Monday, August 24, 2009

Daniel X: Watch the Skies

For those of you who have boys who loved The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, the neXt installment, Daniel X: Watch the Skies, is now available! James Patterson, with Ned Rust, has once again created a story that will be engaging for boys and girls alike. The father of a young boy himself, Patterson, founder of 'ReadKiddoRead' wanted to create a series that would help fill the need for literature that makes reading fun for boys. Mission: Accomplished.

Daniel is an alien hunter whose family was killed, and his parents left behind for him 'The List' of aliens on planet earth that must be eradicated. The books follow his adventures in pursuing them and taking them out, while mixing in everyday boy dilemmas about friends, girls and life in general. Daniel X has powers that allow him to conjure people and things, which helps him defeat the aliens along the way.

As the list gets shorter, the higher-ranked aliens are harder and harder to kill, which means he's at more risk of getting killed himself. The aliens methods are creative, and the character names (the nasty landlord is Mr. Gout) will make the adults that read it have a little giggle.

One thing I like about this series so far is that the chapters are really short, so if a parent wanted to find a chapter book to read to a child that was maybe 10+ years old, they'd be able to read a couple of chapters a night. As with most books you're going to read aloud to your child, I'd recommend reading it first to see if they're up for the gore factor, but overall, it's aimed at this age group so I'd feel comfortable reading it to my kids at that age.

While it's definitely a simplistic adult read, I appreciate that it's not too juvenile in that Patterson still uses words that they'd have to occasionally look up and has some complex sentences so that the kids reading the books would be challenged and also empowered to keep reading higher and higher level books.

"Daniel" also maintains a blog, if your kids just keep wanting more...right now, he's promoting the sci-fi thriller District 9.

I have a 12 year-old nephew who will be getting both Daniel X books, and I'm sure he'll love them; Good Morning America recently rated it America's best book for boys!

*I received a copy of Daniel X: Watch the Skies from Mother-Talk in order that I could review it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Automoblox Minis Design System

Do you have a hard time finding the right toy for everyone when the plethora of holidays, birthday parties and other gift-giving occasions arrive? Sure, there are age guidelines on the box, but they're not always easy to find, and even if a toy is geared for 3+, would a 6 year-old like it? I first heard of ebeanstalk, a website dedicated to selecting good, safe baby toys, when my sister-in-law sent two gifts in a row to H and Charlie from it. The presents were a hit, and also came with a little card explaining what each toy did to aid in development (i.e. sensory stimulation, fine or gross motor development).

I was intrigued when I got the first email from them saying that they need help from moms like me to pick the toys. I already knew that I liked their site content and was excited to be part of their test panel.

The toy they sent is called Automoblox Minis 3-pack (T9, S9 and C9) from Manhattan Toy, who makes great developmental toys. Packaged in a sleek rectangular box, you slide out the inner portion and I found my first positive: no plastic twine encasing every inch of the toy making it a nightmare for parents in the opening process.

The automoblox are wooden cars that are made to be interchangeable, so that three cars can be made into several different ones by simply pulling them apart (they're hooked together by two color coded male/female plugs). For instance, H's set came with a red, green and blue car. Each of them came apart into 2-3 pieces plus the tires and plastic bubble, which looks like the top of a car, are interchangeable and color-coded as well. H is just at the age where color identification is important, and he was able to see the 'right' way to put the cars back together because all the plugs, tops and tires matched. (The set also comes with four black tires)

This toy is marked for 3+, and I felt like it was a really appropriate guideline. The tires come off easily, which is great because it wasn't frustrating for him to pull any of the pieces apart, but they also don't come off so easily that it falls apart as you're rolling it across the carpet. For this reason, though, it's a toy that will be played with out of reach from my 14 month-old. There is a choking hazard warning on the box for small parts.

There were no weird plastic-y smells, and the wooden bodies had some fun details such as drilled out holes where the head and tail-lights will be. The body is made of German beech wood that's triple coated in a non-toxic lacquer so even though your pre-school may be beyond sticking things in their mouths it's just as important that their toys be toxin-free.

The set we were sent can be found for just under $30, and I would absolutely spend the money on it as a gift for Christmas or a birthday. H was occupied for THREE HOURS while Charlie napped...he is a pretty good kid when it comes to entertaining himself, but these three cars kept him busy the whole time! There are also larger toys that come in a single pack. At the very least, we'll be getting the other mini sets (the m9, X9-X and A9-S) so that there are more parts to interchange with.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gather 'Round!

It seems like every time I turn around, I'm getting another email to join a social networking site. So far, I've briefly had, but never used and later cancelled, a mySpace account, am obsessed with maintaining a facebook profile and all the fun that goes with it, and tweet occasionally.

When I got the notice from MomCentral about a new site called, I was wondering what was different about it. I'm not big on have 1,000 different sites to maintain, but I was intrigued by this one.

My main focus in using Facebook has been to reconnect with friends from the past, and keeping up with what they're doing now. But what if you want to start looking for others who share your interests, views, challenges and dilemmas? Sure, there's, but that's all about getting together in person. What if you just want a quick message board, or ways to chat with people all over the country? Trying to go green on a budget and need cleaning solutions? Want a quick recipe, or ways to cope with your crazy toddler while cloth diapering your infant? How about discussing the newest in thriller fiction, or terrace gardening? has created a vibrant and diverse social networking community where you can meet some amazing people who are, you guessed it, gathered together around shared interests and unique passions. Gather hosts thousands upon thousands of groups and conversations on topics ranging from how to cope with your rambunctious toddler to creating a thriving organic garden; from books that you’ll want to stay awake all night reading to the latest pilates moves; and from cooking without recipes to taking the challenge of creating movie reviews in Haiku (tougher than you’d think!).

Does this still sound like it might be something you've already got an account with? Well, here comes the difference...wait for it...

On Gather you earn points for the content you contribute to the site, which can be redeemed for gift cards to stores like Home Depot, Gap, and Target, and even for PayPal cash. In an effort to encourage a free-flow of ideas, the more recipes, tips, stories and advice you share with others in the community, the more points you earn. Now that’s a great incentive!

*I wrote this review while participating in a blog and giveaway campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Gather. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Cross-posted at Sexandtheknitty