DVD Review: LeapFrog Letter Factory

Hi there!

As the parent of a child getting ready for kindergarten, I am always on the lookout for new educational materials. One of the best sources of educational tools is LeapFrog. They’ve been producing a variety of read-along-style and game products (such as their LeapPad and Leapster products) for a number of years and we’ve always been quite satisfied.

So when this series of DVDs from LeapFrog and Lionsgate was announced, I knew we’d have to check it out. One of the first of the re-released DVDs is LeapFrog Letter Factory, which walks viewers through the alphabet with a colorful, engaging, musical tour. The 35 minute feature not only teaches the letters and what sounds they make, but reinforces that information regularly throughout the program to allow the child to build on that knowledge.

Leap and Lily are the well-known older siblings in LeapFrog products and Tad is just a little frog who doesn’t know his letters yet. He’s enthusiastic, but tends to get in the way when he tries to help the family with the big presentation they’re giving at the Letter Factory. When his brother and sister get wrapped up in the preparations, Tad wanders off into the factory and eventually bumps into Professor Quigley. With the wacky Professor, Tad works his way through every letter in the alphabet, learning what each sound they make as they train to be part of a talking alphabet book.

My four-year-old was entranced by the story and enjoyed singing along with Tad and the Professor. Tad flew with the F’s, jumped with the J’s, and kicked with the K’s. My favorite was the X’s x-raying. Each letter had a creative little process to go along with it, from the A’s screaming in fright to the Z’s taking a nap.

The feature used simple, crisp, 2D animation to explore the Letter Factory with Leap, Lily, and Tad. I found the style very similar to Dr. Seuss‘s ABCs, which we’ve seen in book, video, and computer game formats. However, LeapFrog updated the images, which made it more current than the classic Dr. Seuss material (including a hip-hop act and a bunch of letters swinging like Tarzan).

In addition to the main feature, there is a learning game where you receive a clue and use the DVD remote arrows to pick the letter that matches. Though it was fun to play through once for a few minutes, I can see my daughter getting bored with it quite quickly.

Also in this series of DVDs is LeapFrot Talking Words Factory which builds on the Letter Factory. New DVDs are heading to retail stores sometime in Fall 2009.

If you’re looking for a fun way for a child to work on their ABC’s, LeapFrog’s Letter Factory would be a great addition to your video arsenal. For more information on other LeapFrog products, check out the LeapFrog website.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out LeapFrog Letter Factory and other items at Amazon:

    

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Book Review: Johnny Big Ears, the Feel-Good Friend

Hi there!

Occasionally, I get to review great children’s books. <em>Johnny Big Ears, the Feel-Good Friend</em>, written by John Paul Padilla and illustrated by Mike Andrulonis is one of those. All too often the message in books meant for kids is too hidden for young readers to pick up. This story repeats the message in a variety of ways to ensure that it can’t be lost.

Johnny Big Ears Book CoverThe main character, Johnny Big Ears, is your typical five-year old kid ready to start kindergarten. However, Johnny has a unique physical attribute that makes him different from other kids. His big ears make him a target for the mean kids at school to make fun of, which forces him to find ways to deal with this challenge.

This book addresses the issue of childhood bullying and offers simple advice to kids about how to deal with teasing and mean comments. Parents, educators, and children will all find this book a great conversation starter to help kids deal with those common problems.

My only slight criticism of the book is that there should have been more artwork. As the parent of a 2nd grader and a child in preschool, I’ve found that it’s easier to keep some kids’ attention if there are more pictures to go with the text of the book.

The author, John Paul Padilla is a very busy guy himself. An office administrator in California, he is a poet, a model and dancer, and a songwriter and musician. Johnny Big Ears is based on his own childhood experiences with teasing and his time as a teacher‘s aide in an elementary school.

Mr. Padilla was kind enough to answer a few questions I asked him via e-mail.

Q: Is this the beginning of a series? If so, what’s next in store for Johnny Big Ears?

A: Yes, I hope to continue writing a series of books. Johnny Big Ears is the main character and will be introducing his friends through the course of time. This first book was written mainly more for boys, using Johnny Big Ears as the main character but next book will be aimed toward little girls and also using a special name that Johnny Big Ears can identify with and be part of his feel good friends.

Q: Your bio suggests that you are one very busy individual! What else have you published?

A: This is my first children’s book but about 4 years ago, I wrote my first book, Wings To Cross An Ocean, which is an inspirational, poetry book filled with essays and poetry that both inspire and motivate people to love themselves more and before judging others to look within ourselves. Its words to lift your spirit,food for thought, and motivation to change for the better.

Q: If you could boil your book down to its core, what is the message that you want kids to come away with?

A: My main message is to be able to make kids feel good about themselves regardless how they look like on the outside. I want kids to realize none of us are really perfect and that most things that they see on TV shows, music videos, or movies is all make believe and not normal at times. I want kids to quit trying so hard to be liked and not worry much what others think of them. They should be themselves. Once kids accept who they are and are happy, secure kids, surrounded by a loving family than eventually those kids can learn to finally love themselves, be more tolerant of others, be more confident around others and eventually grew up to be successful and more loving people towards others. I want Johnny Big Ears to teach kids to love themselves and for kids to quit trying so hard to please everyone by trying to change themselves. Once kids start feeling confident and secure in their own skins, they are on their way to being successful adults. I want kids to be able to relate to the story and come out feeling proud to be who they are and to finally a accept themselves just as they are.

Q: I think your book is great and has a strong message needed in today’s schools. Are you doing anything special to get your book out to teachers?

A: Thanks, I have been asked to be a guest speaker at some local schools that will be talking about teasing and bullying. Since I enjoy working with kids and teaching kids a positive message I have already designed a costume for Johnny Big Ears, so I can wear it at presentations and also encourage kids to love themselves more. I want to start helping school encourage self-love more and to teach kids that teasing and bullying does exist and needs to be stopped before it gets out of hand. Once we can control the teasing and bullying in schools, kids can be freer to be original and expressive without having to worry about others teasing them and grow up to be more loving and successful adults!

Johnny Big Ears is available as a paperback from Dorrance Publishing, Inc, and has been available since May 2008.

Books like these are a joy to review, because it’s easy to see that they can help children face common issues at school in a positive manner.

Until next time,

–Fitz

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