Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fun in the sun

Meet my favorite children's sunhat.

The Hanna Andersson floppy sunhat is hands down the best sunhat I've found for little kids. It's a constant companion for us in the spring and summer. My kids learn early on that if they want to be outside during the warmer months, they have to be wearing a hat. Period.

Durable and machine washable, it comes in a ton of colors and a big range of sizes. The brim is wide and the neckties stay tied (although Puppy rarely wants them tied and it stays on just fine as he runs around). The $14.50 pricetag borders on the ridiculous, true. But they go on sale every year for about $11 and I regularly find them at the Hanna Andersson outlet for as little as $4-5. Which is how I justify having almost a dozen of them in different sizes at our house. Ahem.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: "Otto Grows Down"

Thanks to Sterling Publishing, I recently had the chance to look at Otto Grows Down, a new children's book by author Michael Sussman and illustrator Scott Magoon.

Otto Grows Down takes a familiar set-up--an almost six year old boy less than thrilled with the presence of his new baby sister--and puts a creative spin on it. When Otto uses a birthday wish to wish his sister had never been born, he is shocked to find time suddenly going backward. Soon sister Anna is gone, just as he wished ("And on Monday, Otto's parents returned Anna to the hospital."), but time keeps on running in the wrong direction. Otto must figure out a way to stop himself from reliving his life in reverse before he disappears, too.

My toddler was charmed by the illustrations from the moment the book came out of the box. After several reads over multiple days, he declared it a very good book. His favorite part is the page showing Otto on the toilet, with its sly suggestion of some less enjoyable aspects of doing everything backwards. (I know, you're all, "Ew!" Kids love that stuff--or at least my three-year old and the friends he showed it to did!)

Sussman takes the old lesson of being careful what you wish for and weaves it neatly into the story--no moral anvils here. Otto learns to appreciate what he has, baby sister and all ("'I'd rather grow up with Anna,' said Otto, 'than grow down without her.'"). It will be useful for families dealing with kids' feelings about new siblings, but doesn't feel like a niche "big brother/big sister" book. Sussman keeps the story moving along with funny observations about life in reverse, and Magoon's illustrations add an extra layer of humor. It has been a welcome addition to our home library and one I recommend.

(Ages 4-8--it was fine for my 3.5 year old. The family is Caucasian. Available in hardcover for $12 at Amazon or $11 at Powell's Books. Amazon.com is an affiliate.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

That Ubiquitous Blue Train, Live and On Stage

I went to Disneyland for the first time when I was six years old, probably at the height of my princess-love phase. Seeing Cinderella and Snow White in person was a dream come true. I bought the notion that they were fairy-tale characters come to life, hook, line and sinker.

Fast-forward four years to our next Disneyland visit. This time all I saw when the princesses passed by were ordinary, costumed people wearing tacky makeup and bad wigs. I was the ripe old age of ten and reality had overpowered the magic.

I was remembering that as I watched my three-year old positively beam in his auditorium seat the other weekend. Like so many pre-school aged kids, my son adores all things train, including Thomas the Tank Engine. When we were offered tickets to see a local production of Thomas & Friends Live! On Stage, I knew it would be a treat for him.

Looking with my adult eyes, the show was light on plot and featured several actors playing multiple roles (and a twenty-something trying to pull off playing Sir Topham Hatt). They did a good job of gearing the performance to little kids, with a ton of audience participation. They sang almost every song we had heard in the TV episodes and paraded through most of the popular characters, although some were cardboard puppets. In a move I really appreciated, they kept the overpriced merchandise confined to a fairly small booth in the lobby (where the venue also offered up cocktails to the parents--at a matinee. Heh.)

Looking through my son's toddler eyes, it was pure magic. He saw his favorite trains moving and talking right in from of him (the big moving engines were pretty neat), heard the familiar songs, and got to peep peep along with his beloved Thomas. During the intermission he and the little boys sitting around us pulled out the toy engines they had all brought along and pushed them along the seat backs together. And his favorite part? A brief segment featuring a cardboard cutout of Gordon stuck in the mud.

If you have a young Thomas lover in your family and some cash to spare (ticket prices vary by venue; at our show they were $25-40), check to see if it's coming through your area between now and the end of July.

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