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An Olympics Puzzle or Two

 EXERCISE THOSE BRAIN MUSCLES

Andrews McMeel Publishing and The Puzzle Society have put together two new London-themed puzzle books perfect for down time when watching the Olympics this summer.  The first, Pocket Posh London, 100 Puzzles & Quizzes (Andrews McMeel, $7.99) is packed with crossword puzzles, word searches and other word games all tied into this bustling city. Whether you have to find the name of a London landmark or spell out a tourist attraction, you’ll probably not have to use the Solutions section in the back if you’ve been tuned in to the Olympic games on TV. Carry this portable book out to dinner or to the park to keep London on call.

Pocket Posh London Sudoku, 100 Puzzles (Andrews McMeel, $7.99) puts assorted facts and trivia about this popular city at your finger tips. Add to that the variety of Sudoku puzzles provided in 3 difficulty levels and you’re set. Forget the commercials while you’re tuned into the Olympics, pick up a copy of the Pocket Posh London Sudoku, 100 Puzzles and like the best gymnasts, its challenging puzzles will keep you on your toes.

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Dare to Explore!

Our family always loves the yearly National Geographic Kids Almanac and the newest edition is no exception. With fab photos, facts, and an overall coolness quotient of 10, what’s not to love?

The best thing about the latest almanac is that it’s kept up with technology and offers readers a chance to watch neat new videos, play games and get even more facts via a QR Code you can scan with a smart phone or iPod Touch. Dinosaurs like me can also go the website.

So spend summer break the right way by packing a copy of the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2013 ($13.99, National Geographic Children’s Publishing, ages 8 and up). It’ll keep your entire family entertained while on the road or at home. It will also be a great conversation starter, a dispute resolver and something to keep returning to throughout the year.

Broken down into themed sections so fact hungry kids can devour the book in small chunks, the book begins with Your World 2013 then moves into the ever popular Amazing Animals pages packed with amazing pictures and tons of information. Did you know, for example, that there are 10, 158 vulnerable or endangered species in the world?  The list even includes the American crocodile!

Next comes the Awesome Adventure section where kids can learn about different fields of exploration, hone up on their photo taking skills and even get tips on writing an engaging essay. Following is Culture Connection, Super Science and some Fun and Games. The Wonders of Nature section covers world climate, natural disasters, biomes, oceans, coral reefs and so much more.  I appreciated the Going Green section with its out-of-this-world green inventions including Hotel in The Clouds lazily making its way across the Atlantic from New York to London in 37 hours. Talk about a room with a view!

The book ends with History Happens and Geography Rocks saving the best for last in my adult opinion, but kids will be delighted from start to finish. With 500 photos, maps, crafts, fun facts and a slew of other interesting tidbits, National Geographic Kids Almanac 2013 is an adventure on every page.

By the way, I just learned that London is the only city to host the Olympics three times. 

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I See London

Pop-Up London by Jennie Maizels is reviewed by Krista Jefferies: 

As the torch is passed to the Mother Country for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, who can resist a book of fun facts about London, especially when it’s a pop-up?  Jennie Maizels’ Pop-Up London ($19.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up) is suggested for ages 5 and up, but adults will enjoy it just the same as they take a journey along the Thames with their toddlers and teens.  Richard Ferguson’s paper engineering brings London to life. In a few impeccably detailed pages, readers will learn of the Globe, Parliament, and Oxford boat races to traditions, attractions, and England’s famous faces.  Though a bit of care must be taken to keep the pages fresh and intact, readers will enjoy finding tips and trivia that hide under every flap and in every corner of the page. So travel across the pond without leaving home by making tracks to your local bookstore. Pop-Up London offers the best views around and no crowds. Add this to your reading list and I know you and the kids will simply flip for this book while you enjoy the games this summer! 

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A Boy Called Dickens

From Rags to Riches: The Hard Knocks Life of Young Charles Dickens

In A Boy Called Dickens  by Deborah Hopkinson with illustrations by John Hendrix ($17.99, Schwartz & Wade, ages 4-8) school-aged children will be transported back to the foggy, crime-riddled streets of Victorian London to get a taste of what life was like for this very famous author who moved there at age 10. I can just picture a school librarian reading out this story to students who sit in amazement as she turns the pages slowly for impact, maybe even dimming the lights and feigning a cockney accent. Do kids today realize how over one hundred years ago and even more recently than that, many families sent their young children out to work? And that even those who did take on employment could barely scrape together a decent living, let alone a healthy and safe one?

Readers will learn from A Boy Called Dickens that from an early age Dickens loved books but they often had to be sold to make ends meet.  At age 12, to help out his struggling family, he worked at a blacking factory where they made shoe polish. There author Hopkinson imagines him spinning tales to his friend Bob Fagin and perhaps sowing the seeds for his later literary life.  Sadly, Dickens’ family was sent to Marshalsea Prison (aka debtors prison) in London because of his father’s inability to pay back money owed to a bakery.  I never knew that after Mr. Dickens was able to settle his debt and was freed from prison, he came into an inheritance. Inheritances feature prominently in so many of Dickens’ classic novels that it’s no surprise he had a wealth of material to write about as he approached manhood. So rather than keep young Charles working at Warren’s and causing him shame, the now more prosperous Mr. Dickens decides to send his bright son to school in Camden Town for a proper, more middle class education. Ironically it took Dickens years to be able to write about his own childhood poverty, yet he could poignantly portray so many others’ including ill-fated  Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

This book is a fantastic introduction to Charles Dickens and events that served as lifelong inspiration for him.  In the end page Hopkinson explains more about Dickens’ life and what led her to write the story. Hendrix’s illustrations further complement the story, capturing the scruffy feel of the period and the general darkness and harshness that dominated every day life for the poor in 19th century London.

 

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See London and Get Ready for the Olympics With Candlewick Press

Today’s review, by Rita Zobayan, arrives in time for us all to get psyched for the London 2012 Olympics. 

I spent my childhood in London’s East End borough of Hackney, a working-class community full of blocks of flats, pubs and the vast Victoria Park.  Every so often, my parents would take my sisters and me into “the City,” the heart of London itself. There, we would mingle with the tourists and admire the hundreds of offerings that London bestows.  There was always something new to discover, whether it was a historical landmark, a museum, a park, a stately home or a new borough to explore. London is immense, vibrant and alive. It has something for everyone.  There is good reason, after all, that the father of the modern dictionary, Samuel Johnson noted, “If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” If you’re one of the lucky ones, you will get to experience the magnificence of London for yourself in July and August when the city plays host to the thirtieth Olympic Games.  If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be living vicariously and watching the games and the city on television. To help your young ones “explore” a few of London’s most distinct sites, Candlewick Press has two fun books that children will enjoy.

The first is London: A 3D Keepsakeillustrated by Sarah McMenemy, ($8.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up). Presented in a handy and sturdy cardboard sleeve that is small enough to fit into a day bag, this clever novelty features twelve of London’s most famous sites in an accordion-style 3D pull out. We begin our vicarious tour with an introduction to London, and gamely move on to some of the most historic and cultured landmarks in the city’s vicinity, including Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.

Each location has a retro-feel illustration reminiscent of children’s books from the 1960s. Although sparsely drawn, the illustrations do not spare important details such as flags, guards, and so on. The pop-up feature adds to the fun. Children will love opening up the book and spreading open its pages. (It spans approximately 5 feet.)  Accompanying each illustration are fun facts and information for each location. For example, who knew that one could purchase an ambulance from possibly the world’s most famous department store, Harrods, or that the London Eye has become the city’s number one tourist attraction? The book also has a neat, little map of inner London that highlights the twelve hot spots, tube (metro) stations and neighboring boroughs.

This book is an enjoyable way for young children to learn more about London. My daughters, ages 3 and 7, both wanted to look at it, albeit for different reasons. My younger daughter greatly enjoyed playing with the pop-up illustrations and looking at the details. My older daughter was interested in the text and in trying to point out the locations on the map. All in all, it was a good time exploring the book with them. When we’re ready to take them to London, they’ll have a reference that’s right for them.

 

Candlewick Press’ second offering is A Walk in London by London native, Salvatore Rubbino ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up). Over the course of 40 pages, we journey with a young girl and her mother as they tour the sites. We experience the Tower of London, the Bank of England and St. James’s Palace and park to name a few of the stops. Information is woven into the narrative, which is told mostly through the girl’s point of view: “Around the corner, we find the bank’s museum. In the display cases, there’s lots of money! Coins…paper money…and even a bar of gold! Ooooooof! I try to lift it, but I’m not strong enough.” In addition to the narrative, the book is chock full of facts. We learn that the St. Paul’s Cathedral dome weighs about 64,000 tons and that a “whisper against the wall on one side of the dome can be heard 105 feet away on the other.” There are three more facts for this venue alone! In fact, the book is so full of information that a child could almost use this as a reference for a report.

Rubbino’s artwork with muted palette and pen-and-ink style illustrations is reminiscent of famed author-illustrator Miroslav Sasek. They are whimsical cartoonish sketches that young readers will appreciate for their energy. You can almost see Rubbino’s hand freely sketching the city, capturing the details, shapes and movement of the bustling metropolis. Multiple fonts capture the reader’s eye and are playfully placed on the pages to complement the illustrations. For example with the narrative, “There’s a Whispering Gallery inside. We climb around and around and around, until we’re in the dome,” the text is spread around the illustrations of our duo climbing steps. 

A couple of fun bonuses are the River Thames panorama and a game to spot the royal family’s car appearing throughout the book. Opening to four pages, the panorama outlines additional venues and provides more facts about the city in general. Additionally, the inside front and back covers have maps with the featured venues, bridges and main streets of inner London.  Both the panorama and maps give a feel for the vast expanse of the city.

If you’re viewing London from the comfort of your couch, A Walk in London is a great introduction for children old enough to appreciate the information and narrative style

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