Butterfly Butterfly

June 15, 2012

We found Butterfly Butterfly at our local library last month and Astrid loved it. It’s your classic love story – girl plays with butterfly, loses butterfly, finds a bunch of other bugs, car chase, locates butterfly, happy ending. OK, not the car chase, but the rest of it is true.

There’s no particular moral of the story, except that the backyard is cool, which is fine with me: Astrid is two, so complicated stories aren’t a big draw. Colorful pictures are though, as is some limited pop-up action, both of which Butterfly Butterfly has. The illustrations are truly gorgeous and there are little tiny things for her to find in the pictures and remember for next time. Perfect for 1-2 year olds and butterfly/bug fans.

Butterfly Butterfly, $13 at Amazon

Fire Trucks

June 10, 2012

Fire trucks are awesome. What’s not to love? I got a ride on one once. The firemen were heading out, I came by on foot wearing something fetching, and voila: a ride to the pub on the Upper West Side on a fire truck. It was fantastic.

We live a few blocks from an old-school firehouse and I needed to find Astrid a fire truck that met her expectations after seeing a real one and ringing its bell. It was surprisingly challenging.

Bruder MAN Fire Engine (with working hose)

There are two basic types: realistic ones with noises and hoses and ladders or “little kid” ones with larger and fewer features (and no break-off-able parts for choking).

In general, I try to steer clear of loud toys, but the siren is what first attracts kids to fire engines, so you can’t not have it. That concession made, I did stop short of getting her a giant one with all the bells and whistles, although I’m sure when she’s a little older than two and can work them herself, the ones with the hoses will make a reappearance on the radar.

The little kid ones were hard for me to get next to. The Green Toys fire truck doesn’t much resemble a fire truck except that it’s red and has tiny ladders, and inexplicably their vehicles’ wheels won’t run on hard floors. What fun is that?? In general, I like Plan Toys a lot, but their wooden fire truck just wasn’t close enough to the real thing for me.

These were my favorites:

Tonka’s Lights and Sounds Fire Engine. Medium-sized (bigger than Matchbox but smaller than giant) and with three brief sounds, Tonka’s Lights and Sounds Fire Engine was my final choice. The ladder moves and the doors open and that’s it. Astrid misses that it doesn’t have a bell, but other than that, it looks and sounds like the fire engines she sees all the time, and it fills the need without filling the room (or breaking the bank). We may upgrade later to one with people and hoses, but for a two year old with a limited attention span, Tonka’s is great. A little steep at $30+, but I couldn’t find any cheaper. About $30-35 at Amazon

For slightly older kids or full-on fanatics:

Bruder makes fantastic trucks, including several different fire trucks. They’re expensive though (nearly $70) and the size is a bit big for a city home (19″x10″), but if you’ve got the budget and the space, they’re sturdy and realistic looking. The final deciding factor for us though, besides price and size, was that none of them look like the basic “rectangular box with ladder and bell” that lives up the hill in our fire house. Still, great trucks and all the moving parts are attractive for an older toddler. $50-$70 at Amazon

Do you know the difference between a “ladder unit” and a “fire engine”? Yeah, me neither. But Playmobil does. The guy at the toy store explained to me all the different kinds of trucks that are in rotation at the city’s fire houses so I would understand how comprehensive and accurate Playmobil’s offerings are. Ultimately, I decided not to invest in another line of toys (in addition to the Legos and blocks we’re already navigating), and, like Bruder, Playmobil’s are big, but if you’ve already got your foot in the Playmobil door and have the space, they are cool. Various trucks, firepeople and station, $28-$80

First Doll

April 16, 2012

I wasn’t keen on raising our little girl to just like dolls and kitchens, so I got her a red car about the same time as I got her her first doll. She was about eight months old and wasn’t interested in either of them, so nice work me! I chose the doll very carefully to be soft and safe but still have hair she could play with and a friendly face. Our nanny gave her one with similar features a couple months later at Christmas. Still no luck. Which is to say, if your child is anything like Astrid, s/he will probably be a year old or a little older before he shows much interest in dolls.


The one I settled on next, Corolle’s Cailin, was a winner and still is a year later. He looks like an infant (she has an older one too but her only interest in that one is in the removable shoes), which is probably attractive because he’s littler than Astrid herself, so she feels she can take care of him.

The Corolle dolls aren’t the least expensive, but they’re also not super creepy like some of the all-plastic ones with weird eyes and hard bodies. Cailin’s body is soft for cuddling but the arms, legs and head are plastic, so toes can be counted and eyelids close. The child development expert at Day One noted that realistic dolls are great for mirroring with little kids: they can identify similarities and features and that’s both interesting and stimulating.

Oh – and the dolls smell like vanilla. I’m not kidding. And they keep smelling like vanilla. I don’t really want to know how they make that happen, but it’s kind of nice (even though I don’t usually like vanilla scents): not too strong and sort of soothing.

Clothes are removable and washable and you can buy other outfits if you want (although Astrid won’t allow him to be changed into them because he looks like a different doll, so try out one alternate outfit before you invest in many!) Also, tons of accessories available for later (cribs, bibs, strollers, etc.)

Corolle Mon Premier Cailin 12″ doll, about $23 at Amazon, Caucasian in pink or blue outfit, Asian girl or African-American girl

Travel Placemat

April 6, 2012

I’m kind of a tidy freak. Not like, “Clorox for everyone!” but still pretty into the orderly. Astrid is too. She asks for a napkin to clean up spills. It’s awesome.

When she started eating table food, I thought a travel placemat would be great/necessary to address the joint issues of not-so-clean public tables / not-so-tidy toddler eating (even though she’s pretty organized, she’s still a toddler). I bought a wipeable rubber placemat with an attached trough (!) that kind of suctions onto a table surface. 

Let’s cut to the chase: it didn’t work out at all.

It was too big for carrying along with the other 100 things in my baby bag (it rolls up but is still big) + it didn’t stay on the table very well + Astrid didn’t like it.

I saw a mom with disposable Thomas the Tank Engine ones glued to the cafeteria tables at the Academy of Science the other day and her boys seemed fine. But it still looked like a lot of trouble.

Am I missing something? Isn’t this why restaurants have placemats in the first place?? Is this a useless product tapping into germaphobic parents’ paranoia? Or do you have one and love it and it totally works and it’s just me? Let me know, would you? In the meantime, I’m giving this a “not needed” rating.

Eat Your Veggies

March 21, 2012

Let’s face it: if you’re cooking dinner, your child is too. They like you, these kids of yours. So if you’re in the kitchen dicing vegetables, chances are, they’ll want to help. Especially with those colorful paring knives. Yeah, those are big draws in our house. Anyway, sooner or later, you’ll go looking for some play food for little Mario to manage on his own so your pork chops and their trychinosis can be left in peace. Let me recommend the Kidoozie veg and fruit set.

They’re fantastic. And I did some shopping around, trust me. For one, they come in their own little cloth shopping bag, so they can all be stored together. For another, all the fruits and veggies can be pulled apart (or “cut” with the enclosed plastic knife) as God intended: the orange splits into sections and the peel comes off, the cabbage “peels” back, the corn husk comes off, and so on. Little pieces of Velcro hold all the pieces together and has held up remarkably well – no issues so far and it’s been nearly a year since I handed the little bag of produce over to Astrid. I much prefer this set to any of our wooden food, which is much heavier and less life-like – which is probably why it’s also much less popular with the toddler crowd.

Most of the other sets I considered are either whole pieces of plastic or wood that can’t be separated/”cut” to see inside them, or they’re like Plan Toys’ set: they come apart, but at one arbitrary seam only. Small World Living Toys Peel n’ Play set is almost identical to the one we have (although only veg, no fruit) and I assume it’s also great, albeit slightly more expensive.

Get ’em excited about produce early – and give them something to cut up on the counter, other than their fingers!

Kidoozie Garden Fresh Fruits & Veggies, $15.50 on Amazon

Lift the Flap Books

March 8, 2012

Why am I a big pop-up book fan? Because they’re awesome, that’s why. Awesome for me, that is. Not so awesome for curious small children. Correction: awesome for them too, but not for the book itself, which might last one session in the hands of a curious toddler.

Much better – and fantastic for travel and self-serve entertainment – are lift-the-flap books. I either didn’t know about this genre or had forgotten about it in the glare of my pop-up-book enthusiasm but am so glad I ran across a tip to get them for Astrid to entertain her on plane trips. Excellent, tried and true idea.

They’ve also served us well in the mornings: I put a few books at one end of A’s crib at night and she “reads” them for half an hour on her own while we get some sleep. The lift-the-flap ones are her favorites, which is understandable since, even after the surprise factor has worn off, they have moving parts.

There are basically two categories. The first is board books for littler kids where the whole page is a flap. (You’ll still end up mending these when you leave them with little Harrington on his own, but he won’t completely destroy them.) The other is for older kids (2+) who have more self-control re: tearing off the exciting flaps: the flaps are little windows within the page. (You can get these for littler ones too, but save them for reading time together.)

In a pre-flight panic last summer, I ran out to a local bookstore to find some of these and was glad I did the shopping in person. Some of the lift-the-flap books, especially for babies, are a little bit lame: not very dynamic or dense illustrations, which you’ll want, since there aren’t really story lines to follow. In San Francisco, the Books, Inc. branch in Laurel Village has a fantastic selection of books for kids, including these. Don’t worry about paying more for shopping off-line – the prices on Amazon for these board books are the same list prices as in stores + you’ll be supporting your local business and getting ones you like better anyway.

Our favorites so far for the two and under crowd: DK Publishing’s Baby Loves Peekaboo and Flaptastic Animals, about $7 on- and off-line.

For older little ones, Gossie and Friends First Flap Book, about $10 on Amazon, is adorable and accessible. 

Self-Checkout

March 5, 2012

Note to self: the self-checkout lane at the grocery store is not for you. Not with a nearly-two-year-old, it’s not. The beeping, the stacking, the inevitable delays because you foolishly purchased – gasp! – a vegetable without a bar code. All that activity + the need for two hands to manage a child + another two to manage a basket of groceries = not for you. Just don’t even look in that direction. Amuse yourselves with People magazine’s cutting edge journalism and the moving belt and just wait your turn in the regular lane. Seriously.