The Illusionists: Turn of the Century on Broadway

A bit of background: my kids (like all kids) cycle through various obsessions. One of their current obsessions is a National Geographic show they found on Netflix called Brain Games. The show highlights all of the ways we can trick our brains into believing what we see even when it contradicts what we actually know to be true.

One of the recurring hosts on the show calls himself a “deception specialist,” so of course that’s exactly what my daughter wants to be when she grows up. We’ve tried telling her that it’s not a real career (unless you’re a thief), but she’s hearing none of it.

She’s fascinated by magic, illusions, sleight of hand, and people who specialize in deception. So it was with great anticipation that we checked out this year’s version of The Illusionists show on Broadway.

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The King of Kazoo

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  • The King of Kazoo
  • written and illustrated by Norm Feuti
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I’ll admit it: I was unfamiliar with Norm Feuti before The King of Kazoo arrived at my door. But fewer than 10 pages in and I was a fan. With this book, Feuti has created something that is both familiar and fresh.

King Cornelius (the titular king of the land of Kazoo) is a bit of an idiot. He came into his position and inherited a country at peace, and he hasn’t yet had a chance to earn an epithet (like those that came before him, such as Founder of the City, Defender of the Realm, or Simplifier of the Taxes).

Cornelius spends his days “thinking kingly thoughts” and suggesting inane solutions to non-problems. In short, he’s pretty much a joke.

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Kennedy Center: Where Words Once Were

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  • playing at Kennedy Center (Washington, DC)
  • dates: now through November 27, 2016
  • directed by Colin Hovde
  • written by Finegan Kruckemeyer
  • Roar Score: 5/5

We’ve long been fans of “children’s theater,” which is really an unfortunate and unfair category since so many shows that fall under this umbrella are truly phenomenal plays that deserve a wider audience than just children or families with young kids. One of the benefits of living in the DC region is that there’s no shortage of wonderful plays and theaters targeting young audiences.

And the Kennedy Center certainly never fails to deliver. Case in point: the latest production in their Theater for Young Audiences series (which also happens to be a world-premiere Kennedy Center commission), Where Words Once Were.

The show conjures an overcrowded, dystopian city that houses what is presumably the last of humanity after the sea levels rise and cover the world in water. The City, ruled by an authoritarian government straight out of 1984 or Brave New World, has learned to weaponize language.

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You Gotta Be Kitten Me!

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  • You Gotta Be Kitten Me!
  • Publisher: Stoneblade Entertainment
  • Plays 2-10
  • Ages 10+ (realistically, 5+)
  • Playing Time: 30 min
  • Initial Release: 2016
  • Elevator Pitch: a variation on Liar’s Dice played with cards of adorable kittens (and puppies)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

If you’re familiar with Liar’s Dice, you already know how to play this game. And, full disclosure, I’ve played a lot of Liar’s Dice.

Strangely enough, when I lived in China, it was the default drinking game (which I realize is not the best way to begin a review of a kids game). But every bar had dozens of sets of dice, and almost everyone would play a few rounds at some point during the evening.

At its core, Liar’s Dice is a pure bluffing game. The strategy consists entirely of bluffing and knowing your opponent well enough to be successful. You Gotta Be Kitten Me! takes that premise, adds a layer or color matching on top, and then spruces everything up with adorable kittens.

It’s a win.

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Disney on Ice: Follow Your Heart

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At this point, I think it’s fair to say we’re seasoned vets when it comes to Disney on Ice. Yeah, we’ve been to our share of shows.

If you’ve never been or are curious about specific touring shows, be sure to check out our reviews of Treasure TroveWorld of Fantasy, and 100 Years of Magic. They should give you a good idea of what to expect.

But we’re here today to talk about the brand-new show, Follow Your Heart, which actually breaks the Disney on Ice mold in a few key respects. Although I didn’t learn this until after the fact, it still explains quite a bit: this show was written by Shea Fontana, who is a veteran of several Disney animated series and is currently head writer for the DC Super Hero Girls franchise.

In other words, it comes with a fair bit of impressive star talent behind the scenes, which should be getting more publicity than it is.

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Questions from a Kid: Raina Telgemeier

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions from a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with best-selling graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier.

Raina burst onto the scene with 2010’s Smile and then followed that up with Sisters, Drama, and this year’s Ghosts. All four books have dominated the best-seller lists and have won nearly every award for which they’re eligible. And in the process, Raina has become a superstar talent in the industry.

Just how big has she become? At this year’s National Book Festival, she was one of six presenters to take the main stage. The others? Stephen King, Bob Woodward, Shonda Rhimes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Salman Rushdie. Not too shabby.

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Ticket Giveaway: Disney On Ice Presents Follow Your Heart

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It’s that time again. Disney on Ice is returning to the Baltimore/Washington area, and they’re bringing a new show. This time around, it’s called Follow Your Heart, and it’s got some familiar faces and fresh acts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Disney On Ice shows, check out our reviews of World of Fantasy100 Years of Magic, and Treasure Trove. They should give you a good idea of what to expect: Mickey and the gang act as hosts, a variety of characters perform routines to well-known songs, and there’s a big finale at the end with everyone.

Follow Your Heart breaks the mold a little bit and focuses mostly on Pixar films. The show promises acts from Finding Dory, Inside Out, Toy Story, and Frozen (of course). Not gonna lie, we’re really looking forward to the Inside Out segment.

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Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts

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  • Ghosts
  • written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Raina Telgemeier is back with her fourth original graphic novel, and we’re all the richer for it. This week marks the release of Ghosts, and in it she explores the nature of family and friendship against a backdrop of self-discovery and the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday.

It’s easy to forget that Raina’s first original book, Smile, came out as recently as 2010. That’s because the effect she’s had makes it hard to remember what graphic novels were like beforehand. Really, it’s hard to recall what the publishing industry in general was like.

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Duck on a Tractor

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  • Duck on a Tractor
  • written and illustrated by David Shannon
  • published by Blue Sky Press/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

David Shannon’s Duck on a Bike has long been a favorite in this house. It’s absurd, it’s fun, and it’s beautifully illustrated. It’s no surprise that a sequel has come out. The only surprise is how long it’s taken. The original came out way back in the Stone Age of 2002. That’s 14 years ago – at least two lifetimes in the publishing industry.

But thankfully, Duck on a Tractor has arrived to carry on the ridiculous barnyard fun. And it’s like revisiting an old friend.

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The Happiest Book Ever!

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  • The Happiest Book Ever!
  • written and illustrated by Bob Shea
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

The Happiest Book Ever is a book that promises a lot in just the title. But can it deliver? Well, right there on the cover is a dancing cake and a giraffe with two ice cream cones…and one of them is for me!

So yeah, we’re off to a good start.

But, you see, there’s this frog…

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Henry & Leo

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  • Henry & Leo
  • written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

“I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another.”

Henry & Leo is a beautiful ode to the love we all have for our stuffed friends and what happens when they accidentally take a wrong turn and get lost. (We read another recent book on this same topic, which is admittedly near and dear to our hearts.)

This is the story of Henry and his favorite toy in the whole world – a stuffed lion named Leo.  Henry and Leo go everywhere together and are inseparable…until the day they are separated during a walk in the woods.

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Cleonardo: The Little Inventor

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If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, then you know (and probably adore) Mary GrandPré’s art. She provided the cover and interior art for all of the original U.S. editions. And if we’re being honest, her cover art is a really big reason for why the first book became so popular.

But she’s so much more than her Harry Potter art. She’s written and illustrated several children’s books and received a Caldecott Honor in 2015 for The Noisy Paint Box, which is about Kandinsky’s synesthesia (a condition that has long fascinated me).

Her newest book, Cleonardo: The Little Inventor, is nothing short of gorgeous – both the art and the message. As the father of a young daughter who loves to tinker and experiment, this book resonated with me in a huge way.

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Planet Snoopy Expansion Coming to Kings Dominion

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If you’ve ever been to Kings Dominion (near Richmond, VA), then it’s no surprise that the park is already chock full of rides. Although it has an impressive 13 roller coasters (among its more than 60 rides and attractions), it also has an impressive amount of thought and design behind its various lands and plenty to occupy younger/shorter kids.

It’s this last bit that makes the park so special. Too many theme parks focus their attention on thrill rides geared toward teens and adults. Even though there’s nothing wrong with that (I love roller coasters), that approach can often leave the youngest members of the family feeling a bit neglected.

Not so at Kings Dominion. Planet Snoopy, their children’s land themed to the Peanuts gang, is already home to an impressive 17 rides. And they’ve just announced an expansion to the land that will bring three new rides, a new event space, and upgraded food locations.

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Disney’s The Jungle Book

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Full disclosure: the original 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book is one of my favorite Disney films. So when I first heard that it was added to the crop of “live-action remakes,” I was apprehensive but cautiously optimistic. I wasn’t quite sure how they’d be able to pull off the whole talking animals thing and still make it feel realistic.

The more I saw about the movie, the more intrigued I became. And then when I heard mostly positive reviews flowing in, I was fully on board. But I have to admit that I never actually saw the film in the theaters. Life got in the way (as happens with young kids), and we just never found the time.

So I jumped on the opportunity to finally watch the film now that it’s out on blu-ray and available to stream. And the reviews, hype, and hooplah that surrounded the film didn’t set it up for failure. When we finally popped in the blu-ray for family movie night, it was a resounding success. The kids were amazed and tried to figure out how the movie was made, and I was thrilled to see a new take on these characters (and songs).

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Sam and Jump

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  • Sam and Jump
  • written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
  • published by Candlewick (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

When you find a book with a character who shares a name with one of your children, it’s kind of mandatory to have in the house. And as common a name as Sam is, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t more books about Sams.

But Sam and Jump is here to fill that void. The book is a simple story about a young boy (Sam) with a favorite stuffed animal (Jump). They go everywhere together. They do everything together. They’re best friends. Sound familiar?

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When the World Is Dreaming

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  • When the World Is Dreaming
  • written by Rita Gray
  • illustrated by Kenard Pak
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Reading this book to my kids at bedtime the other night, my daughter was immediately smitten by the protagonist. And it’s easy to see why. With her unkempt hair flying free in every direction and playing home to a stray leaf, my daughter proclaimed, “That’s me! A little outdoorsy tomboy!”

Be still my heart.

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Let Me Finish!

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  • Let Me Finish!
  • written by Minh Lê
  • illustrated by Isabel Roxas
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Is this the first children’s book about spoilers? It might be. And if it is, why has it taken until 2016 to have a book about the perils of unwanted spoilers? Children need to know when to keep their little traps shut and not ruin stories for other people. I’m only slightly kidding.

When The Force Awakens premiered last year, I had to sit my kids down and talk to them about spoilers. Just because YOU’VE seen the movie and know what happens doesn’t mean that EVERYONE has. Don’t ruin any surprises for them by talking about it school. No one ruined it for you.

Alas, I wish every parent had this discussion. But with the help of Minh Lê’s new book, Let Me Finish!, they can!

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Giveaway: Day Out With Thomas (Strasburg Rail Road)

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It’s almost back-to-school time, so what better way to celebrate the end of summer than with that little blue engine Thomas? This month, the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster, PA, is welcoming back Thomas and Percy at the Day out with Thomas!

Click here and here for our reviews of previous Day out with Thomas events at the Strasburg Rail Road.

From August 27 through September 4, Thomas and Percy will be giving rides through the scenic Lancaster countryside! Thomas rides last 25 minutes, and Percy rides are 12. Additional activities include photo ops with Sir Topham Hatt, art-and-crafts stations, more train tables and Thomas toys that you’ve ever seen assembled in one place, and storytelling sessions, among other things.

Also, the Strasburg Rail Road’s vintage Cranky Cars, pint-sized pufferbelly train, and LO&S motorcar train will all be running.

Frankly, if your kids love trains and/or Thomas, this event is everything they could ever want.

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Kevin Smith and Greg Grunberg Are Geeking Out

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For whatever reason, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, I kept crossing paths with Kevin Smith and Greg Grunberg. I ran into Greg at an after-party sponsored by Scholastic (since he has a new graphic novel out with them). The two appeared together at Kevin’s Hall H panel on Saturday night (where Kevin told an amazing story about his experience following the Star Wars panel at last year’s show). And they were both promoting–and filming!–their new show on AMC called Geeking Out.

In a nutshell, Geeking Out takes a timely look at pop culture through a fanboy lens and features talk, celebrity interviews, and the kind of off-the-cuff segments and humor you probably associate with Kevin Smith. Basically, Kevin and Greg take advantage of their impressive contact lists and access to give viewers a “behind the scenes” look at unique events, and they strive to have honest, unfiltered conversations with their guests.

The first episode, which aired a couple weeks ago immediately following SDCC, featured some footage from the Star Trek Beyond premiere and impromptu conversations they recorded at the con. The show returns to AMC on Sunday, August 14 at 11 pm ET/PT with all-new episodes.

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What Is It?

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  • What Is It?
  • written by Nicole Hoang
  • illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
  • published by Boom! Studios/KaBOOM! (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

(This post originally appeared on GeekDad.)

There is – admittedly – sometimes a fine line between what constitutes a picture book and a graphic novel. They often have a lot in common, and it’s not surprising to find that many illustrators straddle that line and work in both media.

Traditional publishers long ago embraced the graphic novel format, and companies such as Scholastic (through their Graphix imprint) led the way. Comic publishers have been a bit slower to move in the opposite direction and put out picture books or novels. It’s not unheard of, though. First Second Books recently published their first children’s picture book (Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures) to near universal acclaim.

Now BOOM! Studios is following suit. Their all-ages imprint KaBOOM!, which has been home to some absolutely amazing monthly titles, is leading the charge with Nicole Hoang and Dustin Nguyen’s What Is It?

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