Squidalicious Reviews


Lady Bugs N Butterflies: The Cutest Girly Hair Clips Ever!
August 3, 2010, 11:16 pm
Filed under: review

I do not dress like a girly girl. I usually sport jeans, t-shirts, solid colors, lots of brown and black. Basic black flip flops in the summer, basic black Dr. Martens in the winter. The opposite of fancy.

Which is why I find it challenging to outfit Leo’s little sister, five-year-old Mali. Her style is completely different from mine. She craves all that is glittering, pink, patterned, and fancy. She recently re-christened her shiny stuffed gecko “Celine Lizon” because Mali, like fellow magpie like Fug Girl Jessica, embraces Celine Dion as the apex of sparkly fabulousness.

I have been fortunate in that Mali has inherited much of her older sister Iz’s rather impressive wardrobe, but still wondered if perhaps I should let Mali have some fabulous of her own. So I was relieved when the the folks at Lady Bugs N Butterflies contacted me to ask if Mali would like to try out a couple of their hair clips. Would she? Does Celine Dion hail from the land of poutine? YES!

Mali was thrilled. Even more so when we went to the Lady Bugs N Butterflies site and discovered that she got to customize her clips from a wide selections of decorations, colors, and fasteners. After about an hour, Mali narrowed her choices to two (glittering, pink, patterned, fancy) options:


Polka dot “clippy” (Mali’s term)


Dragonfly clippy (which I have to admit to loving)


So cute to wear!

And such a happy girl, to have such fabulous accessories!
(Mali is wearing the polka dot clippy.)

www.ladybugsnbutterflies.com

Mali received two complimentary hair clips from Lady Bugs n Butterflies, but our family was in no other way compensated for this review.

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Book Review: Percy the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken
November 25, 2009, 8:49 am
Filed under: books, reading, review | Tags: ,

If you stock your kids’ bookshelves like I do, they contain a colorful mix of tales both fanciful and educational.  Books like Percy, the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken, Rick Rieser’s new FastPencil release about a chicken who doesn’t fit in.

I accepted a review copy of Percy with hopes that a book about creatures “perfectly imperfect” would carry a message of acceptance towards those who act or look in ways “typical” creatures find strange. I read Percy with my youngest daughter, who is almost-five, and we were both taken with Daniel Seward’s vibrant illustrations as well as the cute barnyard scene: an egg hatches! The chickens all gather round to greet the newest member of their flock!

Then a trio of older hens struts forth and scrutinizes Percy, declaring that they need to see him, as only perfect chickens are allowed to stay in their yard. Percy’s mom insists that her son is fine, and so he appears to be at first. Or is he? Unsurprisingly, I was hoping for an unsubtle special needs parallel … and was disappointed when Percy’s difference is revealed to be a matter of minor cosmetics. However, I am not a chicken, and I do not live in a world where a small variation in my appearance would get me ejected from my home.

Percy’s mom continues to protect him. When he reaches adulthood, he flies above the barnyard and is treated to views he’d never before encountered — including those of the three governing hens. From his new perspective, he sees that each hen has one of the forbidden imperfections, and confronts them.

I admit to a bit of discomfort with those scenes. We try to run a positive-thinking household, and pointing out someone’s else’s imperfections — even during self-advocacy — is not something we model. But it is also important that our children learn to recognize and reject hypocrites, especially those who wield influence or power. Otherwise, our kids will be taught to strive for that which they and indeed most people in their community do not represent (body image or materialism, anyone?). I want my kids to know that, as Percy’s mom says, “Perfect is something that doesn’t exist.”

Of course Mali doesn’t care about any of my analysis. She thinks Percy is an awesome book and reads it every day:

Coolness: Percy the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken was published through FastPencil.



Liking Myself, & The Mouse, The Monster, and Me
November 1, 2009, 7:15 am
Filed under: books, review | Tags: , , , , ,

Liking Myself and The Mouse, The Monster, and Me are two very sweet self-help books for kids by Pat Palmer. They are full of good advice and exercises for children who need help strengthening their identity and self-awareness. I imagine they’d be especially nice for conversational kids with autism, but they’d be appropriate for any child whose self-esteem is affected by social challenges.

My youngest, almost-five Mali, appreciated the emotional permission granted by Liking Myself and its simple yet important messages such as “Anger is an OK feeling” and “It is okay to like yourself and be your own good friend.” She did not notice that these messages were gently reinforced and repeated in several different formats — she just liked that Liking Myself had games, and encouraged her to draw and write right in the book.

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Children who can read Liking Myself on their own should definitely do so, but I recommend reading Liking Myself with your child, at least once. Mali was much more willing to talk about her feelings when questions were posed “by the book.” And many of her responses were surprising — I think of her as a confident and content child, but when “the book” asked her what she liked about herself, she shrugged. Eventually she said, “I like that I have a great Mommy” (awww) but that was not an answer about herself. So we continued reading, and went over the book’s descriptions of nice traits some people have. She was then able to identify several excellent points about her excellent self. I don’t think the concept of “liking herself” had been posed to her before, and was glad to see her explore it. If you’d like to see her explore Liking Myself, click on either video clip:

The Mouse, the Monster, and Me is for older kids like Mali’s ten-year-old sister Izzy, and deals with thornier topics like assertiveness, handling criticism, and the difference between compliments and flattery. It reinforces its lessons with exercises and checklists. It is right up Izzy’s alley.

Both books are small, floppy, workbook-format paperbacks.  They are printed in black and white, and hand-lettered with homespun illustrations. I wonder if this lets them slide down more easily than the bright-colored, gender-based, and task-oriented American Girls self-help series. I certainly found them more self-friendly, if such a term exists — they focus less on finding solutions to common social problems, and more on helping children know, accept, and better themselves so they can be more confident and caring social beings in the first place.

If you’re looking for material to enable your child’s self-acceptance and social awareness, and especially if your child likes scripts or tends towards perseveration, I really do recommend Liking Myself and The Mouse, the Monster, and Me.

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Compensation disclosure: I received one free review copy of each book. I so heart free books!



Review: Wonder Rotunda
October 12, 2009, 8:03 am
Filed under: education, geography, history, review, Wonder Rotunda

Today is my 40th birthday. If I were the type who considered such milestones opportunities to dwell upon unachieved dreams, I would moan bitterly about the very cool new kids’ educational online world, Wonder Rotunda, and gripe bout why I should have been the one to create it given that I and my two Geography degrees have been creating and improving upon that which used to be called “edutainment,” for almost fifteen years.

Instead, I’ll pause to appreciate all the loveliness in my life, remark that contract gigs combining geography, education, and interactivity are my very favorite kind of paid endeavor, and commence with the review.

Wonder Rotunda is an online, exploration-based learning environment for kids age seven – twelvish who want to learn more about the world around them, or whose parents would like them to learn more and understand that game-like environments are very good carrots. Specifically:

“The Wonder Rotunda is a virtual, educational theme park designed to open the eyes of youngsters to the wonders of our world, much the way world’s fairs and expos did for prior generations. It is designed to get kids thinking about our world, finding things that they’re passionate about, and exploring how they might make their mark some day.

“Set on an island in New York Harbor, the Wonder Rotunda’s fifteen, interactive, animated adventures cover topics as diverse as tropical rainforests, African wildlife, marine life, the human body’s digestive system, money and business, American government, nutrition, globalization, film making, classical music, performing and visual arts, space exploration and, making a difference in the world. The adventures move briskly and with excitement, while affording youngsters the option of probing more deeply where they have the interest.”

The kids explore Wonder Rotunda’s many exhibits via self-created avatars (mind you, kids used to Rock Band avatars might be a bit option-underwhelmed). There’s a bit of standard kid-game looking for gold coins and Wonder Dollars to keep the avatars supplied with “healthy choices” from the Wonder Rotunda food stands, or to let them shop for souvenirs, but otherwise players are free to explore the many educational exhibits and adventures, in as much detail as they like.

Parents worried about Webkinz or Club Penguin-like unmonitored social environments will be pleased with Wonder Rotunda. Though it’s web-based, there are no social networking or commercial options, no advertising. And there are considerable parental controls, such as requiring parents to create their own, administrative account before the child’s account can be created, allowing parents to create their own avatar so they can tag along with their kids (the Wonder Rotunda folks liken it to visiting a museum together), and the ability to browse your child’s Wonder Rotunda’s trail, to see where they have been spending the most time — so you can tell what subjects they’re most interested in, and encourage them to pursue them.

I have to admit, given Wonder Rotunda’s squeaky-clean appearance, its earnest goals, and the home page’s tour, I have not felt the need to monitor my ten-year-old Iz as she explores Wonder Rotunda. She finds WR’s subject matter motivating, and has been tearing around all by herself, popping out occasionally to blurt newly acquired facts:”iguanas can fall from a height of 40 feet without getting hurt!” and decry the occasional factual error: “Thomas Jefferson was the third U.S. President, not the second, tell them that right now, Mommy!” (To their credit, the Wonder Rotunda staff fixed the error immediately. Gotta love online content.)

The graphics are nicely done, the content has depth (always a concern, Iz gets bored quickly), and — most tellingly — I had to rip Iz away from the screen so she could do her homework. This led to a debate about my priorities — did I want to send her brain chasing after the new facts, systems, and synergies Wonder Rotunda offered, or did I want it to stagnate in revisiting concepts and worksheets it had already mastered? I recommend that you avoid such scenarios by requiring that your children finish their homework before they get to “play” with Wonder Rotunda.

I approve of Wonder Rotunda‘s mission wholeheartedly. I would likely have purchased it for my kids independently, but we were gifted a one month unlimited access pass worth $12. (Unlimited access for one year is $45, and can be renewed each year for $35). If you have the kind of kids who love The Magic Schoolbus and The Discovery Channel — or are looking to nudge your kids in that direction — Wonder Rotunda is a safe, mentally enriching, fun place to send them.



ABA Affordably on Demand: Rethink Autism
August 28, 2009, 4:02 pm
Filed under: ABA therapy, autim, autism blog, behavior, home program, Rethink Autism, review

If you’re at all familiar with ABA Therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis), you know that you can use its anchor techniques of carefully planned positive feedback and reward/reinforcer systems to influence almost anyone’s behavior. And that’s what I wrote about at BlogHer this week (I hope people decide to use their newfound behavioral powers for non-nefarious purposes):

BlogHer: Using Behavioral Approaches in Autism (And on Anyone)

I also wrote about ABA therapy in general, why it can be so useful for helping children with autism learn, and — most importantly — a new way for autism families who want but normally wouldn’t have access to an ABA program to bring it to their child: an comprehensive online program called Rethink Autism. As I said on BlogHer:

Rethink Autism creates a customized ABA curriculum for your child, provides hundreds of concise but thorough video-based lessons supplemented by printed lesson plans to teach you how to teach your child, allows automated scheduling so that you can coordinate with with your ABA team as to who’s teaching your child what and when, and produces really straightforward data tracking and analysis. They even provide email curriculum support. This is a valuable and very well done resource, and I recommend it.

But here is something that I didn’t mention on BlogHer, and which I think new, overwhelmed autism families need to understand: You can use Rethink Autism’s many, many videos to learn how to interact with your child. If the integrated data tracking and scheduling is too overwhelming, then put it off until you’re ready.

Instead, browse the topics — which include motor skills and social skills as well as academics — watch the videos and print the lesson plans, and start practicing those techniques with your child. Learning to communicate and motivate children with autism aren’t skills that come naturally to many parents, and how-to manuals can only describe, not model. Video demonstrations, however — those show exactly what to do. And if you need clarification, Rethink Autism provides email support. Once you’re comfortable using the techniques, start incorporating the data tracking elements.

I’ve included some screenshots of the Rethink Autism interface below, so that you can see for yourself how well organized and planned the program is. I found it easy to use and the interface beautifully and gracefully designed. Click on the screenshots to enlarge them:


Individual lesson plan interface


Tracking data and team comments within a lesson plan

Video lesson interface: choosing steps

Video Lesson demonstration, including physical prompt

Regarding cost, as I wrote on BlogHer:

Rethink autism is also affordable. In fact the monthly Personal (as opposed to Organziational) subscription rate is less than one hour’s time with a veteran behavioral therapist. While this is an incredible value, if it’s still outside your family’s budget, there are organizations like ACT Today! that help autism families fund their children’s needs.

Rethink Autism provides excellent resources beyond its paid ABA therapy programming. It also provides free-of-charge resources for new autism families in its What Is Autism section, including a thoughtful Coping/Living With Autism area that reminds parents to appreciate and accept their child, themselves, and to act instead of reacting. There is also a Community section, in which Rethink Autism participants can ask questions of the staff and each other about issues and concerns.

Rethink Autism is a resource that the ABA therapy-using section of the autism community has needed for a long time: comprehensive, easy to use, and accessible by any individual with a computer, internet connection, and browser. I am grateful to the good folks at Rethink Autism for creating these tools, and I encourage those of you who reach out to or mentor families with new autism diagnoses to spread the word.

Disclosure: Rethink Autism granted me a few days of trial access, but I was otherwise not compensated in any way. What I have written above is my honest opinion, as it always has been and will continue to be in any reviews that I post in this space.



Review: Daniel X: Watch the Skies
August 22, 2009, 3:37 am
Filed under: books, Daniel X, James Patterson, Ned Rust, reading, ReadKiddoRead, review

When I found out that copies of James Patterson’s new young adult book Daniel X: Watch the Skies were available for review, I immediately asked my eldest child and Patterson fan, Iz, if she wanted me to snare her a copy. She said “yes, please,” so I turned around to my computer and wrote “yes, please,” too.

The book arrived. Iz gobbled it down. She liked it, she said, because it was never boring, it was funny, it was fast, and it had what she considered to be an interesting twist at the end. She also liked the back-end placement of teaser chapters from other, forthcoming Patterson books, and wanted to know when she’d be getting her complimentary copies of those? I told her I couldn’t guarantee anything but we never know.

Then I sat down with the book to see if I liked it as much as Iz did, and initially the answer was “no.” The story was creative and exciting enough, about an orphan teen alien hunter and his friends, both imaginary and real, battling a giant malevolent extraterrestrial catfish-like media producer who makes marionettes out of humans before exterminating them, all in the name of “endertainment” and TV ratings; the book features explosions, fast cars, motorcycles, spying, narrow escapes, and chases galore, plus lots of nose-thumbing at school administrators. But it reads like Michael Crichton for kids: an innovative but minimally padded story outline, and it’s peppered with too much of what seems like movie, songs, restaurant, and brands product placement. And the chapters were jarringly short — many were only two pages. Daniel X: Watch the Skies was all bam-bam-bam action, with no time to take a breath or let characters develop. I found it disorienting yet skimpy, and was surprised Iz enjoyed it.

Then I put the book aside and thought about its appeal, and the authors’ (it is co-written with Ned Rust) motivations some more. James Patterson is also the founder of ReadKiddoRead, a site devoted to getting kids to love books like the author does. And I get the sense that Daniel X, like the Maximum Ride series Iz also enjoys, is about getting kids to do that reading using any hooks necessary. From this perspective, Daniel X is a rich read — it’s full of such hooks.

Many older kids and teens, and indeed adult sci fi/fantasy fans don’t want character development. They want action. This book will give them that, in an extremely violent but still relatively sanitary fashion — people are melted into goo, but there is almost no blood or gore. And the book is so fast-paced and there are so many action scenes that readers don’t really have time to analyze what kind of violence & action they’re reading about.

The constant citing of contemporary brands might be more grounding and comforting for some readers than a book skirting the retail and cultural footholds of our era in a bid to remain classic. Daniel X: Watch the Skies might not age well, but then again it might remain very much a symbol of that which was 2009. We’ll see.

Daniel X has much for a parent to approve of in that it celebrates love and responsibility towards family, friends, the environment, and even animals. It’s also quite tame when it comes to teen relations. There are funny feelings in tummies, there are kisses and swooning — but naught else. Parents or guardians concerned about all that sexy sex pervading teen literature should be pleased.

That tameness makes it rather strange, though, that the authors keep mentioning Stranger in a Strange Land as a pillar of literature, one of the Best Books Ever. I have already been teaching my kids about Stranger in a Strange Land concepts like the Fair Witness and grokking — but consider the book itself inappropriate for my ten-year-old Iz, who’s on the younger end of the Daniel X readership. What are kids to think about Daniel X when they discover the book he adores says it’s usually a girl’s own fault when she gets raped? That it depicts sixties-style free love? This is a bit of a misstep, in my opinion.

I could also do without the unsubtle preaching about the evils of technology and media and how they turn people into mindless consumer bobbleheads, but I suspect readers who enjoy Patterson’s books are willing to put up with that quirk in return for a rip-roaring bit of chaste ultraviolence with the likeable, resourceful, cheerful teen alien hunter Daniel X. They might smirk a bit, though, if they’re reading his story on a Kindle.

—–

MotherTalk sponsored the Daniel X Book Tour. In addition to putting yet another volume on Iz’s groaning bookshelf, they provided reviewers with modest Amazon gift certificates. I look forward to using our certificate to replace my son Leo’s loved-to-shreds copies of My World, Hop on Pop, and Everyone Poops.



Bee Yourself, but Bee Sweet
July 31, 2009, 5:22 am
Filed under: apiary, autism, BeeKind, confidence, empathy, reading, review, t-shirts

The nice folks at Bee Tees sent each of my three kids shirts. I’m not sure if they did so because they read this blog and thought my sometimes cantankerous trio could use good behavior reminders, but the shirts are cute as hell and my kids think they’re great.

I especially appreciate a kid with autism like Leo getting to run around town with a t-shirt that declares: “Bee Yourself”! And the fact that the BeeTees folks also do custom Bee-Cause designs for fundraising. SEPTAR could certainly benefit from a design option you might easily guess.

IMG_6748.JPG

Big sister Iz swiped his shirt later on. She says she’s the one who is entering middle school in a few weeks and needs tools like a “Bee Yourself” shirt to remind her about priorities and bucking peer pressure. Her shirt actually fit him better, so I didn’t mind letting them swap.

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Mali got the same shirt design Iz was supposed to wear, “Bee Sweet.” I think it’s appropriate. Mali has full-tilt Defiant Little Sister Syndrome, so anything that reminds her to be nice is appreciated (Bee Kind, Bee Happy, and Bee Good would also be options; as her mom I consider Bee Unique self-evident).

Sweet?

Iz complained that Leo’s the one who needs the Bee Sweet shirt anyhow, as he’s been going after his little sister again. I let him wear it not because of her griping but because most eight-year-old little brothers could use such a reminder. Plus at Leo’s team meeting today, we had two main discussion points: 1) How close he’s getting to reading — we think he might be doing some real work by the end of the year, in which case shirts with one or two words on them can help reinforce reading skills, and 2) The importance of using very firm and direct language and a commanding tone of voice with him when he misbehaves, to help him understand when he is doing something that is not okay. If we want him to be sweet, we have to be firm.

Regardless, these are truly very cute shirts, and I’m glad to know about them before the holiday shopping season starts. I know quite a few kids who could use or would appreciate them. And I might just get a Bee Unique shirt for myself.

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The kids and their BeeTees in front of a bee mural at the BeeKind apiary products & supply store in Sebastopol.