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countdown is on: when, when, when will it be christmas?

Anticipation is as much a part of the holiday season as a nutty fruitcake is. And as any parent knows, all that waiting can also drive you nuts! For all those over-eager little ones who can barely make it to December 25th, comes a delightful new picture books that aims to stave off that holiday hunger. When, When, When will it be Christmas? answers that all-important question in a colorful countdown format that is both engaging and calming. Rather than employ a traditional 3-2-1 blast-off approach, author/illustrator Cathy MacLennan chooses fitting imagery that crescendos with excitement at the turn of each page, but in a careful, slow-build approach. From bright-red birds helping to tie festive holiday bows, to Santa’s reindeer hanging lights, each illustration gently reminds young readers that everyone has a job to do in helping make the holidays extra special. Our favorite page by far shows costumed kids preparing for their Christmas show, with each outfit more adorable than the next. And as the story winds down, so does the action, helping to ready readers for their own bedtimes. Of course, the story’s inevitable end ensures that, in fact, all good things do come to those who wait. When, When, When will it be Christmas? gives readers a chance to savor the all-too-fleeting moments of the holiday season, no matter how old they are.

In a Nutshell: The perfect antidote for holiday meltdowns, this charming storybook captures the excitement of the season in a digestible, fun format.

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girl power: goldieblox action figure, macy’s parade float

I’m excited for my first grader who will be taking an after-school program all about STEM. If my dad were still alive, I know he’d be equally thrilled over the prospect of grooming a future engineer–and a female one at that. Because so many girl toys from my childhood were designed in pinks and purples, I’m always on the lookout for playthings that speak more to a child’s fascination with learning while having fun than toys that simply coordinate with her wardrobe. GoldieBlox has had girls’ interests at heart right from the beginning. These innovative construction kits combine storytelling with design and creative play: the stuff that imaginative kids crave. Whether it’s designing a parade flat, a spinning wheel or a dunk yank, girls get to experiment and hone their problem-solving skills to figure out what works best. The best part is what comes afterwards: pride in their work and a ‘look-what-I-can-do’ spirit they can take with them into their adult lives. Now, for girls whose sharp minds work just quickly as the rest as their bodies do, comes the GoldieBlox Zipline Action Figure. She comes with her own mini zipline that aspiring engineers can design and assemble. We think she’s primed for play and ready for action…just like a future engineer we know. MIT, here she comes!

In a Nutshell: You go, girl. A great holiday gift for the little girl on your list who would rather be tinkering away than playing princesses.  *Keep an eye out for the GoldieBlox GirlPowered Spinning Machine float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.*

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creative construction: lego minecraft creative adventure sets

I’m finally ready to admit it: I feel old. My kids adore Minecraft and I personally can’t understand it. I’m not really sure where their fascination lies, but when they talk about it, I feel like they’re speaking another language. What is so great about Creative, and just who is this Steve guy, anyway? While Minecraft may be the buzzword of the moment, I still wish it wasn’t just another excuse for my kids to beg for more screen time. That’s why I’m psyched for what we’re expecting to be one of hot toys of the holiday season: LEGO Minecraft Creative Adventure Sets. Based on the different environments of the Minecraft world, these play sets encourage kids ages 8 and up to act out their virtual fantasies offline. And that means plenty of hands-on play where kids’ imaginations can soar. Whether it’s in the Cave where your must fight off zombies and spiders, the Farm (shown below) where you can cultivate your green thumb and harvest pumpkins that can later be fashioned in jack-o-lanterns, or The First Night where you must build and stock your shelter before the Creeper strikes, there are plenty of opportunities for creative play. Those looking for the ultimate Minecraft building experience will relish the Crafting Box, from which you can construct your own models. Each of the six different LEGO Minecraft sets are available online at the LEGO Shop and will be in stores by January 2015.

In a Nutshell: Even if you don’t ‘get’ the Minecraft lingo, these toys will make them think you do. And yes, this is how your mom felt about Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

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a bright idea: cree great american bulb swap

It’s not your imagination; the days are getting shorter and there’s less daylight. I don’t know about you, but I miss summer! Until then, experts say it helps to expose yourself to more light, making it the perfect excuse to swap out those incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient LEDs. If you happen to live in NYC and are in the South Street Seaport area this coming weekend, take your old light bulb over to the Cree Great American Bulb Swap and you’ll receive a New Cree LED Bulb for free. The event takes place on Saturday, November 15 and Sunday, November 16 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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come to mama: shaikoo hands free baby towel

When my girls were babies, tub time was awesome: the squeaky toys, the sweet-smelling soap, and of course, all those bubbles. It was a blast…until, of course, it was time to get out. It wasn’t that my girls protested too much, but rather that I couldn’t quite get a handle on them (literally). Even more challenging was trying to open up a big bath towel and then transfer them out of the bath. I either had to lay them down on the floor (ouch!) or gamble with an unsafe spot (on top of the clothes hamper? No thank you!). Thanks to a newly invented mom product, this dilemma is no longer an issue at bathtime. Shaikoo is billed as a hands-free baby towel and it’s exactly just that. The towel works by fastening the Velcro tabs around your neck (almost like you’re wearing it) and then wrapping your baby snugly inside it (check out the demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59_ObyCQA2A). The generously-sized, soft cotton terry cloth towel features hand pockets that become a snugly hood for covering baby’s wet head without any fuss. And just like that, your baby is clean, dry and safely out of the tub. And you’ve got a dry shirt to boot.

In a Nutshell: Getting baby out of the tub just got a whole lot easier, thanks to this cleverly designed bath towel. Shaikoo makes a great baby shower gift.

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hamming it up for turkey day: gollywood here i come!

Kids’ books are one of my most favorite things, especially this time of year as the holidays approach. But while there seem to be no shortage of great Christmas books, our stash of Thanksgiving titles always appears to be lacking. I think we’ve stumbled upon a new one worth adding to our library. Gollywood, Here I Come! is a spirited read that will tickle your funny bone and captivate even the most fidgety listener. It stars a young turkey starlet, Anamazie, who aspires to leave her small town and someday walk the famous red carpet. Her dreams are nearly crushed after she fails to earn the top spot in “Gobbleville’s Got Talent” until a better opportunity comes along. Readers will be whisked away along with Anamazie as she embarks upon the adventure of a lifetime and eventually makes her way out to Tinsel Town where things are never dull. Vivid illustrations teeming with activity mirror exactly what young minds may envision Hollywood to be. But with all the glamour and glitz aside, readers quickly learn that hard work, like anything worth striving for in life, is all part of the job. Gollywood, Here I Come! is a entertaining read for this Thanksgiving or any time of year that you’re thankful for your good fortune: health, happiness, friends and family. And that’s something worth savoring.

In a Nutshell: Readers ready for their close-up will relish this bountiful feast of a book, with all the trimmings of a satisfying story.

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superfoods for super babies: plum organics mighty 4 essential nutrition bars

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the organics food market is exploding, and that’s especially true where babies and kids are concerned. When my girls were toddlers, I introduced them to some bunny-shaped cheddar crackers, but truthfully, they were just as happy with their Goldfish. Today, you’d be remiss not to experiment with organic foods; there’s no shortage of options for babies and toddlers alike, and if you’re trying to expand your child’s culinary horizons, this is the time to do it. We asked one of our mom testers to sample Plum Organics’ Mighty 4 Essential Nutrition Bars with her 10-month-old son, and find out whether they were worth checking out. “He LOVES these,” she enthused. “I love that there are vegetables in there.” Available in a variety of fruit/veggie combos like blueberry carrot and strawberry spinach, these nutritious bars are packed with whole grains, vitamins and minerals. If you’re a mom on the go, these bars travel well and are perfect in a pinch. And as your child grows, temperamental tots won’t even know good stuff is hidden in there. Says our mom tester of her growing boy, “When he gets a little older, if he gets picky, I will feel good knowing that he gets a little veggie in his snack! This is something I will definitely keep buying!” Plum Organics Mighty 4 Essential Nutrition Bars come in packs of six, and are available in Target, Buy Buy Baby and online.

In a Nutshell: Healthy eating that’s convenient too, bar none.

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junior achievement: quirk books’ kid presidents

Does your kid know his Carter from his Clinton? His Roosevelt from his Reagan? If U.S. history elicits snores and cries of boredom, then it’s time to remind your pint-sized patriot that yes, even these famous men were once kids. In honor of Election Day, we’re giving a shout-out to an awesome middle-grade book that will get kids interested in American presidents faster than you can say ‘Ulysses S. Grant.’ Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood From America’s Presidents gets our vote for entertaining education, as it profiles presidents way back to their (sometimes mischievous) youth. Who knew that Abraham Lincoln grew up with a stepmother who was anything but cruel? Or that Reagan was legally blind as a boy until a pair of glasses gave him plenty of insight, so to speak? Packed with 20 stories featuring hilarious illustrations, Kid Presidents takes the ho-hum out of history and reminds us that behind very great man is an interesting boyhood…especially if it helped shape him into a world leader. Aimed at ages 8-12, this book may just inspire future candidates.

In a Nutshell: Sure, the presidential election may be a good two years away, but there’s no time like the present to re-familiarize yourselves with all the great wonders from The White House.

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from arendelle, to the big apple: build-a-bear workshop goes frozen in nyc

The North Pole, by way of NYC, just got a little bit colder. Build-a-Bear Workshop has opened a pop-up shop in NYC’s Brill Building, well in advance of the holiday season. Among the signature stuff-your-own-plush offerings is none other than Disney’s Frozen line. (Writing this on Halloween, we’re still riding the Frozen wave, since there’s bound to be a entire slew of Elsa, Anna and Olaf-dressed trick-or-treaters out today.) If you haven’t yet had your Frozen fill, or are looking for the latest fix of Frozen eye candy, Build-a-Bear Workshop’s line-up will not disappoint. Disney’s Frozen ‘Ice Queen’ Elsa Bear looks incredibly chic in her shimmering dress and snowy cape (there’s even an Elsa wig to top off her look, so to speak), while ‘Princess of Arandelle’ Anna Bear is resplendent in her own lovely gown and sweeping cape (her braided wig is spot-on). Of course, no Frozen ensemble would be complete without the beloved Olaf, available as his snowy self or (our favorite) as his ‘Dreaming of Summer’ alter ego. With this cool getup, he may just upend Frosty’s top spot this holiday season. If you can’t visit NYC before the holidays, find a Build-a-Bear Workshop location near you.

In a Nutshell: Frozen fever spikes again, with a line of furry friends now available at Build-a-Bear Workshop.

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(colorful) fly guy: p’kolino mess eaters crayon roll

I wonder if there will ever be a day when I won’t find a broken crayon somewhere. Whether lying front and center on our family room rug, covertly lodged in the backseat of my car or buried at the bottom of my handbag, these classic signs of childhood prove that either my kids are very creative or that I can’t get a handle on clutter (probably a little bit of both, actually). If you’re known to stash paper and crayons in the car or anytime you’re on the go, consider the utterly adorable Mess Eaters Crayon Roll from P’kolino. Each high-quality European crayon has its own secure spot in this frog-shaped pouch. Unroll it and your child has a world of color at her fingertips. The easy-to-use hook attaches to the back of a seat or any surface from which your little artist has easy access. When she’s finished with her masterpiece, return each crayon to its respective spot, roll it back up and voila! You’re good to go, minus any crushed crayons. The cuteness and convenience factors alone earn high points from this mom. Next stop, art school!

In a Nutshell: Keep those crayons (and your sanity) contained with this super-cute travel crayon set that lets you take your creative show on the road, mess-free.

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