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TOYS & GAMES
Westchester residents Bill Phelps and Steve Wright have a game to unleash the inner artist and linguist in anyone. Yamodo
is a game without winning or losing — players get a card with a made-up
word, and a beginning drawing, and each player contributes part of the
imagined definition and more of the drawing. You can play this alone,
but it is more fun with the whole family (six and up). $19.95 at
www.barnesandnoble.com. (Review posted 5/07)
FATHER OF INVENTION When Michel Alvarez couldn’t interest his
son in playing traditional games of chess, he came up with a twist:
chess pieces filled with prizes. When you capture a piece, you get the
prize inside. Parents can customize the pieces, using stickers, M
& M’s, or beads. And WonderChess ($19.99), which can be played with kids 4 and up, has expanded to other games as well. WonderLetters
is a Scrabble-style game, where kids make words, and prizes are hidden
in the letters. WonderLetters ($24.99, for ages 6 and up), includes
three Spanish letters, so you can play in English or Spanish. The
games are sold at Nordstrom, Wondrous Things, Pizazz, Borders and Mary Arnold Toys. (Review posted 5/07)
BABY ALIVE LIVES ON Many moms had Baby Alive when they were kids. The updated
doll, which eats (the special doll food she comes with) and poops, also
talks — she tells her ‘mommy’ when to change her diaper. Baby Alive is
even available in a bilingual version. Her huge eyes move, and she
even wrinkles her nose when she makes a ‘stinky’. The doll, from
Hasbro, is $49.99 at KB toys, for ages 3 and up. For more information,
go to www.hasbro.com/BabyAlive. (Review posted 12/06).
—Kids can learn about architecture and engineering while building. The Bridge & Turnpike Tekton Truss Bridge set, for ages 8 and up, allows kids to construct bridges with hundreds of plastic pieces. There are simple explanations of truss bridges (which are made from triangles), and the pieces are scale models of actual bridge parts. Other sets include buildings, which can be combined to make cityscapes. The manufacturer, Bridge Street Toys, is a true family business; Carol and Paul Flack, engineers, and their 10-year-old and 12-year-old children, run the company. The bridge set is $42.95 at www.bridgestreettoys.com. (Review posted 11/06)
—LEGO has added sound pieces to its Creator series. The Revvin’ Riders set can be used to make motorcycles and dirt bikes, and the sound bricks make playing with the creations even more fun. $19.99. For ages 7-12. At www.lego.com. (Review posted 11/06)
—Mega Bloks Pirates of the Caribbean: Black Pearl Ship Playset lets kids build and create scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There are cannons, (that launch), moving pulleys, and three action figures: Captain Jack Sparrow, Cotton and Pintel. For ages 6-14, $39.99 at www.amazon.com. (Review posted 10/06).
PERSONAL STORIES Cranium has a new Wonder Works line of toys that encourages creativity. The hand-held Super Story Recorder,
for kids 6 and up, lets youngsters create 15 stories along such themes
as a surprise birthday party and an amusement park. Kids record
answers to simple questions — favorite color, name of best friend —
which are incorporated into the stories. If they get stuck, there is
an activity wheel that offers suggestions — making funny sounds,
recording stories in a high or low voice, drawing a picture to
accompany a story. Older siblings can record stories for younger ones,
and parents can even create a quick story for a child. $19.99 at Toys
R Us or at www.cranium.com. (Review posted 9/06).
—Animal Crackers, Wee Hairy Beasties’ first CD (Bloodshot Records), has odes to obscure animals, like “Cuttlefish Bone” and “A Newt Called Tiny”. “Housefly Blues” celebrates the blues, along with country and swing; instruments on this track include washboard, jug, kazoo and harmonica. The musicians even adopt animal personae; Cyril the Karaoke Squirrel, who is married to Marjorie the Singing Bee; third member, Monkey Double-Dippey; and back-up musicians, Devil in a Woodpile. The two dads in the group had their kids add background vocals. “Road Safety Song” is a great car singalong. $15 at Borders and Tower Records, or www.bloodshotrecords.com. (Review posted 10/06)
—Learning to play an instrument can be a very expensive investment. But there are cheaper ways to determine your child’s level of interest. Piano for Preschoolers is a program to teach kids piano, using a keyboard (or piano, if you have one) and color-coded keys. A songbook has the notes and the colors; you put a color strip over your keyboard. New for the holidays, there is a Christmas songbook with seven songs, including “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night”. The original package, which comes with the 17-song book is $49.95; the new songbook is an additional $19.95.www.pianoforpreschoolers.com. (Review posted 12/06)
—I Can Play Piano, by Fisher-Price, also uses a color-coded keyboard, which is included in the $79.99 price. This is for slightly older kids, for ages 4-8, and is more game-oriented. You plug the keyboard into a TV and play games to learn music. What is particularly interesting here is that it really develops kids musically, eventually moving to black-and-white notes on a staff. At Target and Toys R Us. (Review posted 12/06)—Barbie has the Jam-With-Me karaoke keyboard for budding female pianists. It also has a cartridge that plays three songs, and produces song effects, from a snare or cymbal to organ or synthesizer. There is also a microphone so kids can sing along. From KIDdesigns, $99.99, for ages 3 and up. (Review posted 12/06)
—The most complete learning system is Play Music Together ($39.95) from iPlay, software that you install on your computer (Mac or PC) to learn how to play guitar. The software can be downloaded to a video iPod so you’re not tethered to a computer. (Review posted 12/06)—There is another play to ‘play’ music — by listening to it. Disney has the new Mix Max, its own, less expensive version of the video iPod (with a control button shaped like mouse ears). It is sleek and offers similar quality playback (but is not iTunes compatible). Full-length movies are available as “Max Clips” memory chips (right now there are six movies, including High School Musical; the Mix Max holds up to 6 hours of video). You can also play MP3 files, but you can’t share the listening; there is only one headphone jack. Ages 6 and up, $159.99 at www.amazon.com. (Review posted 12/06)
—Massively Mini Media from Tiger Electronics comes in different colors (a la iPod) and can play music or videos. It holds an hour of video or two hours of music — or tons of photos, so it can also serve as a digital photo album. Also not iTunes compatible, the mini has an FM radio, and kids can record songs from the radio to the device. $79.99 at Kmart, for ages 8 & up. You can download free videos at www.tigertube.com. (Review posted 12/06)
—The title of Kim Breden’s brand-new CD, Picture This! Imagine That!, sums up her musical talents, creativity, and enthusiastic personality. She is a person who speaks with great warmth and energy, complete with exclamation points, and this all comes across beautifully on the album. She has a lovely voice and is accompanied by one musician, the equally talented Joe Mennonna, plus a children’s chorus; this is a standout album with great original songs kids will love. In the liner notes, she explains how each song came to be. The bouncy “What Do You Bring to the Pot? (What do you bring that no one else has got?”) was inspired by a children’s musical she wrote based on the folktale, “Stone Soup”. One summer day, she tried to rescue a tiny ladybug from the back seat of her car; the result is “The Ladybug Song” (“Oh, you cannot make a Ladybug stay/ No sooner there, she’s on her way”). “Clean Up” is set to conga music and was inspired by her sister’s seven children, all featured in the chorus. “The Alphabet Picnic” uses bouncy Dixieland music to teach letters. Email Kim Breden to order: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Review posted 10/06)
If you grew up with folk music and want to pass on that spirit to your children, Elizabeth Mitchell’s new CD, You Are My Little Bird,
is the perfect introduction. She reinterprets such traditional songs
as ”Who’s My Pretty Baby” (Woody Guthrie) and “Three Little Birds” (Bob
Marley), while including original compositions. What’s more, her
husband, Daniel Littleton, and 5-year-old daughter, Storey, contribute
vocals and background instrumentals. Mitchell, who was a NYC nursery
school teacher, now lives in the Catskills with her family. $12 from
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, www.folkways.si.edu. Also sold at Barnes & Noble. (Review posted 9/06).
PATIENCE REQUIRED With Mattel’s new video game system, HyperScan, came a great idea: combine two activities kids today love — trading card games and video games — into an all-in-one video game system that uses new technology called radio frequency identification (RFID) to store information on character cards. Depending on how you play, these cards are upgraded or degraded with your character’s skills and powers. Trade, save, or collect these cards and play with them again and again. Innovative and unique, yes, but practical and entertaining? That’s up for debate. The problem is that HyperScan isn’t hyper at all. The loading time is atrocious, taking 15-45 seconds before and after every game or scan. If your child doesn’t get bored and lose interest before the game finally loads, try getting him to scan one of the cards — this in itself takes time and practice. When you eventually get to playing, the fighting gets interesting with X-Men characters that have spiffy powers like levitating, shooting big fireballs, or slashing opponents with Wolverine claws. Unfortunately, the moves and graphics closely resemble older, practically archaic games like Mortal Combat II and Clay Fighters, so the game itself really doesn’t seem that new or innovative at all. The background scenery is 2-D and static, and the overall graphics seem sluggish and low-tech. So until Mattel’s great idea gets rescanned and hyped up, to appear more like a 21st century video game with 21st century technology, keep saving your money for that new Nintendo Wii or an old GameCube. HyperScan is relatively cheap and portable — the system costs only around $70 and already comes with an X-Men fighting game, a rarity with other video game consoles. Designed for ages 8+. (Review posted 12/06)
MULTI-TASKINGIf you don’t want to carry a digital camera, video recorder and video iPod, you can bring along the all-in-one Trio TV5. This sleek device plays music, takes good quality digital prints and lets you capture short videos. You can also load content that you’ve recorded to a TiVo or DVR. There isn’t a lot of built-in memory, but for $119 it is a great hand-held for the kids that gives many options. From Mach Speed, at www.amazon.com. (Review posted 5/07)
BOOKS FOR PARENTS
Most seasoned parents would agree that raising teens is fraught with gut-wrenching conflict and hair-graying stress. But for some, whose teenagers’ behavior becomes self-destructive and even life-threatening, it is a full-fledged nightmare. Such was the case for Jack Rosen, the Westchester father of two who relates his experience with his older daughter, Samantha, in his newly released memoir, Glass Half-Full: A Daughter’s Journey though a Father’s Eyes (iUniverse, $28.95). The book details Samantha’s descent into intolerable conduct (including truancy and drug use, along with incessant lying and disrespect), her participation in a wilderness program in New Hampshire, and several years in a therapeutic boarding school in upstate New York. Rosen’s emotional honesty makes this a book that is both painful to read and hard to stop reading. Available at amazon.com. (Review posted 9/06).
Rebecca Forbes is a contributor for NYMetroParents. See More.
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