffes, the bears, the monkey, the gorillas, and the sea lions. And Hannah got to ride the carousel, which was definitely another highlight. The kid adores carousels.
Then we got a private tour of the penguin paddock, got to see a feeding, and hear some great information about the zoo’s penguins.
We all got matching penguin hats (my husband would not be photographed in one for this post):
After lunch all of the bloggers and their families were bused over to the Bronxville Theatre for a special screening of Penguins of Madagascar. I have to say, this was such a fun crowd to see a movie with. All families, the kids were having a great time, and it was just such a nice afternoon. I’m not sure who laughed harder during the movie, the kids or the adults.
We loved the movie. It picks up where Madagascar 3 leaves off, with the penguins (Rico, Kowalski, Skipper, and Private) leaving the circus behind and heading off for more adventure. We get some background on how they become a super covert spy team. They team up with a very slick group of actual professional spies called The North Wind (led by Agent Classified, voiced by the god of the internet Benedict Cumberbatch). John Malkovich voices the bad guy, Dr. Octavius Brine, who has a history with the penguins.
I feel like the Madagascar franchise gets better with each movie, and this solo flight (ha!) with the penguins continues to support my theory. It’s goofy and enjoyable for kids, but it’s also funny for adults. This is everything you’d expect an entire movie dedicated to the penguins to be, it does not disappoint.
After the movie we were bused back to the hotel for the night. The hotel has two halves, the Residence Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott. We were in the Courtyard side. The rooms were cozy, and Hannah settled herself in immediately.
We grabbed some dinner from Steak ‘n Shake around the corner and got even more comfortable. Sometimes the best thing about a night in a hotel is doing things you’d never get away with at home.
It was a great weekend with the family, and the movie is absolutely worth seeing. Take everyone to see it this Thanksgiving!
GeekMom received complimentary access to the event for review purposes.
Halloween is in two days, and winter is right around the corner. This is my favorite time of year to read thrillers and spooky books. There is something about the chill that seems to arrive with Halloween that makes me want to curl up under blankets and read something unnerving—or, as is more often the case in this busy day and age, crank up the heat in the car and listen to the audiobook version.
Here are some books that I have really enjoyed. Some are set against wintry backdrops, which always adds to the mood. Some are just creepy or evoke the cold. Some are middle grade, some YA, and some are adult. All were great fun to read.
Breadcrumbsby Anne Ursu. This is a middle-grade retelling of “The Snow Queen,” and it is unsettling in a perfect middle-grade way. Minnesota fifth grader Hazel is struggling with her parents’ divorce and with her own identity as someone adopted from another country. Jack and Hazel are inseparable best friends, until Jack gets a sliver of a dark magic mirror in his eye. Overnight, he abandons Hazel and disappears entirely with an evil woman on a white sleigh. Only Hazel sees them go, and no one in her town seems to notice or care. She cannot bear to lose him, too, so she sets off into the woods herself to rescue him. Fabulous, moody, and everything a winter book should be.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtownby Holly Black. Coldtown is the walled city where captured vampires are quarantined to protect the rest of the population. It’s also where anyone bitten should report to wait out an infection. If you can last long enough without biting someone, then you’ll recover from the infection; if not, you’ll be a vampire, too. But everyone knows that once you’re in Coldtown, you never leave. Tana wakes up from a wild party with her high school classmates to find everyone else dead except her newly infected ex-boyfriend (who is tied to a bed) and a mysterious boy who turns out to be a vampire—but not the one who killed all of her friends. Those vampires are still in the house trying to finish the job. Tana decides to rescue her ex and the innocent vampire and maybe, possibly gets bitten in the process. She can’t be sure, so she decides to take everyone straight to Coldtown. She can only hope she doesn’t become Cold, too. A great YA creeper by one of my favorite dark YA writers.
The Strain Trilogyby Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I read The Strain one October and then waited anxiously for the next two installments the following fall and the fall after that. Del Toro’s gift for creepy films translates to novels, too. This is the creepiest vampire series I have ever read. It’s creepier than any vampire movie I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the TV show yet, because I’m not sure the books can be topped. Now I kind of want to reread them. A plane lands at JFK, shuttles down the runway, and then just…stops. The lights go out, communication goes silent, and the dead plane sits there until the CDC is called in to investigate. Dr. Eph Goodweather witnesses the beginning of a vampire plague that takes over New York, and we follow him as he tries to protect his family and find a team to help him fight it. So. Much. Win.
Smilla’s Sense of Snowby Peter Hoeg. If you’ve seen the 1990s Julia Ormond movie, you know where this book is going. I’ve never been happy with Hoeg’s answer to the whodunit in his book, but I enjoyed so many other things about this Danish import. Smilla is half-Danish and half-Greenlander, and she is aloof, harsh, and happier studying the snow than interacting with people. I like when protagonists are tough to like, especially a woman. Her gift is what she can read from the snow, learned as a child in Greenland. The only person close to her is her six-year-old neighbor in Copenhagen, a Greenlander boy who sort of adopts her. When he falls to his death from the roof of their building, only Smilla can read the snow and see that it wasn’t an accident. So she starts her own investigation into what happens. The ending is preposterous, but Smilla’s narration, her feelings for the boy, the tragic history of her family and that of other Greenlanders still make it a great mystery. Who did it is less important than the story along the way.
The Name of the Starby Maureen Johnson. When Rory, a Louisiana teenager with an eccentric Southern family, starts boarding school in London, she is worried about making friends, fitting in, and handling crushes on classmates. But it turns out her school is smack in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory and not long after she arrives, someone starts copycatting the Ripper murders. Rory talks to a strange man outside her dorm and when another body is found, she becomes a witness in the investigation. London is a character here, which is what helps make this so great when the temperature drops. Plus, Jack the Ripper. A great teen read that’s hilarious (all of Johnson’s books are just laugh-till-it-hurts good) and super, super creepy.
Snow Angelsby James Thompson. During the annual two weeks of solid darkness in Lapland (right around Christmas), a Somali actress is murdered and left mangled in the snow on a reindeer farm. Inspector Vaara takes the case. He lives and works in his hometown, which is also home to a huge upscale winter resort run by his pregnant American wife. She hasn’t been in Finland long and is totally unnerved by the constant dark. The creepiness of the murder mystery is wonderfully offset by the additional creepiness of the weather, which affects the detective and his foreign wife. Also, when I think of Lapland and reindeer right before Christmas, I can only think of Santa. This book is so not about Santa.
Peepsby Scott Westerfeld. This is one of the first books from the awesome YA author of the Leviathan series, and it is spooky and hilarious. It’s another vampire tale and while it may be for teens, it is definitely not Twilight. That is the highest YA vampire novel compliment I can give. In Westerfeld’s world, vampirism is an STD. Some are carriers, who unwittingly pass the disease onto others who become bloodthirsty monsters called Peeps. That’s what happens to our hero Cal, who was a normal college kid until he became a carrier and then infected his next three girlfriends. Now Cal is a vampire hunter in New York City who has to find and stop his ex-girlfriends before they make more vampires. If you’re going to write about vampires, you might as well also make it an allegory for safe teen sex. New York is a great vampire backdrop (just look at The Strain), but Westerfeld makes his teen vampire novel absolutely hilarious and gross in a kind of perfect New York way. I read this book when I was in grad school and living in Hoboken. It stuck with me because one of the first scenes has Cal doing some vampire hunting in the old Hoboken train station. I passed that train station every day, along with several other New York sites thrown in the story. It’s kind of a delicious book.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattooby Stieg Larsson. This one is an obvious addition with its Swedish setting. The whole trilogy is creepy and great, but the first one is a standout winter read. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is offered a chance to rebuild his reputation and finances by spending a year on a private island owned by an eccentric Swedish billionaire. His job is to comb the grounds and all of the family records to solve the disappearance and murder of the billionaire’s beloved niece. Blomkvist enlists hacker Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, to help him find the truth, and the truth is just awful. It’s a great start to a trilogy that embraces Sweden’s good side (an endless chapter in the second book describes Salander’s IKEA purchases in excruciatingly awesome detail) and its bad (a terrible track record when it comes to crime against women).
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeby C.S. Lewis. This children’s novel isn’t usually thought of in the chilling category, especially after the lush Disney adaptations of the books. But a magic wardrobe that leads to a not-quite-right winter landscape run with an iron fist by a white witch? And the whole good versus evil sibling dynamic of the Pevensies? It’s an elementary school spook fest.
Daughter of Smoke & Boneby Laini Taylor. Karou is a 17-year-old who lives in Prague, goes to art school, and has bright blue hair that grows that way. She speaks otherworldly languages and runs errands for a strange shopkeeper who looks after her and collects teeth. Teeth. She doesn’t remember a life before this one until she meets a real, live angel and is thrown into a supernatural war. This is such a gorgeous, strange, gothic YA novel; the first in a series. Prague is a perfectly romantic and sinister setting, and the world Taylor has created is so realized and so incredible.
What are your favorite cold weather bone chillers?
When my now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Hannah first transitioned into that stage when she was too old for her baby toys but not quite ready for the whole magical world of preschool toys, her dad and I were a little stumped. What do toddlers play with other than anything that’s dangerous or valuable to their parents?
We experimented a lot, especially since my daughter has some sensory and motor planning issues. We’d stuck somewhat closely to the age recommendations on toys, until her speech therapist told us to challenge her. Then we found wonderful toys that skewed older but were fine if introduced with adult supervision, toys that were right on target for her age, and toys that were more like whole experiences that will grow with her.
There are so many great toys out there, but here are the things our daughter plays with incessantly (I’ve listed the retail prices, but almost all of them are available on Amazon for less):
Tolo Teatime Shape Sorter: An instant hit. It’s strangely pricey for a teapot, but it’s absolutely indestructible. First Hannah used it as a shape and color sorter, then it evolved into her first tea set. Now she serves us imaginary drinks daily, usually out of the same designated cup for each of us. $35.99
Little People Disney Princess Klip Klop Stable: A second birthday present from a classmate, we weren’t sure about this one. Disney Princesses hadn’t made an appearance yet at our house, and we were completely okay with that. But the Little People horses and riders are almost hypnotically fun. We bought all of the extra princesses, and the little ramps they came with made the princesses into great bathroom toys while potty training, too. $39.99
Fisher-Price Barnyard Bingo: Our speech therapist introduced us to this one. It’s meant as a multiplayer version of Bingo, but we found that it’s great for vocabulary practice. Hannah is obsessed with farm animals and this is a nice, portable toy for matching colors and animals. $20.99
Melissa and Doug Shopping Cart: We learned the hard way how loud this can be on wood floors, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’ve shopped out of the kitchen cupboards with this, Hannah has transported her prized possessions around in it, and sometimes she just likes to race around the kitchen pushing it. Such great quality, and I love that it’s metal instead of plastic. $69.99
Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote: My mom and I took a road trip with my daughter this summer and stopped at the Crayola Experience. I stocked up at the gift shop and bought this travel clipboard set so Hannah could color in the car and not make a mess. We don’t leave the house without it now. A lifesaver on car trips and in restaurants. $13.99
VTech Go! Go! Smart Animals Zoo Explorer: This set is fun and substantial. It lives in my sewing studio, so my daughter can hang out and play while I work. I wish all of these big playsets came with more than one figure or car in the box. We bought extra animals for $7.99 each, and that felt like more of a sting than usual for extras. But it can keep a two-year-old busy for quite a while. $39.99
Symphony in B: I remember seeing this on a best toy list a few years ago, and then the music teacher at my old school had it to use with students. I loved it immediately, and now at home we have classical dance parties with it. It also turned into a great fine motor skill tool, as my daughter learned how to line up all the instruments in their slots. $99.99 (I’ve never actually seen it for this much; it’s usually significantly lower.)
Land of Nod Home Sweet Home Play Canopy: We loved the idea of a tent as a second birthday present, and this ceiling-suspended version is covered with stars and kind of magical. Hannah spends lots of good kid time in it. I wish I had one in an adult size. $199 with cushion
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Latches Puzzle: All Melissa & Doug wood puzzles wear like iron and feel so great in the hand. This lock puzzle is my daughter’s favorite, and I’ve given it as a gift to other toddlers. They all love it. If you need a few minutes to grab a shower or catch up on email, give this to your toddler to occupy their time. $24.99
Doc McStuffins Get Better Checkup Center: Last summer, I started singing the praises of this play vet’s office after seeing it at a toy preview and didn’t stop telling people about it until New Year’s. Almost a year later, Hannah still plays with this Christmas present every day. It was her first real non-baby toy, and it’s been one of the most successful things we’ve ever given her. $99.99
LeapFrog Shapes and Sharing Picnic Basket: I’ve lost track of how many picnics we’ve had on our living room floor with this set. It was one of those toys we picked up as a treat one day at Target and for nearly a year now, it has regularly seen action. $21.99
Playmobil My Secret Playbox Horse Stable: This was a recent acquisition that made me nervous at first. There are so many small pieces, but after playing it together with Hannah a few times, we realized she had no interest in trying to eat them. This is one of those know-your-child toys. If they’re still putting everything in their mouths, skip this one. If not, it’s a really sweet little horse stable with tons of little tools for grooming and feeding. It’s another one that gives a surprising amount of language practice, and the best part is that the whole thing (with all of those little pieces) folds up into a lockable box for storage. $27.99
Crayola 24 Count Sidewalk Chalk: Sidewalk chalk is always great for a sunny, not-too-cold day. But the Crayola colors are incredibly vibrant. And the shape of each chalk stick is like a rectangular crayon, so the pieces won’t roll all over your driveway. Sometimes nothing beats an afternoon on the ground outside making chalk scribbles. $7.29
Scrambled Eggs Shape Sorting Fun: This turned out to be another great travel toy. You will spend some time looking under seats for the occasional missing egg half, but we’ve taken this in the car, on the plane, in restaurants, everywhere. It fits in a purse or bag and is a really nice, distracting activity to get those fine motor skills going. $12.74
Little Partners Learning Tower: This isn’t a toy, but it has provided loads of quality play time together in the kitchen. A year ago, we added this to our kitchen and it’s the best piece of equipment in it. Now my daughter can stand on a step stool without falling off, but she still wants to be in her tower whenever we have kitchen time. The adjustable height means she can always be perfectly positioned to play with her little pots and pans and felt food, or to help me roll out pie dough or make a cake. $199.99
What toys do your little ones love?
Disclaimer: GeekMom received some items for review purposes.
With fall’s arrival comes the annual tradition of All Things Pumpkin. pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, every delicious morsel of pumpkin baked goods. Fall also brings the “pumpkin spice” beverage phenomenon, a blend of ingredients added to your caffeine fix that evokes the flavors of those desserts but usually has no actual pumpkin.
Every year when the weather gets chilly my social media feeds suddenly explode with gourd gossip. This is a passionate subject for some people. It’s like the Beatles vs. Rolling Stones question: Do you pumpkin spice, or do you not?
Personally, if it’s got the word “pumpkin” in it, and it’s sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, count me in. I love baked goods with actual pumpkin most of all, but I do get a giddy thrill ordering a pumpkin spice drink this time of year. I’m not a purist–I’ll take mine with real pumpkin or with mystery syrup.
In the spirit of friendly fall debate, I polled the other GeekMoms to see what side of this issue they fall on (ha! Get it? Fall on??). It sparked a lengthy email discussion. Jules, our resident Canadian, said, “Until this thread, I had no idea pumpkinspice was such a thing. I’m on neither list as I couldn’t tell you what a pumpkinspice thing looks, smells, or tastes like. The only pumpkin anything I know is pumpkin pie.” Remember those days, America? When all we knew of pumpkin was pie?
Since several of us are in the yes-but-only-real-pumpkin camp, I divided answers based on how intense the feelings were towards pumpkin spice as opposed to plain old pumpkin (or whether we had even tried pumpkin spice). Because DATA and SCIENCE.
Ruth: Pumpkin Spice All The Things just means that the fraction of the world that will Gingerbread All The Things is near. I would really like the PS madness to pass, as long as it doesn’t take my gingerbread lattes with it.
Laura: I may have pumpkin-colored walls, but I’m in with the real-pumpkin-only crowd. “Pumpkin flavored” oatmeal, granola, bagels, lattes, milkshakes, bath gel, candles, ad nauseam are mostly ways for marketers to push more product. It’s as similar as flower scented air freshener is to actual flowers. Oh wait, there’s pumpkin scented air freshener, too. That said, live and let live is my policy. I honor your choice to slurp, chomp, or bathe in pumpkin-spiced stuff.
Corrina: I don’t drink coffee. I haven’t tried pumpkin spice tea. Haven’t found it yet, though I’m sure it exists. Otherwise…hmm…I like Pumpkin Ale.
Sarah: Why? Why? Why?
Natania: If latte is in the pumpkin spice. No. Just no. I worked at Starbucks when they first came out, and I know what’s in the sausage…mmm…pumpkin spice sausage.
Melanie: I am PRO PUMPKIN SPICE, all the way, baby. I don’t care WHAT’S in the latte sausage. When October rolls around and the weather goes to crap, nothing makes me feel better than a little PSL.
Rebecca: I only approve of pumpkin in my treats when it’s actually pumpkin, not a flavoring. Can this be done? Yes! My local tea shop makes a pumpkin spice latte with actual pumpkin (then strained). It is TOTALLY DELISH! But in general, the fake pumpkin spice flavoring thing is gross. So I side on the YES (but only real pumpkin).
Jenny: I’m securely in the PRO camp for all things traditional fall dessert. I’m with Rebecca. I adore pumpkin flavored any-kind-of-dessert IF it uses real pumpkin and spices. Can’t wait for it each year and make the most of it by devouring as many pumpkin things as I can get my hands on. But doubly so for gingerbread. Gingerbread is magic. Pure autumn magic.
Natalie: I’m pretty much into pumpkin everything–and I mean EVERYTHING. But is “pumpkin spice” a kind of false advertising? I mean, is there ANY pumpkin in it, or is it just… spice? Not that I’m against the cinnamon-nutmeg-clove-etc. thing. But is that not the stuff that’s added to pumpkin, not actual pumpkin?
Lisa: Honestly, I just really enjoy the fall season and all of its trappings, so pumpkin spice is just another cozy aspect.
Cathe: Check me off for real pumpkin. I found a pumpkin spice cinnamon roll recipe on Pinterest. We LOVE it. It uses crescent rolls for the dough, but the pumpkin is REAL…and cream cheese pumpkin spice frosting…okay, I need to go bake now.
Maryann: I am a total fan of pumpkin spice! A few years back, I was on such a pumpkin spice kick that every frozen coffee drink that I had for a year was pumpkin spice-flavored. I’ve improved my diet, and I rarely eat processed food anymore, so now the pumpkin spice has to be real pumpkin and organic ingredients. But I’m still pumpkin spice all the way if given the opportunity.
Patricia: I’m a big fan of the pumpkin stuff but it has to be REAL!
Rachel: I went to Trader Joe’s this afternoon and bought a bunch of pumpkin things… and I am blaming EVERYONE on this list!!
So, the winner here is all of us because to each her own. Also, Rachel. Rachel is kind of winning. Now I want a pumpkin muffin.
For today only, Logitech is offering an additional 10 percent off at the Logitech Academy, its student and educator online store.
Logitech Academy already offers a 20-percent discount on products for students, faculty, and staff. But just for today, in honor of World Teacher’s Day, you can get 30 percent off in the store plus free express shipping!
As a teacher, I’ll be spending some time on the couch with my laptop today, picking up some new tech and accessories. If you’re a teacher or student and aren’t already signed up for Logitech’s educator site (you just need to attach a photo of your ID), get yourself registered. It has some nice discounts, even without today’s sale.
New York is no stranger to Lego stores or Lego culture, but today a brand-new flagship storefront is opening on 5th Avenue. This will be the 76th Lego store in the United States, and it is impressive.
Last week I took a tour of the construction site while everyone involved was working to get the store ready for today’s soft opening. Construction on the store began in June, and the signature Lego sculptures were just being installed the morning I was there. The brick art was built by Lego Master Builders in the Czech Republic and shipped to New York as 38 pallets. The shipment just arrived last Monday.
Brick sculptures are one of the best things about the Lego shopping experience, and this store has some great New York-themed art. The Statue of Liberty arm stands eight feet tall, with minifigures at the base and in the torch. It took four union guys to lift and piece together that arm.
It’s a great photo op in the store.
The front windows feature the coolest New York culture- and street art-inspired brick murals. During my tour the mosaics were not yet installed in the windows, so I had to wiggle into a tight space to see them.
I adore the mosaics. A life-size Brickley the Dragon Lego sculpture weaves around the shop’s walls as well.
The shop will feature the first ever Lego Lounge, a space with oversized couches, books, and charging stations so families can stay and play. At the heart of the lounge is a Lego replica of the entire Flatiron neighborhood, including the Lego store itself, for kids to build and play with. The lounge also includes a Duplo building area for toddlers and preschoolers.
A selection of almost 500 Lego sets and Lego-inspired items will be available for sale, which is insane when I think of the inventory at other Lego stores I’ve seen. Lego Store Flatiron District will be hosting a Monthly Mini Model Build for kids ages six to fourteen on the first Tuesday of every month. Kids can learn to build a new mini model each month and then take it home for free.
The store’s soft opening is today, but there will be a very cool grand opening celebration in Madison Square Park (just across the street from the store) throughout Columbus Day Weekend. Visitors can help Lego Master Builders with a 20-foot-tall, full Lego brick version of the Statue of Liberty and get a certificate for participating. It’s totally free, and the whole family is welcome. The celebration hours are Friday, October 10th from 4pm-6pm, and Saturday, October 11th through Monday, October 13th, 11am-6pm.
The store itself will have a different grand opening special for each day of the weekend.
Friday: Free Collectible LEGO T-Shirt with a $50 purchase
Saturday: Free Limited-Edition LEGO Store Set with a $75 purchase
Sunday: Free Exclusive LEGO Minifigure Set with a $50 purchase
Monday: Free mini Statue of Liberty Set with a $35 purchase
If you’re in New York City this fall, the new Lego flagship is definitely worth checking out. If you’re in town before Columbus Day Weekend, you might get ahead of the almost-guaranteed crowds, too.
Back in June, I attended Book Expo America in New York, and I previewed some great new reads for kids and teens. There are so many books at the Expo each year that it’s impossible to see them all. And reading time is precious when I’m chasing a two-year-old around. So these are the titles I really want to make time to read this fall, based on what I previewed.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown. The second book about Roan Novachez’s middle school years from the author of Vader’s Little Princesshit shelves last month, but I think it’ll be a great back-to-school pick. Roan’s second year at Jedi Academy finds him dealing with tough classes, friend problems, and bullies. (July 29th from Scholastic Inc.)
Amulet #6: Escape from Lucienby Kazu Kibuishi. The gorgeous and absolutely thrilling Amulet graphic novel series continues with Emily and Navin splitting up to find keys to defeating the Elf King. (August 26th from GRAPHIX)
The Iron Trialis the first book in the new Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. It’s a middle grade fantasy that follows Callum Hunt, who has been warned away from magic all of his life, as he’s accepted into the Magisterium and discovers dark things lurking there. (September 9th from Scholastic Press)
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I would love to spend a day inside Scott Westerfeld’s imagination. His new book is a story-within-a-story about a college student who leaves school when her first novel, Afterworlds, is published. The book follows a year in her life as a young writer finding her way in New York City. It also weaves in her actual novel, about another girl who escapes a terrorist attack by entering the Afterworld, “a place between the living and the dead,” according to the book description. This is the only one I couldn’t get my hands on at Book Expo, and I cannot wait for its release! (September 23rd from Simon Pulse)
Skink—No Surrenderby Carl Hiaasen. The sixth novel with Skink and another from the great Hiaasen. When Richard’s cousin disappears, he gets Skink to help track her down somewhere in Florida with his own unique methods for justice. This one is already getting starred reviews for teens and adults. (September 23rd from Knopf Books for Young Readers)
The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeetby Kevin Sherry. It’s Blizz Richards’ job to keep hidden creatures, “or “cryptids,” hidden. Blizz is a yeti. When his cousin Brian accidentally gets his picture taken, he disappears and sends Blizz and his ace team on a mission to find him in time for the annual yeti family reunion. From the author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, a picture book I love to pieces. (September 30th from Scholastic Press)
The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Lu is following up her insanely popular YA trilogy Legends with this new fantasy series. When a terrible illness wipes out her country, Adelina Amouteru survives. She and the other children who survived are left with markings like silver hair and scars, and there are rumors that they also have special powers. They’re called the Young Elites. (October 7th from Putnam Juvenile)