Friday, September 30, 2011

Join our Pajama Party for Read for the Record

You may have already heard the buzz about Jumpstart's Read for the Record campaign. On October 6, people across the country will read the children’s book Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, as part of this national campaign that mobilizes adults and children to close the early education achievement gap by setting a reading world record. There will be reading events taking place across the country, from public libraries to schools to private homes. is proud to co-host a special reading event at noon on October 6 with Building Blocks Toy Store. We're having a Read for the Record Pajama Party, and our special guest will be Judy Oliva, Divisional Vice President for Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool, who will read to the audience. There will be refreshments, balloons, temporary tattoos and a small party favor for kids that attend. Plus, a possible surprise guest appearance. Kids should dress up in pajamas for this special reading!

Building Blocks will be celebrating all week with readings by local community leaders including Ann Torralba, aka "Little Miss Ann;" Alderman Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward; Sarah Cobb of Neighborhood Parents Network; and Brenna Woodley, Founder of Bundle of Joy. Visit Building Blocks' web site for more details and the full schedule.

More about Jumpstart's Read for the Record

A child’s future should not be dictated by the neighborhood they are born into. Yet, in low income neighborhoods, children start kindergarten 60% behind their wealthier peers, and likely will never catch up. Studies show that a quality early education can set children on a path for success, helping to close this achievement gap. Jumpstart is a national early education organization that recruits and trains college students and community volunteers to work with preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. Through a proven curriculum, these children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path to close the achievement gap before it is too late.

Pledge to Read at and help Jumpstart close the early education achievement gap.


Every child deserves the chance to succeed, yet studies show that children from low-income neighborhoods are at a greater risk of school failure. Jumpstart is a national early education organization that helps these children develop the language and literacy skills they need for school, setting them on a path to close the achievement gap before it is too late. Since 1993, Jumpstart has trained more than 20,000 college students and community volunteers to deliver its program to more than 90,000 preschool children nationwide. Jumpstart’s award-winning program holds a “Best in America” seal from Independent Charities of America. Join us to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. Learn more at

Read for the Record Pajama Party
Thursday, October 6 at Noon
Building Blocks Toy Store
2130 W. Division Street, Chicago

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Interview with Charles Martin Smith, Director of Dolphin Tale

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with Charles Martin Smith, director of the movie Dolphin Tale, which opened this weekend. Dolphin Tale is based on the true story of a dolphin named Winter, who loses her tail after being caught in a net. She receives a prosthetic tail, and becomes an inspiration to others with her perserverence and positive attitude. She plays herself in the movie, with a cast that includes Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson, Austin Stowell, and child actors Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff.

View the trailer/web site

What was it like for you personally when you first met Winter?

I was so surprised at how personable she is. She has so much personality - she's playful, she's mischievous. She's not a fully grown dolphin yet, she's about 5 years old, which is in human terms like an 11 year old kid. So she has some of those personality traits. She is funny, she's very noisy and vocal and very curious. She's the one who will decide if you can get in the pool with her or if you can't. She likes people around, so sometimes she gets mad if you get out of the pool too soon. She's got so much personality. I was really surprised.

Did Winter need to go through any kind of training so that she could take direction, or was there anything that you did to help her in her role?

You know, not so much. What I decided to do from the beginning is to take things that she does naturally and put them on film. She does work two dolphin specialists that put her through various regular exercises to help correct the problem with her tail. So I use those kinds of things she does - they have taught her to come over when they need her, which they do for medical treatments, daily massages, therapy and so on. So she has a certain amount of that, but really she's still pretty much a wild animal.

In the preview, she has an immediate special connection with Nathan Gamble's character Sawyer. When she met the actors, how did she react to them?

She really bonded with Nathan. But she liked all of them, she loves children, maybe because she's a kid herself. It was funny, when we cast Nathan we couldn't officially offer him the part until he met Winter, just on the off-chance that when he went to Clearwater she didn't like him for some reason. Or, on the off-chance - I mean, she's 250 pounds, she's a big animal - that he'd be a little skittish around her.

If they didn't get along, if they didn't have good chemistry, then we couldn't cast him. But as it turned out, she liked him immediately, and vice versa, and you could see it in the film. They really, really enjoyed being together. It's like chemistry between two humans.

Are there any restrictions with filming with animal, with Winter?

One of the things that we all talked about going into this shoot, and that I was adamant about, was that our number one priority was Winter's wellbeing. Making the movie was number two. So if there were days when she didn't feel like coming over, or if she was a little tired or something, we wanted the people who work with her to let us know, and we would immediately shift and shoot something else. And that's difficult to do in a movie schedule, to totally change the plan for the day when it comes to filming. But we did it with her because her wellbeing was our main concern.

There are a number of scenes in it where we use an animatronic, so for anything that was difficult or stressful that we wouldn't want Winter to do, we used the animatronic, or used CGI.

Are there any days when Winter was having an "off" day, where you had to cancel things and not continue?

Yep, absolutely. There were days when she just wasn't feeling like it. We had a couple of days where we were working on scenes that she wasn't in, and she would come over to the edge of the pool - we call it "spy hopping" - she'd kinda stick her head up and look around and go "Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!" and make all this noise, which was ruining the dialogue track. And she's making so much noise as if to say "Hey! What about me, I'm the star of this movie, why don't you come film me?"

What made you decide to make this movie in 3-D?

We wanted to use the 3-D to give the audience the feeling that they're right there in the water with Sawyer and Winter, and bring the audience into this underwater world. I always had the idea that I wanted to open the movie with Winter in her natural habitat, with the other dolphins, swimming out in the ocean, and by shooting that in 3-D, you really feel like you're there under the water. That was really the main thing, to use the 3-D to draw the audience into that world.

There must be some funny outtakes from this film. What were some of the funniest things that happened while working with Winter?

She's hilarious. She actually stole Abby's [dolphin specialist] cell phone once, and stuck it to the drain at the bottom of the tank, where the suction holds it to the drain. It took Abby three days to find her phone.

And the first time that Winter wears the tail in the movie, she shakes it off and doesn't want it anymore, and then she goes and gets it and hands it back to Abby. And that really happened the first time they tried the prosthetic tail on Winter, she didn't want it. But she got it and brought it back and handed it to them like, "You want this more than me." She actually fetched it and came back and gave it to them.

What positive impact from this film have you seen on people with disabilities or with prosthetics?

When I first went, I spent 3 days there with her, just swimming with her, watching Winter, talking to the biologists and people that work with her at the hospital there. And I saw a little boy, he was about 6, and he'd lost a limb to cancer and he'd just gone through chemo. His mom had brought him to see Winter, and when he got in the water with her, she was so gentle with him. I think she understood that he was sick and that he was wearing a prosthetic, and he was so moved, and his mother was so moved and inspired.

And I saw all the letters that children write. One little girl had written "Once I visited, I said to myself, if Winter can do it, so can I." That happens every day. Every day, physically challenged people, veterans who have lost limbs… it's so, so moving. So I wrote in the script the scene with the little girl in the wheelchair. And we have a character who is a veteran, who is badly injured and paralyzed, so Winter means so much to him.

She's an inspirational animal. She never feels sorry for herself. She has this very indomitable spirit, a good sense of humor. She's clever, smart and optimistic. You just feel that from Winter.

I have some questions from kids for you now. First - What does Winter like to play with when she takes a break?

She's playful, she's funny - she does have toys that she likes. She loves to get up on her mattress. And she likes to roughhouse - she'll wrestle with you! We have a bunch of documentary footage at the end, and you see her using her rostrum to kind of wrestle with and play with one of the dolphin workers. She likes to roughhouse, swim - loves to grab you and go swimming with you.

Next Kid Question: What kind of food does Winter like to eat?

Winter, like all dolphins, eats Fish! And there's two kinds of fish that she gets. One are called capelin, they're a small fish; and the bigger fish are herring, which have a little more fat. And she really likes the herring.

And do you know that dolphins don't chew? They have all these sharp teeth which they use to grab the fish, then they gulp them down whole. And they're very picky about the food they give Winter. They get her food from the same place that restaurants get their food, only they are even more picky about what they give to her. If something doesn't look quite right about the fish, then they don't give it to her.

Last Kid Question: Was there really a soldier in the story, or was that only part of the script?

It's part of the script, as are the kids. They're part of the script that we used, but they represent all of the different soldiers that have come and been moved by Winter. And Morgan Freeman, who plays the scientist that designs the prosthetic, represents two guys actually - Dan Strzempka and Kevin Carroll, who work at Hanger Prosthetics. They're the ones that made the prosthetic. So it's kind of like you take a bunch of characters and roll them into one to tell the story.

This is such an inspirational movie. How do you think this movie might affect what you do down the road?

I always look for something that's got some inspirations, or is at least about something - something that has something positive to put out in the world.

View the official Dolphin Tale web site

Monday, September 19, 2011

Babies Tots n' More Consignment Event

Whether you want to stock up your kids' wardrobes for this winter, or unload the clothes, toys and accessories they've outgrown, the Babies Tots n' More event is the place you want to be!

Babies, Tots and More is a children’s seasonal consignment event featuring the highest quality toys, clothing and accessories appropriate for the coming season. The event also features children’s furniture, baby/child gear, strollers, maternity items and more. In addition to consigned goods, Babies, Tots n' More also features a selection of the area’s best new and custom goods.

I've attended the event in the past, and was impressed by the amount of merchandise as well as the prices. How impressed? I'm actually holding off on buying my daughter new clothes for this season until after this event... and I postponed a weekend trip until the following weekend so that I would not miss it!

This year, for the first time, I'm also going to consign. It's a very organized and easy process. The web site is set up so that you can apply for a drop off time (hurry before the spots are gone!) and then you can input each item that you want to sell. You then print out your tags, get your items in order, and make your drop.

You'll find brands ranging from Carter's, Baby Gap and Old Navy to Ralph Lauren, Hanna Anderson, and other designer labels. And I can tell you based on what I'm bringing in that lots of items will be in great condition - I've got plenty of things to sell that my daughter never even wore!

Friday, October 14, 2011
10:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Saturday, October 15, 2011
9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
(Most Items 1/2 Price after 1:00 PM)

Visit the Babies, Tots n' More Web site.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kids Science Labs Opens in Lincoln Park

Your budding mad scientist now has a safe place for hands-on experiments! Kids Science Labs has opened in Lincoln Park, in a big, bright space that will inspire the scientifically-minded.

We stopped by for the Grand Opening, and saw each classroom packed with kids mesmerized by science demonstrations and having fun with hands-on activities and experiments. Judging by the interactions we saw, kids are going to love this place!

KSL's hands-on classes for kids aged 2-12 are all based on science that kids understand, because they address practical life experiences with materials and objects that kids encounter everyday. The classes are fun and engaging, and build creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills. Every class begins with a fundamental question that is asked by kids everyday, and then hands-on science is used as a vehicle for engaging, discovering, and learning through actual experience.

Some sample classes:

  • Rainforest Real Estate: Will children bungle the jungle when faced with the opportunity to build a home in these lush lands? Students will face tough choices about clearing the jungle in order to continue the use of everyday goods we obtain from the rainforest.

  • Jake vs. the Quake: Children meet Jake, an ambitious architect, who will learn a thing or two about the importance of constructing foundations through hands-on fun. But watch out, Jake's home is prone to earthquakes and your child will get to test the importance of a building's foundation and design.

  • Fruit Smashanomics: Fruit mania meets beginning physics in this class that allows children to compare the structure of fruits while exploring gravity, impact, and acceleration in a splat-tastic way!

  • Liquidity Lesson: What is a liquid and how is different from solids? Students will explore everyday household items to understand principles of some common and uncommon liquids.

Intrigued? Try a free class and see if your little scientist gets hooked! Learn more at

Kids Science Labs
1550 N. Kingsbury (south end of the Whole Foods building)
Chicago 60646
(312) 806-2443

Monday, September 5, 2011

Midnight Circus at Circus in the Parks

Circus In The Parks, featuring Chicago’s Midnight Circus, a high-flying assortment of acrobats, aerialists, clowns, contortionists and even a dog will tour six Chicago parks in September and October under a brand new purple and blue little big top. So intimate, there is no such thing as a bad seat. This year’s tour is presented by Peoples Gas and the Chicago Park District and features a brand new show.

Since 2007 over $160,000 has been raised with this one of a kind community building/fundraising event.


Welles Park – 2333 W. Sunnyside
September 17th - 2pm & 5pm
September 18th - 1pm & 4pm

Holstein Park - 2200 N. Oakley
September 24th - 2pm & 5pm
September 25th - 1pm & 4pm

Independence Park – 3945 N. Springfield Mt.
October 1st - 2pm & 5pm
October 2nd - 1pm & 4pm

Greenwood Park – 3724 W. 111th
October - 8th - 2pm & 5pm
October - 9th - 1pm & 4pm

Commercial Park – 1845 W. Rice
October 15th - 2pm & 5pm
October 16th - 1pm & 4pm

Chase Park - 4701 N. Ashland
October 22nd - 2pm & 5pm
October 23rd - 1pm & 4pm

Tickets are $15 per person. Children under 3 years free. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. To purchase tickets visit