Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Write a Review Wednesday: Star Wars DK Readers

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors. This week we’re participating in DK Canada‘s May the 4th be with You event, supporting reading in Canada thanks to Star Wars. We reviewed Star Wars The Clone Wars: Pirates…and Worse! (age 5-7), part of the DK Readers series. I have to thank Chris at DK Canada for my review copy.

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Get eye-to-eye with the bad guys including Nuvo Vindi and the Separatist leaders, buddy up with jedi and droids as well as extraordinary creatures like the Gutkurrs and Blurrgs, and meet the terrifying pirates Hondo Ohnaka and Turk Falso in Star Wars: The Clone Wars Reader: Pirates…and Worse!!

My 6-year old son is a beginning reader. He loves books and loves hearing stories read to him, but finding a story that interests him enough to practice reading on his own can be a bit of a challenge. There are a lot of leveled reading books out there but he doesn’t have much interest in reading about bunnies or Dora or digging in the dirt so when I was introduced to the DK Readers Star Wars series, I thought these would be ideal for my son. And I was right. He loved the four books we were sent: Watch Out for Jabba the Hutt and Pirates…And Worse! (both level 1); Stand Aside – Bounty Hunters and Boba Fett: Jedi Hunter (both level 2).

It’s amazing just how different leveled readers are from publisher to publisher. Level 1 in the DK Readers series is designed for those beginning to read. Unlike other beginning readers that have 1 sentence on a page, the DK Readers actually consisted of two or three sentences which I preferred as a parent. Most of the vocabulary is understandable but I did have to help my son with a few words. Many of the words are repeated in the story, helping to reinforce vocabulary. The hardest words I found were character names; some my son knew, others we guessed. My son actually enjoyed reading these books and I even found him reading one of the level 1 books to both his dad and little sister; that’s a good sign.

The level 2 books we looked at not only had more sentences per page but the sentences themselves were a little more complex in grammar: He blows things up, and, above all else, he enjoys a good fight. There were also call-outs throughout the story, providing tidbits of Star Wars info; my son loved these elements. In both the level 1 and 2 books we reviewed, my son loved that the topics were on the bad guys; reading about bounty hunters and pirates versus the good guys. The illustrations used are the same as in the animated series, The Clone Wars, drawing a closer connection to the series my son is already familiar with . The only problem I have with this is that many of the illustrations are very dark but this didn’t seem to be an issue with my son.

If you have a child in your family that’s into Star Wars, you’ll love the May the 4th be with You contest DK Canada is running this month. Simply submit a photo of your chid or family reading a Star Wars book and you could win a complete DK Star Wars collection and a Canadian school or library of their choice will receive a complete DK READERS Star Wars set. Plus, for every photo submitted, DK Publishing will donate a “toonie” to Frontier College, Canada’s original literacy organization. For more information visit their site: cn.dk.com/starwars

If you have a Lego Star Wars fan in your home, you might be interested in the review I wrote over at Best Tools for Schools blog: Lego Star Wars: A Visual Dictionary also from DK Canada.

To add a copy of DK Readers: Star War Series to your own personal library, visit your nearest bookstore or DK Canada. For other great books for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. What books are you enjoying with your kids?

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Write a Review Wednesday: Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Dream Big Little Pig. This week, with Easter on our doorstep, I thought an appropriate book would be Sterling Publishing‘s Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors (age 4-6) written and illustrated by Lisa McCue. I have to thank Katie at Sterling Publishing for my review copy.

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It’s springtime in the forest and Quiet Bunny loves all the colours. But looking at his own brown and white fur, Quiet Bunny feels more like a winter bunny. He wishes he was a spring colour instead. Then Quiet Bunny got an idea. Using elements from the forest he would change his colour: some honey and dandelion flowers and he’s yellow, some juice from a patch of blueberries and he’s blue. Quiet Bunny transforms himself into a variety of colours until they all are washed away and he’s left with his white and brown fur again. Its the words from a wise owl that remind Quiet Bunny that it’s all of the different colours in the forest, including Quiet Bunny’s brown and white fur, that makes the forest so beautiful in spring. ‘ We are all different colors, and we are all beautiful.’

Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors is a wonderful book for kids on so many different levels. Stories about bunnies make a nice idea for Easter but Quiet Bunny’s story extends past just the holiday season and into spring as a whole. Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors is a great way to reinforce colours with kids too. Each spread in the book talks about a different colour with illustrations emphasising the colour being talked about. With spring here or approaching soon, you’ll be seeing some of these colours outside yourself. Quiet Bunny is a great way to extend the conversation around spring colours that you and your child might see while out for a walk. Quiet Bunny’ Many Colors as has the subtle message about enjoying the beauty around you but also appreciating the beauty that you, yourself offer. A child may like their sister’s straight hair instead of their own curly hair or that their friend doesn’t wear glasses but they do. Quiet Bunny is a nice way to address the beautiful differences in the world without getting too preachy.

To add a copy of Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors to your own personal library, visit your nearest bookstore or Sterling Publishing. For other great books for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. What books are you enjoying with your kids?

Hawaii is for Families

Hawaii has always has always been one of those places you go on your honeymoon or something you save up for after your kids are out of the house. When planning a family vacation destinations like Mexico or the Caribbean or maybe Florida come to find before Hawaii does. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the east coast, or closer to the east coast, so getting to a sunny destination that is quick to get to makes sense.

But in January we decided to try something different. We had a little more time on our hands and thought of going somewhere that took a little more travel time, like Hawaii.

You may think that traveling with 3 young kids on a 12 to 15 hour plane ride is crazy, and I’ll admit I was a little worried, but it went rather smoothly. I was annoyed at first about being bumped and having to take 3 planes versus 2 planes but I actually think the breaks were good for the kids, especially since they weren’t that long. And coming back, with the longer flight, the kids slept most of the way since we were flying over night, so that worked our great too. With the entertainment on the plane plus our own entertainment (electronics, snacks and colouring supplies) the kids were more then content to sit quietly on the plane. I think flying from a border city helped also (I much prefer going through customs in a car versus at the airport and would recommend it to anyone who has it as an option.

Unlike visiting Mexico or the Caribbean, Hawaii is still a US state so you don’t have worries about currency or medical are or water safety or any of those issues that come up with visiting foreign resorts. Yet it still has a very tropical feel. Of course it helped that our hotel, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered a spectacular location and service. I even wrote how this trip was one of our best vacations to date. But that was my feelings; what about the kds? When I asked my kids where they wanted to go for their next vacation, Disney World or Hawaii, it was Hawaii all around. That says a lot since our family is a Disney family.

You can read all the reviews I posted on our Hawaiian trip over within EverythingMom‘s Family Travel section: from our stay at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach to visiting Pearl Harbor and a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center and more.

Below are a few photo highlights. Makes me wish I was back there now.

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Write a Review Wednesday: Zero Kisses for Me

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox. This week we’re all about love with Valentine’s Day around the corner so we’re reviewing Tundra Books Zero Kisses for Me (age 4-7 ) written by Virginie Soumagnac and illustrated by Manuela Monari. I have to thank Sylvia at Tundra Books for my review copy.

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It’s hard being the little one in the family;everyone always wants to give you kisses, especially your mom. She sends you out in the rain. Kisses. She gives you a hug. Kisses. One little boy has had enough; he’s worn out by the end of the day after all those kisses. He tells his mom that from now on he wants no more mushy kisses. Not ever. But at bedtime, when his mom obliges his wishes, something isn’t quite right. Could it be he’s missing his kisses?

As my kids get older I know there will be some resistance to mom kisses; I’m already seeing this from my 8-year old daughter. I think as kids get older they feel, just like the boy in Zero Kisses for Me, that big kids don’t need to get kisses all the time; kisses are for babies. I think that’s why I loved this book so much. My kids are always trying to be ‘bigger’ and going to bed without a goodnight kiss is one of those things big kids do, so many kids think. Both the words and illustrations do a great job depicting how a young child is caught between wanting to be grown-up and not be coddled and kissed all the time while at the same time wanting to remain little and protected by their parents. All 3 of my kids could relate to both sides of the boys reaction.

When the boy has difficulty sleeping, after not getting his usual bedtime kiss, he is comforted again by lots of kisses from his mom. Reading Zero Kisses for Me segued nicely into talking about growing up and kisses and respecting personal space (such as maybe not giving too many kisses goodbye in the school yard but lots for good nights and good mornings).

If you want to add a copy of Zero Kisses for Me to your personal library, visit your local bookstore or Tundra Books. For other great book ideas for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. I also included Zero Kisses for Me in a list of book for kids based on the topic of love. Checkout EverythingMom‘s Everything Love section to see what other books are on the list. What are you reading with your kids?

Write a Review Wednesday: Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth. With today being Groundhog Day, it seems fitting to review Sterling Publishing‘s Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox (age 3+), written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Carmen Segovia. I have to thank Derry at Sterling Publishing for my review copy.

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It’s Groundhog Day and Brownie steps out her door to be greeted by her dreaded shadow. As she laments another 6-weeks of waiting, with none of her friends around, Brownie is knocked over by February Fox, who is trying to eat her for breakfast. While Brownie holds off February Fox from snacking on her, the two look for signs of Spring, enjoy a snack together and make arrangements to spend time together the next day. Maybe the next 6-weeks of Winter won’t be so bad after all.

We are all familiar with the Groundhog Day shadow ritual. Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox is a great book about celebrating the day with kids. I’m personally a big fan of seasonal book but Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox also has a nice discussion angle. The two animal friends looking for signs of Spring is also a great opportunity to discuss the differences in the seasons and what to look for in the Spring. Kids will enjoy making their own Spring discoveries outside and adding to the discussion about other Spring signs.

I love the use of colour in the illustrations too, grey and white mainly, mimicking the cold of winter, with splashes of red (the fox, Brownie’s scarf, flowers poking out of the ground). Even if Groundhog’s Day has pasted, Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox is a great book to read throughout the month of February.

You can add a copy of Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox to your personal library by visiting your local bookstore or Sterling Publishing. For other great books for kids, read through the previous Write a Review Wednesday posts.

The Best Vacation and Why

The memories of our recent visit to Hawaii still linger in my mind (excluding the disappointing start with United Airlines). I’m sure most people would agree that any vacation is a good vacation but a good vacation isn’t necessarily the best. As a family we’ve taken quite a few vacations but my husband and I both agree that this last trip was by far our best.

But what makes this trip so much better than our last trips? What should we plan next time to ensure we have one of the best family vacations? Here’s what worked for us:

Time and Timing
We were away on vacation for about 10 days, much longer than our regular vacations. I know with school schedules and work demands, taking an extended vacation can be difficult but if you can swing it, do. Flying to Hawaii took us 15-hours, 3 planes and a 5-hour timezone change. It took the family almost 2 days to really get settled into vacation mode, including adjusting from jet lag and loosing all the stresses of work and home behind. And you know prior to a vacation ending your mind will already start thinking ahead to what has to be accomplished when you get home. An extended vacation ensures you still get quality vacation time after these adjustment days. There’s nothing worse than going away for a week and just getting settled in when you have to head home.

We also like to travel on non-peak times. This usually means during school time but it also means less crowds (and usually less heat). Visiting Hawaii at the end of January, also their winter, is a low season but the weather was perfect, sunny yet not too hot. It can also be their rainy season but we were fortunate and didn’t get hit with one bad weather day; that’s saying a lot for a 10 day trip.

Location, Location, Location
Well you can’t go wrong with visiting Hawaii in general I’m assuming. We had never been before so we just stumbled upon the Island of O’ahu, Waikiki specifically. Most people commented on how we should have planned our trip to the Island of Maui, that Waikiki was a little too touristy. But for a first time visitor I think Waikiki is perfect; it offered a nice transition from the big city to a taste of paradise. Perhaps another time will get a chance to visit Maui but I don’t regret our Waikiki visit at all.

Our hotel, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered both great access to Waikiki Beach as well as the bustling atmosphere of Waikiki itself. The Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is located right on Waikiki Beach. We could walk off the elevator right out to the sand. And out the front door of the hotel was Waikiki’s main street, with restaurants and shops and entertaining street life. It was wonderful.

The People
Of course the people in our hotel were amazing, from the front desk to the cleaning and maintenance staff. They always had a smile on their face and a pleasant greeting. Matt, the gentleman who taught the cultural activities at the hotel, remember my kids and was so helpful and friendly; Ryan, our server at Hula Grill, remembered what the kids ordered and always made sure we were happy. But it wasn’t just the hotel staff; cab drivers, police offers walking the streets, shop keepers, everyone seemed very pleasant and happy to be there.

This was our first trip to Hawaii but I think after our amazing experience it won’t be our last. Be sure to visit the Family Travel section on EverythingMom over the next few days as I will be sharing more detailed reviews on the hotel, some of the restaurants we enjoyed as well as activities while visiting O’ahu.

Vacation Frowns Brought to You by United Airlines

The bags were packed. Boarding passes printed. Kids hyped about heading to Hawaii for the first time. All in all this was turning out to be a great vacation.

I’ll admit I’m not a frequent flyer. Most of my travel is vacation oriented with my family. I had never flown with United Airlines before either but we paid to upgrade to their Economy Plus seats for more leg room and to ensure we were all sitting together (we were travelling with three kids 8 and under). We couldn’t get a non-stop flight to Honolulu from Buffalo, the city we started our journey from, but we were able to book a flight with just one stopover in Chicago. When you’re traveling with kids in tow, the least amount of stopovers is ideal.

The 9-hour second length of our trip would be long but fortunately the 777 plane we were scheduled to fly was equipped with a centre row of 5 seats; I was able to book the whole family to sit together in one row, our own row. We’ve never been able to do that before so I was sort of looking forward to that part of the trip.

Then we arrived at the airport and smiles turned into frowns thanks to United Airlines.

When we arrived early for our 8 a.m. flight, we were told it would be delayed by an hour and half. This of course meant our initial connecting flight, tight but doable in an hour, would be missed. We were rerouted. Now instead of it being a 12-hour flight with a short, single stopover in Chicago, we were now head for a 15-hour journey consisting of a stopover in both Chicago and Las Angeles.

I know what you’re thinking, delays happen when traveling. And sure, if there had been bad weather, such as a snowstorm, I couldn’t fault the airline over that; they have no control over the weather. But snow wasn’t the issue; weather wasn’t the issue. It seems our plane was delayed arriving the night before. Safety regulations require that the crew receive a specific amount of rest before their next flight. This meant that they wouldn’t be able to fly out as originally planned. I have no issue with the regulation. I know how draining flying ca be as a passenger let alone someone who’s flying the plane. No, the issue I have is that United Airlines didn’t schedule another crew. By delaying the initial flight to Chicago, United Airlines inconvenienced hundreds of passengers, their customers. Connections would be missed, flights rerouted; the plane itself, if scheduled for a follow-up flight, would be delayed affecting a whole other set of passengers. It was a ripple effect.

How hard would it have been to schedule a new crew, inconvenience their employees not their customers? Perhaps I’m being naive but if their pilot became sick the night before would they just postpone or cancel all that pilot’s flights for the next day? I’m guessing not. They would have brought a new pilot on so what makes this case different?

Now on the remaining two legs of our trip we would have to negotiate with gate staff and other passengers to ensure we could not only get our Economy Plus seats we paid for but also ensure we could sit together as a family, or at the very least have each child sitting with at least one parent.

To make matters worse, just as we were getting ready to pull away from the docking platform the pilot announced that the tractor used to pull the plane out wasn’t working and they needed to get a new one. Plus the plane needed to be de-iced. This would mean an additional delay of 20-minutes. Now you would think that United Airlines, knowing that their customers already weren’t happy with the delay, would make every effort to ensure there were no further delays on this flight. Now there was concern that our already rescheduled flights would have to be rescheduled, again.

Thankfully our two stopovers were short and since the planes were domestic we didn’t need to worry about checking in again or collecting our bags. The gate attendants were very helpful in ensuring that each child was sitting with a parent. The rest of the trip went without any delays or complications. The extra delay pushed us from an afternoon arrival into an evening one. This made for very tired and cranky kids but at least we were there on the same day and our vacation was about to start.

We head home on United Airlines with the intention of flying with one stopover and sitting together. Hopefully our return journey will go much smoother, ending on a positive note.

Now on the remaining two legs of our trip we would have to negotiate gate staff and other passengers to ensure we could not only get our Economy Plus seats we paid for but also ensure we could sit together as a family, or at the very least have each child sitting with at least one parent.

This thought still fresh in my mind, the pilot made an announcement just as we were preparing to pull away from the docking platform. Now you would think that United Airlines, knowing that their customers already weren’t happy with the delay, would make every effort to ensure there were no further delays on this flight. I guess they forgot this when they announced there would be an additional 20-minute delay due to equipment malfunction (the tractor that pulls the plane away from the docking station wasn’t working) and de-icing. Now there was concern that our already rescheduled flights would have to be rescheduled, again.

Although our vacation started with stress and frowns and yes it could have gotten off on