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This Months Feature Story

In search of an evergreen for the holidays

By Laura Livingston Snyder

Of all the traditions a parent could follow while raising children, getting the annual Christmas tree is probably one of the most memorable.

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Lights on the Lake

Lights on the Lake 2017. Photos by Dylan Suttles

Lights on the Lake continues through Jan. 7. Visitors can drive through the illuminated wonderland along Onondaga Lake every evening from 5 to 10 p.m.  The entrance is via Onondaga Lake Parkway in Liverpool. Admission is $10 per vehicle, Mondays through Thursdays, and $15 per vehicle, Fridays through Sundays. On Mondays and Tuesdays, visitors who show a Wegmans Shoppers Club card can get in for $6 per vehicle. For more information, call (315) 453-6712. And children can enter the Lights on the Lake Coloring Contest by going to this page, printing out the image, and coloring and posting the picture: https://www.syracusenewtimes.com/lights-on-the-lake-coloring-contest

 

For more details on this and other December events, see the Calendar.

 

 

 

 








© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York

49 More Gifts Your Kids Will Love








Pull out your holiday shopping lists! In Part 2 of our 2009 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Award-Winners’ coverage, we proudly present our judges’, parent testers’ and children’s top picks for books, music, Web sites and video games. Our experts have selected the best from more than 1,000 products to help you find the right gifts for holiday fun and throughout the year.

Click here for Part 1 of the Holiday Gift Guide: award-winning children's products in the categories of toys, games, DVDs and story CDs!

Books & Magazines

By Helen Foster James and Kathleen Krull

Writers and artists continue to jump higher in the noble effort to entertain and educate our children. Lots of serious titles this year—about social issues, war-torn countries, milestones in history, fatal illness, etc. But don’t worry—there’s also plenty of silliness, with a plethora of animal tales and the funniest introduction to toilet training one could imagine. Read, enjoy and share together!

For Infants & Toddlers

Baby Colors, by Rachael Hale; Little Brown Books, 2009; $6.99; www.lb-kids.com. Adorable babies with expressive eyes are paired with sweet rhyming text and a rainbow of colors in this small, sturdy board book. Each baby showcases a color with a four-line rhyme and photograph.




BEST BANG for the BUCK The Potty Caddy, by Rachel Gordon, illustrated by Sarah Bergmann; Workman, 2008; $14.95; www.workman.com. Informative little books for parents and kids, a chart with stickers, a pack of “toilet targets,” funny magazines to read while in the bathroom, a special roll of toilet paper—this is a complete toilet-training kit!

Waddle,
by Rufus Butler Seder; Workman, 2009; $12.95; www.workman.com. Show babies how exciting books can be with this “Scanimation” title. Bold images of penguins, frogs, snakes, hummingbirds and other animals actually move across the page.

When I First Held You: A Lullaby from Israel,
by Mirik Snir, illustrated by Eleyor Snir; Kar-Ben Publishing, 2009; $9.95; www.karben.com. A lyrical lullaby in rhyme, in which a parent describes the happy day when the young child was born. This charming book captures the love and emotion of a baby’s birth.


For Preschoolers & up

Duck! Rabbit!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld; Chronicle Books, 2009; $16.99; www.chroniclebooks.com. This clever picture book will have each family member looking and looking again. It’s a visual puzzle, and readers must decide whether they’re looking at ducks or rabbits.

“This would be great for a lesson about understanding different points of view … how different people might see something in different ways.”
—Adult tester and former principal




FAMILY DISCUSSION Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle, by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery; Little, Brown, 2009; $17.99; www.lb-kids.com. As difficult as it is to find ways to talk to kids about the war in Iraq, this touching animal story succeeds, with photos of a special friendship that will inspire discussion.

Panorama: A Foldout Book, by Fani Marceau, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet; Abrams, 2009; $19.95; www.abramsbooks.com. Unfold this gigantic book in one direction for lyrical text and bold pictures of animals from all over the world. Unfold in the other direction and learn what these same animals do at night.

TOP PICK! The Christmas Magic, by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jon J. Muth; Scholastic, 2009; $16.99; www.scholastic.com. Thompson takes readers on a journey to the far north, where they watch Santa ready his reindeer and select the perfect toy for each child in the world. Sure to make all believe in the magic of Christmas.


For Ages 6 & Up


Chicken Dance, by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat; Sterling Publishing, 2009; $14.95; www.sterlingpublishing.com/kids. There’s a Barnyard Talent Show tonight, and two chicks, Marge and Lola, are determined to win. The prize? Two tickets to an Elvis Poultry concert. This wacky romp is sure to make readers laugh out loud.

TOP PICK! Finding Lincoln, by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Colin Bootman; Albert Whitman, 2009; $16.99; www.albertwhitman.com. Louis must write an essay about Lincoln, but it’s 1951 and he can’t use the “whites only” library. A historical fiction picture book showcasing bravery and celebrating the joy of libraries and the passion of librarians.


Horrid Henry, by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross; Sourcebooks, 2009, $4.99 (paper); www.jabberwockykids.com. Sometimes, kids just need to laugh. In these four easy-to-read stories about mischievous Henry, kids may laugh so hard they’ll snort milk out through their noses!

TOP PICK! 
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca; Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2009; $17.99; www.simonandschuster.com. Captivating drawings and a simple, beautifully written text dramatize the 1969 moonwalk in terms just right for young readers who will marvel at the amazing journey of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.


For Age 9 & Up



I, Q: Independence Hall, by Roland Smith; Sleeping Bear Press, 2008; $8.95 (paper); www.sleepingbearpress.com. Quest (or “Q”) and his stepsister Angela are thrust into the work of the Secret Service and the Israeli Mossad when Angela realizes she is being followed. This thriller will take readers on a fast-paced ride.

Savvy, Ingrid Law; Walden Media/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008; $16.99; www.walden.com. Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose 13th birthday will reveal her “savvy”—a magical power unique to each member of her family. A Newbery Honor book.

Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall,
by Emily Bearn, illustrated by Nick Price; Little Brown Books, 2009; $16.99; www.lb-kids.com. In three short novels that ooze charm, two mice venture beyond their stylish, cozy home within a cottage broom closet to explore the world outside and save the day for their human friends again and again.

TOP PICK! When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead; Wendy Lamb Books, 2009; $15.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids. An elegant puzzle, begging to be reread, about sixth-grader Miranda in New York City, for fans of classics like The Westing Game, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and especially A Wrinkle in Time.


For Age 12 & Up

BEST BANG for the BUCK It’s All Too Much, So Get It Together: Less Junk, Cleaner Mind, Better Life, by Peter Walsh, illustrated by Jon Pack and John Hendrix; Simon & Schuster, 2009; $12.99 (paper); www.simonandschuster.com. Professional organizer Peter Walsh brings his mental and physical decluttering concepts to a teen audience. The entire family will quickly be applying Walsh’s organizational secrets to create a calmer lifestyle.

Notes from the Dog,
by Gary Paulsen; Wendy Lamb Books, 2009, $15.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids. Solitary, bookish Finn, during his 14th summer, has one goal: talking to as few people as possible. But then he meets Joanna, and is soon helping her cope with breast cancer.

The Bite of the Mango, by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland; Annick Press, 2008, $12.95 (paper); www.annick
press.com
. Mariatu Kamara grew up in a small rural village in Sierra Leone. Army rebels attacked a nearby village, and brutally cut off Mariatu’s hands. Horrifying and inspiring, her memoir tells an unforgettable story of courage, resilience and hope. Violence and disturbing events make this more appropriate for readers age 16 and older.

Wild Things,
by Clay Carmichael; Front Street, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, 2009; $18.95; www.frontstreetbooks.com. Witty Zoe has seen too much for her 11 years, and at first she has more in common with the feral cat she’s trying to befriend than she does with the people in her new home in North Carolina.

Magazines





ChickaDEE, Owlkids; $4.50 per issue, $29.99 1-year subscription (10 issues); www.owlkids.com. ChickaDEE celebrates its 30th anniversary discovering “A World of Fun.” Each issue is packed with comics, puzzles, animals, crafts, science experiments and jokes to entertain and help kids think in new ways.

Kahani,
Kahani Media; $5 per issue, $20 1-year subscription (4 issues); $35 2-year subscription (8 issues); www.kahani.com. “Empower, Educate, and Entertain” are the focus of Kahani, a South Asian Literary Magazine for Children. The quarterly magazine illuminates the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America. It’s full of stories, art activities—and no advertisements.


Music
By John Wood and Tor Hyams

The quest continues to find a satisfying mix of new voices and experienced professional children’s artists who have the “Wow! Can’t wait to hear that again!” factor. We think you’ll be happy with all the winners of this year’s 2009 NAPPA Awards for children’s music.

lullabies




BEST BANG for the BUCK The Ultimate Lullaby Connection, various artists, Twin Sisters Productions, 2008; $19.99; four CDs & book; www.twinsisters.com; all ages. This starter set should be given to all new parents. Four beautifully produced lullaby CDs feature instrumentals, classical music, familiar melodies with gentle adult vocals, and known tunes with children’s voices. The inclusion of Baby’s First Year Memory Book makes this package a real winner!

Songs From the Garden of Eden, various artists, The Secret Mountain, 2009; $14.98 CD, $22.95 Book/CD; www.the
secretmountain.com
; all ages. A collection of 28 Jewish lullabies, rhymes and folk songs—sung in English, Hebrew and Spanish—are orchestrated to lull any child to sleep. Traditional Jewish folk instrumentation, from clarinet to accordion, complements the soothing vocals.

Celeste Sings: Kids Dream, Dana Anton, State of Mind Entertainment, 2008; $9.95; www.romanticrealistrecords.com; all ages. A refreshing blend of new lullabies that dovetail seamlessly with tried-and-true classics. Lush harmonies float on a sea of keyboards, strings and an occasional harmonica. Lovely takes on “Edelweiss,” “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and “All Through the Night.”

Toddlers & Up

TOP PICK! Soulville, various artists, Little Monster Records, 2008; $12.98; www.littlemonsterrecords.com; ages 2 to 8. An impeccably produced venture into the best that old school R&B has to offer, including Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. Complete with a sing-along kids’ chorus, this album and book guarantee a meaningful introduction to the world of soul and social issues.

There’s A Train, Bill Currier, We Kids Rock, 2009; $9.99; www.wekidsrock.com; up to age 5. These straight ahead rock-mixed-with-folk songs and Currier’s smoky voice get little ones up and dancing. Moms and dads will appreciate the fresh arrangements of “Wheels on the Bus” and “Down By the Bay.” This album downright rocks!

Kids in the City, Laura Doherty, Laura Doherty Music, 2009; $15; www.lauradohertymusic.com; up to age 6. This urban-inspired album of original songs features resonant vocals that soar over a mostly folk-inspired band. Doherty’s carefully crafted lyrics and positive messages appeal to toddlers and parents alike.


Age 4 & Up

Banjo To Beatbox, Cathy & Marcy, Community Music, 2009; $7.99; www.cathymarcy.com; ages 4 to 9. This delightful hybrid album of classic-folk-meets-hip-hop includes a stunning modern touch in its beatbox collaboration with Christylez Bacon. The CD features a bonus concert, too.

Aventura Collage,
Mariana Iranzi, Mariana Iranzi Music, 2009; $8; www.marianairanzi.com; ages 2 to 10. The smooth Astrud Gilberto-esque voice of Argentina-born Mariana Iranzi masters melody in this Spanish-English CD. The eclectic mix of genres, ranging from reggae and jazz to bossa nova and folk, makes anyone get up and move.

My Trampoline, Peter Himmelman, Minivan Productions, 2009; $15 CD;  www.minivanproductions.com; ages 3 to 10. Grammy-nominated Himmelman mixes guitar-driven rock beats with pop music and adds offbeat humor to create an irresistible blend of danceable songs. His distinctive voice, a bit reminiscent of Randy Newman and Elvis Costello, takes charge.

“All prospective children’s music recording artists should listen to this album as a template for how song mixing is done.”
—NAPPA Judge

Road To Rock, The Boogers, Spire Records, 2008; $12.97; www.meet-the-boogers.com; ages 1 to 8. Claiming to be “the Wiggles’ worst nightmare,” The Boogers’ debut album features 20 classic kid tunes done up in the most unlikely of styles—from punk rock to hard rock and even harder rock.





FAMILY FUN Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, Bill Childs, WRSI-FM, 2005-present; Radio Show; www.sparetherock.com and www.wrsi.com; all ages. The finest family show that radio offers. The father/daughter team of Bill and Ella Childs airs the best indie rock. Spinning everything from current groups for kids to classic rock from the 1960s, the show has cross-generational appeal.


Age 9 & Up

¡Canta Mi Son! Juanita Ulloa, Vocal Power Productions, 2009; $13.99; www.juanitamusic.com; all ages. This CD takes on Spanish and proves, once again, the teaching power of music. Ulloa blends operatic vocal prowess with traditional Mariachi instrumentation in animal songs mixed with Mexican folk. The album contains sing-along karaoke versions as well!

Good Things Happen! Les Julian, Jump Right Over The Mooon Music, 2009; $15; www.lesjulian.com; age 7 and up. Each of the 14 songs in this highly entertaining and exceptionally produced album is a mini-story of positive values, surprising heroes and feel-good music. Julian’s clear baritone is a standout.

American Heroes #3,
Jonathan Sprout, Sprout Recordings, 2009; $13.99; www.jonsprout.com; all ages. Sprout brings 10 more inspiring American heroes (Jane Adams, Wilma Rudolph, Cesar Chavez, etc.) to the musical roundtable, with a mixture of musical styles that emanates from a base of soft rock, with strong harmonies and anthem-like, sing-along choruses.


Software, Video Games & Web Sites
By Alex Chisholm

For the third straight year, our kid testers played through an avalanche of fun and games. They were thrilled at the sheer number of new titles for the Nintendo Wii—active play is a big preference. We noticed an explosion this year in the diversity of online game and community sites for kids; and there’s a much wider variety of sophisticated, engaging Web sites that appeal to different interests and skill levels.

For Preschoolers & Up

Curious George’s Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin and ScrollMotion, 2009; $9.99; www.scrollmotion.com; ages 3 to 5. Requires: iPhone or iPod Touch. Young kids learn letters and begin to recognize everyday words with illustrations featuring story characters Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat. A great little resource to stimulate young minds when they insist on playing with Mom’s or Dad’s iPhone/iPod Touch.


FAMILY FUN Splatster, Fisher-Price, 2009; $54.99; www.fisherprice.com; ages 3 to 5. Splatster enables artistic fun on the TV screen, inviting kids to exercise creativity with a wireless “paint brush” controller and stencils, faces and spin art, as well as arcade-style games. Creations can be printed from home computers. Kid testers loved this one.


For Early Elementary Students

BEST BANG for the BUCK Crayola Art Studio, Core Learning Inc., 2008; $24.95; www.core-learning.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Windows 98, 2000, XP or Vista. Invites kids to learn to create, edit and transform digital images with fun-to-use tools, including Crayola pencils, paints, markers and crayons. A perfect introduction to the tools, features and functions found across computer applications that kids will encounter as they grow older.

DreamBox Learning K-2 Math,
DreamBox Learning, 2009; $12.95/month; www.dreambox.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Web browser and Flash. This site helps young elementary school kids with basic computational skills, conceptual understanding and problem-solving. Activities are aligned to grade-level standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Adapts to child’s progress and achievement; great for kids who demonstrate advanced aptitude and need more stimulation, as well as for kids who are struggling.

FAMILY FUN Tikatok™, Tikatok, 2007; around $20 for printed books, $2.99 for eBooks, free for online creativity; www.tikatok.com; ages 6 to 8. Requires: Web browser and Flash. Kids write, illustrate and publish their own books. Digital tools guide them through the process, and kids can share their books online with other Tikatok members or order printed hard- or soft-cover editions. A terrific way to inspire and motivate kids to write.


For Tweens & up

Active Life™: Extreme Challenge, NAMCO BANDAI Games America, 2009; $59.99; www.namcobandaigames.com; ages 9 to 11. Requires: Wii console. Like Dance Dance Revolution, Extreme Challenge promotes vigorous activity using the Wii, including running, jumping and climbing through such “extreme sports” as wakeboarding, rock climbing, base jumping and jump roping. Our kid testers had a blast.

FAMILY FUN Boom Blox Bash Party, Electronic Arts, 2009; $39.99; http://boomblox.ea.com; ages 9 and up. Requires: Wii console. The second version of the wildly successful Boom Blox game for Wii, developed by Steven Spielberg. With more than 400 new levels, players pick up and toss cute and cuddly characters to knock down even more blox structures. Hours of party fun!

Dizzywood,
Rocket Paper Scissors, 2007; free with optional monthly subscription $4.95-$9.95; www.dizzywood.com; ages 10 to 12. Requires: Web browser and Flash. A virtual online community with a thoughtfully designed world that enables kids to build confidence and express themselves in a healthy, positive way. Mini-games encourage reading and vocabulary development, and online events inspire kids around civics and environmental topics.



SmartyCard, Gazillion Inc., 2009; $6.95/month to $39.95/six months; www.smartycard.com; ages 7 to 11. Requires: Web browser and Flash. A terrific supplemental learning site where kids complete games and activities, earning points that can be redeemed for rewards. Activities are designed by education experts to support reading, math, science and social studies learning. Parents can track their child’s progress and achievement online.


For Tweens & Teens




Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits,
Activision, 2009; $49.99; www.activision.com; ages 12 to 14. Requires: Nintendo DS and DS cartridge attachment with special keys (Guitar Grip). This little gem recreates the fun of the popular console game on Nintendo’s handheld. Players master fan requests with popular tracks, such as “Dimension,” “Violet Hill” and “Unconditional,” plus 25 others. A kid tester favorite!

TOP PICK! Spore™ Galactic Adventure, Maxis/Electronic Arts, 2009; $29.99; www.spore.com; ages 12 to 14. Requires: Web browser and valid EA Spore account. Expands the Spore universe, in which players create and evolve their own creatures, and lets players beam down to exciting new worlds. Players can create their own customized game experiences with the “Adventure Creator,” with almost limitless characters, settings, music and sound effects.


Family Resources

Science Buddies, Science Buddies, 2001; free; www.sciencebuddies.org; ages 5 to 18. Requires: Web browser and Flash. Designed to complement classroom instruction, this site inspires students to explore and try experiments in astronomy, biotechnology, music, physics, energy and power, environmental engineering, and other areas. The science fair “Topic Selection Wizard” asks students to share information about their interests and strengths before offering a slate of possible project ideas.

Zoodles, Inquisitive Minds Inc., 2009; free (premium memberships start at $7.95/month); www.zoodles.com; ages 2 to 8. A child-friendly browser with educational content and controls that let parents set and monitor their children’s online experiences. Also includes a virtual toy box with online games, and content from sites recommended by schools, including FunBrain.


Meet Our Judges

Books & Magazines—Helen Foster James, Ed.D., is a lecturer at San Diego State University and former coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education. She’s the author of S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet. Kathleen Krull has reviewed children’s literature for parenting magazines across the country for nearly a decade. She is the author of the “Lives of …” series and other books for young readers.

Music— John Wood brings more than 30 years of expertise to his reviews of children’s music, which appear in parenting magazines across the country and on Kidzmusic.com. He has also performed more than 8,000 shows with his children’s group, J.P. Nightingale. In the last two decades, Tor Hyams has composed film and television scores, produced world-class recording artists and live music festivals for children, launched the Happiness Records family music label, and wrote and produced a NAPPA-winning children’s CD

Software, Web Sites & Video Games —Alex Chisholm
is a media research and development consultant who most recently created the games for iCue with NBC News and produced Generation Cures at Children’s Hospital Boston. He’s a founding member of the Learning Games Network, a nonprofit organization that supports innovation in the use of games for learning.