Mali Likes Apps, Too. Here's Her Top Ten.

You've heard a lot from us about Leo, his iPad, and apps. In fact my latest BlogHer post is on which apps Leo thinks are fun, as opposed to which apps support his communication and learning.

But you know what? Leo has a little sister. And Mali likes iPods, iPads, and apps too -- with a fiery passion that is both a great motivator for chores, and a problem should anything require doing while she is mid-game or book.

Here are ten of Mali's favorite apps, if you're looking for some Christmas Eve instant gift recommendations, apps for loading up that new iPad or iPod, or kindling for burning through those holiday iTunes gift cards.

Stack the States ($.99) Mali will play this indefinitely, and is completely sucked in by its combination of state trivia and shape-matching with a stacking game. Earned points unlock new game levels. And it's fun -- our family played it together during yesterday's San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip. Only hitch: it doesn't pronounce the states' names in voiceover, so while Mali can now instantly name almost all 50 states' capitals, we still get an occasional "Ju-wah-know" for Juneau, Alaska. I hope the content gets even richer (State birds! flowers! Flags!), and that a Stack the Countries app is forthcoming (former Geography software producer being wishlist-y here).

Doodle Hangman (Free) Animated hangman word game. You can upgrade to a full paid version, but so far we've been quite happy with the categories, which include elements, countries, human body, and Kings & Pirates. She and Iz like to play this one together.

Wurdle ($1.99) A timed word search app that lets you chain letters into words in any connected pattern you like. I am a bit bummed by how close her and Iz's top scores are to mine.

Square Off (Free) Field of dots, close off square vs. the computer, different difficulty levels, strategy required. If I sound less than enthused it's because I hear this game's sounds effects in my sleep -- a testament to just how much Mali likes it.

BrainPop (Free) Mali is all about iPad novelty, and BrainPop lets her watch a new educational movie every day (I actually downloaded BrainPop for her big sister Iz, but hey). Today's episode was about snowflakes, the science of how they form, and are they really all different. Nifty animation, built in quizzes, and bonus "Where did you learn THAT?" factor for parents.

Cut the Rope ($1.99), Angry Birds ($.99), Finger Physics ($.99) I'm grouping these as they all combine physics with strategy. And they're all really popular;  you may own all three already. There's a reason -- they're clever, crisply designed, fun, and fluidly animated. Seymour is amazed by her mastery of all three apps; she's much better than him.

Stray Sheep: Poe's Christmas* ($6.99) An beautifully (truly) illustrated interactive book about a sleepwalking sheep's adventures. Mali's favorite part is when Poe meets the "man in red" (guess who?). She also likes the slider puzzles, and the Spot the Difference games (at which she is much better than me).

Little Miss Spider* ($7.99) Even though this expanded interactive book is about spiders -- they would normally give Mali the willies -- she loves Little Miss Spider's video-quality animation and interactivity, as well as the matching game (though Leo is better at it), paint program, and the adjustable-level jigsaw puzzles. This is a high-quality production.

All About Dragons (Free right now) Our girl is dragon- and fiery-creature-in-general obsessed. She used to play with/read this book every day when she got home from school; the only reason she doesn't refer to it as often is, I suspect, that she has it committed to memory -- she loves it that much.

Thumbelina for the iPad* ($4.99) A very cool interactive book that not only comes in several different languages but lets the reader record her own voiceover. I showed this app to Mali's Spanish teacher and she thought it was fantastic for reinforcing bilingualism & biliteracy in combination. But don't take my word for it; watch Mali give a demo:

Other apps Mali likes: Snow Wonder* ($1.99) for building snowmen "with girl hair and girl faces," Zombie Farm, Plants vs. Zombies, Edge, Cupcakes, Pocket Frogs, Jelly Doodle, Doodle Jump.

What apps do your kids like? If (ahem) Santa was to leave Mali a $10 iTunes gift card in her stocking, which apps should she download next?

*Disclosure: gifted by the developer, but so were lots of apps that didn't make her favorites list. These are the apps she likes.


Both Our Brothers Have Autism!

Actually, the direct quote, as Jake's & Leelo's little sisters made gingko "leaf showers" and waited for their brothers' bus, was "We're sort of twins because we both have both have brown hair and we both like the color pink and we both like candy and both our brothers have autism."


Last-Minute Holiday Gifting: 5 Fantastic Kids' Books

Do you have a sassy, spirited, clever, imaginative, creative, unpredictable, emotional, intense, amazing, capricious, occasionally obstreperous, mostly wonderful, never boring child in your life? Do you want to get that kid an awesome book for the holidays? Do you want books that deal with emotions and/or girls as main characters but appeal to boys too? Are you freaking because you have no idea which books to choose and the holiday clock is ticking?

Here are five recommendations for young readers, all favorite family favorites, all ones that newly-six-year-old Miss Mali and I both agree are not just keepers but worth daily go-overs:

The Day Leo Said I Hate You tells of a loving but fiery little boy named Leo (the best name in the world, though this Leo is conversational). Leo gets angry and -- having overheard his mother use the word "hate" about broccoli -- decides to test out the phrase "I hate you" on her when her thoroughly reasonable but firm parenting choices make him angry. He is instantly horrified over having said something so hurtful, but his mother skillfully uses silliness and honesty to talk him through and past his penitence. It's a sweet, lovely, useful book, with lively illustrations.

The illustrator, Molly Bang, also created our family's beloved When Sophie Gets Angry--Really, Really Angry... -- a gorgeously colorful, empathetic take on a small girl working through an angry outburst on her own by leaving the scene until she cools down and feels reasonable again.  When Sophie Gets Angry and The Day Leo Said I Hate You are similar to one of my own Leo's perennial favorite books, The Chocolate-Covered-Cookie Tantrum, in that they legitimatize the full explosive glory of the children's emotions before showing rather than preaching about how the kids found their ways back to calmer places.

We also love love love love My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry, in which a small and also intense, capricious, and clever girl spends a day declaring herself alternately named "Annie" (Oakley), "Sally" (Ride), "Rosa" (Parks), and "Marie" (Curie), and telling of the historically accurate things she will be doing as she channels each notable woman's persona. Fosberry's light, deft take makes each scene a romp rather than a lesson, and she includes biographies at the back for the kids (and parents) who get hooked and want to know more. Note to the author: A starting point for the sequel could be the Rosalind Franklin episode from the My Favourite Scientist website -- brought to you by the wonderful Periodic Videos folks from the University of Nottingham. Note to parents of inspired children: budding scientists can get find the coolest gear at Educational Innovations or American Science & Surplus.

Are you all done with happy pink &/or good fairy crap like Disney Fairies and Pinkalicious? (The latter seems awfully inspired by A Bad Case of Stripes, to my mind.) The tales of pint-sized mad scientist Franny K. Stein might just be the series for your family, especially if you have no intention of raising your children as delicate flowers -- these books show that it's OK for a girl to be socially awkward, occasionally antisocial, and interested in things that are gross plus in science and in geekery. We need more characters like Franny!

Babymouse is also quite awesome -- as a character and as a series. My girls are completely hooked on Babymouse's slightly neurotic but always exciting daydreaming and waking life adventures, whether our hero is a Rock Star, a Dragonslayer, or a Cupcake Tycoon. In fact, my eldest left a precious Babymouse behind when we two flew back from Cambodia -- and that loss rather than our trip was almost all she could talk about for several days. Babymouse is the goods.

Tell Me a Dragon is possibly the most beautifully illustrated children's book we own, and features various children's imaginings (so we're told) of their dragons' appearance and personalities -- and shows the dragons in forms you may have not considered, all hail dragon diversity! If, like Mali, your child champions The Lord of the Rings' fiery Balrog demon and enjoys listening to older kids' fantasy books like Tamora Pierce's Wild Magic -- or just likes dragons (or should like dragons, damn it), this book is an excellent choice.

For those looking for even last minute-ier gifts, I'll be publishing reviews of both Mali's and Leo's favorite iPad apps next Monday and Tuesday.

Disclosure: I was sent review copies of The Day Leo Said I Hate You and My Name Is Isabella, but was not otherwise compensated in any way. This review is entirely my own opining, and features not one scrap of promotional copy. Jennifer Holm, who writes Babymouse, sent us a copy of Cupcake Tycoon (Babymouse #13) but did so well after and in fact because we were established fans.


Lenses and Teeth for My Little Changeling

I'm not just talking about mercurial Miss Mali's personality. Look who got glasses yesterday:

They are surprisingly thick glasses, due to a complicated prescription. Our girl has 20/30 vision, an astigmatism and farsightedness. Her eye exams up to this point have always been inconclusive due to, shall we say, compliance complications. But now folks can really tell just how green green green her eyes are.

But that's not the only thing that happened yesterday:

Who is this girl? Seeing as she got those glasses and lost that tooth on a Friday afternoon, we're considering lopping her locks before she returns to school Monday, so her transformation will be complete.

Side note: the Tooth Fairy brought her a Zachary Taylor gold dollar. She thought it was a penny, Seymour had never heard of such a coin. What is it going to take for the US to have successful beyond-quarter coins like Canada's Loonies & Toonies?


We're In: Wear & Share Star Wars Day

Are you participating in Wear & Share Star Wars Day? It's to support Katie, a first grade girl who got teased for liking Star Wars because "Star Wars Is for Boys" AS IF! Info from the FB campaign page on FB:
 Katie is a first grade girl who has been teased for bringing her Star Wars water bottle into school because the boys in her class say Star Wars is only for boys. Since her mother posted the story on the web, people of all ages have read and commented to show support for the girl to like whatever she darn well pleases.
The hell! I lined up with all the other kids when I was seven to see the first Star Wars movie. All the other equally excited-out-of-their-minds kids -- not just the boys. And I have always been a fan, though like many I gritted my teeth through the second wave of movies.

And my kids? They're fans too (although poor Mali, being a third child, hasn't had much exposure). But the two big kids have always been geared up. Here's Iz with the Darth Vader lunch box that was her pride and joy in 1st grade -- and which, like Katie, she stopped using in 2nd grade due to teasing. I talked to her this morning and she's still skittish about sporting Star Wars wear & lunch boxes because the other girls would tease her (stupid middle school social dynamics), though she says she wouldn't mind an Ewok shirt (which got Seymour musing about the wonders of the Ewok Christmas Special, and whether copies might exist anywhere ... anyone?).

Leo's got quite a bit of Star Wars wear as well -- clothes and jammies. He doesn't pick them, but I think he likes them. And I remember an interview with author Nick Hornby, who has a teen son with autism, talking about how he tried to be mindful about getting age-appropriate cool clothes, posters, etc. for his son, thing he thought his son might like.  So it might be time to put some of Leo's Teletubbies toys away, and see if he notices -- though I'm torn, as I feel as though our boy should get to play with whatever makes him happy in the sanctuary of his own room. Happy is primary!
May the Force be with our kids!