I do less of these since writing full time. But if you have a product you would like feedback on, me (and my family) are happy to give it a try if we can. The catch? It must be relevant to family life or the area - just get in touch and we can discuss it further.
Due to time constraints my reviews tends to be on my Insta feed, so best to check them there.
As a children's writer, I can't get enough of children's books. So when Little Gestalten asked me if I could review a few I jumped at the chance.
Tales of the Rails takes you on famous train routes of the world. Including the Glacier Express, the Jacobite, The Snowden Mountain Railway, the Namibia Desert Express, Trans-Siberian Railway, the Bullet Train, Peru Rail and The Ghan amongst others. It introduces us to the people that might use these trains and the things they might see in their journey. If your child is into trains, this is a must! (3-9yrs)
The Who’s Who of Grown Ups is part book part illustration marvel (in my opinion). It reminded of the Richard Scarry books, though less is definitely more in this version. Put simply, the book is a list of jobs, hobbies and tools you’d need for them.
And though the illustrations are seriously beautiful the book itself is very tongue and cheek - pilot, police officer, firefighter, scientist, fisherman, tailor, hairdresser and jockeys share the space with samurai, surfer, nerd, secret agent, pirate, skater and knight.
And there is no gender or race stereotype here! Anyone can do anything (imagine that!) It’s a gorgeous book with plenty of talking points for young children. A triumph.
What an absolute joyous book this is. Considering the current lockdown situation, you would think a book about travel would seem out of place. Not so! I’ve felt truly inspired by the stories here - and have been discussing future plans ever since it arrived at our door.
Family Adventures (Exploring the World with Children)is compiled of real life family travels stories, including insights, learnings and tips, ranging from round the world voyages and weekend escapes to simpler big city exploration. Whether the journeys started from a place of curiosity, growth, adventure or even sorrow they all have something we can learn from.
This clever anthology also serves up age specific travel tips because let’s face it, travelling with a toddler is not the same as exploring with a pre-teen. Throw in some stunning photography and you have a real keeper of book, something to come back to for for inspiration. But if you are still unsure about family travel, then check out a quote from one of the parents that contributed their own story to the book - sums it up perfectly.
Thank you little gig for this gift of a book.
Just spent an absolutely brilliant hour at Electric Gamebox, an immersive gaming experience with virtual adventures that use projection mapping, touch screens and motion tracking.
There are 4 main games to choose from (ours was Alien Aptitude test) and each player gets a special visor with a sensor which is how you control the way you move in the games. There are 4 levels that add up to one hour (or 30 mins depending on your booking) and you can have up to 6 players in a 'box'.
None of us had ever done anything like it, and we all LOVED it. The Alien game was set in 1984 which meant our challneges were based on classics like PacMan, Dodge Ball, Memory Game and Pong - so far so great! The music was also superb (TRIO, Depech Mode, The Buggles, OMD) but playing the games together was what made it special. There was a lot of squealing, laughing and running around (you can get a sweat on) and we all felt really energised afterwards.
I was offered tickets for a review, and I can honestly say it was brilliant fun. If your kids are over 8 and are into video games, they will love it. But even if gaming is not their thing (or yours) there is still a lot of fun to be had. Personally, I loved working through the challenges as a family.
To address COVID there were stagered start times, separate entries and full cleaning; the small groups in each box suit social bubbles too.
There is a cost (kids £19, adults £29) and I think the experience is different and special enough to be worth it. Perfect to take a small group as a birthday celebration. And the added bonus is that it's local to us SE Londoners, just by the south bank near Blackfriers. A great family experience.
It is true that my children, at 8 and 11 are now mostly reading middle grade and chapter books. But sometimes we also read picture books together – I still have over 30 picture books that I have kept because they are timeless in my opinion. Anyway, we still enjoy reading together, so reviewing these was a lot of fun.
The Carousel of Animals by Gerard Lo Monaco.
This is a charming little popup book for young children about - you guessed it – a carousel of animals. Opening a full 360 degrees to become an actual carousel, children are encouraged to spot the animals that have joined the ride - there is even a little loop on the top if you fancy turning it into a mobile!
Tying up the ends together and spinning it around will no doubt delight young readers, as will counting the animals and choosing their favourite. I loved the retro illustrations, and the colours that pop on the page.
This is a great alternative for the ‘This is not my’ books series, perfect for children between 1-4 years and sturdier than your usual popup book. And even though it was too young for my two, my eldest asked if she could have the book open as a carousel in her room because it was ‘very pretty’. A beautiful little book, and a great gift too.
We followed The Carousel with How Big is Big? How Far is Far? All Around me illustrated by Jun Cen.
I think it’s safe to say there has been a trend for non-fiction books about interesting facts and statistics in the last year or so, and having recently bought the excellent The Book of Comparisons I was interested to see how this one would fare against it.
But How Big is Big is not exactly that kind of book, but rather one that tries to explain measurements by comparing size, speed and weight in different (and very creative) ways. These types of books can sometimes be a little overwhelming (lots to read and absorb), but How Big is Big has simplified things for younger readers. It focuses on less facts per page, choosing instead to fill the remaining space with simple and bold illustrations – with a beautiful retro feel.
The book serves up easy to digest, bite size information, inviting the reader to engage by asking questions about themselves in almost every spread, encouraging dialogue throughout. We all learnt something when we read it - the Humongous Fungus was my favourite discovery – and I found the content to be fresh and fun. We also read it in one go, which you can’t really do when it comes to the larger fact-based books.
How Big is Big? How Far is Far? will be the start of a many conversation – just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
For children aged 5+
Last but not least was The Children and the Whale by Daniel Frost - a sweet bedtime story about adventure and family.
Cuno is a boy who becomes fascinated with a story his father tells of seeing a whale when he himself was a child. He decides he too must see the animal with a ‘heart as big as a boat’ and sets off in his father’s kayak – alone.
However, he is followed by his little sister whose sweet but constant observations and enthusiastic questions throughout their journey soon begin to irritate. When they are suddenly separated, Cuno is filled with worry and regret, but they are quickly reunited with the help of an unsuspecting friend with a big heart. Their shared experience brings them closer, and they look forward to their next encounter, but this time together.
I loved this story as it addresses ordinary frustrations siblings often experience, from petty irritations to feelings of guilt at our own dismissive behaviour. Rubbing along together can be challenging at times, but very rewarding too, so it is charming when you see it illustrated on paper.
There is also a magical and dreamy quality to the story, especially through the illustrations which seem to echo the quiet vastness of the arctic. Perfect for bedtime.
I have always liked puppet shows.
We took the kids to lots when they were younger (Arthur's Dream Boat, Shoe Baby and Bear were the most memorable - all at The Albany in Deptford), so when we were invited to watch Mimi and the Dragon
at The Village Hall in Battersea Power Station I was pretty keen.
And I am glad to say it didn’t disappoint.
It’s a lovely Michael Morpugo story, nicely adapted to the theatre by the Skewbald Theatre. The music was catchy, and the actors had great chemistry - which really added to the experience.
The theatre was small but perfectly formed, and had plenty of space for the kids to sit at the front and take in the joy of the performances in full.
We loved the baby dragon (so much personally!), the lovely relationship between the parents and all the fabulous yodelling!
The set was also spot on - simple but magical - taking us from wood shed to a mountain dragon castle effortlessly; and the rope bridge was fab too. Story telling at its best, and great fun
Mimi and the Dragon is on until Dec 31st and I definitely recommend a visit. Thank you for reminding me that at 9 and 6 my kids are not too old for puppetry after all.
When PlayPress got in touch about me reviewing one of their playsets I was a little intrigued.
Initially, I thought (wrongly) that my children would be too old for their toys, so I decided to do a bit of research into the company, and as soon as I did I knew I wanted to support them.
Started by best friends Matt and Matthew, PlayPress design and manufacture their own eco-friendly construction toys. They are taking on the plastic toy brigade, leading what they call a ‘plastic-free play movement’ as an answer to the seemingly endless plastic pollution we help create.
They are self funded, and also volunteer their time to the brilliant Let Toys Be Toys campaign - about gender equality in toys – so there really was no good reason for me not to give something back. I readily agreed and chose their Star Searchers and Check-up Time sets to have a play with.
The sets arrived in a flat packed pouch that transforms into a box to keep your toys in. A great idea, as with all toys small pieces tend to get lost fast. Saying that, I am also tempted to pull the toys apart again, and keep them in their flat version inside their envelope/pouch. Not only they would take less space to store, but would also travel well. You can keep them in your hand bag, and whip them out at a pub, car, friend’s house or restaurant to keep the kids entertained. These types of toys can quickly become part of a parent’s arsenal, so best pay attention.
The toys themselves are well made, and sturdy enough considering they are made of playboard. The sets are beautifully designed, with some really lovely detail like the astronaut’s helmet, and the medical instruments. I also liked that they added movement whenever possible, like in the robot’s middle (it turns 360) and in some of the doctor’s equipment in the Check Up set. I also noticed they have diverse characters in their sets, which is another plus.
Initially, I found the robot a little tricky to work out – and a few extra pictures on the box would have helped, but most of it was intuitive enough, and I enjoyed working through it. A few
pieces didn't fit together 100% and I wondered how well it would survive a water accident or rough little hands, but no toy is perfect. I have
watched many a Lego creation fall apart after a few minutes play, and if a set does become soggy, I would rather buy a new one than go for a plastic version.
Which brings me to price.
Personally, I thought it was reasonable, starting at £4.99 for their smallest pack (which comes with plenty to play with) and going up to £29.99 for their huge Village Bundle (seven differently size packs). But there are plenty others to choose from in between, and you can also get sets for £6.99 or £9.99. Not bad for a recyclable, non toxic toy, and CE Certified, both designed and manufactured in the UK!
But what did the kids think? My recently turned 9 year old played it with much longer than I expected, and said if given the choice would have gone for the farm version. She needed no help from me, and just got on with the business of playing. My 6 year old son needed a little more steering, but was also happy with the end result. Both used the toys as they do their Playmobil, and seemed unaware of major differences.
I love what Mat and Matthew are doing, and what PlayPress stands for. Their concept is brilliant, and I think there is so much scope for growth! They are already developing a new playset (The Townhouse), as well as working on a future collaboration with the RNLI. And I am sure that is just the beginning. How about bringing some seasonality into play – Halloween anyone? Or some new characters like Finn and Jake from Adventure Time, Peppa Pig, the Royal Family, or any Superhero – though I appreciate there will be rights issue to be addressed. And don’t get me started with the animal possibilities!! The point is, they are a young new company and the road ahead is bright.
So lets make sure we support people like Matt and Mathew who are doing their bit to be kind to the environment as well taking on the mammoth task of trying to change how we behave as consumers. They really shouldn’t be doing it alone.
It’s up to us to try and be more responsible when it comes to choosing what our children play with, and it’ s really no sacrifice if the toys are of good quality and kind to the environment.
The definition of a win-win.
The Weekend Box Club is pretty self explanatory. You pay a monthly fee for a weekly box full of activities for kids aged 3-8 yrs. We were gifted our box for a review.
My kids got stuck in, and as they are 6 & 8 needed minimum help from me. Each box has a theme, so it was good to see some learning going on too. The marshmellow fish was a hit but I liked the tying your shoelaces activity, as it was something we had been tackling ourselves. We didn't do all the activities at once, so had something to come back to.
Everything you need is included, (you will need your own scissors), so there is no need to rumage around looking for pipe cleaners or googly eyes.
Their website is full of useful information, examples of box contents, FAQs, a hall of fame, a blog and a newsletter you can sign up for.
They seem flexible when it comes to delivery frequency as well as pausing the box delivery.
Better for younger kids, though they do a Business Builder Box for children over 8.
It's good value too, especially considering the price of some of the kids magazines out there .
If you go on Chillisticks' website you will see they are dry ice suppliers - commercial, industrial and domestic.
But they also have a range of very cool Halloween products and we were gifted one for a review.
We were sent the Witch's Cauldron (£10.14) and Skull Jug (£9.99) to try out. And though we were also sent the dry ice, it is not included in the prices above, so you will need to add an extra £27.60 to any of the products that you decide to buy.
Before you choose your product, make sure you get your timings right. Once it's delivered you have a max 2 day window to work with (otherwise the ice will melt), so get it to arrive on the day you need it (or as close to it as possible) - just make sure you are around to sign for it!
Chillistick include clear instructions, and everything we needed was neatly included in the pack. Do make sure you use the gloves provided as dry ice can seem deceptively harmless!
The kids loved the spectacle of it - the cauldron was our favourite and it would no doubt make a real impact during a Halloween Party!
You do have to top up the ice to keep the dry smoke going, so better to keep it indoors rather than use it as an outdoor effect.
If you are throwing a Halloween party I would definitely recommend giving one of the Chillistick products a try. They are easy to set up, not messy to use (always a bonus for me) and visually a big winner - you can also keep all the items for next year, so it becomes more cost affective in the long run.
Their product range (and prices) are good too - there is the Pumpkin Kit (£7.62), Witch's Pail (£8.40) or single Chilly Sticks (£1.56) as well as other items to choose from, so you can still deliver a great result on a budget.
Check out their video about making the perfect fog effect , as it has some great tips - I wish I saw it before we started!
And though there are a few other clips on the site, I would have liked to see some more demonstrations, how tos and suggestions for neubies like me.
But there is no doubt the packs are a great addition to a Halloween party - for grown ups and kids!