November 2, 2006


 The Greatest Show on Earth?

 My two younger kids, Grandma and Grandpa and I went to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus last night at Allstate Arena. We were disappointed. We were expecting to see the circus, but what we saw was more like Disney not on ice.

To be fair, I get it - they are trying something new. They are trying to engage the next generation in a fashion to which they are accustomed. There is a main storyline throughout the show, the music is preteen, the three rings are gone, and the giant video screen is front and center. At one point, my 12-year-old son leaned over to tell me the song was by Hillary Duff, so yes, they got through to their target audience.

There is a ringmaster, but new to this show is the ever-present ringmistress, singer Jennifer Fuentes. My kids knew she was an American Idol finalist, I didn't.

The motorcycles in the cage are always cool. The Shenzhen Troupe was terrific. The Yunnan Flyers were amazing. Herkules was very interesting. And the elephants, as always, are the best part of the show. 

My 9-year-old Sofie said, "I'm glad we went. It was still fun, but it didn't really seem like the circus."

I agree with my dad and his review of the evening, "The singing and dancing was good, the show was entertaining, but you can go see a musical comedy at a lot of places. You don't expect that for a Ringling Bros. circus."   Sandi Pedersen

The 136th edition of Ringling Bros. is playing at the Allstate Arena until Nov. 12 and at the United Center from Nov. 14-26. Tickets are available at the Allstate Arena Box Office, 6920 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont, Ill., (847) 891-8916, the United Center Box Office, 1901 W. Madison Street, Chicago, (312) 455-7469, and all Ticketmaster locations. Tickets can be purchased on-line at, or by phone, (312) 559-1212. Prices are $13, $19 and $24, with V.I.P. tickets selling for $35 on weekdays and $50 on weekends. There are also a limited number of $80 Circus Celebrity seats available for each performance. Circus Celebrity pass holders receive ringside seats and become a part of the show. Check Web site for showtimes.

 Backyard Baseball 2007

 Humongous Inc. couldn't have known 2006 would be the year of the St. Louis Cardinals when the videogame franchise launched its new Backyard Sports Backyard Baseball 2007. But it doesn't hurt that the computer game features Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols. Just being able to play Pujols was enough to keep Marty, 10, on the computer all evening after finishing his homework.

The game has mom-appeal. While it features the Major League superstars as kids, the default teams picked by the computer include a mix of girls and boys - none of this "girls can't play" nonsense. Of course, once the boys figure out how to unlock more players and pick their own teams, the girls may get sent back to the sidelines despite some impressive stats. The game also has ethnic and cultural diversity among the players so that no child will feel left out.

Unlike a lot of video games marketed to kids, there's no violence and no bad language in this one. The most unacceptable behavior is nothing you won't see on the Little League field with the kids being frustrated by their performance or the ump's calls.

The game, the fifth version of Backyard Baseball, includes all 30 MLB teams, uniforms and logos as well as a new variety of stadiums and environments, interactive backgrounds and stats. You'll also find New York Yankees stars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and Chicago Cubs' Derek Lee and White Sox great Paul Konerko.

Marty initially gave the game an A because he said it was so much fun to play. However, he was frustrated he had to work to unlock some of the more name-worthy players, so he dropped the grade a bit. Like many kids probably would, he also didn't take the time to read the directions to get the most out of the game at first.

Once we sat down together to play, however, we discovered some surprises we won't disclose here. Overall, it proved to be some nice quality time together while enjoying America's favorite pastime in pint size.

Backyard Baseball 2007 is now available on PC ($19.99), PS2, Game Boy Advance and Game Cube ($29.99). Rated E for Everyone. Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy

 Burp Catcher

 The product claims to catch spit-up instead of having it run down your back. It did not really work. The pocket stays open as claimed. I would not recommend this product, the fabric in not absorbent and you can get a cheaper product that works better.

The burp catcher is a great idea, if your child really spits up directly over your shoulder and into the pocket. However, the fleece version (it also comes in flannel) does not absorb liquid quickly, which can cause the "burp" to then transfer to your clothes. For the price, it should be a miracle-worker, but I prefer a regular cloth diaper.  Leah Cohen, Skokie

Burp Catcher by Williamboy Products Inc., $9.99;


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