Awesome Summer Activities Sent to You!
Never Hear “I’m Bored!”
—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: email@example.com. (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).
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)
ALL QUIET IN THE FOREST
The award-winning children’s book, Stranger in the Woods, by Carl Sams II and Jean Stoick, peeks though a camera lens into the life of winter forest animals, and the humans who peacefully encounter it. A new DVD, Stranger in the Woods: The Movie ($19.95) combines the photography from the book with original winter forest film footage, giving a glorified reading of the book. The breathtaking winter wonderland and wildlife footage makes up for some embarrassing dialogue sequences, but the magic from the book doesn’t quite transfer to the screen. (Review posted 12/06).
If 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)
ANOTHER WAY TO TELL A STORY
The Three Little Pigs is familiar to most kids, but Alex has a new way to look at the tale — a book which comes with a finger puppet glove. Kids can tell the story with puppets — and in this version, the second pig is female. Since the book is designed for kids ages 3-6, The Big Bad Wolf runs away and the “three little pigs danced and sang all the rest of the day.” There is a felt board at the end so kids can tell their own stories. $14.99 at Barnes & Noble, or at www.alextoys.com. (Review posted 9/06).
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).