Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Listen-Along Storybook contest ends tonight!

Have you entered our contest to win all 8 books currently featured at It ends at midnight tonight (CDT).

[Contest has ended.]

And find more great contests at

Friday, March 12, 2010

Write a Letter Right Now: The Blessing of Paper Correspondence

Around two weeks ago, I got a surprise package in the mail. The sender included many thoughtful gifts for our family, but I most loved the enclosed letter from my friend.

Her handwriting, humor, and forthright personality reminded me that despite substantial distance and the passage of time, my friend and I still exist in each other's daily lives. Small actions (like the habit of tearing plastic windows out of envelopes before recycling), gestures, and environmental cues (book titles, dog breeds, places) offer me perpetual reminders of people I don't see as often as I would like.

I encourage you to pick up a pen and drop a line to someone who might enjoy hearing from you.

When I wrote my friend back by hand, it was a real shift from typing at my keyboard. I banned myself from looking up anything online during the duration of the letter (book titles were the true agony). It was strange to commit ideas to the page, and I found myself working more deliberately. The easy pace and ability to commit myself wholly to the letter was relaxing and joyful. Ranger and I added a few thumbprint embellishments a la Ed Emberley and I even doodled an ocean scene on the back of the envelope. It was the most luxurious way I have passed an hour in months. My life felt so much less harried because I had the available time to put pen to paper.

I mailed her letter a week ago. Yesterday, in a modern postal miracle, there were three handwritten pieces of mail for me. With the gladness of those special notes, I sat down last night and penned a letter to someone who can makes me laugh so hard my ribs hurt. Knowing my friend's insanely busy life, I don't expect a reply. I want her to know that I miss her and she still makes me smile all the time.

This could turn out to be addictive.

Who could you write today?

***Baby Toolkit is the sometimes slapdash answer to what happens when a couple of tragically unhip geeks have kids. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small portion of purchases through our Amazon links does power the Baby Toolkit industrial complex (domain names and DSL service).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Potty Positivity: Even Firefighters Go to the Potty

When I asked my friends how they potty trained their kids, more than one responded that her child wanted to be like their older underpants-wearing friends.

Peer pressure seems to hold some sway with young kids. While underpants may motivate the fashionable, how can parents with fashion-indifferent kids make the move out of diapers more alluring?

Wendy Wax and her sister Naomi Wax offer an ingenious lift-a-flap book that makes kids proud to potty.

Even Firefighters Go To The Potty
observes that all kinds of people answer Nature's call. Through Stephen Gilpin's colorful and funny illustrations readers wonder where important figures (a police officer, a doctor, a baseball player, a *gasp* waiter, a train engineer, and an astronaut- among others) have gone.

The child can lift a door shaped flap on the page to reveal the missing cool person in the bathroom. The modest pictures keep everything G-rated while still showing urinals and other non-household bathroom features.

The book made me laugh pretty hard. Just as I was acclimating to the rhythm "But an astronaut is missing. Where could he have gone? [life flap] To the potty. Even astronauts go to the potty," I found myself squirming to read "It's a busy day at the restaurant. The Sutton family is ready to order. But where did the waiter go?"

Noooo! Waiters never go to the potty during their shifts. No! No! No!

When Ranger lifted the flap to show a picture of a handsome fellow thoroughly washing his hands, I laughed with delight (and no small measure of relief). Ranger always laughs especially hard at the page because of my initial reaction.

The book is charming and well-drawn and received far more interest than the classic Everyone Poops. Because it's a household comedy hit, I've had the slightly awkward pleasure of reading it to at least one visiting child. The preschool kids all proudly declared that they too go to the potty. I think that kind of enthusiasm would inspire early potter trainers to desire membership in the secret society of the commode.

The book's pages are made of a heavily laminated cardstock. They're really durable. We let the Raptor (15 months) brutally drag the book all over the house and it shows no notable wear after weeks of unchecked abuse.

For $8, this hardcover book is a steal. I wish we had owned it years ago.

Update 3/12:
Wendy reports that Even Ballerinas Go To The Potty is currently being developed. I'd like to note that preschool girls and boys seem equally delighted by Even Firefighters Go To The Potty when we've read it with them.

Parents who think about books and writers thinking about children's books will like Wendy's new blog. Learn more about her other titles at her website.

***Baby Toolkit is the from the trenches communique of two geek parents in the Midwestern United States. Wendy Wax sent us a free copy of Even Firefighters Go To The Potty ($8). We have no financial relationship with the book's authors or publishers. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small percentage of purchases made through our Amazon links help pay for our domain name and DSL service. Thanks for reading Baby Toolkit!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Have you heard? podcasts popular picturebooks for free!

In the 70s, my favorite rack in the public library held plastic bags with books and records. Over my childhood Arnold Lobel's Stone Soup evolved into Sterling North's Rascal while the records were gradually usurped by cassette tapes. Today, the mention of those authors' names conjure memories of laying on the green shag carpet in front of the stereo and engaging in those well-told tales.

Following the Raptor's toddling path through the library last week, I found that the library still has a small collection of those books on cassette (and now CD), but I suspect that those kids' audiobook are becoming a less common feature in libraries today. The audio mediums are more prone to breakage than print materials, so the collections require more patron care and general maintenance.

One children's publisher (Sterling Children's Books) is making it possible for excellent dramatic performance to be a childhood standard yet again.

On March 1st, Sterling launched which offers live streaming and podcasts of their most popular picture books.

Sterling's publicist sent us a copy of Cesar Takes a Break by Susan Collins Thoms (MRSP: $14.95), so 4 year old Ranger could experience the podcast with the book.

Cesar Takes a Break is a very timely choice for kids about to take a Spring Break. Cesar, a classroom iguana, decides to explore the school when the children of the class leave for vacation. Ranger is in his second year of preschool, but every break seems to surprise him. This story seems a good way to make him mindful of the upcoming week's opportunities.

Jim thinks the book's varied characters (the school's other class pets) lend themselves to expressive reading. Ranger loves it when Jim reads this story as well.

The high quality podcast entails excellent and expressive readings (by Sterling Children's Book staffers) and original music.

Ranger loved the Cesar Takes a Break podcast with and without the book. His reading skills at 4.5 leave him a bit baffled about when to the turn the page. The story pleases him even without the book in hand. We would love to see a subtle signal added to cue page turns as it would allow pre-readers to follow along with greater independence.

Listen-Along Storybook's first 8 podcasts include the classic folktale Jack & the Beanstalk and new releases like Perfectly Arugula.

Ranger and I will get the books from the library so we can follow along with the vibrant illustrations, but YOU have a chance to win the 8 book set from Sterling Children's Books.

Sterling Children's Books has offered to give each of THREE lucky Baby Toolkit readers (in the U.S. or Canada) all 8 books currently featured on the podcast site.

[Contest closed.]
(Contest entries close at 11:59 PM Thursday, 3/18/2010. Winners will be notified by email.)

For a peek behind the production curtain check out the making of Cesar Takes a Break:

Sterling has also launched a Jokecast for the younger set. WARNING: These are serious groaners, and I know Ranger is going to love telling them to me HUNDREDS of times.

***Baby Toolkit is the brain dump of two Midwestern bibliophile geek parents with opinions on almost everything. We received a free copy of Cesar Takes a Break from Sterling Children's Books (~$15 value). While free books are a decent route to our bookworm hearts, we wouldn't bother telling you (at least not in non-lambasting tones) about something we didn't like.