Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Stink Before Christmas Book Review (age 3-5+) for Scholastic

The Stink Before Christmas is an especially festive book release from Scholastic. Written by Children's TV presenters Sam And Mark (Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes) and illustrated by Tom Knight, it is of course a retelling of Twas The Night Before Christmas - with just a little tweaking of the storyline. In Sam and Mark style...

We were sent a bonus item - a whoopee cushion. I never thought I'd pretend 'I don't know what I'm about to sit on' so many times in my life. This is child no.7, I can spot a whoopee cushion from the next room.

HP Sprocket Photo Printer Limited Edition Gift Box Review

Photo printing has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime and one of the latest developments for the home market is portable photo printers. This Christmas the printing experts HP have released a special gift box edition of their gorgeous and almost pocket-sized Sprocket Photo Printer and they've sent me one to review.

There will also be a Twitter Frenzy from 6pm until 7pm Thursday 23rd November and HP will be giving away some incredible prizes - Shopping Vouchers and HP Printing products including 2 Sprocket Gift Boxes! Follow the hashtag #reinventmemories

Inside the box is the gift bundle.  The HP Sprocket itself in white with rose gold trim, Zipped Case/Wallet with wrist strap, HP Sprocket Photo Album and voucher for a free personalised skin from Wrappz.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

ROXI Music Streaming Hub from Electric Jukebox Review

The ROXI from Electric Jukebox is a small music streaming hub unit which connects to your TV and can be used for 5 different functions, including streaming music from Electric Jukebox. One year's premium pass is included, as is a remote control which doubles as a microphone and can be used for Smart Voice Search and karaoke.

Our house has always been full of music and my older kids have introduced us to a variety of apps and gadgets over the years, they all have subscriptions to various music streaming services too, so reviewing the ROXI is a very natural step for us.

In the box you have the ROXI hub, ROXI controller, USB charge lead, Power adapter, HDMI cable and 12 month Premium Music Pass. It's nicely presented and looks really neat. The hub itself is very small, wall mountable and in a choice of 3 colours - classic charcoal grey, bright blue or coral red.

The controller is USB rechargeable.  A charge takes around 2 hours and lasts 24 hours of constant use, so it'll not need recharging often. It really isn't too big or unwieldy. It's surprisingly light and comfortable in any size of hand and your children shouldn't drop it every 5 minutes.

Set up was ridiculously simple and took about 2 minutes. You don't have to register, add your card details or make an account, you just plug in the HDMI and the power, log into your wifi and use the controller to control the onscreen cursor to say 'yes' to starting your first Annual Premium Pass - which is included.

A Christmas Carol Theatre Review at Bolton Octagon

I love A Christmas Carol. It is easily in my top 5 favourite books and I've read it many times. I also love Bolton Octagon Theatre, so I had high hopes for last night's performance and I really wasn't disappointed.

Bolton Octagon is theatre in the round and this was a fairly traditional performance, with Charles Dickens' lines making me smile each time I knew they were coming and then heard them spoken aloud. The performance is family-friendly and nothing is too scary. My 7 and 9 year old boys were quite disappointed actually when Jacob Marley did not drop his jaw. The humour in the book is expanded and Scrooge especially was hilarious, making the whole audience laugh and giggle many times.

A Christmas Carol is of course the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, originally written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and portrayed and retold in their own style thousands (if not millions) of times since by everyone from The Muppets and Bill Murray to.... in fact, just everyone.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Paddington 2 Book Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway (2 Winners).

The new Paddington Bear movie, Paddington 2, was released on 10th November and to accompany the film Harper Collins have released a whole range of fabulous books. We love books and I'm delighted to have an awesome bundle of 5 to give away to two of my readers in my Christmas Present Giveaways...

Paddington Bear has been around for almost 60 years now. As a child I watched him on TV and read the books, I even had a well-used jigsaw puzzle. The lovable little lost bear from Peru has stood the test of time and I think most children have at some point wished they could be like the Brown family and bring their own bear home.

The bundle contains 5 different products from the Harper Collins Paddington Range, suitable for children from tiny tots to around 11.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Digital Kids Show Review, Event City, Manchester 2017

Yesterday was the first day of the two-day Digital Kids Show at Event City in Manchester, and we were hot-footed it over there as soon as we'd watched the Magical Christmas Parade next door at intu Trafford Centre.

First thing we spotted when we walked in was the Lightseekers stand. I'd heard from them and promised we'd take a look, so we stopped off. I was genuinely really impressed. Playfusion have built some great quirks into this multi-platform game title.

My 9 year old and partner sat down to learn the card game version, while I checked out the light and sound poseable action figures. There are also an app and a console game which play very well.

The intu Trafford Centre Magical Christmas Parade 2017

Yesterday we were over at Trafford Park for 2 different events - so we were up and out bright and early to the intu Trafford Centre Management Office for a very unusual breakfast meet and greet with some of the stars of the Magical Christmas Parade!

We were treated to a buffet breakfast supplied by Leon (both of my boys devouring the sausages and bacon), as well as visits from several of the children's TV favourites who would be taking part in the parade.

My boys yet again refused photos, so I stepped in. The Trolls were lovely - they're my new mates.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Zing Games Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway For Kids 4+

Zing Games make active family games that will keep everyone awake this Christmas. They have given me two of their new games to give away to one lucky reader - Blast Box and Stik’em. Lively and fast-paced, these are party games everyone can play and if your children are anything like mine, they will love them!

Blast Box (£19.99rrp) is not one for the faint-hearted! Inside the box are a big plastic crate, spinner, hammer, 30 plastic nails (not sharp), a balloon pump and 100 small balloons - plus 20 cardboard fasteners (brilliant because my kids can never manage to tie off balloons themselves). You can see where this is going!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Pass The Pigs Family Game Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway

Pass The Pigs is a time-served dice game for anyone aged 3+ or older and more recently they've added 2 extra versions to their range. They have kindly offered me all 3 different Pass The Pigs games as a prize for one of my readers - Pass The Pigs (in a travel case),  Pass the Pigs Giant and Pass the Pigs Party.

Pass The Pigs is a dice game with a big difference - there are no dice. Instead you use small, cute little piggies to count and score, with different poses scoring different totals.

There are now 3 different variants of the Pass The Pigs game priced from £9.99 to £14.99, so there's something to suit everyone.

Zing Every Day Play Fidget Toy Range Christmas Present Giveaway (4+)

If your house is anything like mine then you'll be very familiar with fidget toys. Zing make a great range of Every Day Play fidget toys that are played with by children, but also used by professionals, and they have offered a bundle of 6 awesome and varied toys for one of my readers - Metal Chucks, Tumblstix, Spinbladez, Klixx, Thumb Chucks and Zing Dama.

The quality is great and 4 of the 6 light up - which was quite a surprise when I opened my box and everything inside was glowing! They are all packaged in card with a plastic front cover and open very easily and quickly, so you can play immediately - Christmas morning friendly.

Thumb Chucks (£7.99rrp) are the original light-up fidget balls which have been joined by several variants. I've seen Thumb Chucks demonstrated at events several times and there are loads of videos online - basic tricks are easy to learn, but trickier moves take hours of practice to master. This isn't just a fidget toy, it's a skill toy.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

39 Months.... #TBCSmiles

For those who don't know, there is a more serious side to The Brick Castle. 3 years ago we lost one of our teenagers. It's not a nice tale, but you can read it here if you are inclined. Every month we collect our smiles. We look at them to remind us that it's always worth carrying on, and they are the reason we do so. I don't just collect my smiles, anyone can share theirs with the #TBCSmiles community on Instagram.

Christmas is hard work for everyone, but really stressful for a lot of people and the fear of it going wrong can be crushing. Take the time now to list those things that make Christmas great for you, then put them into order and start to get them ready and ticked off. You'll find there are very few things which must be included, the rest is sparkle. Sparkle is nice, but it isn't what is ultimately important and you don't need to lose sleep over it. Remove some of the stress and everyone will have more time and energy to create their own sparkle - the type that makes smiles you can't predict or plan in advance. The type that makes the best memories.

November 16-22 is Children's Grief Awareness Week. Each classroom in the UK has, on average, one child who has lost a parent or sibling. This year the hashtag is #YoureNotAlone.

Often bereaved children don't want to talk to their family because, like you, they don't want to upset their loved ones. It can make the world a lonely place. Take the time to talk, but more importantly take the time to listen. Remind someone that they aren't alone, you are there when they need you.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Meccano M.A.X. Robot Review (age 10+) for SpinMaster Toys

The Meccano M.A.X. (Meccano Advanced Xfactor) set 17401 is a really impressive robot who combines Artificial Intelligence with customisable programming, to create a unique character that is truly your own creation, and your mate, because he'll tell you jokes and facts and dance with you, and have seemingly intelligent conversation, among other things.

Your M.A.X. is housed in a really impressive and huge box - although I have to say it arrives taped because it isn't really sturdy enough for the job and you will find it's not ideal for storage afterwards. It is however incredibly exciting inside...

Inside the box you have 332 Meccano Parts plus AC/DC Wall Mount Charger (10.4W), 1 Rechargeable Ni-MH Battery 1800 mAh, 2 Tools, Sticker Sheet, M.A.X Brain Module, IR Sensor Module, 2 Smart Motor Modules, LED Module, 3 kgs Servo, 1.9 kgs Micro Servo, USB Cable and Instruction Booklet.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Xootz Retro Racer Go Kart Review for Halfords

If you've been to your local Halfords or looked at their website recently, you may have noticed they have a dedicated Kids Zone. The Halfords Kids Zone is where you'll find everything for the younger members of your family, from car seats and safety equipment to bikes and scooters. They currently have a sale, with selected ride ons and scooters discounted up to half price off, and we have been sent the Xootz Retro Racer Go Kart to review - in classic British Racing Green.

For my 7 year old this really couldn't have come at a better time, as he's recently discovered Go Karts and I think his face really says it all. There's love in those eyes...

Friday, 10 November 2017

Who's The Dude? Age 16+ Adult Game Christmas Present Giveaway

Who's The Dude? is a very different sort of game and it is designed especially for the more mature members of your family. Mature in age possibly, but certainly not in behaviour! This game revolves around a pack of cards and a full size blow up dude... yep - you read right!

Suitable for 3-8 players (or more in teams), this is a great game for after the younger children have gone to bed because you can't help but end up with some very suggestive actions. Hilarious and active, we all laughed non-stop, but funnily enough people were reluctant to have their photos added to this post (I've saved them for birthday embarrassment later on).

Mayka Toy Block Tape (age 3+) Christmas Present Giveaway

We reviewed Mayka Tape for the Rainbow Toy Awards and it's a great fun product that my 7 year old has used all over his furniture and walls to suspend his favourite minifigures. Super easy to use, it adds a whole new dimension to playing with bricks.

You can read my full Mayka Tape review here. Mayka Tape is a rubbery studded tape that is compatible with LEGO and other plastic bricks and has a sticky tape on the back. It is really beautifully presented in a really handy case that stops it unravelling and keeps it safe - it makes a great gift.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Megableu Family Games Bundle Christmas Present Giveaway (age 5+)

Megableu make great family games that everyone can enjoy and they have given me a bundle of 3 of their newest games to give away to one of my readers - Beat the Flush, Tumball and NAME THAT!

We've been sent all 3 games to take a look at and have quick play...

The Snowman Theatre Review at Manchester Opera House (For All Ages)

The Snowman has arrived at Manchester Opera House and will be there until Sunday. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre production with a cast of 16 was first performed in 1993 and just as the book and the short film haven't really aged, neither has the stage show.

I'll start by saying I am a MASSIVE fan of The Snowman. I love Raymond Briggs work, I have several of his books and my earliest memory of reading with my parents is Father Christmas. His book The Snowman was released when I was only just 7 and has been an annual read ever since. I may have begun the show a bit biased.

I went with my partner and our 2 boys aged 7 and 9. We all had lots of questions about how The Snowman was going to work, would it be believable,what about the flying? Costumes? Lack of dialogue?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Scholastic Advent Calendar 24 Book Bundle Giveaway for age 0-7

A Book Advent Calendar is a great way to get into the Christmas mood and spend real quality time with your child doing something they'll remember forever. Forget chocolates and windows, your child can open their imagination every day in the run up to Christmas.

Scholastic have put together 2 fantastic bundles of 24 books for advent 2017 and I'm truly delighted to be able to give away one of each. If you bought all of these books individually then they'd cost over £145rrp, but Scholastic are giving everyone an early Christmas gift and this Advent Pack of 24 books for age 0-7 is available to buy for only £29.99 while stocks last.

Scholastic Books are responsible for my earliest memories of loving books, I waited for the Scholastic Books leaflet each term with a great deal of excitement as I was allowed to choose a brand new book for myself. It gives me great joy to be working with Scholastic on such an awesome Christmas giveaway.

Scholastic Advent Young Fiction (Age 7-11) 24 Book Bundle Giveaway

A Book Advent Calendar is a genius idea and something I wish I'd thought of years ago. Opening a new book each day during December with your children will create fabulous warm memories that you'll all remember forever.

This year Scholastic Books have put together 2 fantastic Advent Calendar Bundles and I'm delighted to be giving one of each away. Both bundles contain 24 specially chosen books and have an rrp of over £145 - but while stocks last they'll be on sale for only £29.99 for the pack.

Over 90 years after they started, Scholastic are still bringing great literature to children and this bundle of 24 Young Fiction books for younger independent readers aged around 7-11 contains some real gems.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Morphant by Cornelius Fuel Book Review

The Morphant is a fiction book for young readers aged around 9+. Written by Cornelius Fuel, the tale starts with Gabriel Grant, a 13 year old Londoner, doing an amazing display for his sister Ariel. The story then tells you how he got to that point...

Morphant are born with the ability to change shape and very rarely a Morphant is born who is The One With The Gift. It takes another Morphant to seek him out and as the book starts, Brother Dhankza Linpoche has just rung the Silent Gong to signify he has been successful in this quest. Ordinary 14 year old Gabriel's life is about to change beyond recognition.

Shnooks Plush Toy Christmas Present Giveaway (Age 3+)

Shnooks are cute little plushy toys which make great stockingfillers - although the packaging is a bit bigger than your usual stocking. At first it almost looks like you have a book, but then you realise the small bubble on the front of the packaging is going to turn into a much bigger toy - 8 times the size in fact!

This is an excellent toy to give as a gift and totally Christmas morning friendly. Opening it takes seconds, although you might want to take the time to enjoy the novelty because it's not your average box opening.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Week Junior Magazine Subscription (age 8-14) Christmas Giveaway

My 9 year old loves facts. He gets a lot of pleasure from knowing everything and telling me things I don't know. For the last month we've been receiving a copy of the weekly young people's current affairs magazine The Week Junior and he's read each issue cover to cover.

Your children will hear or read some adult news coverage and this can be scary or confusing for them. It's often hard to know exactly what they've picked up on and how they feel, so it's difficult to know what you should tell them or bring up to discuss.

The Week Junior is pitched at the right level that they will learn the facts and the background and not just the scandalous headlines and terrifying soundbites.

Tofuture Tofu Press Review - How To Make Your Own Tofu At Home

Tofuture make a great little tofu press that you can use to press bought tofu. This makes it a firmer consistency which will soak up marinade better and be more suited to stir fries. This will give you a tastier meal, but you can also use the press when making your own tofu from scratch.

The press comes in 3 parts - a deep outer tub, the insert with perforated base to let the whey drip out and the clip on lid. The lid clamps on securely at the sides using rubber bands, which have 3 different positions depending on what you have in your Tofuture press at the time.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Steenbergs Organic Taste Of Baking Gift Bag Christmas Present Giveaway

Steenbergs Organic are a family-run Yorkshire company passionate about the environment and those who live in it. They are committed to Fairtrade and provide organic spices, loose leaf tea and organic cooking ingredients full of flavour and aroma, each with a known provenance, so you can be assured you get only the best. And they're one of my favourites.

I am truly delighted to have been sent the gorgeous Taste Of Baking Jute Bag gift set, which arrived beautifully packaged and opening it felt just like Christmas to me! This is not only a practical jute shopping bag, it is crammed with exciting goodies.

The Taste Of Baking bag is full of of Steenbergs baking ingredients, as well as a set of 3 very special T&G /Sophie Conran designed wooden spoons and a huge Steenbergs Tea Towel.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Game Of Things Christmas Present Giveaway (age 14+)

The Game Of Things is a truly hilarious game for 4 players or more. It's very easy to play, but does often lead to answers which could be a bit risque or rude, so it's recommended for age 14+ only. Players secretly write down the answers to questions, and it's up to everyone else to work out who said what?

The Wooden Box is a lovely tough and it makes this a really excellent present. It feels special, it protects the contents well and it'll look good on the shelf for as long as you own it.

Inside the box are the game cards, scoresheets, answer sheets and pencils, as well as instructions. The answer sheets are serrated, so once you've written your answer, you can cleanly tear it off to pass to the reader.

Awesome Little Green Men (age 6+) Christmas Present Giveaway

The Awesome Little Green Men are 2 troops of small collectible Army Figures. They aren't all men and in fact half of them aren't even green, they're blue! My 7 year old will happily tell you just how awesome they are though...

There are several different sets to collect, each with mystery figures and the smallest is the individual Blind Box with one figure, a dog tag and a collectors sheet.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Lumie Bedbug Bedtime Nightlight Christmas Present Giveaway

We recently reviewed the Lumie Bedbug and it's absolutely excellent. Sleep optimised lighting for children, soothing them while they go through the bedtime routine and making it easier for them to drift into a high quality sleep.

My 7 year old loves his Lumie Bedbug because when he wakes during the night, one button click will turn on the nightlight and once he's ready to go back to sleep, he can turn down the light, set the timer and drift off before his room descends completely into darkness.

You can read my full Lumie Bedbug review here - we are still just as happy with it as we were when we opened the box. Although the recommended use is for babies and younger children, it's incredibly useful for anyone who is likely to wake during the night, or who has trouble settling off to sleep.

SmartGurlzUK Siggy Scooter And Doll Christmas Present Giveaway (age 5+)

At The Brick Castle we love science and we love the fact girls are getting their share of interesting science toys too. SmartGurlzUK are a new company who are passionate about getting girls into coding and engaged in tech toys from an early age, and they've come up with a really cool way to do it, creating a unique toy that supports STEM learning.

This is an interactive self-balancing robot scooter and doll that connects via Bluetooth to a tablet or phone via a free app. It has a range of features from remote control free-play, instructional coding challenges, games and coding area (using block code/ scratch approach). The range of features means it’s suitable for all ages from 5 to 16 years.