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The Club Penguin Comic Maker Kit is surprisingly good value for money compared to many other products from the Disney Club Penguin range! In many of the sticker books and annuals, we've paid high prices and got very little play value in return. Things are greatly improved with this set though, and I feel we got much better value for money with this than many of the previous Club Penguin products we've bought to date. It's definitely been used and play with a lot more.
If you're looking to buy this arts and crafts set, the retail price is a reasonable £9.99, with Amazon presently having it reduced to £8.96. For the price, you get a reasonable sized, colourful box that looks great when presented to a child as a gift. The box is very sturdy and top-opening, making it ideal to store all the bits in after it's opened too.
Inside there are over 300 stickers which you can use to make your own Club Penguin comics. The stickers are all white which adds to the play value and time that a child can spend on their comics, as they will need to colour them in themselves. I really like this element as it not only extends the play appeal, but it allows children to be more creative. They can change the colours of various penguins and make their outfits appear different in some scenes etc.
There are ten background sheets included, and you can easily copy these if you've got a printer/scanner at home. Five of the sheets have backgrounds based on scenes from Club Penguin, and five are blank boxes. Children can branch out and design their own layout on blank paper of course, there are plenty of stickers to make many more comics than if they just used the ten sheets included.
There's a set of six felt-tip pens included too, as is usual with this kind of product, and while they're hardly Crayolas, they are decent pens which colour in fine. Then there's a thick glossy cardboard file to store comics in (about A3 size folded in half to make the file).
I think the only real let down with this set is the instructions booklet, which is a single piece of A4 glossy card folded in half. It does have a few helpful hints and suggestions in it to get children started making their own stories and comics, but I feel a few additional pages would have been helpful - especially if they'd have included a few examples for less imaginative kids to base their own creations on.
All in all a fun toy though, and one that encourages lots of important skills like literacy, imagination, planning and turning details into a bigger picture. This is a well made toy and one that's been reasonably priced too. I've got to knock a star off the rating taking the slightly short instructions booklet into account, but it's still getting a worthy four star rating from me.
If you're reading this review, you probably know all about Club Penguin already. It's an online interactive community-style game from Disney, where kids can pretend to be penguins, waddle around and play a variety of games online. There are lots of popular characters that most players will easily recognise, and the Fire Sensei is one of them.
On Club Penguin island, you'll find the Fire Sensei in the Fire Dojo - an extra game area in the main Dojo Courtyard. After unlocking it, penguins can waddle on in and earn their fire suits to dress their own penguin up to look like the Fire Sensei himself.
Alternatively, you can just go and buy yourself a penguin already dressed up to be a Fire Sensei - like this one here! He stands at about 6.5 inches tall and wears the same outfit as the computer game character does. The penguin is soft, cuddly and very well made. The little outfit is highly detailed, and I especially like the little hat he's wearing. Unlike some of the other penguins from the series, the outfit doesn't totally come off though.
You can't mix and match the clothing from this penguin with others, which I think detracts from some of the play value. I suspect Disney did this deliberately to encourage people to buy lots of penguins and to avoid having to release cheaper individual outfits and risk people only buying their kids one or two actual penguin toys!
I got this penguin at a bargain price of £4.99 when Sainsburys had 50% off their toys back at Christmas time. The full retail price of £9.99 seems a little high, but still acceptable considering the quality. Unfortunately, as with most of the penguins, this has fast become a collectors item though and it's hard to get hold of. With that in mind, some sites are selling it for £20 - £40! Availability has become a real problem with these penguins, especially for little fans too young to understand marketing ploys. The Disney Store doesn't sell them directly, Sainsburys and Toys R Us only carry selected stock, and Amazon is very hit and miss where both availability and prices are concerned.
This is a great little toy for Club Penguin fans, especially those who enjoy playing Card-Jitsu in the Dojo. I have to bring the stars right down due to the availability and pricing issues though. I recommend picking this up for a fan if you see it in the shops for an acceptable price, but I really don't recommend paying over the odds for it. It's a cute novelty, but the play value is limited when you consider you can't even change his outfit.
My main PC has a fancy all-singing, all-dancing wireless keyboard with more functions than I'll ever know how to use. I think it's just the done thing these days to invest in your PC and ensure all your software and peripherals are up to date - probably something to do with those adverts on telly telling us that our three year old computer is out of date...
I needed a second keyboard for my netbook though, and I didn't see the point in forking out a lot of money for that. I knocked a drink over onto my netbook in my sleep one night, and a few of the keys just will not work anymore. I only really use my netbook for checking my email and watching TV or films in bed, so I didn't see the point in paying out to get it fixed. It was much cheaper, and quicker, to nip to Tesco and get an external keyboard.
I chose the Tesco Value wired keyboard purely because of the price. It costs just £4.97 in store or online from Tesco Direct. It has a USB connection, so all I had to do to set it up was take it out of the box and plug it into a USB port on my netbook - that was it. My netbook found the driver it needed to use the keyboard straight away, and I was immediately able to start using it to type on. I've use the keyboard a lot since, and not had any problems using it. I press a key - it responds, simple.
The functions included on the keyboard aren't all-singing, all-dancing, but they're plenty sufficient for basic PC needs. It's a full-sized keyboard with all the standard keys you'd expect to find on it. The design is basic but sleek and surprisingly stylish. The keyboard is all black in a slightly rounded-edged rectangular design. When I first got it out of the box, I was surprised to find that the design was perfectly pleasant as I'd expected something clunky and cheap looking.
What I like the most about this keyboard, besides the price and ease of installation of course, is that it's incredibly light weight. Presumably that's because there's not much to it, but that's fine by me. I can pick up both the keyboard and my netbook in one hand with ease, making using this external keyboard a more acceptable long-term solution than I had thought it would turn out to be.
I'm so pleased with this that I've got no intention of forking out to repair my netbook now!
I've read some terrible reviews of this Russell Hobbs blender on other sites, but it works well enough for me for the price I paid for it. It carries a retail price of around £25, though I got it from Tesco for just under £20 a few months ago. For the price I paid, it does what I expect it to do.
The blender doesn't boast any fancy attachments, so if you're looking for more of a kitchen hand number, then this probably isn't the model for you. What it does boast is simplicity, and that's the attraction for me.
This blender just blends. Smoothies, soups, baby food even! You chuck stuff in the jug, turn it on (choosing from the straightforward options of turning the knob to speed one or speed two) and watch everything get blended around inside. The blades don't look like they'll do much good, but they are positioned well to suck everything in and get it nicely blended into the mix.
When you're finished, the jug doesn't need to be taken apart and you don't wind up with lots of little sharp or fiddly bits to wash up either. You can just wash the jug as one piece, and the blades are easy to clean with a long-reach washing up scrubber. The only things that need to come apart are the jug from the base, the lid from the jug, and the cap from the lid (if desired). The cap is handy if you're blending hot soup and want to give steam an escape route 'just in case' I find.
The finished results are blended better than if I'd just gone at my food with an electric hand blender in a bowl, but I do confess not as good as I'd expect from a multi-functional up-market blender from the price ranges above. For winter soups and smoothies, the final texture is perfect. If I wanted to make something finer like a gravy or a milkshake, the texture isn't quite what I would want it to be.
The noise from this blender isn't too bad, it's definitely quieter than the last one we had (which this was bought to replace). The feet hold it well on the kitchen side too, so there's no shifting or jumping around while the motor is running. I notice that the jug is fairly thick too, and the solid build over all suggests to me that this is a machine that will continue to run for many years to come.
For the price, I'm happy with this. I can see why some people would want to spend more and get more options, but if it's just a standard, easy-to-use and easy-to-clean blender you're after, then this is one worth considering.
This Technika 32" TV is only available from Tesco or Tesco Direct, as Technika is their own electronics brand. In the past I was a little sceptical about the quality of their electronics, but in my experience, Technika has been a consistently reliable brand. I didn't hesitate when I saw this TV recently reduced to only £189, I was confident it would prove to be a great buy and I haven't been disappointed. If you're looking at this item now (November 2011) then the current retail price is £229 which is still a pretty great bargain for a TV of this size.
Getting it set up was fairly easy - it's simply a case of removing it from the box, stripping a little protective packaging away, and screwing the base stand into place using a crosshead screwdriver. It took no more than three minutes to get the stand secured and have the TV in place and ready to go. I heard somewhere that Tesco use Samsung technology for their TV screens and I don't know if that's true or not, but I do think this TV looks just great. The casing is light, sleek and stylish, and the screen looks crisp, shiny and expensive. All I had to do then was plug it in and turn it on (obviously), and select 'auto tune' under the installation menu.
Navigating my way around the remote control to do this was easy and I had worked out where all the important function buttons were within a minute or two. Some of the buttons are a little on the small side, but they have so many buttons to fit onto remotes these days that you can't win either way I guess. Either some of the buttons are tiny, or the remote is a great huge chunk that you can barely get your hand around. I think they've struck a reasonable compromise between button size and overall size with this, it fits nicely in my hand and looks neat and tidy sat on the side when not in use too.
The built-in freeview reception for this TV is first rate. I've had a few problems in this house with TVs not picking up good signal in the bedrooms, and only being able to show me a handful of channels even with a digital booster. This TV got straight in and picked up the vast majority of channels which surprised (and pleased) me. I really like the signal strength indicator too, and was surprised that while the last TV (about four years old) was only ever getting good signal at best, this TV could get excellent signal for some channels, and good signal for most. It picked up a lot more than the last TV and there's been no need to use the external digital booster either.
The picture quality is very good. It's not ground breaking clarity but it's on par with what I'd expect from most LCD TVs of this style. If you get up close, you can find fault with the picture, but then this is a 32" TV - you're not supposed to sit right in front of it. Sat a reasonable distance away the picture looks crisp and clear. The TV is decent at not picking up glare too which was another problem we had with the last TV. This TV is HD ready, meaning you can view high definition channels if you have HD telly plugged in, but we don't, so I can't really comment on this aspect.
The sound quality is excellent, nice and clear with a good volume range too. I would say the sound quality is considerably better than you would typically expect from a TV in this price range. It's great for listening to the radio on and delivers brilliant clarity for all our programs too.
The other available options are PC input, which I wouldn't want a modern TV to be without. You can plug in your PC, netbook or laptop and stream content from it to this TV. Brilliant for watching online films or catching up on iplayer etc. You can use the TV as a monitor too though standard graphics options on a netbook don't look great when you blow them up onto a 32" TV screen. You won't have this problem with most TV programs of films that you stream though because they tend to have different (better) resolutions.
There's also a scart socket, for those of us using good old fashioned 'normal' DVD players, two HDMI input sockets, for blu-ray players or Sky / Cable TV etc. And 2 USB ports even for maximum MP3 and PC connectivity. You can also opt to leave the stand off and hang this on the wall using a wall mounting stand (not included) if desired.
Overall I've got to give this product five stars. If it cost more then I'd give it four perhaps because there are better TVs out there, with denser screen resolutions, more input sockets, built-in DVD or blu-ray capabilities and more impressive sound systems too. However I didn't see any better TVs within this very reasonable price range. I doubt many other TVs of this size in the £200 - £250 price range can compete with this product.
The Smartlab Human Body Model retail for a little under £20, with Amazon often having it available for a slightly discounted price. When we purchased ours, we paid close to the £10 mark, and I feel we got a very good price considering the detail that goes into making up this kit.
What's so great about this toy is that it's definitely just that - a toy. It's not some boring, educational aid that kids will view as being work. The squishy, gloopy feel of some of the internal organs will appeal to lots of little children - especially boys who like a bit of snot and goo! What parents will like is that the organs are all highly detailed and factually accurate.
The intenstines in this model unravel, and are a bit awkward to get back into place afterwards. I think this is a good thing really as it will help kids to understand just how big and long intestines really are, even if it does annoy the parents who wind up having to cram them back into place. If you don't get them back into the correct position, you can't get the external casing on, or the rib cage either. Another little detail I like is that the skull cap opens to reveal a little brain inside which can be removed.
To go with the model, there's a laminated fold-out chart called an 'organ-izer'. This has shadows of all the organ outlines on it with their names underneath, to help children identify what the various parts are and learn to recognise them individually. It also helps to expose them to the names of the organs, and show them how they are spelled. After laying the parts out on the organizer, kids can then set about putting them back into the model in the correct places. If they don't get them in right, they can't shut the body (it has a plastic outer coating to represent the skin). There's no way to cheat basically, and I like that this forces them to work it out!
Also included in the kit, is a fun little book that I'm sure a lot of kids aged from about six (if bright and interested in this sort of thing) up to around twelve or thirteen. It takes you on a short, but informative, journey inside the human body, referring to the body parts included in the model along the way. On most pages, they've included fun little factual snippets that most children will find amusing. The grandson especially appreciates the little fact file about how many times a day a person 'passes gas'!
The only downsides to the set are the poor quality 'tools' that come with it. The pinching scissors that came with the set broke the second they came out of the box. The tweezers are also really weak, thing plastic that cannot grip things very well. This doesn't have a huge impact on the use of the toy since it's easier to use your fingers anyway, but I do think that for the price tag, especially considering the good quality of the other items in the kit, they could have made these items a little stronger and more durable than they are.
Over all this is a four star product that I would recommend for all children with an interest in how the body works, or just science and biology in general. I really like that they've made something that's an important part of a child's education so fun and entertaining, and the grandson has had a lot of fun use out of this. He's looked at it through the eye's of a bright six year old so far (recommended age is 8+) and I like that he will get a second use out of this in a couple of years time when his understanding has grown a bit. I feel that the quality of the actual model, organizer sheet and book will probably hold up well for use for a good few years.
When the grandson first started seeing the television adverts for Wii U-Draw, he was desperate to have one. We thought it was a pretty expensive piece of kit with an original retail price of £49.99, so we insisted the grandson save up for one himself if he wanted it that badly. Obviously we did our best to help him on his way, but he did have to pay for it himself (even if we did suddenly start giving him £5 cash incentives for things he'd normally have just got a £1.50 comic for!). Please note that the U-Draw is now retailing for slightly less on Amazon, with a price tag of £39.99. I think it will continue to come down in price in the coming months but that's just my personal opinion.
When the item arrived, the grandson was really excited initially. I felt a little disappointed to find that the item is so very small (about the size of an A5 sheet of paper). I'd been imagining something more along the lines of the old drawing tablets you used to connect to the TV back in the 90s, and didn't think a tablet this small allowed much space for the user to draw on.
Getting the item connected was easy enough, I just had to plug in the Wiimote and slot it into the space allowed for it in the U-Draw tablet. It sits comfortably inside, though to get the wires and wrist strap to sit neatly, it takes a certain amount of jiggling around initially. From there, you pick up the attached chunky stylus, and can use this to select your options on screen instead of aiming and clicking with the Wiimote as you usually would.
The game included, U Draw Studio, is basically like the free Paintbrush application you get with most PCs, and have done since the 1990s. There are few different paper styles to choose from which you can draw on, but to be totally frank, that doesn't add much if any appeal to the unit as a whole. There are a few different brush styles, colours and patterns to choose from as you'd expect. And then that's about it.
For £50, what we basically bought was an adaptor so that the grandson can draw on the TV. Hang on, couldn't he already do that on the computer? Or cheaper still - a piece of paper? I can't for the life of me understand all the five star reviews on other sites about this unit. For £50 I think it's just not good enough.
There's other, better technology out there - as previously utilised by VTech and similar companies some fifteen years ago already. Nintendo have been lazy in simply adapting existing to work on a Wii, without offering anything really new or exciting for the next generation to enjoy on their modern console. For the price, I expected a bigger drawing tablet (to allow for larger pictures to be created), many more drawing and colour options, and perhaps a few mini games too. If this had of been a DS game, it would have most certainly had some mini games on it!
The grandson's played his 'Let's Draw' DS game on many occassions, and that cost only around £15. It came with the capability to bring his pictures to life, teach him how to draw some new things, and offered him some interesting little mini games to play too. The U-Draw is a joke by comparison. It cost us £50, now selling for £40, and it simply allows the grandson to draw basic pictures on the TV and nothing else besides. He used it twice during the first two days after it arrived, and hasn't touched it in the three months since. Get yourself a cheaper DS game like 'Let's Draw' or 'Art Academy', boot up your PC and click on 'Paintbrush' - or just pull out a pen and paper. Do anything but waste your money on this!
It's kind of amusing that this is a 'pyrates' toy, since I feel so very robbed for having bought it! I got it in store at Toys R Us for around £20 and wish I'd spent twice that on a Lego version and got something that actually worked instead. Unfortunately, the Lego pirate range we were looking for at the time has been discontinued, and the grandson isn't old enough for Pirates of the Carribbean.
Inside the box, this playset came in a variety of plastic bags, containing mostly pre-assembled plastic pieces which go to make up the playset as a whole. There are a few bricks included for self-assembly, but really there isn't a lot included in this to actually build. That's a good thing since what is included doesn't actually stay together when you try to assemble the set! There are three rock pieces which are supposed to go together with two pieces side-by-side and the third piece on top to act as a kind of bridge. The bridge piece will not stay stuck down for love nor money.
On one piece of rock, you have to assemble some side walls to create a little hideaway section, which sounds simple enough. But again, they just will not stay stuck down no matter how you press the pieces together. I could go on describing each component bit-by-bit, but the story is always the same - no matter what I tried, no matter how hard I pushed or with what technique I applied pressure, the pieces just would not stay together. It was so frustrating, every time I got one piece to stay still, I then tried to put the next in place - forcing the first piece to fall over.
In the end, all the grandson is left to actually play with is a little plastic row boat and a couple of tiny plastic pirate figures and weapons. I could have got the same in a smaller set for a fiver I'm quite sure.
I'm really annoyed with this playset and giving it just a single star. I know Mega Bloks aren't the best quality brand out there, and do tend to go for Lego as a general rule. However this play set seemed a bit more age appropriate than the current Lego pirate range, and I had hoped that even if it wasn't great quality, it would still offer some play appeal and at least stay together when initially assembled. If I lived closer to Toys R Us I'd have taken this right back and asked for a refund.
The Maplin Super Universal Battery Charger is available from Maplin exclusively for only £12.99. When I received this as a gift about a year and a half ago, I think it cost around £20 so that's quite a big decline in cost. At the current recommended retail price of £12.99, I think this product is really very well priced.
There are lots of battery chargers available on the market these days, and there are plenty that cost half what this one does too. However there really aren't that many which are capable of charging up as many different kinds of batteries as this one is. It's capable of the following:
Recharges 2 or 4 AAA, AA, C or D-size or 1 to 2 9V size NiMH, NiCd or Hybrid rechargeable batteries at a time
Powered by the supplied AC 230V mains adaptor when used in home or DC 12V car adaptor when used in a vehicle
''Negative delta V'' detection switches off charger immediately the batteries are fully charged
Overcharging prevented by timer protection
Automatic charging current selection for different size batteries
LEDs indicate when charging properly and when batteries are ready
As you can see from the product information, this charger is able to deal with pretty much every kind of common household battery there is. This makes it ideal for use by a family with lots of different gadgets and toys to power, or even a couple who just make use of a variety of different technology items. I find it particularly useful for charging my AA batteries in as I regularly need them for my mouse, digital camera and television remote controls. I then occasionally need the AAA batteries for one of my DVD remote controls and the occasional toy, and the C and D batteries are sometimes needed for bigger gadgets or the grandson's toys. I've never bothered to buy a 9V battery to recharge as I have rarely any use for them, but I can see the space in the charger to fit them and can't see any reason why they wouldn't charge in here just as efficiently as all the other kinds of batteries do.
What I like the most about this charger, besides the fact it can power such a large variety of batteries, is that it's so simple to use. I can charge the batteries in groups of either two or four for smaller batteries, or one or two for larger batteries as the charger is basically split into two sides inside (not that you can really see this externally). When one side is charging, a red light switches on to show they're charging, and this will turn green when they're fully charged. There's a light on either side of the charger so you can keep track of both sides individually.
The only problem I've had with this is that after about a year of use, the power pack became loose and I find now that I need to jiggle the lead sometimes when I put batteries in it to get the power lights to come on. I've had this problem with power packs in the past on various electrical items though, so I really don't feel that this is down the charger. If I was badly affected by it, I could just use a power pack off something else or buy a new for a few pounds.
Over all this item has lasted me well. It's reasonably priced, very versatile, easy to use and quite compact too. It sits neatly underneath my computer, and I just plug it into a nearby socket when I want to use it. It's lightweight to handle and it looks quite stylish even. Plus the batteries are still coming fully charged after eighteen months of regular use. Obviously that comes down partly to the machine and partly to the batteries (also Maplins). I've used other chargers in the past, but this is definitely the one for me.
Lego previously released a series Disney Cars toys - but in Duplo versions only. Unfortunately, Disney Cars is a film that appeals to a much older age range than clearly Lego initially realised! Now that Cars 2 is coming out in the cinemas next month, they've released a new range of toys that are targeted at the 5-12yrs age range. That's going to make a lot of little boys very happy I imagine.
This particular model, 8200 Radiator Springs Lightning McQueen, retails for just under the £5 mark. Amazon are currently selling it for £4.99 which is what I believed we paid for it in store at Toys R Us a few weeks ago. I think that's a bit expensive for such a small amount of Lego, but I have to accept that this is what you have to pay when you get a combination of two expensive brands in one product I guess (Lego and Disney). Either way, the grandson was pretty thrilled for a fiver.
Building the model is fairly straightforward, although the six year old grandson did get confused at one point. There are some shaped components that go into making up this model, and when he accidently put some slightly curved back end pieces on the wrong way round, it prevented him from going further initially. However this was something that I, as an adult, could easily spot and help him to put right. From there he could follow the rest of the instructions and finish the model unaided. I think most children of around six or seven years of age could build this model unaided if they're familiar with Lego models in general. It's a good idea for an adult to be on hand in case they make a mistake like the grandson did though.
Once built up, this is a sweet little Lego model. Lightning McQueen is about the same size as the car models Lego sell in rounded-top tubs for the same price (Lego Racers I believe they're called). He also comes with a couple of spare bricks in case some are lost, and a little orange traffic cone which I think is a nice addition. He drives easily, as you'd expect from a Lego car, and he's got two holes on his head so you can sit or stand a minifig on top of him to go for a drive if you want to. He's not got a driving seat in him though which I think some kids might have liked. That wouldn't make him very authentic though since in the film he drives by himself, no driver necessary!
Over all I think this is worth four stars. It's a great little model and I'm particularly pleased that it comes with printed bricks and not a sheet of stickers as too many Lego models come with these days. It drives well and it looks authentic to the Disney character original. It's a tiny bit over priced for what it is though in my opinion, and I'd have given it a full five stars were it priced a little more reasonably around the £3.99 mark. Still comes highly recommended even with the slightly over-the-top price tag though.
Crayola are a brand we've come to know and trust in this house. We buy cheap arts and crafts bits from time to time and wind up disappointed quite often. With Crayola, we're rarely disappointed and products usually work well and last for ages. That's why we keep going back for more I guess! When I spotted this pad of 'Art Framers' in our local Home Bargains for only 29p, I knew I had to snap some up for the grandson. He loves arts and crafts, especially drawing, and he likes his Crayola too. He also likes all three of the themes included in the pad, so I knew he'd be thrilled with this - and he was.
The pad is basically just a drawing pad which has 'framed' pages in it. Each piece of high quality paper is framed with one of three designs. The idea being, obviously, that when children have drawn a picture inside the frame, it can go on the wall or the fridge and look like it's a work of art. It's a sweet idea though really what you're buying here is a novelty item - something a bit different for the kids to draw on for a change. It's not some amazingly innovative product that's worth replacing standard, cheap paper with.
The designs included are an underwater design, a dinosaur design and an arctic design. I think a bigger variety would have been nice for other children, especially as the themed frames could help to inspire more detailed pictures than a child would usually draw. With the pad only having three designs, children have only got three inspirations. The illustrations are very high quality, as is the actual paper. You can tell at a glance that the pages have been professionally printed and not done on a home computer or similar. The colours are bright, the animals are happy and the general feeling you get from these pages is positive.
The grandson has really enjoyed making use of my bargain-buy, but I have to say, that this was a one-off novelty purchase. The full retail price for this product is £2.49, and I don't think a 30 page pad of any paper is worth that much. I think I might have been willing to pay £1.49, but that extra pound profit on top just can't be justified in my opinion. At the end of the day, it's easy to make your own frames with kids at home. This product is a convenience and a novelty - and one that I don't think I'd pay for at full price if I'm honest. Recommended if you get it for a better price than the RRP only.
When the grandson needed a seperate bag to take to school with his swimming kit in, I looked on Amazon for a cheap little standard plastic swim bag. Unfortunately, I saw this while I searching and just new I had to get it instead!! The grandson is a bit old for Sesame Street really, the TV show which the Cookie Monster comes from, but I felt this bag wasn't too immature for him because it focuses on Cookie Monster and not the whole gang with some pre-schooler ABC theme or the like. I think the Cookie Monster has a bit of a cult following with kids and young adults, despite his babyish origins.
Price-wise this is very reasonable with a current selling price on Amazon of £5.45. I think that's about the standard price to pay for a rucksack these days. With it coming from Amazon, it came with free delivery which helped to keep the price down despite this being the only item in my order when I bought it.
We've been pleased with this bag and I'd definitely recommend it to other Cookie Monster fans. It's a good sized rucksack, not a mini toddler one but a standard child-sized one. The panel on the front is a good quality circular pocket, with a sturdy zip and a laminated front cover which is easy to clean. The adjustable straps for carrying the bag with are sturdy and appear to be comfortable when worn, and the thick material means this bag doesn't need any internal lining.
This bag's been chucked around loads, as kids bags often are, and it's still in great shape after six months use. The material hasn't worn at all, and any marks or scuffs have been easily removed in the washing machine. The colours haven't run or faded, which can happen with strong red colours sometimes, and the zips still function the same as they did when the bag was first bought. Definitely worth the price tag for a Cookie Monster fan.
The Book People are currently selling this Usborne Pocket Science Collection for only £9.99! That's 24 books working out at just under 42p per book. At that price I wasn't expecting them to be brilliant - but as an added bonus, they are!!
Each of the 24 books in this collection explores a different topic from what makes us ill to what makes people different from each other. These are the kinds of topics that will interest a wide range of children from as young as four or five years old, right up to twelve or thirteen.
I feel these books are all accessible to a wide age range because of their format. Inside each small book (about 10cm by 10cm at a guess), there are 24 glossy pages which are covered with bits and pieces of information. There are little maps, charts, graphs, text blocks and illustrations splattered throughout. The text is quite small, so only a competent reader is going to be able to read these unaided (from around six or seven years old on average). However because of the bitesize formatting, an adult can easily read bits here and there to a younger child. An older child will be able to read the whole book independantly and have an understanding of what the various little graphs and charts mean as well as manage to understand the text as a whole.
The style of writing in the books is typical of Usborne, despite the authors varying from book-to-book. There are lots of little snippets of gentle humour included throughout, and the books all read very smoothly. The text is appropriate for a child to understand without too much effort, and they've done well to keep their language simple to make it as easy as possible for children to absorb and understand the information.
All the books explore each subject from a scientific point of view, so be prepared that while some of the topics may seem to deal with social and emotional issues, really they are only being explored logically and scientifically. For example the 'What Makes People Different' book boasts a bright, glossy multi-cultural image on the front page, suggesting this book will touch on the social issues relating to skin colour and different cultures. Inside, however, what you find is a scientific explanation of genes, and how those genes came to be mixed throughout the globe. Personally, I like this way of dealing with a sensitive subject. It gives the children the facts without passing on any of the racist or prejudice rubbish that previous generations have been passing back and forth between themselves.
Our grandson's favourite books in this collection are the mini science experiment books, which all have some great ideas for doing basic experiments at home, and the 'Where does electricity come from?' book as that explores one of his favourite subjects - lights!
Going through the titles myself, there was one book that I decided to pull out due to the grandson's young age (not yet six) and that was 'Where do babies come from?' It's a useful book for children aged eight or over, but any younger and I just don't think your average child is mature enough to understand this subject. The book is filled with images of internal organs that are a bit too graphic and detailed for a child of this age to really understand. I will definitely reintroduce this book when the grandson is a bit older though, it's very matter-of-fact and informative - just too detailed for his age group at present.
The titles I was especially pleased to find included in this set, aside from the science experiment books which the grandson loves (adult help is required for most of them by the way), are some of the 'See Inside' Usborne books. There's a range of 'See Inside' books which are much bigger, about A4 sized, and include lots of little flaps to lift up to see under the ground or under the sea etc. They've included non-flap versions in this science collection, including 'What's Under the Sea?', 'What's Under the Ground' and 'What's Inside You'. Okay, these books aren't as fun in this format as they are when A4 sized with loads of flaps to lift up - but they're still enjoyable books with great illustrations and lots of interesting information. The big difference is that in this format, I paid less than 42p - in the other format I'd be paying at least £6 per book.
If you want to buy these books individually, they retail at £1.99 each, which I think is reasonable. Although the books are quite small (akin to the popular Mr Men books), so is the text within. It's like they've taken a series of 24 normal sized, information-packed books and shrunk them in the wash to be honest. Each book is highly detailed, well illustrated, and both entertaining and informative for young children to enjoy. An absolute bargain-buy if you snap this up from The Book People for their current price - the grandson absolutely loves them and has learned loads already. Ideally I guess I'd recommend these for ages 6 to 12.
A Turtle's Tale doesn't tell a story that's particularly new, different or in any way special. So I can't for the life of me understand why we all liked it so much like we did!
The story is simply that when Sammy the turtle hatches, he has a run-in with a sweet girl turtle called Shelly who shows him some compassion where the other turtles just go ahead and swim off, leaving him in difficulties. Sammy returns the favour by saving Shelly as she is swooped upon by some birds from above. We are led into this tale by an OAP Sammy narrating the story and flashing us back to the day he hatched. I think some tots will find this confusing if they think about it - but the film flows so smoothly that I don't think most little kids would question the restrospective storytelling or think to wonder who the narrator is. Older kids would probably quite easily understand what's going on.
As the story progresses, Sammy grows up and never forgets Shelly, the girl he met on the day that he hatched. The tale takes us all the way across the seas, dealing with Sammy's friendship with a different kind of turtle called Ray. A little bit of danger is thrown in along the way for good measure, but while we feel sad for Sammy at times, and scared for him at others, there is nothing in this film that is likely to cause anything more than fleeting emotion in even the most sensitive of youngsters. You might think that's a silly thing to notice, but I know quite a number of kids who have cried hysterically at Bambi over the years. This film focuses mostly on the positives ahead with just a dash of environmental, social and romance emotion dotted in along the way.
What makes this film really lovely to watch is the graphics. The quality and detail of every single scene is simply brilliant. Every fish and turtle have detailed markings, the colours in the sea are bright, deep and varied, and the characters are all expertly animated in every scene. I think it's this quality and attention to detail that makes the film so enjoyable to watch - especially in 3D.
The actors voices are all well suited to the characters they play the part of, and I thought the voice of Sammy was particularly good. Sometimes they use overly gruff voices for animations like this, but I thought good choices were made for this film. Sammy and Shelly both had very sweet, fluffy voices like you want to hear in a film aimed at little kids. This is the kind of film you could happily let very young kids watch and know they won't be exposed to any even remotely innapropriate phrases, sayings or attitudes.
If you fancy buying a copy of this, it's retailing for around £9.99 from online stores like Amazon and Play.com. If your kids enjoy films like Nemo or A Shark's Tale, I think they would enjoy this too. It's suitable for the whole family to watch, if they're old enough to make it through the 83 minutes run time, but children aged eight or older might not find this overly exciting. I think some might still happily sit and watch it on a lazy Sunday afternoon though.
Looking after Louis by Lesley Ely has a retail price of £6.99, and is available from Amazon priced at £5.29 at present. For a single picture book that's quite a price tag really, but the trouble is, this is a niche subject that not many other similar books explore. The illustrations included are by the popular children's illustrator Polly Dunbar, though I can't say I'm a big fan of her work myself.
This book is basically a message to mainstream school children about inclusion. The boy at the centre of the book is called Louis, and he is autistic. However, be warned that he is an extremely low functioning autistic - not the kind of high functioning or aspergers child that is found in most mainstream classrooms. With that in mind, the value of the book was automatically lowered for me. It would have been a lot more helpful to make Louis' character more in the middle of the autistic spectrum so that this book could have been helpful and easier to apply to children at all ends. Instead, you can only really relate this character to a child suffering from severe autism. Louis has no free speech or awareness, he has a constant one-to-one support, he shouts out echolalic phrases randomly while the teacher is speaking (most autistics do call out - but they typically have more speech at Louis age than just randomly repeating the end of everything they hear).
The moral of the story is that an outspoken little girl in the class can't understand why Louis gets to do things so differently while she has to follow the rules. In the end, she's brought to her own conclusion by the class teacher - that sometimes it's okay to break the rules for special people. At no point does the book clearly and explicitly explain this, it is all implied. While this will be alright for an older child, a youngster in nursery through to year one or two may not understand the hints. It would have been more helpful to clarify those subtle hints by the teacher clearly saying 'that's right' to the little girl and not just giving her a little smile. I think it's especially unfair because the autistic child or children have little or no chance of picking up on that, and reading this story with the class is a bit mean if the autistic child is the only one not 'in on the joke'. I remember how sad we felt when our grandson was in nursery and the teacher read a story about a noisy lion who couldn't help but keep disrupting everyone. It was a hint for the class to be tolerant of his frequent outrbursts and non-stop talking, but because he didn't get that hint - he spent the rest of the morning confused about why people were sniggering at him and calling him a lion.
I like that this story has set out to address a difficult subject, I just think they went about it the wrong way. It's not been written in an inclusive way despite being a book about inclusion! The illustrations are quite dull and plain, and the amount of children who will actually be helped by this book is quite limited. I doubt your average five to eight year old will relate the central character to being anything like the autistic child they know sat opposite them in class. At the very least, they could have included a brief explanation of autism at the back of the book in child-friendly terms or something. Or as I said before, made Louis a more realistic example of autism.