Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Write a Review Wednesday: Where’s Walrus?

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 Zero Kisses for Me. This week we looked at Scholastic‘s Where’s Walrus (age 3-7) written and illustrated by Stephen Savage. I have to thank Dina at Big Honcho Media for my review copy.

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Walrus gets tired of life in the zoo; it’s boring. When the zoo keeper isn’t looking he escapes into the outside world. Walrus tries to blend in to the world around him, trying to hide from the zoo keeper hot on his tail. But eventually Walrus’ identity is revealed and in a glorious way that gives the zoo keeper an idea.

Where’s Walrus is a wordless picture book. Although wordless picture books are a great tool for young kids, encouraging them to tell their own story based on the pictures, I’m usually not a big fan of them; they’re just not a style of book I prefer. But Where’s Walrus impressed me differently. Perhaps it was the simple 2D illustrations or the clever story told without words that grabbed my attention but I enjoyed going through Where’s Walrus as much as my 4 and 6-year old did.

Where’s Walrus is sort of like a Where’s Waldo style though Walrus is much easier to find. My kids loved to ‘hunt’ for Walrus, pointing him out on each page, laughing at how silly he was trying to be a dancing girl in a stage show or a mermaid in a fountain. I love a good story that’s probably why most wordless stories don’t appeal to me; they don’t seem to have any real story just related images to encourage your own story. The lack of words in Where’s Walrus didn’t detract from the story but still left room for your imagination and your own rendition of what was happening.

This book trailer doesn’t give away any part of the story but it does give you a feel for the book’s fun:

You can add a copy of Where’s Walrus to your own library by visiting your local bookstore or Scholastic. For other great book recommendations for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. What are you reading with your kids?

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.

Write a Review Wednesday: Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth

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 The Baby Boss. This week we pull out a new book from one of our favourite author/illustrators. Groundwood Book‘s Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth (age 2-5). written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. I have to thank Trish at Groundwood Books for my review copy.

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Roslyn the rabbit woke up one morning full of excitement. She had a plan, a plan to dig the biggest hole in the Earth. With her father’s encouragement, Roslyn set off into her backyard to find the perfect spot. It seems finding where to dig was harder than digging the hole itself. Roslyn was hoping to dig her way to the South Pole so she could meet a real penguin. Instead she met a grumpy worm, a grouchy mole and a bone-hoarding dog.

In Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth, Roslyn’s enthusiasm and unstoppable spirit are qualities most of us adults wish we had retained from our youth, or at least I do. The thought of physically being able to dig all the way to China or the South Pole is far-fetched but kids don’t think that way; they think without boundaries. Roslyn’s dad doesn’t crush her dream either. Even at the end when Roslyn starts to feel discouraged about never being able to dig her big hole, her dad’s enthusiasm with the work she had accomplish makes her rethink what’s she’s done. A disappointing scenario is now turned into something pretty cool.

My kids loved the different animal encounters Roslyn had in her backyard. They loved her quest to not only dig the biggest hole (and whose child hasn’t wanted to do that) but also her adventure in finding the perfect spot to dig. My 6-year old was struck by the conversation between Roslyn and her dad. He commented that sometimes when a his younger sister makes something out of Lego, like a boat, and it didn’t turn out the way she wanted, he tells her that her boat has some really cool features making it better than other boats. Suddenly her disappointment is an accomplishment and she’s content. Encouraging others and looking at things differently are great qualities. Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth does a great job illustrating a child’s free spirit and imagination as well as disappointment. But it also does a great job showing the relationship with parents or others (such as a friend) and how a few simple words can help you change your perspective. I’m not sure if that’s what Marie-Louise Gay was trying to get across but that’s what we walked away with and that’s not too shabby for a story.

I also love the illustrations in Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth; they’re very organic feeling (and I’m not just saying that because most of the pages take place in the dirt in the backyard). The illustrations fill and weave around the pages with the text slotted into pockets here and there.

If you’re a fan of Marie-Louise Gay (you know, the Stella books) then be sure to visit her website www.marielouisegay.com for more on her books the new Stella and Sam TV show, downloads for kids and more. You can also visit Groundwood Books to get a peek at some of the inside pages of Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth.

You can add a copy of Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth to your personal library by visiting your local bookstore or at Groundwood Books. For other great book recommendations for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts.

Bob Books iPhone App: Experience Review

You may already be familiar with Bob Books, a reading series designed for the early stages of reading, when kids figure out letters together form words. The small books are leveled based on a child’s ability and include simple, short word sentences with line drawing illustrations to illustrate what’s being said. I actually picked up a few of these books for my 4-year old.

Now your child can enjoy a more interactive experience with the Bob Books Magic of Reading iPhone and iPad app ($1.99). Like the original book series, the app is designed in with built-in levels, enabling kids to progress at their own pace :

  • Level 1 – When you tap the picture, there’s audio to tell you what word your child is working on. The word appears below the image you’ll see letter hints, gravity helps you drop letters in the right place, and you can play letters in any order.
  • Level 2 – Now you have to place letters in left-to-right order. If you try to play a letter out of order it will just bounce out.
  • Level 3 – The letter hints are gone [in the space below each image] and so is gravity. You’ll also have to spell some words from the caption.
  • Level 4 – Now there are extra letters [that appear on-screen] that aren’t actually used in the word. You’ll need to remember how to spell the word to finish the game.

When you start the app, the first story plays. Each story processes to a little harder, adding more words to the caption and more words you have to spell. Each story opens with a black and white line drawing and a caption underneath. Elements in the picture shake inviting the kids to touch. When you touch on one of the pictures you enter into one of the interactive spelling screens. Only the image of what word they are working on appears on-screen and the letter titles used to spell the word are spread over the screen. If the child touches the image, the word is said again as a reminder. Like wise, if they touch the titles, the letter sound is made. In level 1, touching the letter spaces under the picture also makes the letter sound plus it will shake the corresponding tile to help kids find the letter needed. My daughter never touched the spaces under the picture so she never discovered this trick; she went right for the letter tiles and tried working on building the word.

Once a word is spelled out, the word is sounded out, given a visual emphasis on each letter sound. The image then transitions into colour and reappears within the original story. Images not yet in colour will shake to encourage kids to click and spell those words too. Once all the words are done and the whole picture is in colour, a background scene transitions in and a small animation plays supporting the caption below. As this happens, the caption is read out loud, highlighting the words as they are said. This is a great way to reinforce them as the child follows along.

During each story subtle navigational elements appear on the screen allowing you to skip a story to move on to the next story or to go to the story menu. The story menu is like a long film strip with pictures of each story so your child can easily revisit a story they enjoy or move forward if a particular story isn’t challenging enough (the stories increase in difficulty by adding more words, longer words, new words). The story menu also shows what level your child has completed for each story. As I mentioned above, there are 4 levels with each story. You can go through all the stories in level 1 and then repeat them again for the subsequent levels or you can keep repeating a particular story, moving up a level each time. The app remembers what level your child is on and will automatically progress him or her. There is an option of resetting the app to clear any progress you have saved. This is good if you want to start from level 1 again or if you want to share the experience with another child. There are some set-up options to that enable you to determine when music plays during the app, set levels automatically or to a specific level and use letter name or phonics for spelling tiles.

You can see my 4-year old as she experiments with the Bob Books Magic Reading app:

It’s no surprise my daughter was able to figure out how the program worked, without any assistance from me; many kids today have already been exposed to various forms of technology and are quick learners. The Bob Books Magic Reading app is designed to work with your child’s natural inquisitive nature, interacting as they click on things.

Although we do enjoy the Bob Books, the Bob Books Reading Magic app is much more engaging and keeps my daughter interested longer. She still gets excited and proud when she reads a screen on her own. The fact that the app remembers my daughter’s progress and that it’s portability makes it great for the Dr.’s office waiting room, grocery shopping or any other time when my daughter is with me, these elements are things I enjoy about the app as a parent. However there are a few things I’d love to see added to any updates (another great feature of an app, the ability to make updates for those who already own a copy). I would love the option of setting profiles so I don’t have to erase one child’s history so another can use it. Another great feature would be the option to replay the caption again after the audio has played it. Right now it just plays once and it happens at the same time as the animation on the screen. I found my daughter was distracted by the animation and would end up missing the words being highlighted as the narrator read it. To be able to play the caption again and see the highlights would be great, especially if the sentence has a few words and the child is getting muddled; they could play the caption over and over, seeing each word highlighted as it was read.

The Bob Books Reading Magic app was created by Learning Touch, the makers of the best-selling First Words series of learning-to-read apps. It marries First Words’ breakthrough learning-to-read interface with the beloved characters and stores of Bob Books. The app includes twelve scenes for a total of 32 words. For game levels provide increasing challenges to children as they play.

I want to thank the folks at Bob Books and Hopscotch Consulting for providing me with the app so we could experience it and share it with you.

Write a Review Wednesday: The Boss Baby

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 Christmas Delicious. With a friend of mine experiencing the joys of a new baby in her house, the timing was perfect for Simon and Schuster‘s The Baby Boss (age 4-6), by Marla Frazee. I have to thank Michelle at Simon and Schuster Canada for my review copy.

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He’s demanding. He has fits. He says a lot but none of it makes sense. Oh yeah, and he’s a baby, literally.

The Boss Baby is an interesting take on how a new baby takes center stage in a family’s life, sort of like a boss. Marla Frazee does a great job illustrating the baby as a boss. Even when the baby ‘arrives’, he shows up in a taxi with a large briefcase full of demands. The baby has meetings, lots and lots of meetings, ensuring the parents are at his beck and call. There’s one moment, when the parents are so unresponsive due to lack of sleep, that the boss baby resorts to baby-like tactics to get attention. Surprisingly this works but the boss inside the baby doesn’t stay away for long.

I found The Boss Baby as enjoyable as my kids did, but on different levels. As a parent I could completely relate to the story of the demanding baby, taking center stage, being in control of what happens at home, just like a boss in the office. The kids, especially my 4-year old, just thought it was crazy baby behaviour. Everything the baby did she thought was hysterical (his private jet being a swing in the shape of an airplane). She even laughed when she told me she was just like that when she was a baby (not far from the truth).

The Boss Baby would be a great book for a new parent. It’s a little tongue in cheek about that adjustment stage of baby’s early arrival. Mom and dad can get great enjoyment at the comparison and kids will love the silly baby. The Boss Baby is a great way for parents to address the demands of a new baby with young siblings too.

You can add a copy of The Boss Baby to your own personal library by visiting your local bookstore or visit Simon and Shuster Canada. For other great books for kids, take a read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts.

Write a Review Wednesday: Christmas Delicious

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 A Porcupine in a Pine Tree. This week, with Christmas just days away, we’re reading Blue Apple Books Christmas Delicious, written by Lyn Loates and illustrated by Mark Jones. I have to thank Crystal at Raincoast Books for my review copy.

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Raisin and Rice are two mice who were once hungry and poor. But now living in the storeroom of the Zanzibar’s Deli they never want for food, enjoying lamb and ham and cheese and more. With Christmas approaching they decide to celebrate with a feast and set out gathering and brewing and baking. Christmas day arrives and Raisin and Rice dress in their finest ready to enjoy what they had prepared but something is missing. It’s not the goodies or decorations, it was their friends. They went out and invited all their old friends to join them and had the merriest Christmas ever.

Christmas and food go so well together; that’s what appealed to me first about this book, Christmas Delicious. Although I’m not a fan of mice living and eating in a deli my kids didn’t seem to mind. But then they think of mice as humanized characters and Raisin and Rice do share their wealth with their less fortunate friends. Written in rhyme, Christmas Delicious is a very lyrical read, almost coming out as a song. Mice aside, I do love the message of sharing with friends, that no matter how much you have you don’t get the same joy out of it unless you can share that joy with someone else. It’s a wonderful message for Christmas and all year-long.

The illustrations fill the pages with warm Christmas colours. My 3 kids loved the story of the animals enjoying Christmas together, especially Christmas that involves food.

You can add a copy of Christmas Delicious to your personal library by visiting your local bookstore or Raincoast Books. For other great book recommendations for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Best Christmas Books

I love the holidays, especially Christmas. Last week I talked about our Top 10 Christmas Albums we love to listen too. This week I’m thinking about books. We have a pretty big library of children’s books at home. There are so many great books out there but I have a real soft spot for seasonal books. We have 2 shelves on our children’s bookcase devoted to these types of books. This last month we’ve been enjoying a few classics and some new favourites. I thought with Christmas approaching I would share as part of Oh Amanada‘s Top Ten Tuesday blog, 10 of our Favourite Christmas stories, some which we’ve reviewed and others that are just part of our personal collection.

  1. Ten on the SledThis is a fun counting book, counting from 10 back to one, based on the rhyme Ten in the Bed. You can’t help but sing this story instead of reading it.
  2. The Great Reindeer Rebellion –  A fun tale about striking reindeer set to the rhyme of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  3. The Nativity Story – This large sturdy board book is great for even little hands, with simply, rhyming text and shiny, uncluttered images.
  4. Peter Claus and the Naughty List – This is a great story illustrating that behaviour isn’t black and white and that doing something that might be deemed bad doesn’t make you an awful person (or child in this case).
  5. Olive the Other Reindeer – I love the work of J.otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh and this tale about a dog named Olive who offers to help Santa pull his sleigh is a delight to read and look at.
  6. Dream Snow – Eric Carle is another staple in a child’s book library and Dream Snow is a fantastic Christmas treat. The story is sweet, the illustrations in Carle’s trademark mosaic style and the surprise at the end is delightful
  7. Little Tree – Based on e. e. cummings’ poem, this is a beautiful story about love and belonging with wonderful whimsical illustrations.
  8. Santa Claus and the Reindeer Chase – This is a great interactive book as kids move a small cut-out Santa through various slots and openings on each page, trying to catch-up with his reindeer in time for Christmas Eve.
  9. The Present – Technically it’s about a birthday present but the concept of anticipation and charity hold true for Christmas also. Plus I just love this story.
  10. Christmas with Rita and Whatsit – Follow the adventures of Rita and her dog Whatsit as they prepare for Christmas as only a child (and child-like dog) would. I love the simple line drawing illustrations with just a splash of orange and green throughout. https://cabadov.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/warw-christmas-with-rita-and-whatsit/

Of course this is just ten of our favourites. There are so many other great Christmas books for kids out there. What are some of your favourites?

25 Days of Christmas: Day 12 Toronto Symphony Orchestra Family Concert

We love music in our house, all sorts of music, but nothing beats a live performance. Whether it’s a rock concert or folk music or drumming (I love the Kodo drummers) nothing can beat the impact a live performance can make. And I’m not just speaking about me as an adult; our kids love live music also. We were fortunate enough to be invited to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra‘s recent family concert The Bear as part of our 25 Days of Christmas activities.

The performance consisted of two parts. The opening consisted of a screening of the animated film The Bear (from the same creators of The Snowman). Behind and above the orchestra were two screens that the movie played on. Not only did the orchestra accompany the film, but the story was narrated live and the character parts were sung. It was incredible  how hearing the live music and voices just brought the whole film to life; my kids were crying during parts, both happy and sad tears. I forgot how wonderful the acoustics are in Roy Thomson Hall.

After the film there was a brief intermission. As this was a family concert there was an organized craft activity in the lobby. The Young People’s Concert series usually has a small concert before a performance giving kids a chance to see and hear instruments up close. I love how the conductor and host of the performance is also very approachable with the kids, talking to them and keeping them entertained. Those in attendance also know the concert’s for kids so there’s no worry if your child gets a little fidgety; the person next to you isn’t going to hush you every minute. During The Bear, the Avenue Road Art School was running the craft activity. They had tables set-up all over the lobby. The kids could colour and glue paper on a small cardboard square, creating a habit for a polar bear that they would create out of modeling clay. This activity was great for kids of all ages. My 4-year old was having as much fun as my 8-year old and even older kids at the same table as us. And the kids could take their craft home with them (though ours didn’t last long and the polar bears were changed into snowmen and other things before the night was through).

The second half of the performance was just as much fun. The orchestra, now joined by The Bear and young Tilly, took us on a trip around the world by the way of Christmas music. We visited Paris, Austria, Ukraine, Africa, Paraguay and returned to Canada. With each piece the conductor gave the audience a little background information on the music and the screens above showed images of the country or the people dancing. Some pieces, like when they played songs from The Nutcracker Suite, they had dancers compliment the music on stage. I think my kids enjoyed that most. I think I’ll have to plan a visit with my 8-year old to see The Nutcracker next Christmas; I think she would really enjoy it and I have never seen it performed live either.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra did a great job entertaining young and old alike. If you’re looking to expose your kids to live music this holiday, the Toronto Symphony has other festive concerts planned. Or perhaps one of their other Young People’s concerts. They really are great and it’s wonderful to see how much enjoyment kids get from attending. This was a perfect addition to our 25 Days of Christmas activities.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.