Lego Duplo My First Zoo (6136) Review

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Review:

My First Zoo is my son’s second favorite Lego Duplo set after his My First Train set. It includes a giraffe, tiger, elephant, polar bear, and fish, so it was also a big hit with my animal-loving seven year old daughter, and the two of them like to combine it with their Lego Duplo Green Building Plate and free bricks from a brick box to make more elaborate fences and exhibits.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

LEGO Friends Heartlake High (41005) Review

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Review:

I was really impressed by the design of this Lego Friends set. The final build was smaller than I expected, but really packed a lot of cool stuff into a compact space. Heartlake High comes with science and fine arts classrooms, a cafeteria, and bathrooms, and has tons of useful accessories like art supplies, a laptop, an owl, a telescope, and more that give it good play value.

Despite this, my daughter has never shown as much interest in playing with it as she does some of her other sets, like Olivia’s House, the Summer Riding Camp, and King’s Castle. I think it may just be that she can’t relate to it yet – she’s only seven, so she certainly hasn’t been to high school and hasn’t even watched that many high school movies. I’ve been thinking about bringing it back out now that she’s read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series – they might help her come up with more scenarios to play out in the school. Meanwhile, though, I’d probably recommend this set for slightly older girls, say 10 or 11.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Lego Castle King’s Castle (70404) Review

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Review:

I nearly bought this set on the spot when I saw it in Target for the first time. Lego Castle was my favorite theme as a child and King’s Castle reminded me so much of the great classic sets like Black Knight’s Castle that I grew up with.

As it was, I held out until, er, the next day. But near-impulse purchase or not, it’s not one I’ve regretted. It took my daughter a couple days of working on and off to finish and it’s one of her favorite sets to play with (along with her Lego Friends sets Olivia’s House, Summer Riding Camp, and Adventure Camper.)

King’s Castle comes with seven minifigs, plus a horse, and a bunch of cool features reminiscent of the classic Castle sets, like a working drawbridge, portcullis, and catapult. It’s a large set with plenty of room to add minifigs from other sets (and even themes – the Lego Friends girls and their horses spend a lot of time hanging around, as does the Golden Dragon) for more elaborate scenarios, and it also makes an attractive display piece.

Eventually, I’m hoping to get a whole medieval theme going with Medieval Market Village and Kingdom’s Joust, and this castle will be the centerpiece.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Lego Friends Summer Riding Camp (3185)

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Review:

My daughter isn’t as horsey as I was as a girl, but she loves animals in general, so this set ties with Olivia’s House as her favorite Lego Friends set. Like Olivia’s House, the compact design packs in a lot of cool details and she really enjoyed both building it and playing with it. Our only complaint is that a couple of the shutters were missing in the package (and I haven’t gotten around to requesting replacements from the Lego company).

Note: This set will soon be discontinued, so if you want it, now’s the time to snag it before the price goes up! Otherwise, check out Sunshine Ranch (41039)  as an alternative.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Lego Friends Jungle Rescue Base (41038)

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Review:

On our daughter’s wishlist

She loves animals, so she really likes the look of the new Lego Friends jungle theme. We haven’t bought her any yet, but this is the one she says she likes best so far, because it has the most animals and different parts.

 

My Favorite Christmas Reads

My favorite Christmas Reads

My family is not very religious, so we never really did the Advent calendar thing when I was growing up. Instead, as a family of incorrigible bookworms (and environmentalists), we saved our used wrapping paper from unwrapping presents and used it to wrap up our Christmas book collection, which was then put away for the year and brought back out again on December 1st. Starting that evening, we would unwrap one or two books per night until Christmas, and read them aloud together to start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Much like real Christmas presents, there was always much poking around to try and figure out what was what (in the intervening 12 months, we always forgot what paper had gone with what book) so we could unwrap our favorites sooner. Here are some of the books that I was always trying to find:

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My 10 Favorite Board Books To Read Aloud

My 10 Favorite Read-Aloud Board Books

I’ll let you in on a secret. I hate to read aloud. Always have, probably always will. But the benefits of reading aloud to young children are so enormous and life-changing (PDF) that I do it anyway, day in and day out.

Naturally, reading aloud is most enjoyable for me when it’s a book that I like myself. Read aloud books that are most fun for me have lots of scope for expression – elements such as silly voices, animal noises, dialogue, rhyming text, etc. Good illustrations are also a must – I especially like detailed illustrations with lots of stuff going on in the background that offers lots of opportunities to build and reinforce vocabulary. These types of elements make it less monotonous to read the same book 1,000 times, which inevitably happens when a toddler starts picking favorites.

Here are the top ten kid AND mom approved books from our personal library of board books:

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Sleeping Beauty Movie Review

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Review:

Sleeping Beauty was my favorite Disney movie when I was a young girl, but it later got superseded by Aladdin and I didn’t see it for many years. Then I watched it again in college, for the first time since elementary school, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it held up really well. Today, it’s back among my favorite Disney movies.

Why do I like it?

  • The animation is stunning – very stylized-looking and unique.
  • The music is some of the best ever – it’s Tchaikovsky, after all.
  • Prince Philip is quite the hottie – the best of the early Disney princes by far.
  • Aurora is kind of annoying, but not nearly as insufferable as, say, Snow White.
  • The three good fairies are funny, as are Aurora and Philip’s fathers and Samson the horse.
  • Malificent is the most terrifying and awesome Disney villain ever.

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Tangled Movie Review

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Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Sets – Help Us Choose!

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I’ve been starting to thing about Christmas presents for my kids and am trying to choose between two Melissa & Doug ice cream sets. My kids both love play food and they had a ball with the Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Scoop Set (right) when they got to play with it at a relative’s house. I was planning to get that set for them when I noticed a similar one, the Melissa & Doug Slice and Scoop Sundae Set (below left), and now I’m wondering if the Sundae Set might be even better.

I like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set has two scoops, two cones, and four flavors of ice cream, making my two children (hopefully) able to play with it together without fighting too much about who does what, whereas the Sundae Set has only one scoop and one bowl, so one child has to serve and the other to eat. On the other hand, if they do squabble while playing with the Ice Cream Scoop Set, the 2 year old might clonk the 7 year old with the wooden cones, which were pretty heavy and solid and might be more painful than the bowl from the Sundae Set.

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I also like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set comes with an ice cream carton to store everything in. On the other hand, I love that the Sundae Set has a banana and strawberry that you can cut up. (The two year old in particular absolutely loves their Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set.) The Sundae Set also has sundae toppings, which I think they’ll both like as well.

Decisions, decisions… Which set do you think I should choose?