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maggieleung

maggieleung
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Member since: 01.01.2011

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      14.04.2011 14:14
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      a versatile musical toy

      My young daughter and I have been attending a parent and child music class since she was a baby, which she enjoys immensely. They are fun music sessions based on the Kodaly method, which uses singing games and rhymes to enhance child development and help them learn musicianship skills. As a result of these classes, my daughter has become quite fond of music and is the proud owner of various toy musical instruments. One of her favourite is a water xylophone that she received for Christmas.

      The water xylophone is one of a range of innovative musical bath toys produced by a company called Cuckoo Alex. I first spotted this toy in TK Maxx, and it immediately caught my attention as it had a picture of a child happily playing the xylophone in the bath. Since my wee one loves music and enjoys bath time too, I figured that she would really like the water xylophone. It was also a real bargain at only £4 and as there were only two left I quickly purchased one.



      ---Packaging---

      When she opened this particular present on Christmas morning, she was keen to get it out of the packaging so that she could give it a go. This took a matter of seconds as the packaging was rather flimsy and consisted of a piece of thin, clear plastic which came easily away from the insubstantial card backing. It was the type of packaging that you might expect from a pound shop purchase, and at this point I started to think that the contents might not be up to much and that perhaps that was why it had been so cheap.



      ---Contents---

      The contents included a 6 piece xylophone, 2 plastic beaters and 2 waterproof songsheets. The xylophone has a foam base to which six coloured metal bars are attached. The notes that can be played are C, D, E, F, G and A and these are imprinted on the metal bars. The foam pieces are cleverly shaped like a jigsaw, which allows the six bars to be disconnected or joined together as the child wishes. The popular nursery rhymes on the double sided song sheets will be familiar to your child and include London Bridge is Falling Down, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Twinkle, Twinkle little star. I should mention at this point that technically speaking, this xylophone is not a xylophone at all but a metallophone as a xylophone should have wooden bars. I'll be honest - my musical knowledge is limited and I found all this information from the internet. I can see why the company decided to stick with the more commonly used xylophone as a name for this toy though. It is a name that most children will be familiar with and it certainly has a nicer ring to it than the name metallophone.



      ---Playing the Xylophone---

      Playing the xylophone simply involves striking the metal bars with the 2 plastic beaters. It produces a pleasant ringing tone which is not overly loud. To my untrained ear the notes sound ok although probably not as accurate or tuneful as the beautiful chime bars that she plays at her music class. The notes on the song sheets are colour coded to match the colour of the corresponding xylophone piece. My wee one has attempted to play all of the tunes but needed my help at first. This was due to the song sheets being quite small which caused her to keep losing her place in the middle of a tune. I was pleased that such an inexpensive toy had song sheets included with it. However I do feel that the song sheets could have been made a bit bigger given the age guide of 3 and upwards, as the size makes it quite difficult for a younger child to follow. Initially, my daughter found this quite discouraging as she is at an age where she wants to be independent and was frustrated that she needed my help to guide her with this. However, with a bit of encouragement she has persevered and she now proudly plays these tunes all by herself. She also enjoys using the xylophone to play out a rhythm, where she will follow the timing of a tune but not the correct notes. This would sound awful on some other musical instruments but is actually quite bearable on this little toy xylophone.

      The fact that the xylophone can be separated into 6 individual pieces has come in very useful when friends or cousins have come over. There are no arguments as to who is going to get to play this particular toy first. Recently when her two cousins were visiting, they split the xylophone into three. Each child had two xylophone bars and we managed to find an extra beater from a drum set that worked just as well as the two xylophone beaters. They happily played alongside each other for quite a while, beating out their favourite nursery rhymes as they san along. It was a lovely sight - and sound (honest)- to see them all play together without the usual bickering that goes on between them.



      ---In the Bath---

      Initially, my daughter hadn't realised that this was also a water toy as in her eagerness to open it, she hadn't noticed the picture of the child playing with it in the bath. When I saw how much enjoyment she was getting out of the xylophone, I decided not to mention it just yet but keep that surprise for later. When she had owned the toy for about a month, I told my daughter that this particular musical instrument could be taken into the bath too. She was surprised but delighted and immediately wanted to have a bath to try out her water xylophone. She placed it in the water and attempted to play it but it kept moving about and floating away from her. When she did manage to beat it, the noise was dull and tinny. I suggested that she stick the xylophone to the tiles to play it as had been illustrated on the back of the packaging. This worked for a short while before it slipped down the wall. It was also awkward for my daughter to play the xylophone in this vertical position. So far, the performance of this toy in the water was quite disappointing. However, not to be deterred, my daughter has found another interesting way to play with her xylophone. She disconnects the notes and puts them into a swimming race. She does this by lining them up at one end of the bath and making waves to get them moving to the other side. She will do a bit of commentating and announce the winners at the end of the race. My daughter never seems to tire of this game and I suspect this is because she devised it all by herself.



      ---Do I recommend this toy?---

      My daughter has lots of fun playing her xylophone and likes the fact that it can be shared with other children, allowing them all to play music together and hopefully develop their team skills. Musical activities are said to enhance many areas of child development, including language, motor skills, memory and concentration. I would say that the xylophone has certainly helped my daughter in some of those areas. From a parent's point of view, the xylophone makes a reasonably pleasant noise - a lot more bearable than many electronic toys on the market nowadays. However, I do think it would have been better if the xylophone had eight notes rather than six, as I have found that the number of tunes that can be played a bit limited. Larger song sheets would also make it easier for a child to follow the notes.

      Although the water xylophone doesn't work very well in the water as a musical toy, my wee one has still found it fun to play with in her own inventive way. Despite my initial reservations regarding the robustness of this toy, it is still looking good after frequent sessions in the bath. Given the amount of use it has had and will continue to have it has proved to be very good value for money.

      I think the age recommendation of age 3 and upwards is about right. The foam base would prove to be a choking hazard for younger children. The musical bars are also quite narrow at only 2cm, which would make it hard for a younger child to hit accurately.



      ---Price and Availability---

      I hadn't realised what a bargain I'd found until I looked the availability of this toy up on the internet. It's available on Amazon for £11.94 including delivery, which is three times as much as I paid for it. Interestingly, it's also available on the Early Learning Centre website for £10 but it would cost £4.95 to get it delivered so it would be better to buy it at an Early Learning Centre store and avoid delivery costs. I think that £10 is still quite a reasonable price for this toy despite its limitations in the water. Although there are quite a few choices of xylophones for this price, they usually come in one piece. The beauty of the Cuckoo Alex Tub Tunes Water Xylophone is the possibilities that come with being able to disconnect it into pieces.


      Given the many advantages and few disadvantages of this xylophone I thoroughly recommend it and think it deserves a respectable four stars.


      Many thanks for reading. It may also be posted on other review sites.

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        21.03.2011 04:28
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        A decent shower gel at a reasonable price.

        Recently, I've been trying as much as possible to buy products that are cruelty free and environmentally friendly. I have always assumed that this would cost me a great deal more, so was pleasantly surprised to come across the Original Source brand. Original Source is a company that produce bath/shower gels, shampoos and soaps at a very affordable price. They don't test their products on animals and are vegan friendly. They use only natural stuff in their products and produce everything domestically which I think is a real plus in favour of this company. We have tried a few now and for the most part we have been impressed with the results. One of the shower gels that I have tried out recently is the Lemon and Tea Tree Shower Gel.


        This shower gel comes in the attractive triangular shaped, recyclable bottle that all their shower products apppear in. The bottle is clear which allows you to see the lovely vibrant yellow shade of the Lemon and Tea Tree Shower gel. According to the blurb on the back of the bottle, this product contains 10 real lemons as well as lemon and tea tree essential oils. It also mentions that the product is only tested on themselves. My daughters, who care about animal welfare, were reassured when they read this information and were keen to try the product out too.


        The first thing I noticed when I opened the bottle was the sweet lemony smell which I would say reminded me of lemon curd. This surprised me as I was expecting it to have a much more zesty, citrusy type of smell since it's supposed to be packed with 10 lemons. Not to be put off I then squeezed the bottle to try some out. The consistency is a bit more runny that other shower gels and I had to take care not to squeeze too hard or too much would come out. I t gave a fairly decent lather
        and the smell was somewhat more pleasant once applied - a bit more citrusy and less sweet than I anticipated from the initial smell of it. Once rinsed off, I could still smell it on my skin, albeit faintly. However, within half an hour there is no trace of the scent at all. I've found this with a few of the Original Source products. The aroma just doesn't last. Despite this, I still quite like this product as it does make you feel nice and fresh when using it and the lemon and trea tree essential oils within it make it a good 'wake me up' shower gel. My daughters have also given it the thumbs up, although perhaps partly influenced by its ethical reputation.


        The lemon and tea tree shower gel is available at only £1.19 a bottle from Body Care which I believe is very good value for money. It is also sometimes available in Poundland for £1 and Boots often do special offers on it too, again bringing the retail price down from £2 to £1.


        I do recommend this little bottle of shower gel as it represents good value for money and is a reasonably good shower gel. The fact that it is environmentally friendly and cruelty free prompts me to give this otherwise mediocre shower gel an extra star - four stars for this one.


        Thanks for reading my review! It may also appear on Ciao under my username mag3kids.

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          16.03.2011 20:16
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          A lovely bright book for young children with interesting activities included.

          As I don't drive, my four year old daughter and I spend a considerable amount of time on buses and trains. For this reason, I am always on the lookout for nice little compact books to amuse her when we are out and about. Many of the Ladybird books come in a very handy size - slightly smaller than A5 - which fits perfectly into my handbag. Some of the Topsy and Tim series of books are published in this size and with their bright colours, nice simple stories and additional activities on the back pages, I would say that they have become my daughter's favourite 'travelling books'.



          ---A BIT ABOUT THE TOPSY AND TIM SERIES---

          The popular Topsy and Tim children's book series has been around since 1960 and is written by husband and wife team, Jean and Gareth Adamson. At that time, most books for young children were based on magical or fictional characters such as Noddy and Thomas the Tank Engine. Jean Adamson wanted to come up with a modern book based on real-life children and their every day experiences. She also felt that the main characters of children's books were often boys, with girls having a smaller role. Hence, the lovable twins Topsy and Tim were created with both boy and girl having 'an equal place' in the books. Since then, the books have sold over 20 million copies. We have gathered quite a few Topsy and Tim books over the past twelve years. Children can relate very closely to the stories in this series as they cover every day experiences such as going on a train journey or visiting the doctor. They also cover new experiences such as starting school and the arrival of a new baby. The Topsy and Tim books probably won't appeal to parents quite as much as some children's picture books - especially when they are being requested on a daily basis - but I find that young children seem to love them. They are very simple stories with easy to follow text that a young child will be able to clearly understand. I would say it would appeal to children of about 2-5 years of age and that it would also be a suitable early reading book for beginner readers. The illustrations are bold, bright and interesting and convey the mood of the characters very well.



          --- "I DON'T WANT MY BOOTS" ---

          One of the Topsy and Tim books that my daughter especially likes is 'Red Boots Yellow Boots' and is a small Ladybird hardback copy. At the moment this is her favourite book to take along when we are going out, especially as it comes with a well thought out activity section included. Young children will immediately be attracted to this book as the front cover is very bright and colourful. Here, you have an appealing picture of Topsy with her yellow boots and Tim with his red boots. They are both smiling as they splash their way through puddles. The background is a vibrant bright yellow and green.


          In this story, Mum asks Topsy and Tim to put on their boots as it's a very rainy day. Tim goes into a bit of a strop, stamping and shouting, "I don't want my boots". His mum doesn't object, but instead calmly says, "All right, you can wear your ordinary shoes. It's time you learned a lesson." This comment goes right over Tim's head and he looks very pleased with himself as he puts on his shoes. He continues to be naughty on the journey to playgroup, teasing Topsy about her 'funny boots'. He eventually steps in a big puddle and by the time he reaches playgroup his socks and shoes are soaking wet. He misses out in the fun as he has to sit out while his socks dry off. When Mummy comes to pick them up later she brings Tim's red boots along. Tim looks relieved and puts them on without being asked. Topsy and Tim then have great fun all the way home splashing in big puddles.


          My daughter's favourite part of the story is where Tim is throwing a tantrum. The illustration of Tim here is spot on and it quite clearly shows how angry and frustrated he is. Topsy is in the background looking very amused by Tim's naughty behaviour. For some reason, young children delight in seeing others misbehave and my daughter's reaction is no different to Topsy's here. My daughter really enjoys these stories and I would say that this particular one is a favourite as she finds Tim's stroppy behaviour extremely amusing. It has also prompted discussion about actions and consequences and I think in this respect, the Adamson's have told this story very well. Even a very young child will pick up the simple message that certain actions will produce certain consequences. The ending is also a reassuringly happy one, with Tim sensibly deciding to wear his boots on the way home. "Good old red boots!" says Tim. A lesson well learned, just as him mum intended.



          ---EXTRA ACTIVITIES---

          As I mentioned earlier, there is a handy activity section included in the back pages which really adds to the appeal of this little book. The activities are just perfect for this age group and fit in with the rainy day theme. They include the following:

          * A 'talk about the story' activity *
          There are four little pictures here, which show Topsy and Tim shopping for new boots. First of all they spot the boots in the shop window. They then try them on and finally pay for them. There is no text here and my daughter loves to tell the story in her own words.

          * 'Match the pairs' *
          This is a simple colour recogntion activity where the red, yellow and green boots have to be matched. I think very young children who are beginning to recognise and name colours will especially enjoy this activity.

          * 'Planting Seeds' *
          This is another tell the story activity with illustrations showing Topsy and Tim planting seeds, the rain coming down, the seeds starting to grow and finally the flowers blooming. Again, my wee one enjoys telling this story and it's also led to discussion between us about what plants need in order to grow.

          * 'Rhymes' *
          There are two well known nursery rhymes illustrated here which your children will probably know well already and will enjoy reciting. The two rhymes are Rain, rain, go away and Incy Wincy Spider.

          * 'Opposites' *
          There are little pictures depicting opposites with text underneath asking questions such as, 'Which is wet? Which is dry?. There are four examples in total. Again, this is a perfect learning activity and children aged 2-4 years will especially enjoy spotting the opposites here.


          My daughter never seems to tire of doing these little activites and every time we read the story, there is no chance of me being allowed to skip this part. We have to complete each and every one of them. I would say that the 'talk about the story' activities have become my daughter's favourites and it has certainly helped to develop her vocabulary and imaginative skills as she finds new ways of describing the pictures. All in all, this is a very useful and educational addition to this lovely story book.



          ---PRICE AND AVAILABILITY---

          You can purchase this book form Amazon at a bargain price of £1.24 including delivery for a good but used copy. Otherwise, a new copy is available at a very reasonable £2.99. It's also available in all good book shops including W.H.Smiths and Waterstones.



          ---CONCLUSION---

          I thoroughly recommend this book and others in the Topsy and Tim series to all parents of pre-schoolers. They may not become your favourite books, but your child will love and relate to the familiar every day situations that occur in the stories. They are a nice handy size that will easily fit in your handbag when out and about. The extra activites at the back - they are included in most of this series now - are an added bonus and will keep your child interested and entertained for just that little bit longer.

          5 stars for this little book!



          This review may appear on Ciao under my username mag3kids.

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            01.03.2011 13:49
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            A lovely children's book for 4 to 8 year olds.

            The Arthur series of children's picture books is written and illustrated by Marc Brown and the stories and characters within them are inspired by the author's childhood experiences growing up in Pennsylvania, USA. In fact many of the characters in the books are based on people he knew as a child. The main character, Arthur, is a very likeable 8 year old aardvark who lives with his mother, father and two young sisters, Kate and Dora Winifred (known as D.W.). D.W is of a pre-school age and features prominently in the Arthur books and in fact there is now also a D.W. book series where she features as the main character.


            We've acquired several books from the Arthur series over the years. Arthur's chickenpox was the first one that I bought, and in the 11 years that it's been around, it has become a favourite. I have read it countless times to my daughters, nephews and nieces and it has been equally popular with both the boys and girls in the family.


            In this story Arthur has chicken pox and is feeling unwell, spotty and itchy. He is also worried that he is going to miss the family outing to the circus scheduled next weekend. Meanwhile the family fusses over him, particularly Grandma Thora who lets him have a drink of juice in the bath with a crazy straw and gives him soothing back rubs. His younger sister D.W. gets jealous of the extra attention Arthur is getting and hatches a plan to try to grab some of it for herself. She attempts to give herself spot with the aid of some pale powder and a pink marker. Grandma Thora is taken in with this trick and immediately agrees to D.W.'s request for a drink with a crazy straw in the bath. Of course the inevitable happens, with the spots washing off and Grandma Thora giving D.W. a telling off for her attention seeking behaviour.


            D.W. has all the traits of your average pre-school child, being both bossy and determined. Being of a similar age, my daughter definitely seems to identify with her and especially enjoys incidents where D.W. has done something that is a little bit naughty. She always has a giggle at the bit where she pretends to have chicken pox. I think this book reassures children that they will be cared for when they are ill. It will also be comforting for them to see Arthur recovering from his outbreak of chicken pox, reassuring them that they too will get better if they have a similar illness.


            The illustrations are delightful and perfectly depict a happy family. There is an air of organised chaos about the family home that I certainly relate to. For instance, in one page you see the mother retrieving milk from the fridge while the baby tugs at her skirt. A discarded baby bottle is lying on the floor. Meanwhile D.W. is dancing around causing milk to spill out of the cup that she is holding. The pictures are quite busy, with lots of things happening and lots of detail. There is also a fair amount of text in the 30 page story. The storyline, text and illustrations in this book is quite sophisticated and probably makes it most suited to children aged between 4 and 8 years of age and my daughter didn't really start to understand and enjoy this book until she was about 3 and a half. I found that this was also good as a first read alone book and my older daughters enjoyed reading this book by themselves at about 5 or 6 years old.


            All in all a very nice children's picture book by Marc Brown, which will appeal to both boys and girls due to both Arthur and D.W. having star roles in the book. This has been well used and enjoyed for 11 years now in our household and for that, I think it deserves five stars.


            Many thanks for reading. It may also appear on ciao under username mag3kids.

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              24.02.2011 20:18
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              A fun game but younger children will require help from an adult.

              My four year old daughter has recently been introduced to the wonders of the handheld console, as her older sibling has finally relented, allowing her to borrow her treasured nintendo dsi XL now and again. I would say that she is thoroughly enjoying this new experience, but as a parent I am mindful of the types of games that she should have access to. Although there is no denying the play value of many ds games, I do prefer if there is also some educational benefit to be gained along the way. She has tried out a few games aimed at the age 3+ market and enjoys them all. She also has a few firm favourites, one of them being The Littlest Pet Shop Jungle.



              ===A BIT ABOUT THE GAME===

              The Littlest Pet Shop Jungle ds game is based on the popular Littlest Pet Shop range of toys sold by Hasbro that consists of various cute miniture animal figures. The concept of the game is a very simple one. It involves the player collecting and naming a range of pets - all of these pets are based on toy figures from their existing range and Littlest Pet Shop fans will be familiar with some or all of them. The player can then dress up the pets, choosing from over a hundred accessories such as hats, scarves and glasses. Initially, there are 6 mini games that the player can compete in with three levels of difficulty to select from - easy, medium and hard. Depending on the degree of success in these games, the player is rewarded with kibble, which is the currency in Littlest Pet Shop land. The kibble can then be used to buy accessories and playsets. If you save up enough kibbles you can purchase a train ticket that allows you to transport a new pet to come along and join in the fun and games. The aim of the game is simply to earn enough kibbles to enable you to buy and name all 20 pets. By doing this you gain access to four separate environments- one being a jungle, hence the name - and also unlock 10 more mini games to play.



              ===STARTING OFF===

              The game begins by introducing you to 3 pets that you get to personally name. From that moment onwards my daughter was hooked. She loved being able to choose the names for her pets and enjoyed typing in their names via the onscreen keyboard - with a little bit of help from me of course. She then took her pets to explore the garden, market place and pet parlour. From time to time, typed instructions come up on the screen, suggesting what you might do next. For instance, it will tell you that one of your pets might be hungry or need scratched or stroked and it will helpfully remind you that you can do this by touching the smiley icon on the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This smiley icon will then take you to the pet parlour to feed and take care of your pet. My daughter particularly likes this part of the game. She uses the stylus pen to feed her pet and stroke it and this all shows up positively on the mood and energy monitors, reassuring my daughter that she is doing a good job of looking after her little pets. Meanwhile, a little bubble icon appears regularly and touching this will give you access to one of the six mini games. These games are mainly played using the dsi's superb touch screen technology and interactive stylus pen. There are however some games that require your child to use both the control pad and the stylus pen at the same time. As you can imagine, some four year olds might struggle somewhat with this and my daughter has certainly found these games much trickier.



              ===GAME PLAY===

              Game play in the Littlest Pet Shop Jungle is really all through the mini games. The other activities are more about playing with and dressing up your pets which I wouldn't really classify as games. That is not to say that my daughter does not enjoy this and in fact she loves to put her pet on the swing or treadmill for a bit of fun. She also enjoys choosing different outfits for her pets, especially as some of these accessories include star shaped sun glasses, spotty hair bows and other funny items - well funny when put them on a panda or pony - and my wee one has quite a giggle at some of the outfits that she comes up with. As I mentioned earlier, there are a total of 16 mini games although initially you only have access to 6 of them. I am not going to bore you with details of all 16 games but here is a breakdown of how my daughter fared with some of the games:

              Dash 'n' Dig
              In this game you help your pet to dig for prizes. There are little arrows on screen to point you in the right direction. When the arrow appears you have to press the appropriate control pad to move left, right, up or down and then start digging at that spot. Digging means simply scribbling your stylus pen on screen which removes the soil and hopefully reveals a prize in the form of kibble coins. My daughter took a little while to get the hang of this game as she would be too busy 'digging' to notice that an arrow had appeared, instructing her to move elsewhere. She has mastered it now though and gets quite excited when she successfully digs up a prize.

              Colour Craze
              My daughter was quite familiar with the format of this colouring in game as it is similar to ones that she has tried on the Cbeebies website. There is a selection of pet portraits to choose from. Once you have made your choice, you then attempt to colour in your pet portrait to match the completed version shown on the top screen. This is done by tapping the appropriate colour with the stylus, then using it to colour in your picture. The aim is to colour your picture in as neatly and accurately as you can and kibble coins are awarded accordingly. My daughter has found this game quite frustrating as she is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to colouring in and she has not been able to get the same results that she would do with pencils and paper. I would say this is because the pictures are quite intricate and the screen quite slippery which means that the game requires extremely good pencil control.

              Pet Sets
              This is my daughter's favourite game. It is quite a simple game that involves collecting all of the green pets into one group and blue pets into another. This is done by dragging and dropping the pets using the stylus. As you move up a level, more and more pets need to be sorted into sets and it has to be done within a certain time limit. My daughter has had considerable success with this little mini game which would account for it being her favourite and it is one of the games that is definitiely more suited to her age.



              ===GRAPHICS/SOUND===

              I wouldn't say that the graphics are particularly special. I think the pet characters could have been bolder and clearer, given that it is supposed to be aimed at children as young as 3. As it stands, the game lacks the crispness and colour that I've seen in some other ds games. The music is annoying and repetitive which is no more that I would have expected. I think a number of childrens ds games come with similarly annoying music. My daughter has no such qualms about the sound effects and likes to hear the music in the background, so I tend to just turn the volume on the console down as low as possible.



              ===OVERALL===

              This game is not as educational as I might like it to be but there is no denying that my daughter thoroughly enjoys playing it. The age guide for this game is 3+ but a child will need quite a bit of adult input, as all of the instructions and game rules come up as text. There is no spoken words or visual pictures to give clues as to how to play the game. For instance, a written message will come up on screen to let you know that a new pet is on sale at the market. The pet has to be purchased before a new mini game is unlocked. If a child can't read this message then she would be unable to make much progress in the game. I think this might be quite frustrating for a 5 or 6 year old who wants to play the game independently, but isn't reading fluently enough to make sense of these messages. I would therefore say that it is a game that is suitable for 3 and upwards, but will require adult participation up until about 7 years old. At this stage, I am happy to play the game along with my daughter. However, I think in a year or so, this game might not be as popular with her as she will be wanting to play independently and won't be able to do so as her reading skills won't be at that stage yet.



              ===PRICE/AVAILABILITY===

              This game didn't cost me anything as it was given to me by a friend whose child had outgrown it. A quick search on Amazon tells me that purchasing the Littlest Pet Shop Jungle game will set you back a whopping £32.99 including delivery. A used version will cost you £14.05. I'm afraid I wouldn't pay over £30 for a game like this, especially in view of its limitations. It just isn't worth it. I think that if you can get it for £15 or less then that would be reasonable enough.



              ===CONCLUSION===

              I have mixed feelings about this game. I have my reservations about the design of it, as I feel it would have been so much better to have more visual clues for the child to follow, especially as the whole Littlest Pet Shop range of toys is marketed at children of 3 and upwards . I also think that this game costs a shocking amount of money for what you get and I suspect that you are paying for the brand. There are some good points about the game though. It has a high fun factor rating - and from an educational point of view, it will help to improve my daughter's pencil control. In view of this, I'm giving the Littlest Pet Shop Jungle game three stars.

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                18.02.2011 20:09
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                A good quality, waterproof walking boot

                My 12 year old daughter is not your average teenager, having no interest in fashion whatsoever. She hates shopping for clothes or footwear and will often go around with leaky shoes and clothes that she has somewhat outgrown rather than shop for new gear. I try not to intervene too much, as she is at an age where she doesn't want her mother on her back telling her what she should and shouldn't wear. However, when I caught her one day kicking off her wet trainers and making a trail of footprints with her soaking wet socks I thought, "enough is enough; this girl needs a decent pair of shoes".


                As a rule, she will only wear trainers and certainly wouldn't wear anything like Ugg boots. As the weather was getting arctic by this time, I wanted to find footwear that would keep her warm, comfortable and most importantly dry. Of course she refused to come out shopping so we had a look on the internet to see if there was anything that suited her requirements, ie. something that resembled a trainer and that wasn't too fancy or girly. Some time later, we found a pair of walking boots on the mountainwarehouse website that she liked the look of. According to the website, the Mountainlife Tread kid's waterproof walking boot is their most popular kid's walking boot They are said to be fully waterproof and suitable for exploring the countryside on wet and muddy days. Now we live in the city and rarely visit the coutryside, but she is a very active and sporty girl so I reckoned that these boots would still be very suitable for her. I didn't want to wait for delivery so I nipped down to my local Mountain Warehouse branch. Thankfully, the Tread kid's waterproof boots were in stock and were also reduced from £34.99 to £22.99. On the label, it said that they were waterproof and lightweight with a shock absorbing footbed. These walking boots sounded like they would see her through the winter. It also seemed as if they might come in handy for some of the many sporting activities that she participates in. They have a padded collar and tongueand the midsole providews support to the foot. They also have a carbon rubber outsole with cleats to prevent clogging when out in the mud.


                Whe my daughter first saw them she was extremely pleased to see that they looked quite similar to a pair of trainers and that they were not at all girly. My daughter has quite happily wore her walking boots all through the arctic weather conditions and has found that they have given her a reasonably good grip in the snow and ice and certainly better than her trainers would have done. Although the bulkiness of them makes them appear quite heavy, they are surprisingly light weight and she has worn them out running in both icy and wet weather. They have thankfully proved to be completely waterproof and have also kept her feet warm and comfortable. However, I would say these boots are quite wide fitting and as a result, don't give great ankle support. I also don't think that they would appeal to many teenagers for every day wear as they rate pretty low in the fashion stakes and my older teenage daughter certainly wouldn't entertain them. I do see them as being very useful for outdoor activities though and as they go up to a size 5, they might also be suitable for adults with a smaller foot size.


                These boots are available in grey with either a blue or red trim and at the moment they are discounted from £34.99 to £22.99. My daughter has the red trim ones, but I think the blue trim may appeal more to boys. I think this is a very reasonable price and far cheaper and better quality than many well known brands of sports trainers. The Mountainlife Tread kid's waterproof walking boot is exclusive to Mountain Warehouse and can be purchased at one of their 120 outlets or online at www.mountainwarehouse.com. They claim to source from the same factories as well known brands, but by selling directly to the public, they are able to charge 50% less than products of similar quality. I have no reason to disbelieve this as I have bought a number of products here and am so far very happy with the quality of their goods. They also offer a 'no quibble 28 day return policy'.


                Overall, my daughter is very pleased with her walking boots and not at all concerned that they are not the latest fashion item. As for me, I have been able to stop fretting about her having constantly wet feet! A good quality boot at a very reasonable price and for this I think the Tread kid's waterproof walking boots deserves a respectable four stars.

                Thanks for reading.

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                  13.02.2011 11:03
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                  A great picture book that you will enjoy as much as your child.

                  If you want to read a collection of books with your child that has a humerous quality that appeals to both adult and child then The Large Family series is a perfect choice The Large Family is about a family of elephants, including Mum, Dad and the four children Luke, Lester, Laura and the Baby. The stories are about every day issues that the average family experiences and children and adults of all ages will relate to these books. Jill Murphy, the author, is a hugely talented writer best known for both the Worst Witch series and the Large Family picture books. She was already producing her own collection of hand-written and illustrated books from age 6 years although she was 24 years old before her first book was published.

                  The Large Family series has become a firm favourite in our household. For a while, we had been borrowing the books from this series from the local library but my older daughters recently spotted a bargain in The Works bookshop and managed to snap up four of the Large Family books for only £5 in a special 'buy four books for £5 offer'. As you can imagine, they were very pleased with themselves as the retail price for each one is £5.99. This was a birthday present for their little sister who was suitably delighted when she opened it up, as she loves these books and was always reluctant to return them to the library.

                  Mr Large In Charge is the 5th book in this series of picture books about the Large Family and was published in 2005. In this story, Mrs Large is ill and worried about how she will manage to get the shopping and household chores done. Mr Large steps in and says she needn't worry about a thing. "Go on, back to bed with you - we'll take care of everything, won't we, kids?" Mrs Large retreats to bed and lets them get on with it. Of course a catalogue of hilarious disasters follow which Mrs Large can hear (and smell) from her bedroom. The hoover breaks down when it is run over a toy. The lunch burns when Mr Large gets distracted by the football on TV and forgets he has the cooker on. Meanwhile, the children and Mr Large keep popping in to Mrs Large's bedroom to reassure her that there is "nothing to worry about...everything's under control". As a result she doesn't have quite as restful a time as she first envisaged.

                  My four year old loves these books and even her older sisters who are 12 and 14 years old, love to join in now and again. The pictures are delightfully detailed and tell a lot of the story. Even after seeing the illustrations so many times, my wee one often notices something 'new' that se hasn't seen before. In fact, when we recently read the book, she noticed for the first time that the 'baby' had accidentally knocked over a cup of juice while dusting. There is a lot of speech in these books and my little one often likes to take on the voice of one or more of the young elephants in the story. She can remember a fair bit of the story by herself now and is at the stage where she likes to follow the words with her finger as she says them aloud. This does tend to be her own version of the words of course as she has just turned four and only recognises a few words yet. However the beautifully detailed illustrations in this book does help to develop her imaginary and creative skills and she often makes up an entirely different account of this story when reading it alone. I can also see it as being a book that she will go back to once she learns to read as the text is nice and simple. If you yourself are an avid storyteller, this book can also be brought to life by taking on the personas of the various family members.

                  What is so special about these books is the way in which Jill Murphy manages to take ordinary, every day events and turn it into highly entertaining and extremely funny stories that the whole family will enjoy. As a result, she has managed to produce a series of books that will appeal to all ages and members of the family.

                  Other books in the Large Family series include:

                  A Piece of Cake
                  All in One Piece
                  A Quiet Night In
                  Five Minutes Peace


                  My 4 year old loves the Large Family series of books but has many other favourites too. However, this collection about the Large Family with a humour that appeals to both adult and child, is my personal favourite. I think this book will appeal to all ages but expecially children in the 3-7 year age category. I thoroughly recommend this book to all families with children and promise you, it will be one that you won't mind reading over and over again. With this in mind, I give it a well earned five stars.

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                  • Maclaren Quest / Pushchair & Pram / 95 Readings / 90 Ratings
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                    04.02.2011 13:24
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                    A fantastic buggy that will survive through the baby and toddler years.

                    When my wee one was nearing her first birthday, we decide that it was the right time for her to make her first visit to her grandparents in Hong Kong. We had put it off up until this point as we felt she was too young to take on a long haul journey, and we were too tired to contemplate the logistics of travelling with all the baby paraphernalia. The main item that we needed to purchase to make our air travel and stay in Hong Kong as easy and stress free as possible, was a decent buggy. With this in mind, we went in search of the 'perfect' travel buggy. It had to be lightweight and compact but also robust enough to endure the rigours of air travel. The buggy also had to be fairly simple to fold and open up so that we could travel easily with it on Hong Kong's extremely busy public transport system.


                    I did a bit of research on the internet and the reviews for the Maclaren range of buggys (or strollers as they are often called now) were quite impressive. I also have friends and relatives who highly recommended them so on this basis, I had decided that this was the brand that I was going for. Maclaren buggys have been around since 1965 and is sold in over 50 countries, which just shows how popular they are and that they have stood the test of time. They have a range of buggys, including the Volo, Triumph, Quest and Techno. We quickly eliminated the Volo from our list of possibles; this is their most basic and cheapest model and it does not recline at all so wasn't suitable for my one year old who was still taking frequent naps. The Techno, which is suitable from birth, is a sturdier model but also didn't fit our requirements as it was a bit bigger and heavier than the rest, so would be more difficult to travel with. This narrowed our choice down to two models: the Triumph and the Quest. There is very little difference between these models and they both seemed to fit the bill as they were light and compact. Both have multiple seat positions, so that your child can sit up and see what's going on around them when awake, but also can have a little nap when tired. The Quest is lightweight at only 5.8kg but still fairly sturdy looking. The triumph is slightly smaller and a little lighter at 5.2kg, but isn't quite as stylish looking as the Quest. Now as a rule I am not fussy about appearances and as long as the item is 'fit for the purpose' I am happy. But as we were visiting one of the most sophisticated, trend-setting cities in the world, we (or rather my hubby), decided that we should 'look the part'. On this basis, we opted for the trendy looking Maclaren Quest in a smart black/scarlet design. It also came ready assembled which was an added bonus. At that time, which was 3 years ago, it cost us £100 from our local Pramcentre. Compared to other buggys this is not cheap as you can buy one from about £30. However, I think that the extra cost is well worth it as quality of the Maclaren Quest is far superior to a lot of these cheaper models out there.


                    ---MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE MACLAREN QUEST BUGGY---

                    AIR TRAVEL

                    So off we went to Hong Kong, where the Maclaren Quest was to be put through the ultimate test: to survive being tossed around by airline staff on the long haul journey and to endure a month in Hong Kong where it's 'compactness and usability' would be tested to the limits. As it happened, they allowed us to take the buggy on the plane as it was so 'small' which was great, as it meant we could literally wheel our sleeping child right up to the door of the plane. We have travelled by air with this buggy several times since then and we have always been allowed to take it on board with us due to it's compact size. At the other end of the journey, we were also pleasantly surprised to find that the buggy had already been unfolded by a kind member of staff. This is one of the plus points about having a mass produced buggy such as Maclarens. Air staff are always familiar with this model which means they are able to help with folding and opening the buggy for you.


                    PUBLIC TRANSPORT

                    Hong Kong has an extremely efficient, but incredibly busy public transport system, so we were somewhat nervous about how we were going to manage with the buggy when taking the metro or bus. I have used a number of prams and buggys through the years, including reputable brands such as Mamas and Papas and Silver Cross, and some of them have been an absolute nightmare to fold. However, we need not have worried. The Maclaren Quest is the simplest buggy to fold and open up. The company states that the buggy has a one handed fold mechanism and I would say that this is an accurate claim. It simply involves kicking up the back lever, pressing down the side lever and then pushing the handles forward to fold in a locking position. It is that easy, and it can be done with one hand while holding your baby with the other. I have tried it and it IS possible. To open it up again, you just release the catch at the side, pull up the handles and press down on the back lever. Again, this can all be managed with one hand. I would say that the simplicity of this folding mechanism is one of the best things about this buggy and it proved to be very handy in Hong Kong as we literally had to fold and open it up several times a day. It is also nice and compact when folded which came in handy when we had to squeeze into the tiniest available space on the Metro. It also had to be folded several times when we were eating out at busy restaurants as space was limited.

                    My Quest buggy has proved to be just as handy back in the UK. Once folded, it fits in to the smallest spaces and I have managed to even squeeze it in at the seat alongside me and my wee one when travelling by bus. It also has an adjustable carry handle which allows you to sling it over your shoulder once folded. This is handy when you need your two hands free: one to hold on to your child and the other to pay the bus fare. For those travelling by car, the buggy is only 104cm in length when folded so can easily fit into even the smallest car boot.


                    SHOPPING

                    This buggy is a dream to steer in and out of the crowds and has been put to the test in Hong Kong's busiest shopping malls. It has lockable swivel wheels which I prefer to use unlocked. A lot of buggys seem to have a life of their own when it comes to steering, but the Maclaren Quest actually seems to want to conform and follow the direction that you are going in, which is an absolute godsend when trying to weave through hundreds of people. The handles are foam covered which makes it comfortable to hold and push the buggy. The handle height is 104cm and not adjustable. This has been perfect for me at 5' 2" but I do have taller friends who equally love their Maclaren buggy so I assume that the handly height has not been an issue for them either.

                    I would say that this buggy isn't really suitable if you are intending to buy a lot of heavy items. There is a very small mesh shopping basket underneath that you can use for a few small items of shopping. But it isn't advisable to hang too many heavy bags from the handles as it does tip over when your child gets out of the buggy. On saying that I have, on occasion, got carried away with myself at the supermarket and came out with two heavy shopping bags swinging from the handles, rather than the bread and milk that I initially went in for. The buggy seems to cope well with this and if my little one insists on getting out to walk at this point, then I simply take one of the shopping bags and place it on the seat to balance the whole thing and that seems to work a treat. One issue that I have with the shopping basket , is that it is near impossible to access it when the seat is reclined. The basket can only be properly reached from the back end of the buggy so I have found that I have often had to push the seat into a sitting position in order to get anything in or out of it, thereby disturbing my little one from her sleep. I have got round this problem by storing more essential items in the handy pocket that's incorporated into the back of the hood. It's just a nice size to hold a cup/bottle, wipes and keys.


                    COMFORT RATING

                    The Maclaren Quest has four seat positions and is said to be suitable from 3 months to 3 years (up to 15kg). In my opinion though, it is more suitable from 6 months when babies can just about sit up unaided as it doesn't lie completely flat and is only very lightly padded. There is an extendable leg rest that easily pulls out from the seat. I found this useful as it prevented my wee one's legs from dangling mid air when she was still too small to place her feet on the foot rest.

                    There is a water resistant hood and a rain cover which can be attached very easily and quickly if caught in a sudden downpour. The rain cover folds flat and fits into the shopping basket. I know that I mentioned earlier that it can be tricky getting items in and out of the basket if the seat is reclined, but the raincover does slip out easily from the side as it is very compact and folds completely flat. The raincover is surprisingly durable and is still in perfect condition after 3 years of use which I think is pretty good.

                    In Hong Kong where the weather is extremely hot and sunny, the hood has proved to be a useful sunshade and adequately protects your child from harmful rays. In fact, even the little viewing window on the hood is UV protective.

                    SAFETY

                    There is a five point harness which is very secure and keeps your child safely in the seat The harness can also be adjusted as your child grows. I would say the harness buckle is VERY secure and even little Houdinis will find this an impossible one to get out of. In fact it is even tricky for adults to release the catch, although it does become a little less stiff with constant use. There are also reflective accents on the buggy for night time safety.

                    I do find the brakes on this buggy to be a bit of an issue. The brake should work by pressing down on a little lever with your foot, but I've found this to be quite fiddly and involves inching the wheels forward slightly until in just the right position to allow the brake to be pushed into place. This is hardly ideal and from reading previous reviews it seems that the brake mechanism is a problem with a lot of Maclaren buggys and not just mine. This is something that I think Maclaren should address as their buggys are superb in so many other aspects.

                    PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

                    The Maclaren Quest is widely available and is sold at all large nursery stockists including www.pramcentre.com and www.kiddicare.com. It does vary considerably in price so I would shop about. I know that it can be purchased for £112 at www.mothercare.com which includes free delivery and I think that is one of the better deals at the moment.

                    CONCLUSION

                    My little one has always been very snug in her buggy and has often had long naps in it while out and about. The challenge now is to persuade her, (and myself if I am being completely honest here), to give it up. She has just reached 4 years old and is of course far too old for a buggy. However, we are still using it occasionally when we are going on longer walks or if I am in a hurry to get somewhere. She is small for her age and about the height of an average 3 year old so I haven't been met with too many disapproving stares. However, I don't drive, so the buggy has been a very essential item for both me and my child and has been very well used in the last 3 years. It is still in great condition and even reasonably clean as it has removable washable covers. It will soon be passed on to her little cousin and I'm sure it will continue to prove its roadworthiness.

                    I highly recommend the Maclaren Quest buggy, especially for travelling at home or abroad. It is both compact and sturdy and in the long run, is well worth the extra cost, especially if you are planning to use it for more than one child. I am taking one star off due to the brake being difficult to operate as I realise that might be a big issue to some people, although I personally haven't found it to be too big a deal as I would never rely heavily on a buggy brake anyway. I do however give the Maclaren Quest a very well earned 4 stars.

                    Thanks for reading and hope it is of some help if you are buggy hunting.

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                      03.02.2011 11:33
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                      Not one of the better products from Original Source.

                      On our quest to become more environmentally aware and animal friendly, I've been gradually substituting our usual products for 'cruelty free' versions. I have always assumed that this would cost me a great deal more, so was pleasantly surprised to come across the Original Source brand. Original Source is a company that produce bath/shower gels, shampoos and soaps at a very affordable price. They don't test their products on animals and are vegan friendly. They use only natural stuff in their products and produce everything domestically which I think is a real plus in favour of this company. We have tried a few of their products now and for the most part we have been impressed with the results. Therefore I was immediately interested when I saw this seasonal edition shower gel which is part of Original Source's 'Winter' range. The Goji Berry and Mallow Shower Gel is one of the newer products in their range and as it is the middle of a particularly bad Winter, it seemed quite appropriate to bring out something that might help to perk the nation up in their morning shower.

                      This latest offering comes in the usual triangular shaped, recyclable bottle that all their shower gels apppear in. I was attracted by the lovely deep purple shade that could be seen through the clear bottle, which certainly reminded me of goji berries. I was also curious to find out what the mallow extract would add to this product. On the back of the bottle, the label claims that 'marsh mallow plants have been used for centuries to relieve coughs, sore throats and chapped skin'. Apparently, this is why they though it an ideal ingredient for their latest winter seasonal edition. They also mention that it is has loads of organic Goji berries in it which is also full of good stuff such as anti-oxidents, macronutrients and vitamin C. I think Original Source has been pretty clever here with the wording on this label. Without actually claiming that this stuff will have medicinal effects, it does lead you to think that it might produce some magical results. So with this in mind, and being totally fed up with the miserable weather, I was willing to give it a go. At only £1.19, it was also very cheap so I wasn't going to be too disappointed if the results were poor.

                      The first thing I noticed when using this shower gel was that the consistency was quite runny. I had to be careful not to squeeze the bottle too hard or too much would come out. The second thing that came to my attention was the very sweet aroma that came from this product. I would describe this as sickly sweet. There was definitely more marshmallow than goji berries in this bottle. It just didn't smell fruity at all, but more like boiled sweets. Now if I am honest with myself, I have a very sweet tooth. However, although I would rarely turn down a bag of sweeties, I have no desire to smell like one. I was determined to give this stuff the benefit of the doubt though and tried a bit more of it, thinking that maybe it would leave a more pleasant after smell. Well it did have a lingering smell but I couldn't really call it a pleasant one. All evening, I kept getting a whiff of this sickly sweet shower gel and realised that it was coming from me. The other thing that occurred to me at this point was that there was absolutely nothing 'wintery' about this aroma, or indeed of any other season. I would imagine a wintery smell to be more spicy or perhaps herbal, but definitely not sweet.

                      I like a lot of products from Original Source but I'm afraid this particular one gets the thumbs down from me. However, my teenage daughters seem to like it so at least it won't go to waste. It also just goes to show that we all have different opinions and I did notice that other reviewers also have very differing opinions on this product, giving it a range of between one and five stars. If you like extremely sweet smelling shower gels you may like this and at only £1.19 a bottle from Body Care it is still worth a try. It is also sometimes available in Poundland for £1.

                      I was tempted to give this shower gel only one star, but on the basis that my kids like it and that it is very cheap, I give it two stars.

                      Thanks for reading my review!

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                      • More +
                        26.01.2011 12:21
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                        A lovely latte at a great price.

                        I am not a fan of Starbucks or Costa Coffee, as I feel that their coffee is well overpriced. Instead, I prefer to enjoy a good quality instant coffee at home, my favourite being those from the Nescafe 'Cafe Menu' range. In this range, the Latte Macchiato is my firm favourite. I have tried several brands of instant coffee, some which are cheaper and some more expensive than these, but in my opinion, Nescafe are the winners in this market.



                        ===INGREDIENTS===

                        skimmed milkpowder (33%), vegetable oil, lactose- whey permeate, instant coffee (10%), glucose syrup, stabilizers (E340, E452, E331), Milk Proteins, Flavouring.

                        I admit to being surprised that it only contains 10% coffee as one of these keeps me awake all night! It also has E-number stabilizers which I suppose you could avoid if you buy a nice fresh coffee from Starbucks. However, at only a tenth of the price of a Starbucks coffee, I am prepared to overlook this minor detail.



                        ===NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION===

                        Calories 107
                        Sugar 7.3g
                        Fat 5.8g
                        of which saturates 5.5g
                        Fibre 0.6g
                        Salt Trace
                        Antioxidents 0.6g


                        At a glance, the nutritional value of a 22g serving of this isn't too bad. A cup of this stuff is a mere 107 calories which is much lower than many other drinks. However it has a whopping 5.5 grams of saturated fat which, according to the box, accounts for 28% of the recommended amount of fat that an adult should consume in one day. So if you have health issues that dictate that you should go easy on the saturated fat, then you might have to limit yourself to one of these sachets of latte a day. It also mentions on the information on the box that it is 'good to remember that coffee contributes to your daily fluid intake'. I think that Nestle are being a little bit misleading here as I am sure that the diruetic effect from the caffeine in these drinks might significantly cancel out a fair bit of this fluid intake. None of this really bothers me though as I don't expect to receive any health benefits from drinking coffee and rely on my green tea for that. However, it is good to know that the latte is naturally rich in antioxidents and may make you feel a little less guilty about having more than one of these a day.



                        ===HOW TO MAKE INSTRUCTIONS===

                        - Pour sachet into mug
                        - Add 200ml of hot but not boiling water and give it a good stir


                        As you can see it couldn't be simpler to make one of these lattes up. I would point out though that they require a very thorough stir as you can end up with horrible powder filled lumpy bits floating at the top which really spoil the taste of these lattes. I have found that a more effective way to make them, whilst avoiding lumps, is as follows:

                        - Pour sachet into mug
                        - Add 100ml of hot water (about half a cup)
                        - Give it a thorough stir using either a mini whisk or a fork (they both do an equally good job)
                        - Add the other 100ml of hot water to fill up your cup and give a final stir.

                        I have found this method to work perfectly and eliminates all lumps as you can give it a really good whisk without making the coffee slop over the sides.



                        ===TASTE===

                        Nescafe Latte has a lovely milky, creamy taste and has quite a bit of froth on the top. I have found this to be the only brand of instant latte that has this lovely frothy foam at the top, which is something that you would usually only expect to get in an expensive coffee shop made latte. It is also slightly sweetened which is not a problem to me as I have a sweet tooth and actually add another teaspoonful to this latte. However, if you like your coffee without a trace of sugar, then you may find this a bit sweet. Saying that though, I have offered this to family and friends who usually have their latte without sugar and they have been impressed with the quality and haven't found any problem with it being too sweet.



                        ===PRICE===

                        Nescafe 'Cafe Menu' Latte Macchiato comes in a box of 8 sachets and usually costs around £2.60 which works out at about 32p a cup. This is incredibly good value for money. It is also often on special offer at both Sainsburys and Tescos, often on offer for £4 for 2 boxes and occasionally at £3 for 2 boxes.



                        ===FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS===

                        I recommend Nescafe Latte Macchiato to everyone out there who grudges spending a couple of pounds or more for a Starbucks or Costa coffee or the like. You can even take these sachets to work with you as they are simple to make up. If you are a regular coffee drinker you will save yourself a fortune.

                        I have been drinking these lattes for some time and can't live without them now. This product is of a high quality and excellent value for money and I am more than happy to give it 5 stars.

                        Thanks for reading. This also appears on Ciao under username Mag3kids.

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                        • Akeelah And The Bee (DVD) / DVD / 55 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                          25.01.2011 14:10
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                          A fantastic heart-warming family film.

                          There's nothing that my kids like better on a Friday evening, than curling up on the sofa to watch a new film. So I am always on the lookout for DVDs that they might enjoy that don't cost the earth. This particular DVD caught my eye in the local library, not least because it cost a mere 60p to borrow it for a week. It also has a bright, attractive picture of 11 year old Akeelah (the star of the show) on the front cover. I knew that this film would immediately appeal to my older daughters who are of a similar age to Akeelah.

                          "Akeelah and the Bee" was released in 2006, (although we had never heard of it), and is written and directed by Doug Atchison. It could almost be classified as a sports movie as it has a similar format. However, instead of it being a story about a sporting prodigy's rise to fame, it instead follows a young girl, Akeelah's struggle to reach the finals of the National Spelling Bee. The whole idea of 'spelling competitions' being such a big deal, as it is in the States, absolutely fascinated my children. They had never heard of 'spelling bees' before so they were looking forward to watching the film to see what it was all about.

                          Akeelah Anderson is an intelligent eleven year old girl who attends an underperforming school in South Los Angeles. Afraid of being ostracised, she deliberately downplays her academic ability, failing to do her homework and regularly skipping school. However, despite all the missed classes, she has become a whizz kid at spelling due to the amount of time she spends playing computer scrabble. Welch, the school principal, picks up on this talent and insists that Akeelah take part in the school's first Spelling Bee. She easily wins the competition but to progress to the district bee, she has to find someone to coach her. She finally persuades Dr Larabee, an English Professor and old friend of the school principal, to coach her for the next round.

                          The relationship between Akeelah and Dr Larabee is crucial to the success of this film as they both spend a lot of time together, getting ready for the competition. Things between them are strained at first as Larabee is still emotionally withdrawn after the recent death of his young daughter. However, Akeelah is so likeable and a bond quickly forms between them. He teaches Akeelah not to be afraid to win. This is an important hurdle for Akeelah to overcome as I think she almost believes she has no right to be successful, especially as all around her there is poverty and deprivation.

                          Another heart-warmingly funny relationship that Akeelah forms is with one of her fellow contestants, Javier. He is the comedian in the film and provides some welcoming humour at crucial times when things are getting very emotional. One of the funniest moments is when Javier suddenly leans over and quickly kisses Akeelah on the cheek:

                          "Why d'you do that?" she asks him.

                          "I had an impulse. Are you gonna sue me for sexual harrassment?"

                          My daughters found this bit incredibly funny and found Javier to be one of the most entertaining and charasmatic characters in the film. However incidents such as this make it a PG rated film and parental guidance is recommended as it does contain 'mild language' which may make it unsuitable for young children. I think this is a matter for each individual parent to decide on, but I would be happy to let my children watch it alongside me from an age of about 8 years old.

                          This is a feel-good movie with a fairly predictable plot, where the main character is the underdog who has to overcome several obstacles to achieve her goal. However, there are two aspects of this film that make it far more special than your average 'feel-good movie'. Firstly, there are some excellent performances form a great cast. Laurence Fishburne does a fantastic job of portraying the emotionally traumatised Professor Larabee, while Angela Bassett plays a convincing part as Akeelah's overworked mother. But it is Keke Palmer's outstanding performance as Akeelah that makes this film an inspirational one. With her natural exuberance, charm and wit, she really suceeds in making this film both funny and poignant. It is evident from her performance in this film this she has a promising career ahead of her and in fact she is currently starring in an American tv sitcom, True Jackson, VP, which is now shown on the Nickelodian channel.

                          The second reason that this film rises above many other similar type movies is that it delivers a powerful message, especially to the younger audience. I am not going to give away too much of the plot, but there is an unexpected incident that takes place in the final few minutes which really shifts the balance in this film to one where empathy, kindness and friendship becomes more important than winning. I think this film is great for families with older children and perfect for stimulating discussion on the importance of qualities such as hard work and sportsmanship. In today's culture where everyone is obsessed with winning it is refreshing to come across a film that conveys the message that it is the journey that we make when trying to achieve a goal, and not the winning at the end that makes us who we are. My kids love this film and it has been watched several times now. They really identify with Akeelah as they are around the same age as her and also understand the peer pressure that she faces when she dares to be different. The fact that two young, male fellow contestants, Javier (J. R. Villarreal) and Dylan (Sean Michael) also play a part should also make this a movie that boys would enjoy too.

                          This is a fabulous, heart-warming family film and will especially appeal to children aged 8 and above (and their mothers). I am surprised that it wasn't a film that became successful in the UK but guess that it might be the fact that the story revolves around 'spelling bees' which is very much an American phenomenon. Apparently it took 10 years for Atchison to develop this film, in which he spent time tutoring disadvantaged students and also attended the annaual Scripps Spelling Bee. I think that this research has paid off as the ruthless competitiveness of these events and the lengths that parents will go to to make their children successful is very effectively conveyed in "Akeelah and the Bee".

                          After borrowing it from the library too many time I eventually bought it for a very reasonable £3.47 on Amazon. It is still available at this price although the blu-ray version costs more.

                          I am more that happy to give this film a well deserved five stars.

                          Thanks for reading my review.

                          Also on Ciao under my username - mag3kids

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                            20.01.2011 13:19
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                            A fabulous introductory musical instrument for little ones.

                            My youngest daughter loves music and is always badgering her older siblings to let her have a go on their musical instruments. Now one of these instruments happens to be a rather expensive clarinet that is on loan from the school. As you can imagine, I am rather reluctant to let my little one 'play' with this, but always feel a bit mean when I see the disappointed look on her face.

                            I decided that it was time to find a little toy musical instrument that she could play along with and searched online to see if I could find a realistic alternative at a reasonable price. There were various toy drum kits, guitars and keyboards on the market which I suppose could be considered the more 'cool' musical instruments. However, when it came to clarinets, there was surprisingly little choice. There were several options that were listed as toy clarinets, but were actually recorders. Eventually I narrowed it down to two possibilities: a little cute plastic clarinet made by Tatiri and this clarinet made by Bontempi. They were both available on Amazon at a reasonable price. The Tatiri clarinet is a very colourful instrument made of plastic, designed in Italy and manufactured in the far east. There is no age guide given, which is a bit odd, but I would guess that it is suitable for age 3-6 years. The price for the Tatiri clarinet for sale on Amazon was £13.80 at that time. The Bontempi clarinet is designed and produced in Italy. It is made of strong injection moulded plastic and is suitable for age 3 and upwards. It was also available on Amazon for £10.20.

                            After some thought, I decided to go for the Bontempi model as I felt that it looked more like the real thing. This was an important factor as my wee one wanted to play alongside her older sister with something that vaguely resembled the genuine article. This clarinet also looked more sturdy, and I was pleased to find out that it was made in Italy by a reputable company that has been producing musical instruments for children for over 50 years.

                            The Bontempi clarinet is 42cm in length and has eight bright colour coded keys that play one whole octave from middle C to high C. There are three popular songs printed on the back of the box that a child can learn to play. There is also a finger map here, which clearly shows whick key corresponds with which note. These notes are also colour and number coded which I think is an excellent idea that makes it very simple for a child to learn these tunes. The notes are simple to play and involve pressing down lightly on the coloured keys while blowing at the same time. To her delight and pride, my daughter can now play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' and 'Jingle Bells' with just a little promting from me and is on her way to mastering 'Oh Susana'. However, I do wish that a little book of songs had been included with this clarinet, especially as the company has put considerable thought into making the music easy for the chidren to follow by colour coding it. As it is, it only comes with these three songs printed on the packaging. I have had to remind my little one to take care of the box and not to trash it, sit or jump on it which would be the norm in our household. The good thing about this is that she has been carefully placing her clarinet back in the box after using which is very uncharacteristic of her. This in part might be due to the fact that she really treasures her clarinet and wants to take care of it as she has seen her older sister do with her own

                            I think this toy clarinet it is a perfect introduction for a child who is musically inclined but is too young to learn to play a real instrument. It is not only helping to improve my child's coordination, but she has had the satisfaction of being able to play a familiar tune as well as making up some of her own. The company claim that this clarinet is designed in a way that makes it more pleasing to the ear and it is impossible to overblow it, unlike some other toy musical instruments that can be earsplitting if blown too loudly. I would agree with this and am very grateful to this company for also thinking about the sanity of us parents when designing their products. This little clarinet makes a very pleasant sound and is actually quite hard to blow into which also limits the time that my daughter can actually play it without getting tired out. Again, this is a godsend for parents, as although it is delightful to hear our little ones produce a little tune, it could get a little tedious to hear it being played over and over again. One thing that I will point out about this toy is that the notes are the wrong way round with the high notes at the bottom and the low notes at the top which is the opposite to a real clarinet. However, I don't have an issue with this as I don't see this as a starting point for my child to learn the clarinet as she is only 4 years old and far too young.

                            My wee one loves her clarinet. She is learning to play some recognisable tunes by herself which has given her confidence and at the same time improved her coordination. She has also stopped pestering her sister to have a go on her 'real' clarinet as she now considers hers to be just as valuable and I am inclined to agree with her. An added bonus is the reasonably pleasant sound that is produced by this wonder; I thank Bontempi wholeheartedly for this!

                            The Bontempi Clarinet can be purchased from Amazon for £12.58 at the present time which is a couple of pounds more than I paid for it but well worth the money. The company make several other musical instruments such as saxophones, trumpets and guitars which may well be on my little one's next Christmas list to Santa.

                            I give the Bontempi Clarinet a well deserved four stars and would have given it five stars if they had included a little book of tunes.

                            Thanks for reading my review.

                            Also on ciao under my user name - mag3kids

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                              19.01.2011 18:30
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                              Recommended to all families with young children.

                              'Cinderella's Bum' is a hilarious picture book written and illustrated by Nicholas Allan. The slightly cheeky title of this book will immediately appeal to children of all ages, so I wasn't surprised when my youngest child chose to borrow this book on her recent visit to the library. The comical illustration on the front cover shows Cinderella with an ample posterior. There is also a picture of a little girl telling us that the book is about 'other bottoms' too. She actually turns out to be the narrator of the story whcih is quite unusual in a picture book aimed at younger children. However, I think this made the book very appealing and that my child very quickly identified with this young story teller.

                              In this story, a young child is trying to persuade her older sister to come out swimming with her. However, her sister refuses, saying that her bum has grown too big and that her swimsuit no longer fits her. Her younger sister then points out that people come in all shapes and sizes and that 'big bums can be useful'. She then gives examples of several famous fictional and non-fictional characters, some of whom your child will be familiar with. She mentions that Santa needed a big bum to cushion himself if he had crash landings with his sledge and that Buffalo Bill's large behind helped him when he was having a bumpy ride on his horse. Other historical figures such as Houdini and Queen Victoria also crop up in the book which gives scope for further discussion as your child is bound to want to know more about these famous people. My four year old daughter wanted to know why Queen Vctoria's dress was so 'sticky-outy' which led to a discussion about fashion fads in Victorian times. My daughter is already a jeans and t-shirt sort of girl so she immediately declared such dresses to be 'silly' and I was inclined to agree with her.

                              The little girl also mentions a few fairy tale characters in the story which litle ones will enjoy. My child especially liked the bit that mentions that things could have been quite tricky if the prince had loved Snow White for her bottom. It then shows a hilarious picture of the Wicked Queen bending over and looking through her legs to get a view of her bottom in the mirror as she says,

                              "Mirror, mirror, don't be rotten,
                              Say I have the nicest bottom."

                              Despite the title, Cinderella herself has no bigger part in this story that any of the other characters. This might be a bit of a disappointment to Disney Princess fans out there but my daughter doesn't seem to mind and thoroughly enjoys every bit of this story. The book certainly produces plenty of laughs and even my teenage kids found it funny when the little girl explains that as Cinderella had a 'big bum' it is just as well that it was her shoe that she lost at the ball and not her knickers.

                              This book is both delightful and funny and it is very touching to see the little girl trying to convince her older teenage sister that she is perfect the way she is and that she should be proud of her body including her bottom. But, typical of girls of this age, she refuses to believe it. The book ends on a humerous note with the little girl revealing that her big sister didn't need to worry anyway, as the swimsuit she had been trying to squeeze into all this time actually belongs to her and not her big sister.

                              This has become a family favourite for us as I have a younger child and teenage children, (who don't think they are too old to join in now again at story time), and because of the nature of the story, we have all found that we can relate to this book. However, it will especially appeal to children of 3-7 years of age. All in all, this is a fabulously funny picture book with an important message: size doesn't matter so learn to love yourself the way you are!

                              This book can be purchased from Amazon for about £4.00. I thoroughly recommend this book and give it a wholehearted five stars.

                              Thank you for reading my review.

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                              • Panasonic TX-L42D25B / LCD TV / 28 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                                14.01.2011 16:45
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                                This is an easy to use LCD TV that I thoroughly recommend

                                We had been using an old style Hitachi analogue TV for the past 10 years, when we finally decided that enough was enough. It had to go! It had been blanking out on us every now and again but once it became frustratingly more frequent, and often in the middle of my favourite soaps at crucial moments in the script, it was time to replace it.

                                I am technologically challenged at the best of times so I write this review for those of you out there who use a TV primarily to watch TV programmes and DVD's although this TV has many other functions.


                                --------------------------
                                PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
                                --------------------------

                                I bought this TV about 4 months ago for £999 at John Lewis so it wasn't exactly a bargain. However a panasonic blueray dvd player was thrown in so that softened the blow a bit. It also comes with a free 5 year guarantee which is primarily the reason we purchased this at John Lewis. Not only do they offer this warranty on most of these types of products, but according to the experience of others I've spoken to, they do (unlike some others I've heard of) fix or replace your tv without a quibble if anything goes wrong with it. We also paid another £60 to have it delivered and set up. A hefty cost but again, peace of mind for the technologically challenged. I have since read reviews elsewhere that mention that set up is easy peasy with this particular model so unless you don't have a scoobie about these things, you might be better to save yourself some money.

                                This model of panasonic LCD TV is now available much cheaper although I have seen prices vary from £700 to over £1,000. One of the cheaper deals at the moment is online at Dixons for £714 and includes free delivery. However John Lewis are offering it for £817 with their free 5 year guarantee although I don't know what they charge for delivery.

                                ------------
                                FEATURES
                                ------------

                                SCREEN

                                Format 16:9
                                Screen size 42" (107 cm)
                                Contrast 2,000,000:1 Dynamic
                                Resolution (horizontal x vertical - in pixels) 1920 x 1080
                                Viewing angle (horizontal/vertical - in°) 178

                                AUDIO
                                Audio Audio Power 2 x 10 watt speakers
                                Noise reduction Yes
                                Mono/Stereo Sound Stereo
                                Speakers Built-in speakers (x2)

                                CONNECTIVITY

                                Connectivity 4 x HDMI
                                2 x SCART
                                2 X RGB SCART
                                1 x SD Memory Card Slot
                                1 x S-Video Connection
                                1 x Composite Video Input
                                1 x SVGA Input for PC Connection
                                1 x Headphone socket
                                SCART connectors 2
                                DVI Input No
                                HDMI Input 4
                                PC Input Yes, SVGA
                                Audio output 2 x 10 watt speakers, V-Audio ProSurround with Dolby Digital Plus

                                TUNER
                                Standard Digital Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuner
                                Double Tuner No

                                GENERAL

                                General Power consumption Standby: 0.3 watts
                                Remote control Yes
                                Accessories supplied Remote control, stand, documentation
                                Dimensions (mm) 655 x 1032 x 77 mm without stand
                                Weight (kg) 18.5 kg without stand

                                ----------------------------
                                MY OPINION ON THE BASICS
                                ----------------------------

                                As you can gather from the above the features and functions of this TV are endless. However, I will weed out the basics for those of you who like myself don't need it for anything much beyond watching your favourite soaps
                                and viewing a DVD now and again.

                                PICTURE:
                                The picture is crisp, clear and very realistic with a matt finish that cuts down on annoying reflections that you often get with TV's. The screen is 42 inches which is very large......although we did go from a tiny TV to this size. This model also has a very wide viewing angle and can be swivelled so that it can be viewed from any part of the room. This cuts down On arguments on who is going to sit where as we have found that the sheer size of the screen and flexibility of the viewing angle means everyone in the room has a great view now.

                                SOUND:
                                It comes with 2 x 10 watt speakers built into it which I have found gives it a more than adequate sound. However, I am a person that does not like my TV blaring and even find the noise in the cinema far too loud so I
                                am perhaps not the best person to comment on sound.

                                CONNECTIVITY:
                                I have used the TV to connect to the following gadgets -

                                Bluray player......via one of the 4 HDMI connections which are clearly labelled at the back of the TV.
                                DVD player.........we use it with the old AV3 cable (red, yellow and white plug one) which plugs into the side.
                                Games Console....we also use an AV3 cable, and have found it easy to interchange as we use.

                                There are many more gadgets that can be connected to this TV including your camcorder and PC but I haven't ventured into that territory yet and may never get round to it unless one of my more technologically minded friends comes to visit and gives me a demo.

                                TUNER:
                                It comes with an integrated Free View HD tuner and Free Sat HD tuner. The former is what we have been using via the TV Guide button on the very simple to use remote control......no more pressing the wrong button and mucking up the TV. There is a BACK button that rescues here and can at least bring you back to where you started.

                                MEDIA PLAYER:
                                I have used this function.......well ok, it was my husband who accessed this to view photos. This can be done by slotting in yor sd card from your digital camera into the SD card slot at the side of the TV. I viewed my family photos in the form of a slide show while lovely background music played along. I go quite emotional, seeing all the baby photos of my now 4 year old.....I am sure it was something to do with the music, rather than that she is not a baby any more, honestly!

                                Other features include the VieraCast feature that allows you to access websites such as YouTube and Picasa by connecting the set to the internet. This sounds useful although we have yet to try this. LED technology also means that it is extremely slimline and consumes less power than similar sized traditional LCDs and are mercury free all of which has pleased my eco friendly teenage daughters.

                                -----------------
                                CONCLUSION
                                -----------------

                                I highly recommend this TV to everyone, but especially to those of you who are technologically challenged like myself as it is very easy to use and everything is clearly labelled on the remote control and at the back of the TV. The picture quality is fabulous and the functions endless.

                                Thank you for taking the time to read my review and hope it is of some use to you.

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                                  14.01.2011 11:29
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                                  This game is no fun at all due to the poor design.

                                  The Oopsie Daisy Game is one of a Chad Valley range of toys, which used to be sold in Woolworths before they closed down their retail stores. Chad Valley make a wide variety of toys and are usually very reasonably priced. The Chad Valley range is still available to buy at Argos. The game is for 2 to 4 players with a a recommended age of 4+. I will now give you a run down on this game and my family's experience and reactions to it.

                                  ---PRICE---

                                  I bought this game for only £2.99 at an Argos store which, at the time, I considered to be a real bargain. This was discounted from the original selling price which was £5.99.

                                  ---PACKAGING AND CONTENTS---

                                  This game comes in a very brightly coloured box with an attractive picture of the game at the front of the box. This makes it look immediately interesting and appealing to a child.

                                  Contents are:

                                  Games Base x 1
                                  Daisy leaf cups x 4
                                  Daisy flower x 1
                                  Plug x 1
                                  Daisy spring stem x 1
                                  Daisy chance cards x 16
                                  Marbles x 40

                                  ---ASSEMBLY AND USER INSTRUCTIONS---

                                  Assembly was quite straight forward and my 4 year old daughter managed to help to partly assemble it. We snapped the four leaf cups into the sides of the base. An adult or older child would have to do this as you need to push quite strongly to snap them into place. The Daisy is then fixed into the middle using the plug and spring. This part was easy and my daughter enjoyed being able to manage this part by herself.

                                  User instructions are easy to follow. It explains that the object of the game is to be the first to successfully balance all of your marbles on the daisy wthout tipping it over. Each player is given 10 marbles which you place in your leaf cup. Four daisy chance cards are also dealt to each player. These cards come with a specific instruction to either take marbles off or put marbles on the daisy. I thought the user instructions were clearly laid out and there were also some tips on strategy when playing the game.

                                  ---OUR EXPERIENCES---

                                  My child was instantly excited when she opened this particular present on Christmas morning due to the bright and interesting packaging, and immediately wanted to try it out. However this excitement was short lived as this game is very badly designed! The aim is to try to place the marbles on to the daisy without making it topple over. If it topples, the marbles fall into the base and the player has to keep them. The problem with this game is that the daisy seemed to slant to one side so that no matter where you placed your marbles, they will automatically roll on to the same two petals at that side. This led to the daisy very quickly toppling over and therefore made it impossible for anyone to use up all of their marbles, which is supposed to be the aim of the game! This of course meant that this game never ever ended up with any winner. My child understandably got quite frustrated with the way this game was proceeding and quickly abandoned it to play with something else.

                                  ---OUR VERDICT---

                                  Since then we have only played the game 3 more times (which my child had to be persuaded to do as she had already delegated this game to to bottom of the toy box). Each time we ended up with the same result, with the daisy becoming imbalanced due to the poor design of the product. I think if the spring had been a bit more sturdy, perhaps it would have solved the problem? However, as it stands, the game fails on the suspense factor (which is what that sort of game is supposed to be all about) as it typically toppled over after only 6 or 7 marbles were placed on it. Furthermore, even if this problem was sorted, I don't think this game wold hold the interest of a child for long as it is incredibly boring and far too predictable. The daisy chance cards only give you 2 possiblities - either to 'put' on or 'take off' marbles which gives this game very little scope and a score of zero in the fun factor category. The suggested age group is age 4+ and it is unsuitable for under 3 years of age because of the marbles. However I don't think a child of any age would have fun with this game. My child now refuses to play it so it will soon be going to the nearest charity shop.

                                  ---CONCLUSION---
                                  I give the Oopsie Daisy Game one star but it barely deserves that, even at the bargain price of £2.99. But if I had payed the full price which was £5.99, I would consider that to be very poor value for money as there is a lot of fun, quality children's games for £5 out there. I don't recommend the Oopsie Daisy game to anyone out there, but suggest that you spend a couple of pounds more to get a decent game.

                                  Thank you for spending the time to read my review. It may also be posted on other review sites.

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