La belle Q.bel
When a big box of chocolate bars shows up in your office, you take one for the team and test them. Never less than a total pro, I tested and retested, and I have to say, Q.bel chocolates are outstanding. The wafer bars are a bit like Kit Kats — only with richer, deeper flavor and about 100 fewer calories. Sure, they’re candy bars, but they’re all-natural candy bars, with none of that nasty high fructose corn syrup or those hydrogenated oils and preservatives, and with two per pack, they’re easy to split between kids. The company’s got a lot of heart, too; the Q.bel Web site features an unflinching analysis of attempts to live up to sustainability and other social values. A little honesty with your awesome noms? At PCC and Whole Foods.
Ranky Tanky by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem. Refreshing … joyful … original: Listening to this new kiddie release feels like sitting in on the coolest string-band jam session ever. Fiddle, guitar, stand-up bass — and all manner of improvised instruments — blend with seamless four-part harmonies. Standouts include a sweet ukulele-infused cover of Yusuf Islam’s “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” and the Mardi Gras–ready “They All Asked for You.” Ranging from poignant to foot-stompin’, folk to bluegrass to rock and back again, Ranky Tanky is difficult to define, but essential to own. $15; available at raniarbo.com.
Hue and me
A Most Vivid Day! written and illustrated by Justin Young. Here is a fantastically imaginative tale of a little black bat who stays up way past his bedtime into morning and learns about all the vivid colors of the daylit world. Lavishly illustrated with watercolors, reminiscent of Cooper Edens’ work, with messages about cooperation and sharing, art and beauty. Gorgeous! Ages 4–8; $16.95, Golden Tree Press. Released in May 2010.
Big Feelings by Talaris Institute; illustrated by Kristin Varner. Here’s a great tool for getting tots in touch with those big emotions: anger, frustration, surprise and more. Gentle, doe-eyed critters tackle everyday emotional challenges; young readers are asked what they would do. A sweetheart of a book that can lead to important conversations. Ages 2–5; $16.99, only from Parenting Counts.
Umbrella … ella … ella
The Thingamabob by Il Sung Na. Charming, doodley-cool illustrations and a story of curiosity and creativity: A baby elephant finds a thingamabob and tries to figure out what it’s for. Your preschooler will ID it at once (a red umbrella!) and marvel at the elephant’s increasingly silly guesses. Ages 2–5; $15.99, Random House.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin; illustrated by James Dean. A fabulous folk-art kitty takes a stroll in his new white shoes . . . to colorful effect: As his adventures grow, so do the stains on his shoes! Cat fanciers will want to frame the cool illustrations; kids will appreciate his laid-back attitude toward messes: “It’s all good!” Comes with a free music download. Ages 3–7; $16.99, Harper Collins.
—Kristen Russell Dobson
Charlie and Lola: I Can’t Stop Hiccuping and Other Stories Lola gets a wicked case of the hiccups while practicing for the school concert. How will she get rid of them? This and nine other adorable stories are included on this 99-minute DVD, new this month from BBC Warner. $14.99.