About Me

My name is Genevieve Woods and in addition to being the mother of an adorable preschooler named Oscar and his adorable toddler brother Henry, I am the Children's Buyer at Spellbinder Books, a small independent bookstore in Bishop, California. I am often asked by customers for recommendations...and thus the idea for this blog was sparked.

Many sites recommending books for kids are created by librarians and non-profits. While these are great sites, they often recommend out-of-print books. This site is all about the great books that are available now! While I am not being paid for these recommendations, I would appreciate it if readers would purchase the books I recommend from local independent bookstores, or even B&N. Basically don't buy from the evil empire (A_A_O_), because if you do much of our literary knowledge will be lost.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Best Toy Brands

I'm a book buyer, but our store cannot survive on a customer base of only bibliophiles these days, so we also sell toys. These are some of my favorite brands. We don't sell all these brands in our store, but I wish we could.


Playmobil is a German company that has been creating high quality plastic toys since the 1950s. These are toys that you can pass on to your grand kids, and the great grand kids beyond. Their 1.2.3. line (pictured here) does not include any choking hazards.
 For Christmas my son Henry got the Playmobil 1.2.3. Noah's Ark. The whole set fits inside the ark. Although it has small pieces, none of them is a choking hazard. Above right there is a picture of their dove NOT fitting inside my choking hazard tester. You may have heard that you can use a toilet paper tube as a choking hazard tester, but in truth a toilet paper tube is a lot wider than most adult mouths can fit around. The tester I have is what is used by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 These are some of our non-1.2.3. Playmobil toys. The viking boat we picked up at a thrift store two years ago; we play with it in the bath almost every night. Oscar received the fire boat for his birthday this year. He loves it but because it has so many choking hazards it stays up on a high shelf until Henry takes a nap. I think of Playmobil as making toy dolls for boys. Of course they have things for girls too,  but I don't have girls.

Green Toys

Green Toys is a relatively new company that makes colorful toys out of recycled milk bottles. The toys are incredibly durable, well designed, and they are all made in the U.S.A. We sell them at our store and often have their pizza and sandwich shop kits out on our play tables. The kids love them and amazingly after a year of heavy use those toys do not even look worn. This doesn't surprise me, as I have seen first-hand how well their trucks hold up.

We live in a small rental house in the high desert and we keep many of our toys outside, year-round. The dump truck on the left has been kept outside in the hot sun and cold snow for three years. The dump truck right next to it is brand new. You can see some fading, but that is it. NONE of our other outdoor toys have fared as well. The bath toys also last; the submarine is brand new and the tugboat is three years old. The tugboat does have some hard water build-up on it, but I suppose I could scrub that off if I cared enough. If you aren't impressed yet, let me show what happens to OTHER toys after three years.

 The toy on the left didn't even make it through one summer. It is in pieces and seems to crumble every time it is touched. The Excavator in the middle doesn't look like an excavator any more. It is two years old, but the excavator arm didn't even last a year. We have continued to use it, pretending it is a snow plow but now that part has chipped and is breaking off as well. This is annoying, because this was an EXPENSIVE toy. The front loader on the right is actually doing pretty well. It is three years old, nothing has chipped and it still works. However it very faded and looks beat-up. When it comes to desert wear, Green Toys wins hands down.

Plan Toys

Plan Toys has been making high quality wooden toys since 1981. Their toys can be colorful, but they don't chip. Their designs are not only attractive, but well thought out. Like Playmobil, these are toys that can be passed down to the grand kids and beyond.

We have had a plan toys tea set and fruit slicing set for about two years now. They look as good as the day we got them. The Toaster is new; Henry (the 1-year-old) enjoys putting the bread slices in and out of the slots.
 We also have a dollhouse filled with Plan Toys dolls and furniture, including this adorable baby and crib. We made the cardboard fire station ourselves because our Plan Toys fire engine needed a home. If we don't lose these toys they will last for generations.


Green Start

Green Start is a division of Innovative Kids, a company that makes books and puzzles and games. I can't find exact info on how long they've been around, but I'm under the impression that they are a fairly young company. Their Green Start line is made of 98% post consumer recycled materials and printed with eco-friendly ink. That's all nice and good but it made this list because their puzzles are genius. They have different levels for different ages and abilities and they are cute and inexpensive. These puzzles and books may not last for generations, but your child won't care, he (or she) will just be excited to play.

The picture on the left shows Henry playing with the simple two piece puzzles. The puzzle in the middle is one that Oscar recently mastered; it has simple 4 piece puzzles. We've been playing with it for a year and a half and you can start to see some wear along the edges of the puzzle pieces. The picture on the right is of Henry playing the memory cards that came with a counting board book. Oscar and I have been playing with those cards for two and a half years now, though he only learned how to play memory with them last month. Mostly we just matched them up, and then made tracks for his cars to drive down. There are a lot of things you can do with memory cards, as well as with boxes. The box the set came in has been used as a purse or a suitcase for imaginary trips to grandma's house many many times.

Funny Fun Picture Books for Ages 3-4

A friend lamented that she hated all the books she was reading to her three-year-old and asked for suggestions. Her son only liked books with plot and a resolution and was not a fan of rhyme or extreme silliness. Knowing this I couldn't recommend Dr. Seuss or the Dinosaur and Shark books my son currently loves, but I could give her some other titles that have been open a lot over this last year. I made her a list: http://www.indiebound.org/user/2768/list/4 Looking at my list I realized that almost all of our favorites had a common theme HUMOR. The following books (taken from that list) are all funny, but the silliness is kept in check by great plots.

Funny Fun Picture Books 

with a Plot

for 3-4 year olds

Skippyjon Jones
by Judy Schachner
Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat who pretends he is a chihuahua. In his pretend world he has fantastic adventures while singing goofy rhyming songs. True, my friend's son isn't a fan of rhyme, but the plots of these stories are so fun and the character is so mischievous and lovable that I'm pretty sure her son will love the book despite the rhymes. Oscar is certainly a fan. Skippyjon Jones is a series, which means there are multiple adventures to be had for his fans.

Betty Bunny is a goofball, a strong-willed stubborn goofball who in this story decides she loves chocolate cake so much that she is going to marry it. The moral of this particular tale is that you can't stick chocolate cake down your sock. Like Skippyjon Jones, Betty Bunny is a series so that fans can keep the laughter coming.

Author Mo Willems has lots of fans, and Oscar is one of them. This is perhaps our favorite Mo Willems tale. Naked Mole Rat doesn't like being naked and likes to wear clothes, this creates consternation among his peers, but fortunately they realized that if it doesn't hurt anyone, fun is harmless. It's a perfect tale for youngsters who like to dress up and pretend.

The fantastic illustrations in this book have kept Oscar interested since he was about two, but it is only now, when he is four, that he is finally understanding it. The plot of this book is essentially that blue whales are big. They are too big for the classroom, too big for swimming pools, but big enough to move into.

Slowly but surely the chickens discover that the giant chick is not an elephant, an umbrella, or a squirrel, but actually is a chicken. It takes a long time though; chickens aren't very smart. This is a hilarious re-interpretation of Chicken Little that has enough jokes for both the adults and the kids to get a giggle.

This humorous tale of a Bear who has to be convinced to enjoy his birthday is unbelievably sweet. I'm sure we all wish we had a friend like mouse.