Friday, July 25, 2008

REVIEW & INTERVIEW: 3 Evil Cousins on Fakie by Tony Varrato

3 Evil Cousins, "book reviews 4 and by teens," posted an in-depth entry on their blog yesterday about Tony Varrato and his latest novel, Fakie, a 2009 YALSA pick that has tongues lolling for more. 3 Evil Cousins interviewed Varrato on his thoughts on pink faeries, zombies, unicorns, as well as his favorite books, his inspiration for writing Fakie, and what he's working on now. Gobble up the full details and read the review now! To learn more about Tony Varrato and Fakie, read this interview we conducted with the author a few weeks back.

For those interested, 3 Evil Cousins also recently began their sister site, Toad Hill Reviews, "book reviews 4 & by tweens". We look forward to their thoughts on great books!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TOP TEN: Fun Family Activities for Summer in New Orleans

Today we are taking you south with suggestions for exciting family activities in New Orleans!

by Barri Bronston
, author of the Lobster Kids' Guide to Exploring New Orleans

  1. Aquarium of the Americas – Visitors are invited to journey to the Caribbean Reef, the Amazon Rainforest and the Mississippi River, where they will be greeted by a host of deep-sea creatures, sea otters sting rays, sharks and penguins.

  2. Audubon Insectarium – Open for less than three months, this long-awaited museum invites children (and adults) to enjoy up-close encounters with termites, butterflies, crickets, ants and dozens of other insects. Offerings include an animated insect film and samplings of exotic – yes, even tasty -- insect cuisine.

  3. Audubon Zoo – Besides its exotic animals, natural habitats and lush gardens, this highly acclaimed zoo features a Louisiana swamp exhibit, live animal presentations along with the Endangered Species Carousel, the Safari Simulator Ride and the Swamp Train.

  4. City Park – One of the largest urban parks in the United States, City Park was practically wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. But thanks to the thousands of volunteers who have helped resurrect it, the park is buzzing once again. Among its attractions are Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, Storyland, the Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

  5. French Quarter – Except for Bourbon Street, there are few places in the Quarter where families can’t wander. Check out the flea market, the Farmer’s Market, the Wax Museum, Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. When you need a break, grab a table at Café du Monde and enjoy some sugar-laden beignets.

  6. Louisiana Children’s Museum – Explore and experience 30,000 square feet of hands-on fun. Among other things, kids can pilot a towboat down the Mighty Mississippi, create stunning works of arts and hoist themselves up a wall.

  7. Mardi Gras World – If you can’t make it to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday, take a trek across the Mississippi River for a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of Mardi Gras. The tour includes gigantic props, colorful floats and samples of king cake. After the tour, you’re invited to dress up in ornate carnival costumes.

  8. National World War II Museum – The 70,000-square-foot museum highlights the American experience during the WWII era with moving personal stories, historic artifacts and powerful interactive displays. At personal account stations, visitors can listen to the stories of war veterans. Check the calendar for band performances, war reenactments and children’s programs.

  9. Riverboat ride – Climb aboard an authentic 19th century riverboat and enjoy the sites and sounds of the Crescent City as you cruise up and down the Mississippi. You can choose between a two-hour harbor cruise or a jazz and dinner cruise.

  10. Streetcar ride – Three years post-Katrina, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar is finally back. During a ride from the Riverbend neighborhood to the Central Business District, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of Uptown New Orleans, including Tulane and Loyola universities, Audubon Park and some of the country’s most exquisite mansions.

Monday, July 7, 2008

TOP TEN: Fun Family Activities for Summer in Montreal

As promised, here are top ten nine suggestions for fun activities that families can enjoy during a Montreal summer. Recommended by John Symon and Annika Melanson, this diverse group of activities is sure to captivate families and promises to provide an enthralling summer experience!

  1. The annual Just for Laughs festival (July 10 to 20) will be hosting children’s activities at the Just for Kids space, located next to the UQAM church bell tower on St. Denis St. (between St. Catherine St. E. and de Maisonneuve Blvd.). Non-stop entertainment will be available for children, including puppet shows, clown workshops and treasure hunts. These activities will be offered from Monday to Friday, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and weekends from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 514.845.2322 or visit the Just for Laughs web-site.

  2. La Fête des enfants (August 15-17) celebrates its 10th annual edition in 2008. This event is designed for the 12 years and under crowd. The venue will be Parc Jean Drapeau and many of the activities will take place at the Biodome, the Stewart Museum and at the Aquatic Complex of Ile Ste Helene. Fireworks, workshops, performers, inflatable toys, miniature trains, and emergency vehicles will all be there. Also to celebrate the event, there will be free admission to the Botanical Gardens, Biodôme and Insectarium on Saturday August 16 and Sunday August 17. The site is easily accessible by public transit (Jean Drapeau metro) and by bicycle from Montreal. For more information, call 514 872-0060 or email

  3. Going down the Lachine Rapids has long been described as “the best tourist attraction around Montreal.” Not only do participants get a thrilling ride through the waves (plan to get wet, even under raincoats) but they also get a brand new perspective on the city including unusual and breathtaking skylines. Two companies presently offer such trips, these being Sauté moutons, which leaves in jet boats from the Clock Tower Pier in Montreal’s Old Port, and Descentes sur le Saint-Laurent which primarily uses rafts to go down the rapids from its put in on LaSalle. Blvd. Reservations are required for both.

  4. Tree top obstacle courses are becoming increasingly popular around Montreal. Minimum ages vary, but participants must usually be able to lift their arms up at least six feet (1.8 metres). Youths under 16 years must generally be accompanied by an adult. A certain degree of coordination and athletic ability are required for these tree-top obstacle courses. My 10 and 12 year-old had a blast doing the Drummondville course in 2007. The various companies involved include: Acrobranche; Arbre en Arbre; Arbraska; and Arbre Aventure. Reservations are required and these sites are difficult to access without a car.

  5. The two big zoos near Montreal, Granby Zoo and Parc Safari both offer good summer fun. Here you can view exotic animals, including many from Africa. Granby is a more rational style zoo whereas Parc Safari lets you drive your car through the animals’ habitat where my kids enjoy feeding the animals. Parc Safari sometimes even offers the chance to ride the elephants. Afterwards, you can jump in the aquatic park at either site. The water parks are typically shut down in the event of thunderstorms, however. Car access is essential for both sites.

  6. The Biodome is a good rainy day destination. This large indoor zoo features bioclimatic zones from the Amazon rainforest, the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the world’s Polar Regions. Nearby are the Botanical Gardens, which incorporates the Insectarium—a bug museum almost unique in the world. While the Botanical Garden is popular with all ages, some programming is also offered for younger children (generally in French only). The stadium used for the 1976 Olympics is also adjacent. Access is by car (pay parking), by public transit (Viau metro) or by bike.

  7. The Quays of the Old Port remain one of the most popular tourist destinations for all ages in the Montreal area. (Montreal Science Centre, Pointe a Calliere Museum, quadricycle rental, Shed 16 Labyrinth, step aboard a three-masted barque from the last 19th century, look at the ships, or just go for an ice cream... This site is best accessed by public transit (Champs de Mars metro) or by bicycle.

  8. Mount Royal Park covers the mountain that gave Montreal its name. This popular park has long been a favourite destination of Montrealers and today features a large playground, woodland trails, paddle boating, nature watching and views of the downtown. Bring a picnic or eat in the restaurants there. Access is by car (pay parking) or by public transit (bus 11 from Mont Royal metro) or by bike.

  9. Jean Drapeau Park is situated on two islands in the St. Lawrence River. Here you can find la Ronde (a major amusement park with roller coasters), a swimming beach on Ile Notre Dame, the Stewart Museum (a 19th century fort built to protect Montreal from an American invasion), the Biodome (a museum dedicated to water and housed in the former American pavilion from Expo ‘67), beautiful gardens, swimming pools, playgrounds, boat rentals and more. Despite its close proximity to downtown, parts of the park remain remarkably quiet, making this a great spot for a picnic. The park is easily accessible by public transit (Jean Drapeau metro) and by bicycle from Montreal.

  10. La Petite Ferme at Angrignon Park (514-280-3744) is a perennial favourite for families with young children. Kids will be thrilled to get up close to chickens, cows, donkeys, ducks and sheep. The farm also has emus, llamas, peacocks, pheasants, and pigeons. There are coin-operated machines let you feed the goats and sheep. Animators are on hand to present different farm themes, mainly in French, to young children every week. This destination also features a great playground. The site is located within easy walking distance of the Angrignon metro station, pay parking is also available. A bike path along the aqueduct is nearby. Unfortunately, Le Petite Ferme is "fermé " (closed!) until 2010. But there's enough delicious attractions in this list to keep families busy for the summer!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

TOP TEN: Fun Family Activites for Summer in Toronto

Is it just me or do the long days make weekends seem even longer? Like a lot of busy, working moms, I try to make the most of the season by cramming Saturdays and Sundays with fun activities for the kids: there is nothing worse than seeing my guys camped out on the couch when it's gorgeous outside. The challenge, however, is finding family-friendly attractions and events that we'll all enjoy, that aren't hours away, and that won't break the bank!

Luckily for me, John Symon wrote an excellent family guide for Montreal, Quebec. Take a look at John's book Exploring Montreal with Kids and keep checking our blog to read his top suggestions for summer fun in Montreal!

But why stop at Montreal? We checked in with the authors of our family travel guide series and asked them what the top ten summer activities in each of their cities would be. We'll post a new top ten list every few days, including the best family attractions in San Francisco, New Orleans, Halifax, and more - great for residents and for visitors! Let's kick off the summer fun with Toronto, Ontario!

-Stephanie Hindley, Director of Marketing

by Natalie Anne Comeau, author of the Lobster Kids' Guide to Exploring Toronto

  1. Toronto Zoo – One of the world’s largest zoos, the Toronto Zoo boasts more than 5,000 animals displayed in indoor tropical pavilions and outdoor naturalistic environments. Must-sees include the award winning African Savannah and Gorilla Rainforest, the new Great Barrier Reef, and Stingray Bay where visitors can reach out and touch the stingrays. For younger guests, the Zellers Discovery Zone features a Kids’ Zoo, Waterside Theatre and Splash Island.

  2. Canada’s Wonderland – Featuring over 200 attractions and more than 65 rides, including Canada’s only flying coaster, Canada’s longest wooden coaster, and the brand new Behemoth – Canada’s biggest, tallest, and fastest rollercoaster. Lots of rides for the little ones, as well as daily live shows, dining and shopping. Be sure to pack your swimsuits for a visit to SplashWorks, the 20-acre water park.

  3. Toronto Island – Accessible only via ferry from the docks at the foot of Bay Street, Toronto Island is actually a series of small islands connected by pedestrian bridges. The automobile-free islands feature bicycle trails, bike and boat rentals, wading pools, a playground, tennis courts, volleyball courts, beaches, a disc golf course, and the old-fashioned Centreville amusement park ( Pack a picnic and stay for the day.

  4. Royal Ontario Museum – Housing one of Canada’s largest permanent collections of dinosaurs, the ROM has a wealth of family-friendly programs. Friday nights offer half-price admission, and weekends feature free programming, music and special events. There is also a summer day camp, the popular Saturday Morning Club, and ROMkids - a series of ongoing educational programs designed for kids up to 16-years of age.

  5. Rouge Park – One of the world’s largest urban parks, Rouge Park offers hiking, fishing, swimming and picnicking – or bring your own canoe and enjoy a leisurely paddle. Also features the only campground in the city of Toronto – just a transit stop away.

  6. Ontario Science Centre – Having recently undergone a major renovation, the Ontario Science Centre offers live demonstrations and hands-on activities that make science fun. The multi-level centre has nine exhibition halls, including the new Weston Family Innovation Centre and the IMAX Dome Theatre. A special Mars exhibit will be running throughout the month of July. The OSC also offers a summer day camp and ‘Sci-Fri’ Friday Nights especially for teens.

  7. Black Creek Pioneer Village immerses visitors in the lifestyles and customs of 1800’s – A living history museum, Black Creek Pioneer VillageOntario. Interpreters and trades people in authentic period dress welcome guests to the many historical buildings and farmyards on the 30-acre property. At the Hands on History Centre, kids can experience traditional trades and pioneer survival skills like building a log cabin, making a bucket, or weaving cloth.

  8. Ontario Place – This internationally acclaimed cultural and leisure park, located on three man-made islands on the shores of Lake Ontario, features Canada’s largest outdoor soft-play climbing structure, midway rides, mini-golf, pedal boats, hoops, an arcade, bumper boats, the F/X Adventure Theatre motion simulator, and Soak City - Toronto’s only downtown water park.

  9. High Park – This 161-hectare park features a petting zoo, an adventure playground, cycling and nature trails, a trackless train, tennis courts, a swimming pool and plenty of spots to stop for a picnic. Sign up for the Eco day camp, or take part in the many drop-in programs offered by The Children’s Garden and Exploring Toronto, including hands-on gardening and nature exploration, cooking, nature crafts and eco games. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, drop into Colborne Lodge historic house and museum.

  10. Canadian National Exhibition – Toronto’s traditional end-of-summer celebration (August 15 – September 1), the Ex features agricultural exhibitions, a daily parade, midway rides and games. Thrilling shows include the RCMP Musical Ride, the Iams SuperDogs, and the Canadian International Air Show. The Horse Show runs from July 22-August 14.

Do you have more ideas for fun family activities in Toronto? In your home city? Leave us a comment with your suggestions or e-mail them to so we can share them on our blog!

Be on the look-out for more Top Ten Fun Family Activities in Montreal ...Vancouver ...and more!