Last Minute Gift Guide: Books

For the LEGO enthusiast(s) in your house

Now that you are a parent, your love of LEGO has been rekindled.  You watch your kids play with the little plastic bricks, you marvel at their creations, you curse them each time you step on one with bare feet.  When you were a kid, you probably wondered where they came from and had questions, but did anyone answer you?  Did they even know?  LEGO’s just…were.  Now that you are a grownup, The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal and Joe Meno (hardcover, $39.95) will delight you and your kids alike with trivia and information about the toy.  It’s a coffee-table book that explains how they were invented and some of the outrageous things people do with them.  But if you want to keep it as a nice coffee-table book, you might want to keep it out of the reach of children.  They are bound to read it a little bit too enthusiastically, if you know what I mean.

A sobering read

Ben Behind His Voices (hardcover, $26.95) is a stirring memoir by Randye Kaye, who was a radio personality in Connecticut when her oldest child started showing symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia as he entered his teens.  Her story is one of maternal sacrifice and heartbreak, and a redefinition of her own family.  I was afraid of this book.  As a mother, I knew it would tear my heart out.  But I am a glutton for punishment, so of course I read it cover to cover.    The book is well-written and Kaye communicates her pain and frustration very effectively.  When you read something like this you think maybe it will help you recognize warning signs and therefore avoid the same problems with your own children.  But with something as complex as schizophrenia and the various challenges the family encountered as Ben grew up, Kaye provides something I suspect is even more valuable to other people dealing with the same thing:  hope.

New Year’s clutter clean-up

I have been a big fan of Peter Walsh since I saw him on Oprah helping the hoarder from Long Island whose house was so full of stuff that her grown children and her grandchildren never visited anymore.  I watched him coach her through a complete turnaround of her home environment and hopefully her whole life.  His latest book Lighten Up:  Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less (hardcover, trade paperback, digital) is less of a practical guide to removing clutter from your life and more of an emphasis on the psychological reasons that one accumulates too much stuff.  Walsh urges you to examine all aspects of your life:  emotional, financial, relationships, work life – and basically clean out the clutter from all of those areas.  I found the worksheets included a little bit too simplistic – they did not inspire me to get a pencil and do the actual work.  But then again, my life is perfect, so why bother?  This would be a great gift for that friend or relative who always has so much drama about money and housework going on.

For kids

Sarah Sue Smith (paperback, $22.49):  In this first of a planned series of Crooked Wharf Adventures, an orange-haired octopus named Sarah Sue Smith makes meals for her undersea friends.  I give this book the award for Most Comprehensive Use of Fonts Found in Microsoft Word, because every page uses a different one.  Your kids won’t care, however.  The story is engaging and the artwork is bright and cheerful.  Plus, they learn stuff about math without even realizing it.  The book was written by Tara Rebal and designed by Frank Sercia, two former co-workers of my Aunt Kathy.  Kudos to them for doing what they really wanted to do when they grew up.

I received all of the above books as review copies or gifts.  All opinions are my own.  Obviously.

Daddy Plays Rad Tunes For Baby

When Kid 1 was a baby I started a little ritual at bedtime:  I would first read him “Goodnight Moon” and then turn on a CD of Mozart recordings.  The first track was “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and he would be pretty sleepy before that song even ended, so that was as far as we usually got.  As he grew older and started to talk, we still listened to that CD, which was yellow, and that is how the song “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” came to be known as “Yellow Mozart” around our house.

That was nearly seven years ago now, long before I had discovered the wealth of great music that tastemaker parents have sourced and created for other parents and for children.  I recently discovered “Daddy Plays Lullabies,” which is a compilation of rock and roll hits recorded as sleepytime tracks to lull babies to sleep without boring the head off the parent and/or killing additional brain cells.  Singer/songwriter Eran Phillips wondered himself:  “Don’t newborn babies deserve real, quality music?”

And so it is that there is a now a lovely acoustic lullaby version of “Stairway To Heaven.”  If I were to play that song now for my newborn, it just might block out my memory of dancing awkwardly to that song that they always played as the last song at all of our high school dances.  What?  It was the eighties.

Anyway, Phillips gathered this and other covers on his album “Daddy Plays Acoustic Rock Lullabies” which also includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Simon and Garfunkel.  Heck, I’d listen to this album even without a baby.

For more baby-sounding tracks, Phillips recorded “Daddy Plays Guitar Lullabies”  and he also did the timely “Daddy Plays Lullaby Christmas.”  All albums can be purchased at Daddy Plays Online.

Dear Santa: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean

Kyle checks out the multi-plane camera at the Frank G. Wells Building at Disney

We’ve been to a lot of Halloween parties the last few weeks. The first one was thrown by Disney Interactive on the lot at Disney in Burbank. My kids were in heaven – there were video games to play all around the room, and lots of sugary cookies to eat. They basically stationed themselves at the LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean game in the corner and took a break every 20 minutes or so to go put icing on a Tinker Bell cookie and lick it off. Here’s a description of the game:

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game – This action adventure video game brings to life the Pirates of the Caribbean world and all its colorful characters in LEGO brick form.  Available now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii ($49.99), Nintendo 3DS ($39.99) and Nintendo DS, PSP, PC/Mac ($29.99). Rated E10+.

So I guess I know what they want for Christmas. We’re already big LEGO Star Wars fans, so it’s not a surprise that LEGO Pirates would follow, even though the kids haven’t seen any of the movies. What was extra super cool was that the young man helping the kids with the game is a video game tester for Disney Interactive, so he knew what he was doing. The young lady stationed at the game next to them actually designs the games. Proof that video games don’t necessarily rot your brain – they can provide you with a career.

One of the purposes of DI’s party was to introduce new games, but I didn’t get a chance to sample any of them because my kids were hyperfocused. But if you’re interested, you can see previews of them on Disney Interactive’s website.