The Year's BEST Books, Music, Software, Video Games and More
Find more gifts that your kids will love among the NAPPA Honors winners featured at www.nappaawards.com/. Here, download handy shopping lists - by age group - of all the 2010 NAPPA winners!
In Part 2 of our 2010 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Award-Winners' coverage, we proudly bring you more top children's products for fun and learning. Our expert judges, parents and child testers have again selected the most innovative and engaging products to help you find just the right gifts for this holiday season and throughout the year.
Books and Magazines
By Dr. Helen Foster James and Rubin Pfeffer
What a thrill to see the remarkable range of entries in the children's books category this year. Despite the press about the potential demise of the printed book and the electronic takeover of our reading habits, it's wonderful to hold and read these stunning titles. Learn more about these Gold winners and discover our excellent list of NAPPA Honors books at www.NAPPA.Parenthood.com.
For Infants & Toddlers
Dancing Feet, by Lindsey Craig, illustrated by Marc Brown; Random House Children's Books, 2010; $16.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids. The lively rhyming language and jubilant art in this hardcover book will have kids joyfully dancing on happy feet.
Old MacDonald Had a Farm, adapted by Kim Mitzo Thompson and Karen Mitzo Hilderbrand, illustrated by Patrick Girouard; Twin Sisters Productions, 2010; $10.99; www.twinsisters.com. This traditional song is presented as a brightly colored, padded board book that includes a CD of 14 additional fun songs.
One Pup's Up, by Marsha Wilson Chall, illustrated by Henry Cole; Simon & Schuster Children's, 2010; $16.99; http://www.simonandschuster.com/kids. A counting book as sweet and peppy as 10 little puppies.
Up, Up, Up!, by Susan Reed and Rachel Oldfield; Barefoot Books, 2010; $16.99; www.barefootbooks.com. Sail away in a hot air balloon with three children and their dog in this beautifully illustrated book, which includes a sing-along CD.
Beautiful Oops!, by Barney Saltzberg; Workman Publishing, 2010; $11.95; www.workman.com. This perfect gift book shows that there are life lessons in every "oops!" The book turns – through story and illustration – everyday spills, drips and rips into a beautiful and whimsical piece of art.
Chirp Magazine, Owl Kids; $29.99 for 1-year subscription; $45 for 2-year subscription; www.owlkids.com. This popular magazine is packed with fun activities and stories for your preschooler or beginner reader.
Heads, by Matthew van Fleet; Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010; $16.99; http://www.simonandschuster.com/kids. This book is a treat for the senses. Its fun, stimulating, interactive play and lilting language celebrate a wild menagerie of happy and busy animals.
The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Songs for Little Folks, by Peter Yarrow, illustrated by Terry Widener; Sterling Children's Books, 2010; $16.95; www.sterlingpublishing.com/kids. Families can sing favorite folk songs with folk legend Peter Yarrow; a sing-along CD is included.
Swim! Swim!, by Lerch; Scholastic, 2010; $16.99; www.scholastic.com. Lerch is a fish in a tank who's lonely and looking for a friend. This silly tale of friendship is told from the fish's point of view and complemented with bold, comic illustrations.
"The cover of this book just pops! The book is quirky enough for adults, too." – Mother of one
For Ages 6 to 8
Amazing Airplanes, by Gaby Goldsack, illustrated by Lee Montgomery and Anthony Williams; Silver Dolphin Books, 2010; $14.95; www.silverdolphinbooks.com. Build five gliders with this hands-on look at aviation history. The book also includes historical photos, detailed diagrams and colorful comic strips.
Farm, by Elisha Cooper; Orchard Books, 2010; $17.99; www.scholastic.com. A beautifully told and comprehensive picture book that celebrates farm life poetically and factually through the changing seasons. The art is stunning.
"The opening line is great: 'Take a farmer, another farmer, a boy, a girl. The wife is NOT the farmer's wife. She's as much a farmer as the husband!'" – Judge
My Name is Not Isabella, by Jennifer Fosberry, illustrated by Mike Litwin; Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010; $16.99; www.Sourcebooks.com. A little girl decides to be many amazing women in history – all in one day.
"This would be great for my grandson. I want him to know about famous women." – Grandmother of one
Who Will Plant a Tree?, by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Tom Leonard; Sleeping Bear Press, 2010; $15.95; www.sleepingbearpress.com. The wonders of nature are shown through animals around the world as they contribute to the greening of our planet. The text is simple, yet profound.
For Ages 9 to 12
American Girl Magazine, American Girl; $22.96 for 1-year subscription (6 issues); www.americangirlmagazine.com. An age-appropriate alternative to teen magazines, this is the largest bimonthly publication dedicated to girls age 8 and up. Content includes school talk, health and beauty, party ideas, inspiring real-life stories, crafts and more.
Birmingham Sunday, by Larry Dane Brimner; Boyds Mills Press, 2010; $17.95; www.boydsmillspress.com. This illustrated book presents a pivotal moment in Civil Rights history and the consequences that followed.
Do Something!, by Nancy Lublin, Manessa Martir and Julia Steers; Workman Publishing, 2010; $13.95; www.workman.com. This guide to activism includes simple, do-able ways for kids of all ages to make a difference. It's a real get-off-your-butt book!
The Dreamer, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis; Scholastic, 2010; $17.99; www.scholastic.com. This novel is a beautifully presented, fictionalized biography of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning poet.
The Popularity Papers, by Amy Ignatow; Abrams/Amulet Books, 2010; $15.99; www.amuletbooks.com. Fifth-graders Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang are best friends and vow that they'll become more popular in school this year. First-time author Amy Ignatow nails a winner with this laugh-out-loud novel, told through text and graphics.
The Social Times Magazine, Autism Asperger Publishing Company; $51 for a year's subscription (nine issues), 10 student copies of each issue included; www.aapcpublishing.net/. Teachers and students will find this a fun and educational supplement for social skills programs.
For Ages 12 & Up
The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar; Random House Children's Books, 2010; $17.99; www.randomhouse.com/teens. Alton Richards is recruited by his parents to become the assistant of his blind great-uncle at frequent bridge club meetings to inherit the rich man's estate.
Fat Boy Chronicles, by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan; Sleeping Bear Press, 2010; $9.95; www.sleepingbearpress.com. Inspired by a true story, these first-person journal entries unfold the story of Jimmy, an obese teenager, and his emotional struggle to lose weight.
A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes; Zondervan, 2010; $15.99; www.zondervan.com. In free verse, the parallel stories of the Virgin Mary and a contemporary pregnant teen are non-judgmentally, yet grippingly, told.
Poetry Speaks Who I Am, edited by Elise Paschen; Sourcebooks, 2010; $19.99; www.sourcebooks.com. The greatest contemporary poets speak to our youth through more than 100 poems that matter. A CD of the poets reading their own work is included.
By John Wood and Tor Hyams
Music for children and their families is alive and well! Indie artists shone brightly in NAPPA's 20th year, as they blended with established performers who continue to deliver. What a tremendous mix of new takes on traditional songs, terrific original songs and outstanding musicianship!
Music Together® Lullabies, various artists, Music Together LLC, 2009; $14.95; www.musictogether.com; ages 0 to 6. Music Together® CDs are perfect companions to this company's live classes, but the music can stand alone. This album contains traditional folk songs arranged simply and with minimal instrumentation.
Party Like a Twinkle Star, Charity and the JAMband, 2010; $17.98 double CD; www.jamjamjam.com; ages 0 to 9. From songs that sound like mom at your bedside ("So Long to the Day") to a folk version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," your child will fall asleep with a smile.
Sing Me Goodnight, Lisa Redfern, Hurricane Music, 2010; $15; www.lisaredfern.com; ages 0 and up. Gentle and soothing vocals ride effortlessly on original and traditional folk tunes, with simple yet elegant arrangements. Two songs are dedicated to parents growing their families through adoption.
"This album is a gift for new parents and a keepsake for their children." – Judge
Sing Me to Sleep - Indie Lullabies, Various Artists, American Laundromat Records, 2010; $13.95; www.alr-music.com; ages 0 and up. Different, different, different! Indie artists embrace and retrace classic lullabies with a fresh heartfelt zest!
For Toddlers & Up
A Mighty Good Day, Hullabaloo, Hullabaloo Music, 2010; $12; www.hullabalooband.com; ages 0 to 6. Who knew that being a superhero depends on having the right "supersuit," or that anticipating a baby brother is like getting a "Baby Basketball" to play with?
Rock and Roll Garden, Bari Koral Family Rock Band, Loopytunes, 2010; $10.99; www.barikoral.com; ages 1 to 5. When little ones wants to rock out, Koral's crystal clean voice and modern piano style will get them moving. Songs about a little ducky, popcorn, colors and an "Uh Oh" tune are geared perfectly for this age.
The Wild World of Wildlife, Birdie Mendoza, Birdie's Playhouse, 2010; $10.99; www.birdiesplayhouse.com; ages 0 to 5. Engaging vocals, bouncy world rhythms and fun songs about animals from around the globe have you movin' and groovin' while learning!
For Ages 4 & Up
A Cow Says Moock, Alastair Moock, Moockshake Music, 2010; $15; www.moockmusic.com; ages 2 to 10. Intelligent, high-energy folk-rock with serious pop! Moock's distinctive voice gives pause to songs about a loving "Two Mommies" family, a new take on "Belly Buttons" and even "Spaghetti in My Shoes."
Eat a Bowl of Cherries, Rhythm Child, The Rhythm Child Network, 2009; $15; www.rhythmchild.net; ages 0 to 6. Focusing on the beat, Rhythm Child transforms traditional songs into new and soulful tracks that inspire us all to stomp our feet and shake our booties!
Funky Fresh and Sugar Free, Sugar Free Allstars, Wiser Music, 2010; $12.97; www.sugarfreeallstars.com; ages 3 to 10. This album is well produced and speaks to our inner child. From toy army men stuffed "In My Pocket" to wild beasts like a "Tiger in My Backyard," listeners travel with the fullest sounding two-man band you've ever heard.
Jungle Gym, Justin Roberts, Carpet Square Records, 2010; $16; www.justinrobertsmusic.com; ages 3 to 9. This album is a master class in writing and performing "family music" that doesn't talk down, around or in too precious a manner. Parents identify with Roberts' musical influences; kids just plain enjoy it.
The Kids Are All Id, Randy Kaplan, Randy Kaplan Music, 2010; $12.99-$17.99; www.randykaplan.com; ages 4 and up. Do not drink a glass of milk when listening to these silly songs of zany substance and skewed perspective because you will blow it out your nose!
Ranky Tanky, Rani Arbo, Mayhem Music, 2010; $15; www.raniarbo.com; ages 3 and up. Audio candy for the ears. This album sounds like you're at a house party and you brought the kids. The musicianship is stellar and the "set list" is on the nose!
"Of all the amazing entries, this is among my top five." – Judge
Swimming in Noodles, Jim Cosgrove, Hiccup Productions Inc., 2010; $13; www.jimcosgrove.com; ages 3 to 8. The album title suits this eclectic mix of genres, woven together perfectly by the band's world sounds. Carefully constructed lyrics in the song "Just Like You" provide subtle, poignant lessons on how we're all equal no matter where we come from.
Take It Outside, The Okee Dokee Brothers, Okee Dokee Music, 2010; $15; www.okeedokee.org; ages 3 to 9. Seamlessly threading bluegrass and rock, this sassy musical hybrid album reminds us that fantasy ("The Extraterrestrials") and fun ("Auctioneer") are wherever we are.
"I like this so much 'cause I can really dance cool to it." – Lyon, age 4
For Ages 9 & Up
Sunny Day, Elizabeth Mitchell, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2010; $11.98; www.folkways.si.edu; ages 9 and up. I fell in love with this one. Mitchell's beautiful, endearing voice draws you into the folk-rock songs. Traditional, organic instrumentation keeps the thread of classic folk songs alive.
We're Not Kidding! A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar, various artists, Rainbow Morning Music, 2010; $14.95; www.Barrylou.com; ages 9 and up. Polisar gained legendary status as a sassy songwriter who treated children with respect. This massive tribute album (60 tracks) has been re-imagined, rewritten and rearranged by some of today's most interesting Indie artists.
Software/Video Games/ Websites
By Alex Chisholm
This year's big story is Xbox 360 Kinect. Microsoft's latest innovation eliminates the controller to open up fully immersive digital play. The early titles we tested are solid and just a glimpse of what we'll see in the future.
For Preschool & Up
Tag (TM) Reading System, LeapFrog® Enterprises, 2008; $39.99; www.leapfrog.com; ages 4 to 8. Tag brings the printed page to life with a pad-less, un-tethered pen system that provides new readers with word-by-word audio support for more than 40 Tag-enabled books. Youngsters explore words and images, sound out words and build vocabulary through games and fun audio. Parents can download additional content and track their child's learning progress online.
"Tag is a terrific way to supplement a child's early reading." – Judge
For Early Elementary Students
Herotopia, Herotainment, LLC, 2010; free (or upgrade with membership, $5.95/ month); www.herotopia.com; ages 6 to 12. This highly engaging virtual world invites youngsters to select and customize their own Superhero to defeat the Bully Bunch in settings around the world. Games, such as "Confucius Challenge," quiz students on international foods, flags, animals and landmarks. Herotopia is for parents looking for a safe, smart and entertaining learning experience for their kids.
Leapster Explorer, LeapFrog® Enterprises, 2010; $69.99; www.leapfrog.com; ages 4 to 8. Leapster is a great "first" handheld for young gamers with a bigger and brighter touch screen and easy-to-hold stylus. Kids play games, explore e-books and watch videos that feature such popular characters as Kai-Lan™, Dora™ and SpongeBob™. Content supports learning that parents can track, from reading to early skill development in math, science and social studies.
For Upper Elementary Students
Kinect for Xbox 360, Microsoft, 2010; $149.99; www.xbox.com; ages 6 and up. Here's a gaming experience where you don't have to hold any controller! With a special motion capture sensor that sits in front of your television, Kinect for Xbox 360 puts all of you at the center of gameplay. Whether you're cresting the white water rapids in Kinect Adventures, kicking the soccer ball in Kinect Sports or kart-racing in Kinect Joy Ride, you feel the action as you lean, jump, steer, swing and engage your entire body in controlling the game. Our kids testers LOVED it!
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Square Enix, Inc., 2010; $39.99; www.kingdomhearts.com; ages 10 and up. Kingdom Hearts has been a wildly successful game that takes players through a series of fantastical adventures with new characters, heroes and villains. Kids play alongside favorite Disney characters and experience the stories and worlds they know so well in exciting new ways. In this latest installment for PSP, players solve the mystery of a missing Keyblade Master.
The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World, Wiglington and Wenks Worldwide Pte, Ltd., 2009; free (or upgrade with membership, $5.99/month); ; ages 7 to 14. Who knew that Marco Polo traveled the globe with the help of a water rat who navigated by the stars? In this imaginative and highly engaging virtual world, children open secret portals, unveil the future and gain unimaginable powers by unlocking the secrets of Carto Wiglington's maps. Players are introduced to important people, places and topics in history, geography, mythology, science, culture and more.
For Tweens & Teens
Echo Smartpen, Livescribe, 2010; $169.95 for 4GB, $199.95 for 8GB; www.livescribe.com; ages 12 and up. This remarkable pen is a wonderful tool for learning how to listen, take notes and organize ideas. Simply point the pen tip to a preprinted record button on special paper and write key points or draw. Echo captures anything that's spoken or amplified within earshot, tying recorded audio to what's written. Students upload their recordings, writings and drawings to a computer to better organize, search and share their notes.
"Our high school freshmen testers loved the ability to just write on paper and move their content onto their laptops." – Judge
Global Agenda, Hi-Rez Studios Inc., 2010; $39.99; www.globalagendagame.com; ages 13 and up. One of our edgier entries, Global Agenda is a highly engaging strategy and action, multiplayer online game for teens. Although the crude humor and fantasy violence (ESRB Rating T for Teen) may not be right for all young people, our boy game testers loved the experience, which took them to the year 2155 and into a world devastated by the Third Great War. Players collaborate as teams on leveled missions to overtake an oppressive world government and protect humanity. Our testers really enjoyed the futuristic weaponry, gadgetry and richly rendered game world. The game's first expansion, Global Agenda: Sandstone, is also available.
KidZui K2 Browser, KidZui:The Internet for Kids, 2010; free (or upgrade with subscription: $8/month and $40/annual); www.kidzui.com; ages 3 and up. This previous NAPPA Gold winner still sets the standard for providing access to a broad range of popular kids' Web sites, while enabling parents to better track their kids' Internet usage, explore new resources to support homework and provide access to exclusive KidZui content (with membership). The avatar creator tool and communication features with friends are zippier than before, and a special filter pulls fun, yet appropriate clips from YouTube.
Meet the NAPPA judges
Books & Magazines
Helen Foster James, Ed.D., is a lecturer at San Diego State University and former coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education. She's the author of S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet. Rubin Pfeffer has held executive positions at several top publishing companies over the past 30 years, launched Beach Lane Books in 2008, and recently established the Boston office of East West Literary Agency, where he is a partner.
John Wood brings more than 30 years of expertise to his reviews of children's music, which appear in parenting magazines across the country and on Kidzmusic.com. He has performed more than 8,000 shows with his children's group, J.P. Nightingale. In the last two decades, Tor Hyams has produced more than 50 albums from world-class recording artists, composed film and television scores, created live music festivals for children (Kidzapalooza), launched the Happiness Records family music label, and written and produced a NAPPA-winning children's CD.
Software, Websites & Video Games
Alex Chisholm is a media research and development consultant who recently created games for iCue with NBC News and produced Generation Cures at Children's Hospital Boston. He's a founding member and executive director of the Learning Games Network (www.learninggamesnetwork.org), a nonprofit that supports innovation in the use of games for learning.