28 March 2009

Billy Jonas "Happy Accidents" CD Review

Billy Jonas isn't Stu Sutcliffe or Pete Best.

I didn't chart the whole family tree, but it's safe to assume this Billy is not one of Thee Jonas Brothers. (Please excuse me linking The Jonas Brothers to The Beatles in any way.)

Mr. Jonas starts his new children's album off with a bang courtesy of the percussive and vocal driven "Eyes Wide Open". The track is spacious, with plenty of room to breath. Yet it's also warm enough to invite you inside and quickly wraps it's arms around you. After 3 minutes, you are sucked in and want to hear more - exactly what "Track 1" is supposed to do.

The dozen or so cuts that follow do not loosen the grip. You will be a captive audience as the CD spins. This is because Jonas manages to reach out from his Asheville, NC home and interact with you,
much like during a live show. This is no small feat of course, considering that recorded material is a more passive experience (than a concert). Within minutes of popping "Happy Accidents" into the stereo both of my kids were moving their arms and shaking their rumps. By the middle of the 2nd song, "Who's Gonna Make Our Music?!", my ladies ran off to grab an empty water bottle and a sauce pan to bang. 'Twas an instant party!

The first couple of tunes get you musically. "Open Sesame", 4 songs in, is where Billy Jonas flexes his lyrical muscle. In the witty ode to common catch phrases Mr. Jonas strings together a myriad of 'em - "Pay Attention", "Watch Your Mouth", "Bite the Dust", etc. - we as adults may hear or even use without much thought but, taken literally, likely sound rather odd to a kid the first time around.

The lyrical cleverness continues on the title track. "Happy Accidents" offers a valuable lesson for kids and adults alike. We learn that many of the famous inventions throughout time were birthed from failure. Penicillin, Corn Flakes and Sticky Notes all started out as something else entirely, something that didn't quite work out. As a father of a 5 year who is very hard on herself when she screws up a painting or misses the backboard playing basketball, "Happy Accidents" is a great conversation starter. It helps to reinforce my message of positivity and creativity in the face of what initially may appear to be a mistake. Next, Jonas follows up his 2002 title track "What Kind Of Cat Are You?!" with the equally brilliant "What Kind of Dog Are You?"
While your youngsters might not catch references to the Bee Gees and Snoop Dogg or understand words like accountant and pigment, but you will. The song, like this entire record, has a little something for everyone.

Not every song hits the mark, at least not in my house. "Get There" is a cool idea (don't sweat the small stuff, you're destined to get to where you want to go) but fails to energize or engage. There is an undeniable spiritual overtone in "You Are Not Alone", an over-reaching song that muddles up the middle of the record. Fortunately, the charming fun returns with "Knock, Knock" and "One Tutu Too Many", both of which incite the giggles and showcase Mr. Jonas' remarkably quick wit and clever kiddie songwriting skills.

Not only is the album a great listen, it's also a great value. While some of the best kid's music to be released this year lasts less than 1/2 hour (Lunch Money, Robbert Bobbert, Gustafer Yellowgold), "Happy Accidents" is 22 tracks long, clocking in at nearly 50 minutes. Hey, were in a recession so value-for-your-entertainment-dollar is worth mentioning...right?

Sample all the songs and buy "Happy Accidents" from CDBaby today.

26 March 2009

Where The Wild Things Are Trailer - WOW!

Never a fan of cherished children's stories being turned into big blockbuster movies (see: Cat in the Hat, The Grinch), I must say that this preview excites far more than it repulses. I'm genuinely giddy to see/learn more about this Spike Jonze film set to be released in October.

The Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" is what you hear in the trailer and I cannot think of a more perfect piece of music for the 2 minutes of action presented here. Enjoy.

A Sucky Spring Day

Wednesday, March 25th 2009 sucked.

The plans weren't grandiose.

We were heading out to Hershey, PA (the sweetest place on Earth, or so they say) for a day of activities inside Chocolate World. The folks from the Zoo were scheduled to be there with baby animals. Hershey Garden(ers) would be on hand with botanical crafts for the kids. The day would be highlighted by a 45-minute puppet show. All that in addition to the faux-factory Choco-tour that is both free and fun - always a delightful combo.

After dinner in town somewhere, we were to head to the Hershey Bears game. Hockey is the Mouse's favorite sport to watch on TV. The game would mark her 1st live sporting event.

Sounds cool, no?

Well, I'm a big doofus and I screwed up the whole day, from the jump. I misread the Hershey website, for starters. All of that fun stuff comprised a one day only event, to mark the start of Spring. That day was not Wednesday March 25th 2009. Silly me thought it was daily stuff starting in Spring. Big difference.

The first thing we did upon entering the Hershey Attraction zone was to buy the hockey tickets. Dumb move. And I should've figured as much. The game wasn't going to sell out. There was no need to plunk down those dollars at midday. We never saw the game. After pulling into Chocolate World at 12:45pm, a cool 6 hours and 15 minutes before the puck would drop, we three discovered that there was ZERO chance of us merrily filling that time. Sure, we could have taken the free factory tour 65 times, but even that would get old after a couple dozen rides. Instead we went to the Hershey Gardens, using our reciprocal Winterthur membership to get in free.
We were the only idiots out there in the Children's Gardens on a chilly, dark-ish, rather blustery March day. That was fun for about 30 minutes. After staring at 3:30 on the car's digital display for about 5 minutes and thinking about the next 3.5 hours until game time, we pulled out and headed for home.

Add a big dose of super-annoyed-at-himself-Dad, a dash of disgruntled kids and the looming 1 hour 15 minute ride home ahead of us and I had a recipe for disaster. The Mouse wasn't jolly, for much of the day, and wasn't getting happier strapped down in the backseat. The Bear did all she could to help, all day long, but it wasn't enough for her sister or, unfortunately, for me.
I screamed WAY too much.
No one wanted to be around me and I shared the sentiment.
The worst "Stay at Home Day" ever, hands down.

The only upside, and it was a minor one in the grand scheme of things? I stopped at the Skechers outlet store in Lancaster on the way home. Retail therapy. There I found, not my exact shoe, but a close replica that was comfy and affordable enough. Shit, I already wasted $20 on a hockey game we weren't going to see and $15 worth of gas. What's $55 ($15 cheaper than in stores but more expensive than on Amazon! It just keeps on getting better!!! Why did I even look) on a much needed pair of wheels for me. See, I only possess 1 pair of proper shoes (not counting my 1 pair of sandals and 1 pair of sneakers) at a time. I wear them out, until holes appear, and then reluctantly begin the search for new ones, knowing full well that they've since stopped making the style I've grown to adore. The models change, but they're always Skechers - that's the constant. At the outlet, they offered a buy 1 get the 2nd pair 1/2 off deal, so I got two of the same shoe - one black, one brown. This way, I won't need new shoes for 3-4 years!

We also saw a ton of cows, some hens, sheep and a smattering of equine on the ride back. I found an Amish free range chicken farm whilst driving around looking for even more animals than the ones visible from Rt. 30. There we bought a dozen brown eggs for $1.25 (that's cheap!)

Those were the "Happy Accidents" after a miserable afternoon. Such is the title of Billy Jonas' wonderfully uplifting new record. A few of the songs have really connected with The Bear and I, but it's the title track that has lead to the best conversations. In the song, Mr. Jonas discusses a few examples of greatness which originally stemmed from failure or mistakes, such as Penicillin (full Billy Jonas CD review tomorrow). There are always lessons in life, everyday something new happens to us or near us or is witnessed. Kids and adults both can glean something from words/actions/situations. Yesterday showed me a lot, much of it I already knew but often we need to see our flaws get SO bad before we act (think: dude who has heart attack before starting to eat better). Yesterday might have been my parenting triple bypass. I know I must change some things about myself in order for my kids to not hate me as they get older. That is the path I'm on right now and it's a very sobering image of life in later years, alone.

You have until the end of the day today, Friday 3/27 to enter the HEXBUGS Giveaway! Do so now!

23 March 2009

Sony Dream Machine - the Perfect CD/Clock Radio for Kids

Unwilling to purchase an iPod + docking station for two kids under 5 years old, we've been through A LOT of Clock Radios for both the Bear and the Mouse. They've all broken down in some form or fashion: stopped playing CD-Rs (which is what we use mostly, making mixes for dancing/sleeping/etc), clock getting stuck with a faded, blinking 12:00, and other maladies that have all ended with a radio in the trash. In general we have dealt with more than our fair share of poorly made products.

The best of the bunch, in performance and price, has been the Sony Dream Machine. The newest version of the Sony Dream Machine offers a sleek design with large, easy to manage buttons affording kids the independence they often desire as they work the controls themselves. In addition to playing our CD-Rs, it also has an iPod input in the front and comes complete with a little white jack for it.

We have two Dream Machines now. One has been in use for 9 months or so and the other for about 3 months. Both continue to work well despite relatively heavy use and being mostly kid-controlled. Not bad for a device priced under $40.

21 March 2009

A Year with Frog & Toad (Made Accessible for All)

The Arden Theater, located in Olde City Philadelphia, is roughly 18 days into a 6-week revival run of A Year with Frog & Toad (through 4/19/09). Originally staged at The Arden in 2004, the classic stories by Arnold Lobel come to life brilliantly once again in the nimble hands (and tenor voices) of real-life best friends Jeffrey Coon and Ben Dibble, both veterans of Philly's theater world.

OWTK was in the house on Friday evening, 3/13. Turns out that the performance was a joint venture between The Arden and Art Reach to provide live theater to those who may not normally get to experience and enjoy it. There was close captioning in the margins of the stage, hearing devices available which amplified the performers' microphones, playbills in large print and Braille, and most impressively, two American Sign Language professionals on stage, shadow signing the entire play. For the Bear, who is still eagerly absorbing any and all ASL lessons she can via Signing Time! DVDs and the iPhone Application, it was a revelation. Additionally, the actors themselves learned (or knew) enough sign language to chip in with the ASL communication and also interact with the sign language pros at various times throughout the 90 minute show - a really touching gesture, to weave the signing into the performance itself.

Our initial thoughts, upon learning of the evening's theatrical accoutrements, were slightly negative. We felt that the standard performance, the one we thought we'd be seeing, may be interrupted or altered in some way. We were completely wrong. If anything, the show was enhanced tremendously, even for those in the audience who didn't require special assistance. Simply a beautiful night of theater for one and all.

A Year with Frog and Toad blends together many of Lobel's treasured stories, including "The Garden", "Cookies", "A Swim", "The Letter" (which features some of the funniest moments as Snail reemerges throughout both acts of the play slowly making his way to Toad's house), "Alone", "Down The Hill", "The Kite" and the charming "Christmas Eve". The live orchestra plays through a spirited, playful score that serves the action well. Once we got home, we purchased the Broadway Original Cast recording of A Year With Frog & Toad online. The music is terrific and the Bear is loving her ability to relive and act out the play at home. I cannot recommend enough that you take your kids to see A Year With Frog & Toad at The Arden. It is one of the funniest, most gentle and endearing kid's shows I've ever seen.

Looks like there is another accessible performance of A Year with Frog and Toad on Saturday April 4, 2009 at The Arden!

Check out other upcoming accessible Philly Arts Events, including James and the Giant Peach and The Berentstain Bears!

Roxio Easy VHS to DVD Software Giveaway Winner

Carrie of Rhubarbsky is the lucky winner of the Roxio VHS to DVD software giveaway!

Thanks to all who entered.

20 March 2009

OWTK's Best Of NYC Toy Fair '09 - Part 2 plus a Giveaway!

Did you miss Part 1 and the OWTK Essence of Toy Fair? Get caught up now!

HEXBUGS (Scroll to the bottom for a HEXBUG Giveaway!)
Hexbugs had a gorgeous booth upstairs at Toy Fair '09. Inside, the bugs were spastic, crawling all over their display platforms. 'Twas a very active scene, into which I didn't enter. Fortunately for me (and for a pair of lucky winners to be determined - see below) I've been in touch with the Hexbug folks post-Toy Fair and have had a chance to demo a few of their products.

For a bunch of mechanical insects, Hexbugs are unusually adorable, especially the crab (the blue one in this photo). While you probably won't be snuggling up with the things in bed, you certainly will not rush to call the exterminator either. The evolution of Hexbugs is evident and exciting to witness. The original bug reacts to touch and sound, with it's wire-thin antenna's recognizing any contact. That contact then triggers the creature's legs to move backwards in an frantic attempt to escape. Very, very clever.

The Crab, my personal favorite, is sensitive to light and sound. It's simply a hoot to play with. A couple nights ago the kids and I grabbed the flashlight and could be heard screaming "Meatloaf!" and "Hey You!" at our red Crab. When the Mrs. came home, having not yet learned what these bugs do and react to, I yelled "attack!" and sent my Crab towards her. Her defense was an emphatic "stop!" thinking the thing was truly voice controlled. The girls and I were hysterical. Her voice, of course, only served to keep the bug moving towards her place at the table.

Finally, the Inchwom became the first Hexbug fully controllable by a tiny remote. The remote is very finicky, we found, needing to be pointed directly at the inchworm for the sensor to pick up your commands. Still it's pretty neat to swirl the Inchworm around and march it forward or backward. We had some enjoyable fight sequences between the Crab and the Inchworm.

The newest Hexbug, which I've not seen, is the Ant. It moves by touch, like the Original, but has wheels that allow it to really zoom around.

The HEXBUGS are durable, withstanding numerous falls from 3 feet+. They're extremely original toys that most any kid would love to play with and enjoy using to scare their friends, siblings and parents. The recommended age for Hexbugs is 8 and up but my 5 and nearly-2 year old played nicely with them when supervised. Left alone for a just a moment though, the bugs could be a victim of toddler crime. For example, the Mouse pulled one of the Original's antennas, unwinding it completely. It doesn't seem to be repairable, yet still is sensitive to touch, even in it's elongated state. Maybe that 8+ recommendation makes sense after all!

See below for your chance to win a HEXBUG of your very own!
Check out the HEXBUG website

Prince Lionheart Balance Bike
I was told by a couple folks at Toy Fair that it's better if your child never uses training wheels. Seems the safety and security of those two little wheels stunts their bike riding development. Instead, there are bikes with just two tires and zero pedals. A child balances themselves with their feet on the ground and simply pushes themselves around. They are supposed to quickly understand the jittery nature of a 2-wheeler and adjust their bodies accordingly, thus developing the coordination needed to ride a big kid bike quicker. I dig the idea and while there were several bike companies unveiling these types of bikes, I liked the Prince Lionheart Balance Bike the best. Prince Lionheart, the company behind those cool Wheely Bugs and bebePod Baby Seats, launched their bike at the Fair. It's got a classic racer-style with #73 on the front and is designed with subtlety (which I love). It's fashioned from a light wood, looking like something you'd find in IKEA, and is already available for purchase.

Mr. Men/Little Miss Puzzles
I'm slowly realizing that the Little Miss & Mr. Men movement is in full swing across America. The evidence of this can be found on end-caps in Target, Claire's Cheap Jewelry Stores and also at Toy Fair NYC '09. Usually, you'll see Little Miss Sunshine, Giggles and Chatterbox - they're the usual suspects. The men, or should I say the Mr. Men, have been a little neglected...until now! Here you see 24 piece puzzles for Mr. Tickle and Mr. Bump and the mini-puzzles of Mr. Happy and Mr. Noisy. The Bear has about 2 dozen of the books (I think Little Miss Contrary is the funniest) and is rather excited about puzzles, and so am I!

Rad Dogs (by Douglas Cuddle Toys)
A very hip, very soft stuffed animal line of dogs with a pretty rad name. Ok, I'm partial to the word Rad, and that's what caught my eye as I wandered past Douglas' enormous upstairs booth at Toy Fair '09. The dogs have neat (or, you could say Rad!) names like Sunny Side Up (the big one pictured here) and would make a very unique gift for either a boy or a girl dog lover.
Check out all the Rad Dogs available.


Want a Hexbug in your home? Just leave a comment here before 11:59 pm (ET) on Friday March 27th 2009 and you'll have a chance to win one of 2 Hexbugs. I have an original and a crab to give away to 2 lucky readers!

17 March 2009

Mellow Fever - The OWTK Review of the new Gustafer Yellowgold DVD/CD

It's always a happy day when new Gustafer Yellowgold songs surface...and today is that day! Our little buddy from the sun is back with 11 new tales. He's as cute & quirky as he was when we first met him over 2 years (and 2 DVDs) ago.

The new batch of mellow yellow songs from Morgan Taylor & Co. are texturally rich and more
lyrically complex than prior efforts. Yet, at the same time, the cuts that comprise "Mellow Fever" maintain the dreamy pop sound that has made Gustafer Yellowgold such a phenomenon in the children's music world.

For the uninitiated, songs & videos in Gustafer Yellowgold's World are like mini theatrical productions capable of standing alone or as part of a whole. This is possible because there isn't a linear storyline within each CD/DVD. While this format remains true on Mellow Fever, there are now these short lead-ins (5 to 20 seconds each) before every song/video - entertaining interludes that help flesh out the story while bridging the narrative gap between the tunes. These added A/V clips make the disc feel more like a holistic piece of work and less like a collection of kick-ass You Tube clips. A perfect touch, one that I hope Mr. Taylor continues to employ going forward.

As for the songs themselves, we discover some added details about our hero's time on the Sun and his eventual voyage to Earth. "Butter Pond Lake" tells of the Yellowgold's favorite watering hole, a warm relaxing retreat complete with darkening bugs, the Sun's version of fireflies. We witness Gustafer's emotional farewell to his parents and his dog, Ray, on "Sunpod". A song that serves as the visual prequel to the GY classic "Your Eel" and also where we learn of the architectural influences for Gusty's Minnesota home. We also meet a couple new friends on the sweet "Sugar Boat" and "Quite Easily Lost" (featuring Lisa Loeb).

It took a little time before the greatness of "Mellow Fever" made itself audibly evident to me. Save for the danceable "Panther Stamps Pants," the new songs seemed, at first blush, less catchy then the tunes on "Wide Wild World" and "Have You Never Been Yellow?". As a result, the music didn't instantly connect with me or the kids when we first watched the DVD.

Everything changed when the CD entered the car. Once the focus of the new stories and instrumentation was isolated to my ears, I quickly came down with a severe case of Mellow Fever. I know why the record didn't immediately click for me. It's been the pattern of great music hitting my humble ears, it takes a while for the layers of beautiful sound to penetrate my novice musical brain. Of the records that have proven their staying power in my library, nearly all of 'em provoked melancholy reactions initially.

So I needed to start with just the music and once I did, the subtle grace of the tracks was undeniable. Now the visuals, which deserve their own glowing review entirely, make perfect sense and are equally brilliant. Thinking about it now, it's almost ridiculous that the songs didn't click the first time because they are so insanely wonderful.

While each and every song is gorgeous to look at and listen to, for me, "Mellow Fever" is all about it's closing act. The disc's finale "Constellation Pies," contains the fewest words of any GY tune yet is the prettiest and most musically creative. As the song unfolds an elegant french horn plays through the refrain of each of the previous 10 tracks. On the DVD, the main image from each song appears in the sky as a constellation, high above Gustafer as he rests in the grass. It's magnificent and utterly sublime and, in just 3 minutes, encapsulates the greatness of what Morgan Taylor has created in Gustafer Yellowgold.

I've no doubt that "Mellow Fever" will be in the running for the Kid's Record of the 2009. There is simply no weak moment here and I declare, without hesitation, that
"Mellow Fever" is Morgan Taylor's most accomplished work to date.

Also included on the DVD, a hilarious mockumentary called "Looking for Gustafer Yellowgold". The grainy footage, goofy interviews and hilarious reenactments are so authentic you'll start to believe the thing could actually run on the History or Discovery Channel.

Enough of my words, GO NOW and BUY "Mellow Fever" directly from Yellowgold Headquarters!

16 March 2009

They've Been Plotting All Winter

It took them over 2 years, but those little bastards finally figured out the (now in quotes) "Squirrel Proof" Droll Yankee bird feeder that hangs in our backyard.

I rose this morning to find this acrobatic little devil enoying a black oil seed breakfast at our expense. As you can see, the secret seems to be hanging upside-down by your hind legs then pulling your squirrel-self up so that your little squirrel mouth is positioned directly at one of the openings.

Seems this new generation of squirrels, much like our modern-day athletes with their as-yet-undetectable human growth hormones, is one step ahead of The Man.

I emailed Droll Yankee (no response yet) to alert them of this fact
with the much-too-threatening claim that "I HAVE PICTURES!!!" - probably coming off more like a man who's discovered a cheating spouse then one who simply has clever squirrels in residence.

Here's how it's supposed to work (and did for a while):

15 March 2009

Night of the Spadefoot Toads - OWTK Book Review

Bill Harley, yes that Bill Harley - winner of 2, count 'em 2, Grammy Awards, is also an accomplished author. When we saw him perform in Philly last year, I purchased three copies of his latest tome, Night of the Spadefoot Toads. It's not because I thought I'd want to read it more than once. The autographed books, copies 1 & 2 anyway, served as Christmas gifts to my two 10 year old nieces. I don't believe either of 'em have gotten around to reading it yet. It may have to wait until summertime, what with all the boring schoolwork kids are forced to do these days...blah.
The 3rd copy was for moi and I've finally gotten a chance to read it.

After he signed the book for me on that cool night in Philly, another audience member/customer asked me why I bought the Spadefoot Toad book (as opposed to his others). I told her that I'd read a bit about it and liked the idea of an author exploring not just a child adopting a cause, as there have been numerous books and films mining that subject, but really diving into the actual effects a headstrong passion can have on the life of a youngster. That is to say, looking at how the child's relationships, both at home and school, weaken and, naturally, how his/her schoolwork suffers. The combination of that level of narrative depth along with Bill's unique voice, which I already adore, made the book a must-read.

After reading the book, my initial reasons for purchasing were confirmed. Harley does a wonderful job channeling the pain and frustration of an adolescent boy who feels displaced and lonely as he navigates new surroundings and fights for an unlikely friend. For Ben Moroney, a curious, outdoorsy 5th grader, the grass was greener in the desert. There's zero he finds redeeming about his new Massachusetts environment yet with the help of an equally out-of-place science teacher (Mrs. Tibbets), Ben discovers that hope and a love of one's own backyard can be powerful weapons, even in the hands of a kid.

Night of the Spadefoot Toads is a remarkably enjoyable read for both youngsters and grown ups, especially those who, like Mrs. Tibbets, too often feel that they can no longer afford the luxury of hope. Ben shows us that persistance and a child-like zeal for doing-what's-right can, if only sometimes, help overcome incredibly long odds.

The Bear, age 5, is enjoying hearing several chapters of the story each evening. The Mrs. is in the process of reading it aloud to her at bedtime, a ritual which has replaced the Bear's previous bedtime routine of listening to Bill Harley's amusing kiddie bedtime stories CD "The Town Around The Bend".

Now through the end of March, to celebrate the book's Green Earth Award and Bill's latest Grammy Award, the official Bill Harley online merch table is offering 20% off both Night of the Spadefoot Toads and his tremendous Yes To Running! DVD and/or CD. Go there now! Support a great children's artist and a fine man, while scoring some award winning swag for your family.

13 March 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland - OWTK Movie Review

The final 10 minutes will frustrate but the opening 86 will dazzle. Phoebe in Wonderland, released to theaters on March 6th, is an enchanting tale of a family struggling with a difficult 9 year old girl (beautifully played by Elle Fanning - Dakota's kid sis).

Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent, Lars and the Real Girl) is the most under appreciated great actress working today and steals every scene she's in. Clarkson is cast as the left-of-center drama teacher at Phoebe's school. As the film progresses we see her as the grown-up version of the title character.

Phoebe in Wonderland is a delicate, darling of a film that I recommend for any parent who, like me, longs for their children to be truly unique individuals. Mature tweens (10-13) should also be allowed to see this one. While the emotional swings of Phoebe and the usually-kept-from-kids parental exchanges could alarm, the overall message of the film, if discussed afterwards, may be very rewarding.

There's one scene in particular that captures, with a raw honesty rarely found in Hollywood films, just how maddening the business of parenting can be at times. Phoebe's mom, played magnificently by Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), is out in the yard. She's aggressively and haphazardly tossing leaves around with a rake, working out of anger not to produce a tidy lawn. She confesses to her husband (Bill Pullman) all the things that make her mad as a mother trying to figure out how to play the unique cards dealt her. The scene is brilliantly scripted and filmed. It'll touch a nerve with any involved mom or dad.

If you have children, and considering that you're reading OWTK you probably do, you should go see Phoebe in Wonderland. The film gets wrapped up a bit too neatly, but the path it takes to get there is a thing of beauty.

Check to see where Phoebe in Wonderland is playing near you.

12 March 2009

Tween Dora - More Crap for Our Oversexed Society

'Twas only a matter of time. Eventually the masterminds behind Dora the Explorer would realize that there's even more money to be made if they sex her up, move her to a hipper 'hood and focus her attention on high fashion and accessorizing (you know, the things girls are SUPPOSED to care about the most). Here you see the silhouette of the new Dora, this mysterious big-head-Bratz-esque image is all that's been revealed thus far.
Oh, and the target market for new Dora - girls ages 5 and up! Awesome!

In my wildest dreams, the launch of Tween Dora would cause a seismic shift in the parenting world. We as a nation of smart grown-ups finally become alarmed enough to see the Dora franchise for what it truly is - a big, fat marketing gimmick to rip dollars away from us and homogenize our brilliant, imaginative young people effectively turning them into numb, average adults. In this dream, the Dora machine suffers greatly at this startling parental revelation and Dora's corporate pimps are forced to backtrack, and
quickly (think: "New Coke"). The outrage from actively-engaged parents, none of whom want their amazing 5, 6, 7 year old girls to suddenly follow their bi-lingual on-screen adventurous tomboy into an empty world where the mirror is king (or queen, in this case), is so honest and overwhelming that Dora's keepers issue an apology for adding yet another shallow, body-image obsessed tart into the world.

More likely, parents already outfitting their youngsters with Dora sneakers, Dora backpacks and Dora underwear will embrace her Tweenage version. They'll see her as the natural progression for their darling princess as she grows up the RIGHT WAY - the way young ladies must be in our modern, advanced society. You know the profile, right? Ultra-short shorts with SASSY/JUICY/SWEET scripted on their asses. TXT MSGing all night, locked away in their rooms alone. Girls being girls we're sold, er, told.

Well, I call bullshit on that. Women, young or not, need not be beholden to the passing gaze of the opposite gender, the learned self-hatred at the hands of rags like Cosmo, or the hipness of a certain shade of lip gloss. And girls most certainly do not need to spend countless hours of their formative years digitally changing "the look" of a damn doll.

If you're concerned parent of a Dora loving kiddo, sign the petition to Say No to Dora's makeover. Then spend a moment looking at some toys/dolls that are appropriate for a young, imaginative girl - there are plenty of 'em, believe it or not - check this out.

10 March 2009

A Pink Whale and A Very Tall Tree - New Kid's Music

Check out this new video for the track "The Pink Whale", from Shana Barry's debut children's record A Pink Whale and A Very Tall Tree (an album with a storyline that may have even Gustafer Yellowgold beat in the originality department).

Think early-Iron & Wine recordings (only with female vocals) over top a Maurice Sendak story.

A tad weird, yes. But a captivating, peaceful video/song. Enjoy!

Roxio Easy VHS to DVD Software Giveaway

I wanted so badly to test out the new Roxio Easy VHS to DVD software then review it here on OWTK. I have a pile of precious vinyl from my old indie rock days that I'd very much like to rip into my iTunes Library and listen to with the touch of a button (as opposed to having to break out, and dust off, the turntable).

I also have some old VHS tapes from when the Bear, my 1st child, was born - footage from her first year or so that I haven't seen in 4+ years. I figured many parents are in this exact predicament and finding quality VHS to DVD transfer software would be a treasure.

So why haven't you seen a review of Roxio Easy VHS to DVD yet? The damn thing is PC only. I'm Mac only. We're not meant to be together.

My folks and brothers are all non-Apple households but I haven't yet had the motivation or inclination to lug my crate of vinyl and old camcorder over to their homes, commandeer their computers and install new software on their hard drives.

Instead of all that business I've decided to give my sealed, unopened copy of Roxio Easy VHS to DVD away to one (1) lucky OWTK reader. Want it? Leave a comment here telling me either your favorite LP that you'd love to make digital OR your favorite camcorder moment (from way back when - funny story/scene that you captured and haven't watched in forever).
Do so before 11:59 pm (ET) on Wednesday, March 18th 2009 and you might just be the lucky winner.

Don't want to wait? Buy Roxio Easy VHS To DVD now!

09 March 2009

CD Giveaway Winners

Congrats to EllyBean and Diane! You've both won a copy of the fantastic new Robbert Robbert and Bubble Machine CD.

Cheers also to Kelly and Katie! You have both won a Putumayo Kids Set featuring World and Folk Playground CDs.

05 March 2009

Free Kid's Music - MAMA DONI's "I Love Purim!"

Between Charity and the JAMBand and MAMA DONI, you as a parent of a music lovin' kiddo can fill up an entire CD-R with quality children's music...all while your credit card (or iTunes account balance) remains untouched.

To celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, MAMA DONI is giving away her latest 4 song EP "I Love Purim!" to all takers, for the whole of March!

Head on over to her website and download it for free today!

Good Egg - OWTK Book Review

It's that time of year again. You've already made (and potentially abandoned) your Lenten sacrifice. Now for the really hard part...deciding what to put inside your kid's Easter Baskets!!!

Sure, you could go 100% candy - but how original is that? Good thing Barney Saltzberg's around. He's crafted a quirky, interactive hardcover book that will make your toddlers and preschoolers squeal with delight each and every read.

Good Egg features kid-initiated action on each page, including a rare opportunity to play catch with an egg, and an adorable pop-up payoff at the end. It's an ideal Easter Basket stuffer for children ages 1-5 and will look positively smashing resting atop plastic grass along side peeps, M&Ms and what-have-you. And as a 6 inch square, Good Egg is just the right size for most baskets.

Buy Good Egg today!

04 March 2009

OWTK Reviews iPhone Apps for Kids - Part 2

...and here is the 2nd and final installment (for now) of OWTK's iPhone Apps for Kids Review. Miss Part 1? No worries, get caught up by clicking here.

Signing Time! ($9.99) - At ten bucks, Signing Time! is by far the most expense app I've ever purchased. My girls have recently become addicted little ASL students thanks to a single Signing Time! DVD and this app is the perfect on-the-go compliment to the video instruction. The Signing Time! App features flippable flash cards that allow you to take your ASL studies with you. A vibrant picture of a word or action is on one side and Rachel Colman's instructions are on the other, simply touch the screen to toggle between the two. A 3-10 second video clip of the sign is also available from the flash card screen for each and every sign, along with 3 music videos. I'm hoping that, for a 10 dollar app, more music and more words/signs are added in future updates. Overall, this is a wonderful app with more educational value than your average iPhone app (see "iFart").

iFluff (free) - a scaled-down, free webkinz/Nintendo DS' "Nintendogs"-esque game that is okay for about 5 minutes. After your child pets their frog/dog/cat/penguin/etc, feds him or her, wins a race, and buys some more food the animal will likely scoff at after eating, your kid will get bored of iFluff much like the Bear did. Yes, it's free so there is no downside but expect to delete this one shortly after downloading it.

iKids Play ($2.99) - A very creative application for kids that marries 5 function in one, all centered around a story. Kid's can have a book read to them as the pages turn on the screen, they can read the story themselves while recording their voice, color the pages or rub the pages clean (displaying the images underneath). There is also a blank canvas painting option. Currently there are two apps to purchase, each offering the same concept with a different story. OWTK purchased The Catepillar's Dream and is very pleased with it. Because there are so many things to do, including the ability to record your child reading aloud (with no time limit) as the words appear on the screen. Unlike most adults, the Bear loves to hear her own voice as she reads aloud.

iSteam (free) - a clever little app that lets you mimic the fun of writing your name and drawing pictues on foggy car windows or a shower door. With iSteam you blow into the iPhone microphone to steam up pictures from your own photo library. Pretty fun for a free app, if only for the neat ability to create steam by blowing into a phone.

ESPN Cameraman (free) - This is one of the 1st apps I downloaded and still is one of the Bear's favorites. Just recently they added a deluxe version that certainly sounds impressive (I haven't yet upgraded). This is a sports themed game where you must find 5 differences between 2 nearly identical photos while you race against the clock. 1 problem with the free version is the lack of photos.
You play ESPN Camerman 10-20 times and you will start to see the same images over and over again. The deluxe package claims to include a lot more photos and the ability to select certain sports or just avoid others (in case you don't want your kiddo to see boxing pictures, for example). You can also play this game over at ESPN, on your computer.

iHandy Level (free) - maybe they didn't plan for it, but the handy level makes a neat tool for little kids pretending to be repairman and woman (as the Bear does). It's also just a hoot for youngsters to make the bubble in the center swim back and forth across the level itself. So, not only is this useful for adults, it can be a nice distraction for the kiddies as well ("go check that all the dressers are level, honey!").

03 March 2009

OWTK's Best Of NYC Toy Fair '09 Toys - Part 1

During my 2 days at Toy Fair 2009 I saw a TON of kid's stuff - doll babies, puzzles, stuffed animals and action figures, among other trinkets and accessories.

I decided to feature about a dozen products that I thought were unique or just plain cool. Here's the first installment of OWTK's Best Of NYC Toy Fair '09 Toys!

Evolvems - a brand new, totally original stuffed animal designed to bring evolutionary science to life in your child's hands. Invented by a super nice fella named Avram Kaufman, these Darwin-esque pals "evolve" before your eyes when you unzip their bellies and turn them inside out. Suddenly, your pal has traversed millions of years and, thanks to evolution and a clever toy idea, your child has a brand new animal to play with. Reverse the process to journey back in time. Not sure how Evolvems will go over in every household, afterall it'd sure be hard to explain what's inside the zipper if the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Evolvems have not yet been brought to market, but that will change in the coming months. OWTK will let you know when and where these inventive animals can be purchased. In the meantime, check out the fascinating Evolvems Blog for cool science facts and tidbits.

Global Green Pals - Cleverly named dolls, in the spirit of The Cabbage Patch Kids (Clean Air Kate, Recycle Kyle), inspire our children to think and act responsibly about the environment. Made with organic fabrics and stuffing the Global Green Pals walk the walk when it comes to our role as Earth's steward. Through their detailed back story and a yet to-be-determined web/networking component (think Webkinz with a purpose), the eco-pals help strengthen the bond between our kids and the natural world. The company behind Global Green Pals shows their dedication to the mission by donating 1% of all sales to the organization 1% For The Planet. The Global Green Pals were introduced to the world at Toy Fair 2009. As soon as they become available for purchase, OWTK will let you know.

WorryWoo Monsters - A longtime fave of the OWTK household, the WorryWoo Monsters made their Toy Fair debut this year. Andi Green and her team built one of the best "small booth" displays at the Fair. From the color coordinated carpeted dots to the huge wrap-around banners to the tiered cubes constructed to imitate the warmth of a neighborhood bookstore amidst the cavernous Toy Fair environs - the WorryWoo area was stunning...and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that took notice. Buy your 1st edition (and Award Winning!) WorryWoo books and adorable plush dolls today.

Lolo Games (Don't Make Me Laugh Jr./Run Around Fractions)
- Lolo Games president Charlie Paul was at Toy Fair to feature his new game of giving called The Santa Game. A clever concept in a materialistic world - to win this game you must give away everything you start with. While I appreciate the idea behind The Santa Game, what really struck me were 2 other Lolo Games perfect for a recessionary world in which family game night could (and should) make a strong comeback. The Don’t Make Me Laugh Jr. Board Game is a hilarious way to bring the family together and have them chuckling all night. Game cards ask the players to act out a variety of improvisational movements (pretend to play tennis, act like a sprinkler, etc). Don't Make Me Laugh Jr. (also available in Sr. format) is the ideal answer to a family's question of how to spend an inexpensive, yet fun night at home in these tough economic times.

The other Lolo game that interested me is Run Around Fractions. This interactive math game has both indoor and outdoor activities and can be played solo or in large groups. I love teaching math to the Bear and will be picking this one up myself for outdoor, active learning this Spring/Summer.

Around The Clock - This product, from Beanstalk Express, was one of the more unique at the Fair. There is a big clock with the actual time positioned above 3 manually operated clocks, and beneath each of those 3 is a hook. On those hooks, parents place a card from one of 3 "Survival Decks" focusing on the sometimes-hard-to-manage kiddie goodies - Screen Time, Snack Time and After School Activities. Around The Clock seeks to make parenting easier by making children choose their desired treats for the day and allowing us as Moms & Dads set the time in which they can be enjoyed. Seems like a tremendously useful tool to initiate dialogue with a child about making choices in life and healthy eating while instilling personal responsibility (an attribute missing from so many people in today's society). Around The Clock is not yet in stores, but will be soon! Stay tuned to OWTK for more information in the months to come.

02 March 2009

National Recess Week - Putumayo Playground CD Giveaway!

The whole idea of National Recess Week is to get kids on their feet and enjoying active, calorie burning fun. Lively music is a great way to get toes tapping and kids up bouncing about the house while playing with something other than handheld video games. Last year, I designed these funny I Heart/Love Recess T-Shirts for kids and their nostalgic parents.

Putumayo Kids' Playground collection of CDs might be just the ticket to a fun world-music dance party. The Playground series is jam-packed with upbeat sounds for dancing and playtime. The first CD in the series, World Playground, was released in 1999 and continues to be a favorite of music lovers everywhere.

Next up this year will be European Playground in May and Picnic Playground in July. Additionally, a "Putumayo Presents Picnic Playground" concert tour is planned for this summer.

Putumayo Kids is the children’s and educational division of Putumayo World Music, with a goal of introducing children to other cultures through music. Putumayo Kids is truly a global record label, with millions of records sold in more than 100 countries around the world.


Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite recess game or activity was as a school-age child. Do so before 11:59 PM (ET) on Saturday March 7th, 2009 and you'll have a chance to win a Putumayo Playground CD set!
Each set will include the CDs "World Playground", the 1st ever Playground CD from Putumayo, and "Folk Playground" featuring tracks from Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Trout Fishing in America and Elizabeth Mitchell among many others).

Don't forget that you have until the end of the day today to win a copy of the Robbert Bobbert and The Bubble Machine CD. Enter now!