Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets by Pei-Yu Chang
Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets is a picture book about a German philosopher named Mr. Benjamin. When his country starts punishing people for having different ideas, he goes to see a woman named Mrs. Fittko who knows many secret passageways. Mrs. Fittko works to take people who are different over the border to the neighbouring country so that they do not get punished. Although the people who are escaping are told to pack lightly, Mr. Benjamin arrives with a large suitcase and insists on carrying it over the mountains. When Mr. Benjamin is turned away at the border, he disappears along with his suitcase. Everyone wonders about the contents of the suitcase and everyone has a different theory.
Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of secrets is based on the real Walter Benjamin, a German author and philosopher who attempted to escape the Nazis in Germany during the Second World War Mrs. Fittko was also a real person, an Austrian name Lisa Fittko who was estimated to have helped 80,000 people who would have been persecuted into freedom.
This is such an important book, especially in light of current events, it’s beautifully written and illustrated, and helps to explain a very difficult subject in a way that will make children understand without making them fearful and afraid. Including the character of Mrs. Fittko shows children the importance of standing up for and helping others.
The illustrations are wonderful, managing to be whimsical while still meshing with the story. The layered look of the illustrations makes the book come to life. Mr. Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets is a touching and moving story that would make a great starting point for a conversation about differences, helping others, World War Two or current events.
I was recently playing a game of Candyland with my youngest niece, who is 5. As her older sister and I both passed her on the board, she got more and more upset, before deciding that she was all done and angrily started putting the game away. Although learning to lose gracefully is a skill that is important for children to learn, it is also important for them to have fun activities that they can complete to feel a sense of skill and accomplishment.
As I was looking for a game that would be fun for her to play, I came across Mermaid Island. Mermaid Island is a board game created by Peaceable Kingdom, a company that makes several co-operative games. The difference between co-operative games and most other board games is that in a co-operative board game like Mermaid Island, the players are all working together to win. So instead of having one winner and one or more losers at the end of the game, the game ends with everyone either succeeding together or failing together.
The point of Mermaid Island is to get three mermaids to the island before the Sea Witch gets there. There are 3 star wands that players can use to move the Sea Witch back a space, but careful- if the Sea Witch gets to the star wands first they can’t be used. Although players take turn spinning the spinner to see how many spaces they can move, they decide together when to see the star wands and can decide together which mermaid to move on each turn.
It took my niece a couple of minutes to get used to the idea that we were not competing against each other, but one she did she really enjoyed playing together- none of the upset and stress of competition.
I really enjoyed this game, as an adult it can be hard to find games that kids like but that don’t bore adults to tears (I’m looking at you, Candy Land!). I enjoyed that I did not have to try not to win, in order to keep my niece happy and interested in the game. One of my favourite things about this game is that the instructions were printed on the inside of the lid. Why doesn’t every board game company do this?!? Goodbye to the frustration of lost instructions.
If you’re looking for a fun and non mind numbing game to play with kids 5 and up I highly recommend checking out Mermaid Island, perfectly themed for some summer fun!
The Year of the Garden is written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Patrice Barton. The Year of the Garden follows Anna as she moves into a new house, makes a new friend and creates a garden over the course of a year. Inspired by reading the Secret Garden, Anna imagines creating a wonderful garden.
Cheng’s characters are very well written, detailed and interesting enough to make you want to know more about them. I like that the group of characters is multi-generational and diverse. Anna is Chinese-American and her heritage is shown through language, food and traditions shown in the book.
This is a great beginner chapter book with easy to follow writing that will still keep kid’s interest. It would also be a great book to read for back to school, as it deals with making new friends and fitting in. The Year of the Garden is a prequel to The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin, which I’m going to have to add to my TBR list!
Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett is the story of a girl who moves to a new house, and gradually finds a home. I love the simple prose and the pattern it follows, repeating without being boring. The illustrations use the contrast between the grey scale and colour beautifully, and it really adds to the story, showing the difference between what the character feels about her new house versus how she feels about the other houses and things she passes on her way to school.
This book is a great story to read and re-read, children can point out the differences in each scene as the house changes bit by bit. A wonderful story for children who have recently moved or will soon move, or children that are going through any kind of changes in their life. it would make a good story to start reading before back to school, as a child starts going to school for the first time or as they go through the changing of classrooms and teachers when entering a new grade.
Book Review: An After Bedtime Story by Shoham Smith. Illustrated by Einat Tsarfati and translated by Annette Appel
In this rhyming story, Mom and Dad get little Nina down to bed…but she doesn’t stay asleep! Who can stay in bed while the adults are having a party in the living room? Mom and Dad try to maintain order while Nina gets one last hug from her Aunt…then a treat…then another treat! The rest of the guests join in on the fun while Mom and Dad try and fail to get Nina back to bed. Once her little sibling wakes up the party is in full swing! Poor Mom and Dad are so tired out from all of the hijinks that they crash on the couch, but their guests are kind enough to let them sleep while they clean up after their wild party.
This strongly reminded me of my relationship with my nieces. I’m giving horsie rides as poor Mom is trying to tell them that the living room isn’t a playground! I guess that’s part of the fun of being an Aunt or Uncle though, right?
I really loved the minimalist colour scheme of this book- everything is done in shades of pink, yellow, black, white and grey. The drawings are so well done however that the pictures are never boring. The illustrator added so many details such as items in the rooms and the expressions on faces, that there’s so much to look at, even without using a lot of colour.
Book Review: Alice & Lucy Will Work for Bunk Beds by Jaime Temairik
This is a sweet story about two bear sisters who enjoy sharing many things…but not everything! When they realize that they need separate beds they come up with the idea to buy bunk beds. They understand that they are going to need some money to buy the bunk beds, so they come up with the idea of getting a job. Luckily for them, their first job interview is successful and they land a job looking after a wedding cake while the baker is away.
When they find out that babysitting a cake is a boring job they decide to have a bake off. Lucy and Alice shows off the differences in their personality when they choose what to make- plain peanut butter cookies for Alice and a jelly pie for Lucy. They also have very different ways of baking- while Alice is neat, precise and cautious, Lucy is messy and throws caution and planning to the wind.
When their arguing over the results of the bake off results in them ruining the wedding cake right before the groom arrives to pick it up, they realize that they need to save the day with a new wedding cake. Alice and Lucy blend together their tastes and talents to create a fabulous new wedding cake! Hopefully everyone will like it.
This was a very heart warming book about sisters finding out that they don’t always have to agree or like the same things, but compromising and working together will get great results. The illustrations were well done, and I really loved the funny details in the pictures, like the industrial strength sprinkles and the buttons on the mixer. This makes it a great family read and a great book to read to a group of children with mixed ages. Alice & Lucy Will Work for Bunk Beds is the first book that Jaime Temairik has written and I’m sure that her future books will be just as fun to read! You can find out more about the author at her website.
The anticipation of looking forward to Christmas has always been one of the best parts of Christmas for me. As a child, one of my favourite Christmas traditions that we had was putting a piece up each night on our felt board advent calendar. As Christmas got closer, the scene was filled out more and more with a palm tree, camels, the three Wise Men, etc. I remember arguing about putting up favourite pieces up, such as the star or the angel.
Today you can find Advent calendars of many kinds, but the easiest ones to find are the cardboard Advent calendars filled with chocolates. With many parents trying to limit the amount of candy that their children get, non candy Advent calendars are getting easier to find.
Here’s my round up of candy free Advent calendars.
I love this charming felt Advent calendar. Each day you add another ornament on the tree as you count down to Christmas!
If you want an Advent calendar that you can fill with your own treats, surprises or notes the festive Gingerbread Square Advent calendar works as both a Christmas decoration and a calendar! Open a drawer each day to see what’s inside as you count down to Christmas. It would be really sweet to fill the drawers with notes written with holiday activities for the family, such as “Write a letter to Santa”, “bake cookies” and “wrap presents”
This “Dream Snow” by Eric Carle pop up Advent Calendar is absolutely gorgeous. Each day you open a window to find a decoration to put on the pop out cardboard tree. This would be an especially sweet Advent calendar paired with a copy of the picture book Dream Snow by Eric Carle as a Christmas gift!
This Melissa and Doug Countdown to Christmas calendar is a great way to encourage children to identify numbers. Each days they can find the current day’s number on the tree and place a wooden ornament on it. This can be reused every year!
There are also lots of options out there if you would prefer to buy a pre-filled Advent calendar. This wooden Advent calendar is a really neat because it comes pre-filled, but you could save it for next year’s Christmas and refill the boxes yourself.
Playmobil sells Advent calendars in different themes such as “Christmas on the Farm” or “Christmas in the Forest”. These include 24 different figures, animals etc that you can also use with Playmobil blocks your child already has. Playmobil has several other Advent calendars with different themes.
If your children are more into Lego than Playmobil, there are multiple options to choose from, for both Lego Friends and Lego City fans. These are great accessories to add to your child’s current Lego!
If your children are too young for Lego, the Little People Advent calendar is a great option. Your child can count down to Christmas by opening one door each day to find a Little People figure or accessory.
This Thomas the Train Advent calendar is the perfect way for little Thomas fans to countdown to Christmas. Each calendar includes 24 mini trains from the Thomas and Friends collection.
If you have an artistic child, or you want an Advent calendar that will encourage creativity, you should check out these Advent calendars that include creative supplies: