Sunday, March 27, 2011

Department 19 by Will Hill

It's rare for me to write a book review when I'm still reading a book.  In fact, this is the first time I've ever done so.  But Department 19 by Will Hill is an amazing, creepy, delightful book.  With characters taken from the greatest "monster" books ever written, such as Frankenstein and Dracula, the author brings these Gothic characters to life in our 21st century world complete with cell phones and the ever-annoying paperwork required from any governmental agency.

I won this book through the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing, and I'm so glad that I did!  I would never have picked up this book on my own.  (Hmm, that means I'm too set in my ways when it comes to choosing books, time to switch genres.)  What a wonderful break from all the "Twilight lookalikes" flooding the market right now.  That's not even a fair comparison; those books are about finding love in spite of unexpected circumstances, while Department 19 is about the monsters under your bed and the government agency that's supposed to protect you from them.

Unless the 2nd half of the book bombs, I'm giving Department 19 by Will Hill a 5 out of 5 star rating.  I will add that it does help to have an idea of who the characters were in books like Dracula and Frankenstein, but it's not entirely necessary.
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quite Possibly the Best Invention Ever (and it's not the iPad, Oprah!)

Children love repetition.   At some point in their lives, all kids get "hooked" on one story and want to read it every night.  Every. Single. Night.  I suppose the same is true for movies, TV shows, and even toys.  My favorite book when I was a little kid was a Sesame Street book called "The Monster At the End of This Book," starring Grover.  I loved that book, for some unknown reason, and obviously I still remember it fondly all these years later.  After reading it to me a few thousand times, I bet my brothers hated that book!

So, to get to the point of this post, Recordable Storybooks are The Best Invention Ever

My mom bought one for James called All the Ways I Love You** (a Hallmark title) and recorded herself reading the book.   To say that James loves his book is like saying the surface of the sun is a little warm.

First, the technical details: There's a plastic bar across the bottom of the book, and the batteries and the buttons to record/erase are inside a compartment that is locked with a screw, so you don't have to worry about it "accidentally" getting erased.  You can take your time recording yourself, and once you're happy with how you sound, lock it and you're done.  There are 2 buttons your child can push, and even though they do nothing, because the erase button is secure, I have a tiny heart attack every time James pushes those buttons.  I imagine these buttons add to his enjoyment of the thing though, since every child LOVES to press buttons.

The book works by having light hit each page as you turn them, so you do need to read it in good light.  When the light doesn't hit the book right, it won't trigger the recording for that page. James fully believes "his Nini" is actually in the little plastic compartment on the book.  The second time he was "reading" the book, we didn't know about the light thing yet.  When he turned the page and nothing happened, James proceeded to tap on the plastic compartment saying "Nini...NINI! Where'd you go?" (I actually got that on video!!) Priceless!!

Why is it the Best Invention Ever?  There are many, many reasons.  Here's a few that came to my mind tonight:
1. It's a book that, once it's recorded, requires nothing more from you but provides endless entertainment for your little one.

2. Family members who live far away can read to their little ones every night.

3. The voice of a loved one who has passed away can give comfort to a child who can only understand that they're not coming over any more.

4. For slightly older children, you can record them reading the book, so you can listen to their sweet little voice later when you no longer recognize the angst-ridden teenager stomping around the house.

5. I think one should be given to every deployed soldier of this country, for every family left wondering every day if their hero is still saving lives on the other side of the world.

6. Books become friends, or the characters in them do, and having kids realize this early is the key to better learning experiences later in life.  Study after study has proved that reading to your child every day will make them smarter and more successful later in life.

7. VCR tapes are probably impossible to use any more (we certainly don't have a player anymore.)  DVDs are being replaced by Blu-ray disks already.  With how fast technology develops, any generic recording device will most likely not make it to your child's 12th birthday.  This book requires nothing more than batteries to keep working.

8. You can let your child take the book wherever they want and not have to worry about them destroying an electrical device, especially not your $800 iPad that you "just can't live without."  Well, okay, there is one exception: water damage would ruin  the book and probably the recording device too.  But those iPad commercials that show a child falling asleep in bed while the parent reads to them over an Internet connection...would you let your 3-year-old (or even your 8-year-old) take your $800 iPad into another room, much less to bed?    Um, no.

9. Even though we live close by and James gets to see her at least once a month, he can now hear his beloved Nini's voice whenever he wants. 
-----Just think of the power a child gets from this book: they control the story, the pace, the place, and how often it's read to them.  Can you imagine?  For a child who is told what to do from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed, this has to be an incredible experience.

10. Eventually the words of the story are memorized, and the child can then make the leap into reading actual words, so there is an educational benefit as well.

11. If you haven't already, it's a terrific opportunity to teach your child to respect books, how to handle them and how special a book can make them feel.

12. These recorded books are awesome for when you are tired of reading the same book over and over and over, or for those busy days when reading time just gets lost in the rush.

13. Most importantly these books have powerful and positive messages in them, and a child can never hear "I love you" too often, especially from the people s/he loves and depends on.

Thirteen reasons should be enough.  Go buy at least one of these and give your child a wonderful gift that will mean more than any iPod or Zhu Zhu pet or whatever "must-have" toy is all the craze right now.
The list of books from Hallmark is already satisfactory with something for all kids.  And it's not just the same old classics like "Good Night Moon," either, which I'm sorry but I HATE.  What child is fed "a bowlful of mush" or gets to leave a bowl of food sitting in their room all night long?  By the next morning it would be a bowlful of cement.  Admit it, you'd be mad at having to clean dried "mush" out of one your dishes. And what is mush anyway?  Oatmeal?  And some lady is in the corner of the room all night long?  That's pretty creepy.  Children's books leave me with so many questions.....  Yes, I know rhyming is important; how about rhyming words we use in the 21st century?  Good grief, I'm supposed to be convincing you to go one, not make you hate ofe the titles....
Hopefully this link takes you to Hallmark's list of their titles; you may have to click on "See All" once you jump over.  I also just saw this on the Hallmark site, and I'm excited about getting one of these too:
I have a book called All About Us that my husband and I filled out when we knew we knew had something really special.  It's rather funny to go back and read it now.  It's amazing how time, marriage, jobs and kids change your life as the years go by and you don't even know it's happening.  It's like a snapshot of our lives back then, and I hope these books will do something along the same lines.

I admit that I'd love to be able to capture James's personality right now; he is a fun, happy and amazing 5-year-old. I'd keep it for when I forget, when I'm too busy or too caught up in Life's problems to take the time to remember all the little things that, in the end, make us what we are.  I already look back at pictures from just 2 years ago and it's hard to remember what was going on, what their significance is.

I admit that I have no clue how to get us going down the path of capturing personality for posterity, so these books are yet another reason for me to actually make the drive to the closest Hallmark store.  As long as it's for more than one thing, I'm okay with having to make the drive.  And James is always up for "an adventure."

**A special note: my mother paid approx. $25 for All the Ways I Love You, a very fair price in my opinion, and as of this posting, my link in this article goes to a copy listed for close to that amount on from an Amazon seller, not the actual which has fair and set prices.  In my search for the other 2 "Cooper" books published by Hallmark, I found the prices around the web for these Hallmark In-Store Only items can be as much as double the list price!  My recommendation is to find this book and others like it by going into a Hallmark store and don't pay these online price-gouging opportunists!
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stuffed Animal + Reading = FUN!!

My son is in Pre-K and both my husband and I are "readers," so our son has grown up seeing us with books all the time. We've read books to him since he was an infant, and I can honestly say it's his favorite time of the day. He loves his books, and he's also a kid who loves stuffed animals, so we've found an awesome toy for him.  (And that doesn't drive us insane; I HATE those darn Kung Zhu hamsters!)

Hallmark's Cooper the Bear is an Interactive Story Buddy.  He currently has 3 story books out: Cooper's Big Bear Hug, Cooper's Rainy Day and Cooper's Bedtime.  The bear responds to certain sentences in the books as you read, and it's so cute. James already gets very "into" every story, but with Cooper, it's even more exciting for him.

It took us about a half-hour of fiddling with the on/off switch on Cooper's ear, but after that we had no problems. One of the phrases that triggers a response is "Cooper, I love you!" As such, my son now says it to the bear ALL the time. The bear responds back with "I love you too", and James just giggles and gets excited.  If he were a girl, I'd say that it tickles him pink, but he's not, so that would be weird.  And really, no child can ever hear "I love you!" too much, so it's his building self-esteem as well.

Regardless of the talking aspect, Cooper is a well-made, soft teddy bear. He does have a battery pack inside him, covered with his fur by Velcro, so I would only recommend this toy to children old enough to understand to leave it alone. The battery pack also has a master on/off button, so you can turn him off at bedtime, for example, to save the batteries. The toy takes 3 AA batteries.

I got the bear's 1st book for free by buying Cooper (a whopping $29.95) and the other 2 books are already out and cost $9.95 each. There's also an iPhone app, but I have no idea how that works. The 1st book, "Cooper's Big Bear Hug," is sweet and has a positive message. I'm sure the other titles are the same.

I think this toy is a good way to get kids interested in reading.  I give Cooper and his 1st book a full 5 stars. And like I said, if you buy the bear at a Hallmark store right now, the first book is free. With 2 more titles already out and the promise of more as the year progresses, I think this is a good investment.

There is also another Reading Buddy, Watson the Raccoon.  The same promotion is available right now for him as well: buy Watson and his 1st book is free.  Watson also has 2 other books, just like Cooper.

My only real complaint about Cooper (and Watson, who is very likely to end up in our house as well) is that you can only get them from going into a Hallmark store.  I applaud the idea of promoting local businesses and small business owners, but since we live way out "in the sticks," it requires a 40 minute drive to get to a Hallmark store.  Obviously not a trip we make every day, or week, or even a month!  I searched online for these reading buddies and their storybooks, but only a private seller on has them, and they're greatly overpriced.  (Cooper, for example, is $10 more, and without his free book, so really it's $20 more for the bear and a book.  Watson sells for $45.  This is unfortunately typical for Amazon's private sellers; at Christmas it's quite common for "hot" toys to be as much as $100 over the retail price.)

Why, in this day and age, does Hallmark not have an online store??  I really don't understand it.  They sell cards and invitations and such online, but to me, those are the things you can buy in Wal-Mart or the grocery store.  Anyway, I actually had a huge rant going about it but I can sum it up as this: Hallmark, PLEASE create an online store!
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