Posts in April, 2011

Real Magic

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Real Magic by Susan Fry


Leon and the Place Between, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith.

What makes a book truly magical? In the case of Leon and the Place Between, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith, it’s the combination of a compelling story, beautifully written text, and enthralling, fantastically original illustrations.

It also helps that the book is actually about magic.

Leon and his siblings enter the tent of a carnival’s magic show. The magician, an impressively mustached and purple-cloaked Abdul Kazam, brings out a box. “Who will step into the magic?” he asks the audience. Leon eagerly walks into the box and falls into a different world, one with a purple-and-black sky and glittering stars. He lands on a flying carpet, where a boy tells him he’s arrived in “The Place Between.” This is where magicians send all the objects that “disappear” during magic shows — balls, coins, rabbits, and even the boy himself, who is a magician’s son. When Abdul Kazam calls Leon back to the real world, Leon tells his astonished siblings that “Anyone who believes” can go to “The Place Between.”

Leon and the Place Between is good even for younger children. The story is simple, and nothing bad happens. Even the one potentially eerie element – a rabbit that had to stay in “The Place Between” because it was never called back – resolves happily. Leon carries the rabbit into the real world with him as a pet.

This doesn’t mean the book is a jolly, Harry-Potteresque romp. The illustrations may frighten even as they enchant. The people are stylized, with unusual, angular faces. The world surrounding them, on the other hand, is hyper-real. You can see every hair on the rabbit’s fur, for example, and the grass the children sit on could have come from a photograph. The juxtaposition of these vastly different styles gives the book an otherworldly, menacing atmosphere.

But each page is also exquisite. Gold filigree, glimmering stars, and ornate tapestries fill the book with vibrant colors and luxurious textures. Baker-Smith layers images on top of each other, collage-style, to give the pages depth and texture. Even the text is beautiful. The authors aren’t afraid to play with fonts, mixing regular serifs with the elaborate letters found on the sides of circus trains.

Angela McAllister also isn’t afraid to take her time with the story. She describes every moment in such detail that children will believe they’re actually experiencing the events: “The lanterns went out. In the darkness, the crowd fidgeted with excitement. There was a cough, a whisper, and then A LOUD HUSH. At last a soft blue glow lit the stage, and the curtains twitched.”

And that’s just the beginning of the show.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.

Alex and Alexa – Regal Collection

Thursday, April 28th, 2011


Do you have your own prince or princess at home? I was thrilled to find out about Alex and Alexa and their Regal Collection which launched just in time for the Royal Wedding.


From Dior and Burberry to Junior Gautier and Roberto Cavalli – you will find all of your favorite luxury designers for your little ones. Did I tell you you will also be able to find Chloe and Stella McCartney too?! I don’t think I have seen a better selection of top of the line designer children’s clothes in one spot. For the ultimate collection of beautiful clothes and shoes for your little fashionista, Alex and Alexa is the only spot you need.

Now I have to run and get ready for the Wedding…

Queen Bee iPad Cases

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

dolly-ipad-case sprout-ipad-case

How cute are these cases? Perfect for your iPad or Kindle or other techno gadget. The folks at Queen Bee Creations in Portland, Oregon handcraft each and every bag and they have a great selection of colors and simple designs to choose from. Vegetarians and PETA supporters everywhere – you don’t have to worry about any animals losing their lives for the sake of these cool bags because they are made of pvc-free faux leather. I love the fact that they are lined with soft silver velveteen. It’s like a little “sleeping bag for your precious device.”

Kwiat bracelet for charity: water

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011


The only thing more precious than diamonds is water (and our babies of course!). Kwiat, a 100+ year old company that is very famous for their brilliant diamonds, is helping to bring clean, safe drinking water to the almost one billion (yes billion!) people who don’t have it. These fantastic bracelets are $100 and all profits will go directly to fund charity: water. Buy one for you, one for mom, one for a friend…and then tell a few more friends…A cool bracelet you can wear every day + a great cause that is improving the lives of people all over the world = a perfect combination.

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. They use 100% of public donations to directly fund sustainable water solutions in areas of greatest need. In four years, they have funded water projects in 17 different countries to serve more than 1.4 million people.” Please visit their site to learn more.

Rent Designer Handbags from Bag Borrow or Steal

Wonderful Tantrums

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A Perfectly Wonderful Tantrum by Susan Fry

Tantrums are shattering experiences – for parents, for children, and sometimes for windows. My boys can go from calm to ballistic in the blink of an eye, often for no apparent reason. Twenty minutes later? They’re back to normal, as if nothing ever happened.

I’ve read the advice books. But I’ve decided that the only thing that really works is just to let a storm run its course.


Finn Throws a Fit, by David Elliot, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, perfectly captures a little boy’s sound and fury, and his parents’ helplessness, in a way that will inspire smiles instead of tears.

The book begins peacefully, as so many fits do. Cute, happy Finn grins up at the reader. “Finn likes peaches. Usually.” That one word foreshadows everything to come.

Sure enough, by the next page, Finn’s mood has swung. “But today, Finn doesn’t like peaches. Today, Finn doesn’t like anything.” As his parents desperately offer toys and food, an inky little storm cloud forms over Finn’s head. “Uh-oh! Thunder in the nursery!” Soon, the tempest erupts. Lightning, tidal waves, hurricanes, and blizzards rip through the house. And when Finn kicks? “An earthquake shakes the world.”

The exaggeration may be comic, but it’s also a wonderful metaphor for the strong emotions surrounding a tantrum – both for parents and for children.

Ering’s illustrations express the frenzy beautifully. Chaotic swirls of mustard yellow, dark green, gray, and black mimic the colors and textures of a storm. Frenetic, zig-zagging lines and jittery scribbles make the pages seem to vibrate along with Finn’s rage. And Finn’s mouth twists and stretches in a remarkable – and giggle-worthy – variety of screeches.

What can Finn’s parents do? Nothing, except cower under the furniture. “The fit goes on and on. It lasts until it doesn’t.”

Finn Throws a Fit doesn’t try to prevent a tantrum, or even to explain one. It doesn’t judge Finn for his anger or the parents for being powerless to stop him. The book simply documents how a fit can quickly make everyone feel out of control.

But it also shows that both sides can quickly recover.

When an exhausted, overwhelmed little Finn finally slumps to the floor, “The waters dry up. The winds die down.” The colors change to pinks, bright blues, and happy yellows. Finn hugs his mother’s legs. “He’d like those peaches now. Please.” And both parents smile down at him lovingly.

No wonder my kids and I keep reaching for this book.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.

Mom Jewelry for Charity

Thursday, April 21st, 2011


Without a doubt, Jennifer Fisher makes some of the coolest ‘mom jewelry’ out there and it is worn by all of our favorite celebrities. What has drawn me to her collection is how you can combine the pieces together and incorporate them with your other baubles for a very cool look.  And, you don’t have to be on the cover of US Magazine to be able to wear her jewelry – you can place your order online. Jennifer sums up her philosophy like this: “The feeling I strive to create for my customers is a casual edge, one that will make them feel dressed and finished the moment they put on my jewelry no matter what they are wearing.”

By the way, her dog tags with black diamonds are one of my absolute favorites from her collection (in case my husband decides to read my post today…hint hint….)


Now add Christy Turlington Burns to the mix…As many of you know Christy has done amazing things to help women and mothers all over the world. Her organization, Every Mother Counts, is focused on supporting global maternal health. She has done so much to raise awareness and to help women everywhere. You can purchase the charm shown above from Jennifer Fisher Jewelry and $50 will go directly to supporting Ever Mother Counts. In my book, that means every mom wins..


SportsBaby Carrier

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011


Do you like to get wet? Do you want to be able to hang out in the pool, splash in the waves or dance in the fountains at the park and keep your baby securely with you? The SportsBaby Carrier by Onboard Outfitters is ideal for parents who love outdoor action, water sports and adventure. Their patent-pending fitness infant carrier is made of a unique combination of two layers of neoprene quilted with antimicrobial foam. Think of it like your baby’s first wetsuit…Whether you are wading in the ocean or throwing snow balls, your baby can stay safe and close to you while you get fit and active together.

Lisa & Kimberley, the women behind this young company, are dedicated to helping children live active and healthy lives. They are donating $1 from every carrier sold on their site to programs promoting healthy lifestyles for children.

Shadow Puppets

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011


What better way to foster your child’s imagination than with some really cool shadow puppets. I found these at ReForm School – one of the best places on the web to go window shopping. This puppet set features the Tooth Fairy and Yeti. ReForm School carries some other wonderful shadow puppets including mermaids, robots and dragons. You can also use the puppets as sculptures to decorate your child’s room.

Cute Bags for Grandma

Monday, April 18th, 2011


What are you going to buy grandma for Mother’s Day this year? Another cute picture of the kids in a nice frame… A bouquet of flowers that will wilt in a week…. How about a fabulously chic mobility bag made just for her walker!

Just because a woman has to use a walker or a wheelchair in no way means that she doesn’t want to stop carrying around a great looking bag. The women behind the Ann Sloane bags are incredibly dedicated to caregiving and helping others. They also want to help people continue to feel confident and fashionable when they use a walker or wheelchair. Best of all, the incredibly thoughtful design makes the bags super practical too.


From French Toile to Dragonflies, Ann Sloane has selected a palate of colors that will “bring smiles, evoke conversation, and provide people something special.” Make grandma a fashion hit with all of her girlfriends and order her one for Mother’s Day.

Charm & Chain Designer Jewelry

Petunia Pickle Bottom Yellow Cake Bag

Saturday, April 16th, 2011


Is this not the best diaper bag for Springtime mommies everywhere? The pretty color of this Petunia Pickle Bottom Cake Collection Diaper Bag – Yellow Carryall of course will remind you of yellow buttercream cake and you just might want to take a bite – or go to the grocery store and bake your own cake. I have always loved the wonderful velvet detailing in their Cake Collection bags. Also, what I love about the doctor bag style is that it makes a great transition bag to either a work tote or purse – after your baby is no longer a baby. The bag is full of practical pockets and includes a changing pad too. Be the biggest hit and the next baby shower you are invited to and wrap one up for a friend. She’ll love you for it!