Monthly Archives: July 2011

BigJigs Rail – Village Station

[Written: September 2010]

I really want to like this Village Station. Actually, I do really like it but when my daughters are playing with their wooden railway this often gets left in the box.

It may be because they are very young (3.5 years and 15 months) They like the pieces that connect together, and this station doesn’t. I think the slightly larger Train Station would be a better choice if you are going for just one station, as it will connect to the track so the trains can go through the station. This Village Station sits at the side of the track, which does make it very versatile to move around once a track has been put together.

Sadly, I can’t give it 5* based on my experience with my daughters, but it is a lovely piece and older children may appreciate it and get more imaginative play value from it.

I recommend it for imaginative play with a railway, it doesn’t give the construction play that other rail pieces give.

BigJigs Colour Puzzle Set 1

[Written: September 2010]

There are three other sets in this series – another colours set and two shapes sets. “Colour Set 1” is the set that we have, but it’s a matter of preference as to which of them to get. This review applies to any of them – look at the pictures of the puzzles to decide which one you prefer.

The four puzzles come in one box, which is the only problem with them when first introducing them to very young children (it’s the case with many puzzle sets though) but each puzzle can be easily separated into an A4 ziploc bag and a picture of the individual puzzles added to each bag if wanted.

These puzzles are made from lovely chunky wooden pieces so they’re easy to handle, stay together once connected and give a great sensory experience to hold.

The nine pieces give experience of “proper” jigsaw puzzles with “edge” pieces and a “middle” piece. Each puzzle in this set shows nine images in one colour, giving vocabulary building opportunities and reinforcing colour awareness. As a child gets more familiar with the puzzles, they can be presented four at a time in the original box so the child has to match the colours up before being able to complete the puzzles.

Nine pieces are a nice bridge between the 2, 4 or 6 piece “baby” puzzles before attempting 12+ pieces. I know some 2-3 year olds who can do 20+ piece puzzles but my almost-four year old has never been that interested in jigsaws so this size puzzle is perfect to still keep her interest, reduce her frustration but give more challenge than “baby” puzzles.

These puzzle sets would also be good to make party bags for toddlers – put the pieces for one puzzle in a small canvas (or felt or organza etc) bag, add a laminated picture of the finished puzzle tied with ribbon as a name tag.

Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons by Hiawyn Oram & Sarah Warburton

[Written: March 2010]

Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons is a book designed for young children to devour from beginning to end. There is not a ‘boring’ page in the book – even the copyrights appear as steam coming out of a cauldron. This is a definite plus, my three year old always thinks I’m cheating her out of something when I flick through the first pages of most books to get to the story!

This story is narrated by Rumblewick, a witch’s cat to a very “unwilling” witch. In this book Haggy Aggy (Rumblewick’s witch) wants to love and protect “terri-frying” dragons, which involves inviting a few of them over for dinner. Poor Rumblewick relates the proceedings via letters to his best friend and fellow witch’s cat, Grimey. The dragons are beautifully realised, colourful creatures with wide faces, skinny arms, big tums and very sharp teeth. Haggy Aggy is atypically dressed in flowery pink, oblivious to any danger, and it’s up to quick-thinking Rumblewick to save the day with a very ingenious “feast”.

This is a book designed to be experienced – with cut outs, chomped corners and lift-the-flap style spells and mini books within the book. There are double-page fantastically detailed pictures, along with doodles dotted round scrapbook-style layouts. This is a book to be read again and again, and to discover something different every time: the frog trying on lipstick, receipt from “Crafty Co-Op”, bat-shaped door handle… The frogs are definitely ones to look out for, and they appear on most of the pages.

Rumblewick and the Dinner Dragons is probably better for children slightly older than three (I think it’s aimed at 5+) but even so my three year old (who loves stories with witches and dragons best) still enjoyed the story, looking out for the frogs and lifting the flaps. I’m loathe to compare series but I’d say fans of Winnie the Witch should really enjoy Rumblewick, as would those who enjoy Emily Gravett’s interactive books. Personally, I think 30-something mothers should also be allowed to like picture books, and I thoroughly enjoy sharing this one with my daughters.

Good Knight, Sleep Tight by David Melling

[Written: January 2010]

“Good Knight, Sleep Tight” is the second of (so far) three picture books set in the same fantasy world starring a loyal knight, his faithful horse, the royal family and “bears with long claws […], swooping owls […] and […] hungry wolves with dribbly mouths.” So far, so standard. But it’s David Melling’s art and sense of humour that make these books so wonderful.

In “Good Knight, Sleep Tight”, the prince from “The Kiss That Missed” has acquired a baby sister (“He couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.”) The knight is sent on a quest to fill the royal pillow with “something soft and fluffy” for the princess, encountering bears, wolves and owls on the way. Keep an eye on his shield for the lion – who goes green as they climb up the tree, or gets knocked into the side as they leave so quickly there isn’t “even enough time to finish the senten”… The text bounces round the pages with the action, winding round sequences of pictures and changing in size through the story. The pictures are utterly gorgeous and filled with little details that you pick up more of from each reading. They’re also a lovely snapshot of aspects of real family life, and it’s nice to have a king and queen who act like normal parents do.

I expect that the age range is aimed at 3-6 year olds. I say it’s enjoyable from birth to adulthood – I’ve been reading it to my eldest daughter (now nearly three) since before she was a year old and to my youngest daughter (7 months) since birth. The almost-three year old chooses all three books on a regular basis and we sit down to read them – “Oh, no, what’s happening!” she cries, in between quoting the next lines. All three books are huge fun for me to read to my daughters and I’m still seeing new things in the pictures, and love the humour. I enjoy all three, it was difficult choosing my favourite to write a review.

I can thoroughly recommend reading anything written by David Melling, and this fantasy trilogy is a very good place to start with young children – who understand that stories should start “Once upon a something…” and end happily after something a little bit scary in the middle.

BigJigs Shape Matching Board

[Written: September 2009]

I would recommend this as the one “must-have” toy from a few months old, probably up to primary school. I have 2 daughters, 2.5 years and 3 months.

The eldest has been playing with this since she was 5 months old – to start with playing consisted of knocking all the pieces out and throwing them around but now she can do the puzzle. I’m now introducing it to my youngest, who has just realised she can control her hands and loves the bright colours.

This is an extremely versatile toy. The bright colours on a black background make it attractive to look at for babies from a young age. The pieces are chunky and bright, perfect for little hands to pick up. It encourages hand-eye co-ordination, colour recognition and shape matching. There are so many games that can be played – putting the smaller pieces in the black shapes, having one circle and shape to practice fine motor skills, giving the child three of the outer circles and one shape so they can work out where the shape fits, putting all the blocks of one colour together, building towers, pretending the blocks are food and the tray is a plate… This is the one toy to take on holiday with a baby or toddler!

It’s a great New Baby, Christening, 1st Christmas or 1st Birthday gift. It’s compact, durable, attractive and very good value for money.