Top 5 “One of a Kind” picks for crafty kids

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…the One of a Kind Christmas Show & Sale starts this week and I can’t wait. If you’ve never attended OOAKS, here’s the lowdown: more than 800 artisans selling their handmade pieces, from home decor and fine art, to fashion and jewellery,  to food and fun.

There is a so much to see (and buy), so if you don’t have hours to browse, here’s my list of top picks for crafty kids.

Top Kids Picks from the 2011 One of a Kind Christmas Show & Sale

  • Silk Baby Shoes. These adorable first shoes are made from Kimono fabric and come in a multitude of vibrant colours and beautiful patterns. A wonderful baby shower gift. Ubuchitta Japan, $45.
  • Birds on a Wire Pillow. I was originally going to write about Heidi van Veen’s lovely stockings (a thoughtful first Christmas gift), but then I saw this pillow and it took my breath away. Heidi van Veen, price unknown.
  • Bunny Mittens. Cate & Levi have soared in popularity at OOAKS, and while that could be because of an appearance on Martha Stewart or photos of Elton John singing along with one of the company’s hand puppets, I also think it’s because they came up with a good idea. That idea: making stuffed animals out of reclaimed wool. Now they top that idea with stuffed animal-like mittens, made again of reclaimed wool and lined with soft eco fleece. What kid wouldn’t want to keep these on? Cate & Levi, $40.
  • Child’s Combination Chair. My friend turned me onto this chair last year when she, not having bought it when she attended the show, asked me to pick it up during my visit. It’s easy to see why: the chair grows with the child, starting off as a stable chair, changing into a rocker and then ending as a step stool. The unfinished wood means you get the opportunity to make it your own. Thorpe Toys, price unknown.
  • Car Bingo Game. If you’ll be travelling for the holidays and hope to avoid the dreaded “Are we there yet” from the back seat, these cotton bingo boards may just do the trick. Lined with metal, each board features 25 colourful images – from police car to baby carriage – and a bag of magnets to keep little ones entertained. For a bit, anyway. Pi’lo, $28.

If you’re looking for a unique gift alternative for your gadget-loving guru, take a look at this OOAKS guide written for WorkLivePlayCafe.com.The show runs November 24 to December 4 at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place.

Tomorrow, my top OOAKS spots to shop for yourself – you know you deserve it.

Top 10 books for kids and teens 2011

As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I thought it time to offer a list of 2011’s best books for young readers. The selections range from child to teen and include books that I fell in love with and books my kids fell in love with.  Some made major Top 10 lists and some didn’t. What’s most important is how they make you feel. Give them a try  (you’d be surprised how easy it is for an adult to dive into a middle-school book) or pass them along as gifts.

Children:

Press Here by Herve TulletPress Here by Hervé Tullet. Tullet’s book is a gem.  It starts with a simple painted yellow dot on a white page. The author asks the child to “press here and turn the page.” Two yellow dots appear. So continues Press Here, where each time a child fulfills the action required – from rubbing to tapping to shaking –  a reaction occurs on the next page. Brilliant in its simplicity and interactivity. I’ve recommended it to everyone and anyone (even to a complete stranger perusing the kids’ section at City Lights Books in San Francisco – he then bought it).

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. The beautiful images and lilting rhymes capture the construction trucks as they each wrap up their day’s jobs and head off to sleep. I passed this book along to my four-year-old truck-crazed neighbour and I was told by his parents that he demands that it be read to him every night. I think there is no higher praise that can be said than that.

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva. The cyclist follows a long yellow road as it continues from one page to a next, around town, over bridges,  into tunnels, fast and slow. While the story is simple, the illustrations are absolutely stunning.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. Speaking of gorgeous books, Grandpa Green takes readers through the story of one boy’s great grandfather – from birth to war to family to old age – while wandering through a garden with each memory documented in a shaped topiary so as never to be forgotten.

Middle graders:

Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan AuxierPeter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Peter Nimble is a 10-year-old blind orphan and the greatest thief to ever live. One day, after stealing a box of magical eyes, he gets the chance to leave his terrible life and start anew, if he completes a dangerous mission of saving a lost people in a vanished kingdom. Peter Nimble is a classic adventure story full of close calls, strange beasts and surprises at every turn. I adored it and think it a great choice for thrill-seekers, including reluctant readers.

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. I admit, I first picked up this book because the author was once a writer for The Gilmore Girls and The O.C. The book is completely different of course – here, three children are out to uncover what happened to their family and are transported to a fantastical  land where they’re forced to confront wolves, giants and undead warriors and pretty much save the world. Not exactly your typical day in Stars Hollow or Orange County. But what does seep into the book from the television world is Stephens’ gift for storytelling, humour, pacing and intriguing characters.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt When 14-year-old Doug moves to a new, small town,  he figures he’s destined to continue with his pathetic life – abusive father, bullying brother, designation of skinny thug. But a trip to the library and the viewing of a John James Audubon print triggers something in Doug that leads him to believe there can be more to life than what people expect it – and him – to be.  A wonderful coming-of-age book full of darkness, loss, love and survival. I aspire to write like Schmidt.

Teens:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by  Ransom Riggs.  When 16-year-old Jacob’s grandfather dies from mysterious circumstances, he goes in search of the real story. That story – based on a set of old photos – takes him to a Welsh island that houses the now-abandoned orphanage his grandfather grew up in during World War 2. What he uncovers is beyond the norm: a motley group of children with extraordinary powers and a realization that he too may not be just another ordinary boy. Having the photos in the book makes the story and our imaginations that much richer.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. When I started this book I thought it was a humourous tale of beauty queens stranded on a deserted island. While that certainly is the jumping off point, Beauty Queens is far more than Gilligan’s Island with bikinis: it’s a stark look at how young girls are seen, what’s expected of them,  and how the way they’re treated forms they way they see themselves. What the girls learn while away from society is a lesson that women young and old should take away for themselves, too.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I have to state upfront that I’m not a big fan of dystopian novels. I find them kind of depressing. But it’s hard to ignore Divergent, which has climbed to the top of its genre and made Roth a debut novelist to be reckoned with. In Divergent, 16-year-old Tris has to decide, like all others her age, whom she wants to be for the rest of her life, but she has to make that decision by selecting  one faction to move on to based on virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity and Erudite. Her choice  means leaving her family, building a new identity, and struggling to survive with a secret that could mean her death but life for others.

What was your favourite book for young readers this year?

Geek Chic

Do check out my post for the site WorkLivePlayCafe about the best tech offerings at the upcoming One of a Kind Christmas Show & Sale. I love everything about this artisan show and will highlight some more crafty and kid-friendly items in the next few days. But if you’re  already itching to know what will be available, this article is a good start!

Not-For-Parents Travel Series

Back in August, I was over-consumed with planning a trip to San Francisco for my family. I had traveled to San Fran a few times before, but never with kids.

I went online and searched for anything and everything kid-friendly: hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc. I read reviews, compared Top 10 lists, checked what parents had to say and planned our visit accordingly. It was a lot of work, but for the most part everything went well.The Not-For-Parents Travel Book from Lonely Planet

Then, a month later, I received press copies of Lonely Planet‘s new Not-For-Parents travel series,   The Travel Book: Cool Stuff to Know About Every Country in the World and London: Everything You Wanted to Know.

The Travel Book offers kids one-page synopses of every country in a colorful, image-packed layout featuring brief factoids about history, food, culture, landmarks and more. The entry for Canada includes information about totem polls, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Hockey and igloos. For the United States, it talks about tornadoes, the Statue of Liberty, baseball and Mount Rushmore. It’s a great snapshot of the world and may even get children itching to travel more.

Not-For-Parents London by Lonely PlanetWhich leads me to London. Although fewer than 100-pages, this travel guide highlights all the fascinated features of the city, again in an intriguing, easy-to-read layout that captures a child’s (and parent’s) imagination. Stories dedicated to Harry Potter, punks, ghost trains, murdered royalty and common folk, London Bridge and on and on are accompanied by photos, thought bubbles, sketches, maps and cartoons. If you’ve been to London as an adult without the kids, a trip with children and this guide will offer a new perspective of the city and lead you to places you’ve likely never been to before and to details you’ve never heard of before.

The City Series of books also includes New York, Paris and Rome. No San Francisco yet. But I’m sure there will be one by the time we go again. At least I’m hoping so.

The Not-For-Parents Travel Book and Not-For-Parents London, published by Lonely Planet Publications, 2011. Available at Amazon.ca: The Travel Book, $15.87 and London, $12.26.

Re-creating crayons

Kids love their crayons — until they break.Crayola Crayon Maker -- what to do with old crayons

As a parent, I pick up those broken pieces and place them back in the box or bag with the unbroken pieces waiting for that day my children realize those bits are just as good as before they split in two. It will never happen unless they’re desperate, but I can hope.

Now, there’s a better way. I just came across the fab Crayola Crayon Maker. Add the bits into the machine (kaleidoscope of colors welcome), melt them down, pour them into a mold and let them harden. Voila! New funky crayons.

I have a feeling kids will be breaking their crayons on purpose from now on. For ages 8+. Available at Toys R Us, $33.