Nifty Neon

nifty neonTime for another post from our kid tester, Hope! Today she will be reviewing the Neon Light Writer by Thames & Kosmos. It’s intended for kids ages 8 and up, and retails for about $20.


Hello, Readers!! Upon opening the box for the Neon Light Writer, I was surprised to discover that what looked like a chic pegboard on the front of the box was really just black, 20” x 8” piece of cardboard with holes punched in it! I fished for the other items in the box and found a coil of wire, a plastic battery holder attached to the wire that had a little switch on it, a collection of 25 black plastic pegs, and a manual. I opened up the manual and saw the “Kit Contents” list. Double checking to make sure I had everything I needed, I turned the page.

kit contentsAfter reading the handy dandy instructions, I learned that the concept of the project was to insert the plastic pegs in the pegboard in a certain pattern, then thread the wire through the pegs to spell out a word. Cool! was my immediate thought.

I decided to follow the instructions and try my hand at writing the word “GEEK” as a first attempt. As I put the pegs into the cardboard, I noticed that the peg holes were a little small for the pegs. The manual said that the sign is supposed to hang from nails, though there was no kind of hanging device mounted on the back, or any nails included within the rest of the kit.

Maybe because the nails were supposed to be inside the peg holes the holes were small? It’s also a possibility that the holes were small so the pegs didn’t fall out while the sign was hanging up. It was annoying because small holes meant that the pegs had to be forced into the board. Since the pegboard was flimsy cardboard, I was afraid I would rip it.

When I was finally through painstakingly pressing in pegs, I unwound the little bundle of wire and started threading it through the pegs, which had little notches in them.

notched pegs close upIf I thought putting the pegs in was bad, then this was a pain in the tush! The wire was flexible, but moderately thick compared to the size of the peg notches. In some places, it was necessary to double the wire over because of the shape of the letters. This made it even harder to thread through the peg notches.  Another challenge was that the wire would bunch up between each peg if I didn’t keep it pulled taut as I threaded it through. If I tried to straighten it after I had put it through a peg, the peg would come out of the board. This was frustrating, as pegs popped out of the board quite a few times!

working with wireWhen it was finally finished, I turned on the little battery holder box button. The light was faint inside the bright room, so I moved to a darker room to test the magic. There we were, Katie, Dr. Dana, and I, cramped in the gallery’s storage closet, better known as “The Black Hole.” As I clicked the button the wire became illuminated with neon blue light. I said, “EPIC!! It actually works!!!” In the dark, we noticed that the blue light was sort of flecked, in a way that made it look like the wire was malfunctioning or something (more on the fleckiness later).

flecksNext, I decided to make a word of my own (“Zap!”). Instead of using paper, tape, and marker as suggested, I used the letter chart in the manual. The chart was super helpful. The letter chart showed the pegboard as a diagram, and showed you where to place pegs for each letter in the alphabet. Here’s the finished word:

zap set upWe went back into “The Black Hole,” and there were still flecks in the wire. We checked the manual (and the box) and discovered that the wire was real EL wire (Electroluminescent wire)! The manual listed the different components of EL wire (copper core, phosphor, copper wire, PVC plastic sleeve, colored outer PVC plastic sleeve, AC power source) and how it works. I thought it was very considerate to include all of the cool bonus information! That was definitely one of the best parts about the product.

Though I was excited to know I was using real EL wire, the manual didn’t “shed any light” on the whole fleckiness issue.

So, a few days later, I decided to call the company, Thames & Kosmos, and find out what was up. I talked to a very kind man, named John. He asked me to describe my issue. I informed him about the flecks in the wire. He told me that that was NOT natural! He even offered to send me a replacement wire! Great customer service! Hats off to John! He asked for my email, name, and address so he could inform me of any problems with shipping.

He told me it should arrive in 2-3 days, so I started waiting for the wire. I waited. And waited, and waited. And it wasn’t there a week and a half later! So I called John’s personal extension. I was told that the wire wasn’t in stock when they went to ship it, so they had to wait for a new order to come in. They were evidently shipping it that day. They should have emailed me! I thought.

Finally(!), the wire arrived three days later! I set up the new wire and clicked it on. Voila! A wire with no flecks, a stream of fluorescent (haha, phosphorescent!) blue! The new wire was beautiful. It was a feast for the eyes compared to the old flecky wire!

wire 1 vs wire 2All in all, this product was pretty fun, but it has its faults.

First, the directions called for extra items I didn’t actually use. Two sheets of white paper, markers, and tape. Those items were to help you write your word and place the pegs in their proper places on the board for the wire, but they were not necessary. Unless you wanted to write in cursive, or some other kind of script, you could use one of the handy letter guides inside the manual.

Also, the instructions called for black tape to cover the part of the wire between the letters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t own any black tape. Thankfully, Dr. Dana had some black masking tape handy.

The company’s customer service was excellent! However, I felt that I should have received an email about the delay of my replacement wire. That left me a bit frustrated.

Additionally, the cardboard was pretty flimsy. I mean, who wants to pay $20 for a piece of cardboard that’s supposed to be a pegboard!? The box calls the cardboard a “pegboard,” so I was expecting a sturdier base for the project. And why would you want to buy a product, not knowing how many extra materials you would need? (I checked the outside of the box for the product, but it mentions only two of the six other things you need!)

Oh, and this brings me to another pet peeve about products and books: the recommended age.

neon light writer age 8 plusThe recommended age for this product is 8+. Considering the frustration I had at age 12 signals to me that maybe the product should either A) note that adult assistance is needed, or B) it should be recommended for ages 10+.

This product was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed how it actually lit up! I was really skeptical about that! I loved how you could use the switch on the battery box to change the light mode to “Fast Blinking” or “Slow Blinking.” It was definitely a project I would recommend for science lovers or engineers-to-be!

THE SCORE

Pros: Fun, cool that it actually lit up, educational information in manual, great customer service/friendly and helpful staff, lovely new replacement wire.

Cons: Frustrating at times, wire hard to use, pegboard a bit low quality, no email about shipping delay.

GRAND STAR TOTAL: 4 STARS OUT OF 5!

Though this product had some faults, most products do. Overall, it was a super fun little project that could double as a science lesson!

Hair Chalk Challenge

hair chalk reviewOur kid tester Hope is back once again! In this exciting installment, she’ll be reviewing and comparing two types of hair chalk: Alex metallic hair chalk pens (for ages 8+, a five color package retails for approximately $10 ) and Kiss Naturals hair chalk (for ages 6+, a two color box retails for approximately $13). Take it away Hope!

Hi everyone! The Kiss Naturals hair chalk is described on the box as an “All natural DIY craft making kit.” I would have to agree with this statement! You mix together the ingredients and let it set inside molds to make a chalky material. The Alex version took a different twist – glittery chalky “pens” (the pens were really just chalk holders). Definitely less DIY than the Kiss Naturals. Just pop off the little plastic covering.

The box for the Kiss Naturals chalk was a little misleading. The front of the box showed two sticks of chalk in a bold red and blue. However, the package had a small sticker that said the box contained supplies for orange and purple chalk, and the actual molds for the hair chalk were heart shaped, not rectangular.

kiss naturals hair chalkThe Alex chalk pens were in a clear package, so you could see each product. This clear packaging is helpful, especially on a cosmetic product [Dr. Dana notes: the larger boxes of Kiss Naturals hair chalk, which contain 6 colors, do have a clear window on the front that displays the contents].

alex hair chalk pensThe Alex pens had some directions inside the package, and the directions only had two steps in English! There were three total pictures with directional captions. Each one had a foreign language caption, but only two had English captions. Two of the pictures were almost (but not quite!) identical, but only one of those pictures had an English caption! Talk about confusing!

alex directionsThe Alex pens also included a tiny comb to use in your hair. The comb was so small, it seemed more suitable to use on an American Girl Mini Doll’s hair than human hair, but as we didn’t want to ruin a hairbrush, we decided to try our luck with the tiny comb.

The instructions said to separate a section of hair and rub the chalk on it. As my helper assistant, Em, held out a section of my hair and ground some yellow Alex hair chalk into it, I tried not to yelp! The hair chalk, despite Em’s heroic effort, barely left a trace of color, and to make matters worse, it smelled like vinegar! We tried several different colors of the Alex pens, but they ALL smelled like vinegar! The only solution was to keep it away from my face while grinding it in my hair so I couldn’t smell it!

tiny combEm then ran the little comb through my hair. It got caught in the slightest knots in my hair. SUPER UNCOMBFORTABLE!!! In the end, the Alex pens left an okay amount of color, but it most noticeably left what looked like colorful dandruff in my hair!

yellowThe Kiss Naturals chalk was not much improved. As I mentioned above, it’s a DIY project. When you open the package, it comes with two little baggies of pigment, a tiny spoon, a little measuring cup/beaker, a bottle of purified water and what appear to be rubber ice cube molds (those are the hair chalk molds).

Okay everybody! It’s time for the most interesting part of the review: the witch hazel CONFUSION!

The front of the Kiss Naturals box has a cartoon picture of the items in the box. Nice feature! I noticed that the little bottle on the front of the box was labeled “Witch Hazel.” I got excited! I’d read about witch hazel in books, and was interested to see how it would work in a cosmetic product. Interestingly enough, however, the little bottle inside the box was labeled “Purified Water,” and the directions also said to use water. Why did the directions say water, and the box say witch hazel?

mistake on boxAfter opening the bottle and smelling it, the Pop Goes the Page team determined that it was not witch hazel. Why wasn’t it? Was there a typo on the box? Or did the company send the wrong bottle and directions? Definitely something a consumer should know!

In the end it didn’t matter, because as Em and I whipped up the lavender chalk, I completely missed the bottle of water and used tap water. By the time I saw the bottle of purified water in the bottom of the package it was too late! After mixing the pigment with the (tap) water, we poured it in the mold. Taking a glance at the directions, we realized that the chalk had to sit for FOUR hours!! FOUR!! Two hours in the mold, and two out of the mold. After two hours inside the mold it was completely hardened, and we decided to use it. Whether or not it set quickly because of the tap water I am not completely sure.

hair chalk heart However, much the same events followed with the Kiss Naturals chalk as with the Alex pens. Em ground the chalk into my scalp. OW!!!!! After going through this cosmetic torture, Dr. Dana pointed out that Kiss Naturals suggests applying the chalk to wet hair (Dr. Dana also noticed that the Alex pens definitely say dry hair). I don’t know if this would have made a difference but, in the end, despite Em’s efforts, the chalk left my hair a pale white-lavender color. NOT PLEASANT! Especially not after Em had ground it into my hair! I wonder if the chalk would have been more easily applied to wet hair?

Then it was the moment of truth: The washing of the hair!

That night, I turned on the warm water and started scrubbing my hair. And scrubbing. And…well you get the picture. The Alex product definitely took more scrubbing to get out. Without a doubt!  That’s when Kiss Naturals came through for me. Their product washed out easily, without any trouble at all!

Now it’s time for the SCORES!

All in all, the Alex pens score was…
Comfort :  3/10
Style/Color: 5/10
Smell: 1/10

Pros: Colorful. I loved how there were more color choices!
Cons: TERRIBLE smell, not easily applied, took a bit of scrubbing to get out of my hair.


All in all, the Kiss Naturals chalk score was…
Comfort: 3/10
Style/Color:  4/10
Smell:  10/10 (no odor)

Pros: NO SMELL!!!!!!!! DIY project. I really enjoyed being able to mix up a purple concoction! It was like being in Macbeth, but no gory stuff! WASHED OUT QUICKLY AND PAINLESSLY!
Cons: Not easily applied, faded color

So as far as style goes, the Alex pens took the cake. But it was a very stale cake. Neither of the two hair chalks tested are hair chalks I would recommend, because of the discomfort they caused. It didn’t help that the Alex pens had pictures of supermodel-gorgeous kids on the front! Talk about saying you’ll get glam hair, and getting glitter dandruff!

hair streaksSo out of the two hair chalk products tested, neither was a completely satisfactory product! If I had to pick one of these products to recommend, I would actually recommend the Kiss Naturals chalk over the Alex pens, only because the Kiss Naturals chalk was dry and odorless, whereas the Alex pens left me with a soggy, sore, dandruffy-appearing head.

Though a little uncomfortable, this hair chalk might be a fun rainy day project for someone, even if hair chalk isn’t really my thing. Just look out…you may see me whistling this song down the road someday…

“I’m gonna wash that chalk right outta my hair, I’m gonna wash that chalk right outta my hair, and send it on its way!”


Many thanks to Hope for providing photos, and to Em for her invaluable assistance!

Baby New Year

baby new year readsBaby New Year is here, and we thought we would celebrate with a baby story time post!

We invited the talented Peggy Salwen to our library to lead a story time bonanza for children ages 2-24 months. Peggy has been a librarian for over 40 years, and is currently a Senior Children’s Librarian at the New York Public Library. Legendary for her baby skills, massive stock of songs, and playful props, Peggy expertly led a very large crowd of babies and caretakers through books, songs, and movement activities. After the program, I sat down to chat with Peggy about the tricks of her trade.

baby new yearYou obviously brought books with you today, but you also brought puppets, props, and a big stuffed bear. Tell us about your props!

I use a lot of puppets and props with babies.  When I read Peek a Moo, I have little puppets that go with every one of the characters. I have a cow puppet, and then pig, a mouse, and an owl. Some are finger puppets, some are hand puppets.

puppets and propsMy Peek-A-Boo mittens I always use with babies. The mittens are in a box and, while I’m sure it’s a bit obnoxious for the parents, I repeatedly use the box during story time. Repetition is so important for babies, and they love it when I take the top off of the box, take Mr. Peek and Mr. Boo out of the box, and then put them back in the box. The babies just get so excited because they know what’s going to happen. It’s all ritual, and ritual is a big thing. I’ve had Poppy [a big stuffed panda bear] for a long time. He’s my “baby.” I use him to demonstrate for parents what they are supposed to do with their babies.

poppyYou brought a number of flap books to story time today. They were great! I could see the kids anticipating what was going to happen next…

Yes! I don’t love the flap books as much in the library’s collections, but I really like the flap books for baby story time.

What’s the hardest thing about baby story times?

Getting the adults to stop talking and to participate, I think.

How do you get parents to stop talking and participate?

By concisely saying “This is story time. Put your phones away. Don’t talk to your neighbor. This is the one time we ask you to take 20 minutes and be with your baby.” Baby story time is really for the adults, it’s not so much for the babies! It’s for adults to learn how to do things and to show their children that they want to do these things. It’s for them to see how much fun it can be to be with their babies. You are a baby’s first teacher. I think that’s the key. You’re there to teach them how to enjoy life, how to learn. That’s what I believe is most important.

baby story timeWhat’s your advice for someone who’s brand new, who’s facing his/her very first baby story time?

Sing a lot of songs. Say a lot of rhymes. It’s more about the songs and the rhymes than it is about the books! Do fewer books and more songs and rhymes. Being a librarian, you think you have to do the book thing. Yes, reading the books is important, but for baby story time, songs and bouncy rhymes are more important.  I learned in a workshop that lyrics to songs are like syllables of words, so your child learns the syllables of words when you sing. So singing is a great way to learn language too!


Peggy’s Favorite Story Time Books

Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn
The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin
Peek-a-Moo! By Marie Torres Cimarusti
Peek-a-Baby by Karen Katz
Where is Baby’s Belly Button? By Karen Katz
Tuck Me In! by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes by Annie Kubler
If You’re Happy and You Know It by Annie Kubler
Baa Baa Black Sheep by Annie Kubler

Songs & Rhymes
“Open Shut Them”
“This is Me”
“These Are Baby’s Fingers”
“Little Red Wagon”
“Tommy Thumbs”
“We’re Going to the Moon”
“Tick Tock, Tick Tock”
“Mother and Father and Uncle John”
“Banana Cheer”
“Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
“The Noble Duke of York”