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Brainstorm Eureka Toys RC Illuminated Solar System 09/01/2013

Can Also Be Used To Taunt Kittens

Brainstorm Eureka Toys RC Illuminated Solar System My five year old daughter has owned this mobile six months or so. I bought it for her as she is interested in the stars and planets and in stories about outer space. It came from our nearest Smyths store where it cost around £30 without the batteries, (it needs 3 x AA batteries for the sun and 2 x AAA batteries for the remote control). One of the things that attracted me to the box was the fact that it had a picture of a girl and a boy on the front, (albeit the boy appears to be impressing the watching girl), I thought this was good because outer space themed toys are often aimed squarely at boys and children can be very aware of whether a toy is genderized. The Manufacturer's recommended age is 6+ but I see no reason why it couldn't be in the room of a younger child and used under supervision. Assembly It needs to be put together, which doesn't take very long. There are straightforward instructions in an 'educational booklet' that comes with it. Pre-assembly, the main kit consists of; a Sun in two halves, eight complete planets and eight pieces of wire. All you need to do is line up the eight pieces of wire and hook the ends into the planets. There is a list that gives the order in which to do it; Mercury being the nearest planet to the Sun is on the shortest length of wire, Venus is next, then Earth, and so on. The planets also have discreet numbers on them. The next step is to insert the wires into the equating numbered slots on the sun. The widest part of the sun ...

Out - Natsuo Kirino 12/11/2012

Out There

Out - Natsuo Kirino Out is a literary crime novel by Natsuo Kirino. It was first published in Japan in the late nineties and the English translation by Stephen Snyder came out in 2003. I found my copy in a charity shop where the phrase 'perverse feminism' in a cover comment, along with the fact that it won the Japanese Grand Prix award for crime fiction, persuaded me to part with a couple of quid. The story concerns four friends who work the night shift in a boxed-lunch factory. One of them murders her abusive husband and the others help her to cover up the crime, but this is only the start. What follows is a mixture of horror and farce as this unconventional psychological thriller unwinds in the suburbs of Tokyo. The way the husband's body is dealt with is pretty grisly and I was close to discarding the book here as I couldn't have coped with that level of graphic gore throughout, but thankfully the author eased up a little, at least until later on. Of the women, it is not the killer - little pretty Yayoi, who drives the novel, but her colleague Masako. Masako is a strange figure, steely and smart, she has admirable qualities but isn't easy to like. Yoshie is the oldest, most sympathetic of the women, and Kuniko the least sympathetic and most shallow, although she did feel a little easy - too much of a stereotype. There are some well drawn male characters; a local nightclub owner, Satake, who has a very dodgy secret and an interest in finding out who the killers are, and then ...

Nokia Asha 300 20/09/2012

A Handful of Asha

Nokia Asha 300 I've owned the Nokia Asha 300 for around 6 months now, ever since my previous phone got washed up, (literally - in the machine). I'm not a big phone user and didn't want anything expensive. I do however have an extremely cute child, so like to have a camera handy for those smiley ice cream face moments. So, my requirements were for a basic phone, but maybe one that also had a decent camera. The Asha 300 was recommended to me in a couple of different shops as being a basic phone with a decent camera. I liked the look of it and the fact that it's both touchscreen and manual. It's 3G and has all the kinds of things people who buy phones more often than me might expect, like the Nokia browser and Angry Birds Lite. There's a list of typical apps and various tones and themes to choose from. The layout is fairly traditional, with the keypad at the bottom and the 2.4 inch screen taking up more than half the space on the front. Above the keypad are three buttons, the usual red and green call/end call keys and a messaging key which is pressed to send a message or check your inbox. To make a call you can choose to use the traditional green phone button and end the call with the red one, or you can use the screen to open the menu and tap on your contacts list. There's a key lock button on the side of the phone at the lower right of the screen. To unlock it you swipe the screen across a moving arrow. This had me confused at first and I couldn't unlock it until I'd read the ...

How would you change education and schools today? 12/09/2012

A New School Ruler

How would you change education and schools today? Ok, so imagine I'm the education secretary and have unlimited powers. First let me kick the odious Gove out of office. Boof. There. Now then, *rubs hands* ..... Abolish Private Schools Private education is an abomination. It is payment for privilege and social advantage over other children. The school's 'charitable status' means they actually cost the taxpayer £100 million. I understand as well as anyone the wish to do the best for your child but children in state schools have their prospects actively damaged by parents who choose to buy a 'better' education for their children. As for the argument of 'choice', it's only for the wealthy. The only way the best education for all our children can be achieved is through a system that aims to give everyone an equal chance. There's no reason why a local state school that reflects it's environment can't provide as good an education as one filled with wealthy white children. Fewer Tests More Fun British schoolchildren face more tests than children in any other western country, they are tested at a younger age and more frequently than anywhere else. Recent studies name British children as the unhappiest in the world. I suspect a connection. A high quality education does not have to mean more tests. Under my administration there would be fewer tests, I'd scrap SATS and put more emphasis on social education. SRE, (Sex and Relationships Education), and PSHE, (Personal Social Health and Economic education), would have a ...

Princess Smartypants - Babette Cole 10/09/2012

Not That Clever

Princess Smartypants - Babette Cole Whenever the question of feminist books for little girls is raised, Babette Cole's 'Princess Smartypants', (Picture Puffin), is one that gets recommended. Originally published in 1986, it's seen as an alternative to old fashioned fairy tales in which the inevitable ending is the happy ever after marriage of princess and prince.   The heroine of the title lives happily with her motley collection of animals, but lots of princes want to marry her. To foil them, she sets her suitors tasks which none of them can accomplish - until the arrival of smarmy Prince Swashbuckle, but Smartypants knows how to deal with him.   As a challenge to the assumption that a princess does little more than look pretty, Smartypants holds her own - she rides a motorbike, can defeat anyone in a roller disco marathon, and is fiercely protective of her independence. The cartoon illustrations add humour, the funniest moment being a kiss that turns a prince into a giant toad, but ultimately Smartypants is little more than a raspberry blow at the pink princess stereotype.   While the main character may break traditional rules, Smartypants is still a part of the princess genre it ridicules, so the idea of princesshood, something many feminist Mums want to steer their children away from, remains desirable. The heroine is described as pretty and rich, the reasons so many princes want her to be their wife. The princes are figures of fun and Smartypants doesn't behave well towards them, she also doesn't ...

The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber 19/03/2012

If I Were to Condone the Burning of Books......

The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber 'Carol smiled at the dreamy look on Jacqueline's face. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven the first time Doug kissed me," she recalled.' This is not the kind of book I would usually read, it was a promotional copy, shoved unasked for in my carrier by a BHS cashier. No, I didn't have to read it, but I did, whilst tutting, during ad breaks and mundane conversations. While I wouldn't have bought it, I don't mind the odd bit of low brow fiction and will read in any genre provided the writing reaches a basic level of credibility, which this didn't. The main characters are; Lydia - spunky cancer survivor, scared of relationships; Jacqueline - wealthy, image conscious snob; Alix with an I - young, punky and tough, but vulnerable underneath; Carol - desperate for a baby. They all come together in a knitting class where their problems are shared and solved in a formulaic, predictable bumwipe of a novel. Four more stereotypical women could surely not be imagined; each facing their own cliched issues, each in need of a romantic fix to achieve fulfilment. Let's take Alix as an example. At the start of the book she has purple spiked hair, wears a dog collar, works in a video shop and owes community service hours for a drugs charge, (to avoid being too controversial the author makes it her flat mate's cannabis, don't forget Alix is good underneath so therefore must hate drugs). It turns out she had a rough childhood, although we are spared too many details other than that ...

Women of the Revolution - Kira Cochrane 10/02/2012

On the radical notion that women are human beings.

Women of the Revolution - Kira Cochrane Women of the Revolution is an anthology of feminist writing selected from Guardian archives by journalist Kira Cochrane. The resulting book is a guide to feminism as written about in the Guardian. It would be understandable to expect it to be a largely white educated middle class discussion of the women's movement, and this is true to a degree, but voices and opinions of minority groups within the movement are also represented. Alongside regular Guardian contributors such as Polly Toynbee and noted feminist luminaries like Germaine Greer and Bell Hooks, Raekha Prasad interviews Sampat Devi Pal of India's 'Gulabi Gang,' there are interviews with working class women in the UK, rape survivors in Congo and Rwandan politicians, but the majority of viewpoints come from Guardian journalists or women whose voices are heard in the mainstream. Altogether there are 72 articles. The first piece from 1971 is by Mary Stott, a long serving women's page editor. In it she attempts to answer the question; "What is the Women's Liberation fuss about?" Some of the language in the early articles is almost quaint. Michael Behr's patronising if well intentioned assessment of Betty Friedan back in 1971; "How to be Voluble, Sexy and Liberated," may seem cringeworthy now, but even old fashioned sexism such as that from the union executive who calls a journalist 'sweetheart' and refuses to answer her question about union rules because they're too complex for her, is mild in comparison to the sexually ...

The Big Big Sea - Martin Waddell 08/02/2012

And Mum said to me, "Remember this time. It's the way life should be."

The Big Big Sea - Martin Waddell Pleased to have found a children's illustrator who gives her little girls practical clothes, rather than the ubiquitous pink dress, I was in search of more books with Jennifer Eachus' impressive watercolour illustrations for my daughter, when I discovered 'The Big Big Sea,' (Walker Books). This picture book for young children in which a little girl and her mother visit the sea on a moonlit night was originally published in 1994 and re-issued a couple of years ago. It's a simple tale told and illustrated exquisitely. [] Because of the little girl on the cover I imagine many people would think of it as a book for little girls, but just as girls are commonly expected to read books with male leads, so this book is fine for either gender. It's such a straightforward story that it can be read to very young children, who after all, care not about the gender of characters in books until it is impressed upon them by others that certain books are for girls or boys. My daughter loves this and I just wish she'd had it from a much younger age as it is beginning to feel a little young for her now, at the grand old age of four and a half. [] The story begins with the words: "Mum said, ‘Let’s go!’ So we went …", the accompanying picture is an almost silhouette of a woman waiting by her daughter as she puts her sandals on. The spontaneous mood develops throughout the pages into a celebration of nature, freedom and the love between a mother and child. [] The pair cross over a field and under a ...

Hawkin's Bazaar Retro Metal Kaleidoscope 23/12/2011

Retro Toy Joy

Hawkin's Bazaar Retro Metal Kaleidoscope I bought this metal kaleidoscope from Hawkin's Bazaar as a stocking filler for my daughter's Christmas last year. This year it's priced £4.50. There are a few different designs, they all appear to be unisex and aimed at very young children. The website specifies the age as 3+, but I see no reason why a younger child couldn't play with it under supervision. My daughter was three when I bought this. Ours is designed with multicoloured squares of red, blue, yellow and green covered in all sorts of little pictures which include animals, vehicles, faces and toys. I note on the website that this comes under '60's toys', whether this is 60's inspired or reproduction, I'm not sure, but maybe some people will recognise it from 'olden times,' (it's probably the reason they are all unisex as well, it seems the days are gone when toys were generally aimed at children rather than seperating them by gender). The tube is metal and the turning end piece is clear plastic. The kaleidoscopic image comes from what looks to be a triangular gap at the end of the tube surrounded by mirrors. There are several different colours and shapes of bead in the bottom. The beads rattle when it's carried around, (or rattled). The beads are red, orange, yellow and different shades of pink and blue. They are quite chunky for a kaleidoscope which may be why the effect is often several seperate images with gaps between, rather than the view being totally filled, although this does happen. I have seen better ...

Lucky Ducks 23/12/2011

Luv a Duck

Lucky Ducks My daughter was given this game a year or so ago. It's one that's been around for a few years and although it doesn't seem to be available in many UK shops at the moment, there are plenty of online stockists; amazon,,, but the best place for a decent priced version would be Ebay where you should be able to pick it up for under £10. It's made by MB Games/Hasbro and takes 2 x 1.5 v batteries. The battery life seems quite decent, I don't recall having to change the batteries in ours yet. In the box are twelve plastic ducks and a motorised pond which measures roughly 25cm in diameter. It has a big red button in the middle and is surrounded by blue conveyor belt style 'water' onto which the ducks are placed. The outside is green grass and slightly raised to keep the ducks in. Around the pond are four coloured symbols; a red circle, purple square, blue star and orange triangle - these are the player positions and each duck has one of these symbols on their underside. Once in motion, the motor noise is quite loud, and accompanied by quacks, this can be really annoying, although, as parents do, I usually manage to tune it out.. To play, the button is pressed and the ducks move around on the pond, players take turns to pick up a duck, if it matches their 'home' symbol then that duck is kept, if not it is put back on the pond. We have always played it so that the symbol is seen by everyone, but it could be made trickier if only the player who ...

Manhattan Toy Lanky Cats 17/12/2011

Floppies's Got the Flop Factor

Manhattan Toy Lanky Cats Cats, gotta love'em, especially if you have a young child who has been obsessed with them for as long as she can remember. Due to her enthusiasm we have an assortment of cat-related objects. This means family and friends have an easy enough time choosing birthday and Christmas gifts and it was last Christmas that my daughter was given a 'Lanky Cat', probably so named because they are long and skinny. Lanky Cats are soft toys available in a variety of colours and patterns which include; gold, 'White Tiger', and 'Cheetah'. They are made by Manhattan Toy and at the time of writing they retail on for between £7.50 and £17.90. We have the black 'Ziggy' Lanky Cat. It has a cute and characterful appearance. It was an instant hit with my daughter, she was very excited when it was unwrapped and it became a favourite. 'Floppies', as it was aptly christened, was soon a regular fixture at bedtime, in the car and at the nursery. So what is it that makes this cat special? Well, there are a few details that make it different from other toy cats. The most obvious are the distinctive large green eyes. These are emphasised by the uncat-like heavy brows, a small grey triangle for a nose and big ears pointing off to the side. The lack of a mouth also adds emphasis to the wide eyed expression, oddly it does seem able to express different emotions, depending on which angle you look from. A soft black coat covers the thin body, while the paws are disproportionately big and ...

Hasbro Elefun Game 17/12/2011

How to Turn a Hairdryer into a Game

Hasbro Elefun Game The Elefun game seemed to be everywhere in the run-up to Christmas last year, I noticed it on offer for a fiver in a few supermarkets but had no idea whether it was any good, then my daughter received one from a friend. The price seems to vary wildly with this one depending where and when you buy it, at the time of writing it's priced around the £12 mark on Argos and Amazon websites, and under a tenner from Tesco. It's made by Hasbro, designed for 2-4 players, takes 4 X 1.5v batteries and the age on the box is 3+, with the word pre-school highlighted. In the BoxIn the box is the base elephant or 'elefun', it's trunk, 4 butterfly nets, 30 'butterflies' and an instruction sheet. The nets need to be assembled which is very simple, the handles are either red, yellow, blue or green. The butterflies lack artistry, they remind me of pasta bows, but are made of paper thin plastic a bit like thin carrier bag plastic but tougher, they're coloured red, green and yellow. The plastic base looks like a blue elephant with it's head looking up, the bottom half houses a motor, the rest is a holder for the butterflies. I'm sure the inspiration for this game must have come from a hairdryer because the whole thing is hairdryeresque. The trunk detaches, a bit like a hairdryer attachment, one end is hard plastic but most of it is a tube of some kind of thin polythene like material. This is so that it can be blown upwards. In play it looks a bit like a drainpipe. In Play First you ...

Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe Asst 12/12/2011


Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe Asst Until recently I had managed to avoid buying any Play-Doh type toys for my little one. It's messy stuff and as my daughter regularly played with it at nursery and playgroups I thought we could do without it at home, but this summer I decided to allow her to spend £20 of birthday money on any toy she wanted and she chose this Play-Doh Ice Cream Shoppe, (I don't know why it's ye olde shoppe instead of just a shop). It cost £18 from Early Learning Centre, although at the time of writing it's marked at £14.40 on their website. Contents and Set Up:It's in a bright colourful box with a boy and girl pictured making some very artistic ice cream creations. I suspect they had adult, (professional artist), help. There's a basic instruction sheet in multiple languages with helpful diagrams. Inside are: the base plus three attachments - swirl unit, sprinkle maker and toppings maker; four tubs of Play-Doh, (320g), in different colours - brown, bright pink, lime green and 'sprinkles' - a short lived white with colourful bits; two cones/tubs; two glass style dishes; 2 ice cream spoons; a scooper and cake presser. The attachments need to be clipped onto the base, it's simply done, but once in they don't come out again so it won't fit back into the box. It's a bit of an awkward shape, we store ours on a wide shelf along with the other bits 'n' bobs that come with it. It's recommended to clean the unit between play. The base is decorated with over 40 moulds which the Doh can be ...

Birds - Julie Aigner-Clark 11/12/2011

Sweet, Odd, Small

Birds - Julie Aigner-Clark This is an odd little book, but I have a soft spot for it as it was one of my daughter's first. It has quite simple words and pictures and is suitable for very young children. I read it to my daughter from when she was just weeks old. It's a chunky little square of a book, the smallest we own and a nice size for little hands. The board book format means it is quite hardy. Our copy is still in readable condition four years after purchase. The idea behind it is to offer babies an introduction to the idea of birds, with a selection of different pictures coupled with some basic facts. The images differ greatly; from a child's drawing, to oil on canvas, with photographs, tapestry and cartoons inbetween. As a result the viewing child is exposed to wildly varying concepts of what a bird actually looks like, conveyed through a selection of different types of art. At times I've wondered if this might confuse rather than enlighten a baby. After all a ball on two long stalks with a beak differs wildy from a photograph of a flying gull. In the last image it isn't easy to actually pick the bird out and the image is rather dark and strange for a child's book, (Marc Chagall: Autour D'Elle, 1945). Perhaps it tries too hard to educate when very simple is actually sufficient for a young child. The idea that exposure to an oil painting by Chagall in a baby book will somehow lead an appreciation of art in later life seems a bit of a stretch. Although I like this book I've gone off the ...

Watch Me Disappear - Jill Dawson 05/12/2011

Just Another Girl

Watch Me Disappear - Jill Dawson "You could go to the the gene for autism...or a new seahorse species that no-one in the world has seen before; but for God's sake, if you're a girl you'd better make sure you're sexy." Mandy Baker disappeared at the age of ten. She is kept alive in the memory of her friend Tina, now a marine biologist working for a U.S university. When Tina returns to her Fenland childhood village for a family wedding, a chance remark by her brother causes her to re-examine old memories and form a new perspective from which the thirty year old mystery begins to unravel. Jill Dawson's rhythmic writing seems at times to float and drift like the seahorses Tina studies, only to pull the reader up sharply with a comment or passage of intense emotion. The beautifully described Fens backdrop adds to the dreamy atmosphere. Tina narrates the story, she's a sympathetic character although her shaky mental health may at first cause readers to question her reliability. She has a ten year old daughter which lays the groundwork for some vivid re-remembering, many parents will relate to the way that looking after a child can spark off long buried memories. Most of the story is set in Tina's childhood, in which her father, who left his wife and teenage children to set up home with a younger woman, plays a pivotal role. The disappearance of Mandy may be a mystery, but although it gives the story a hook, this isn't a whodunnit, it's more an exploration of the effects on Mandy's ...
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