Cirque du Soleil: Paramour

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(See here for more Cirque du Soleil reviews from The Roarbots!)

After more than 30 years and nearly three dozen different shows, Cirque du Soleil has clearly become an institution. Over the years, they’ve taken their fair share of risks and exploded the boundaries of what was considered possible not only on stage but also by the human body.

There have been touring big-top shows, touring arena shows, and resident theater shows, and each has wowed and blown away audiences around the world. Not content to rest on its laurels, though, the brand continues to stretch the horizons of what’s possible and what audiences should expect from a Cirque du Soleil performance.

The touring Toruk show is evidence of how far they’re willing to stray from their core to put on a spectacle. Added to that list? The brand-new Broadway show, Paramour.

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Finding Dory: Three Little Words

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  • Three Little Words
  • written by Amy Novesky
  • illustrated by Grace Lee
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Timed to coincide with this month’s theatrical release of Finding Dory, Three Little Words is a gorgeous picture book that really drives home the simple message that lies at the heart of Dory’s character: Just Keep Swimming.

This isn’t an adaptation of the film, per se, but it visually follows all of the major plot developments (including, apparently, the ending), so if you’re looking to remain spoiler-free until you’ve seen Finding Dory, then you may want to hold off on this for a few more weeks.

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Playing from the Heart

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  • Playing from the Heart
  • written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds
  • published by Candlewick Press (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

I might as well get this out of the way right now: we’re big Peter Reynolds fans around these parts. You’d be hard pressed to find better books celebrating art, imagination, and creativity than his books The Dot and Ish.

And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Reynolds has an entire library of beautiful books in which kids are allowed the freedom to express themselves and not suppress the art they have inside of them.

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NPS Adventures: Valley Forge National Historical Park

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The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!

Welcome to Valley Forge National Historical Park!

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Circuit Maze

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  • Circuit Maze: Electric Current Logic Game
  • Publisher: ThinkFun
  • Plays 1
  • Ages 8+ (realistically, 5+)
  • Playing Time: varies
  • Initial Release: 2016
  • Elevator Pitch: Solve puzzles by connecting a sequence of blocks to connect an electric current and turn on one or more lights.
  • Roar Score: 5/5

I’m on record with how great I think ThinkFun’s products are. When it comes to educational (yet still FUN) games, they set the bar pretty high. Circuit Maze is one of their newer offerings, and it’s basically a variation of Laser Maze, which is another of their logic puzzle games. (I reviewed the excellent Laser Maze Jr. here.)

This one is a single-player electricity puzzle game in which the player must build a circuit pathway across the board to light up one or more beacons (there are three). It’s a brainburner of a logic puzzle game that also subtly teaches kids how current flows through an electrical circuit.

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Questions from a Kid: Dr. Scott Sampson

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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 paleontologist Dr. Scott Sampson.

If you have young kids with even the slightest interest in dinosaurs, chances are very good you’ve heard of Dr. Scott the Paleontologist. If you’ve ever seen an episode of the PBS Kids / Jim Henson show Dinosaur Train, then you’ve seen Dr. Scott. He appears at the end of every episode, talks about the science behind each story, makes connections between the prehistoric world and the more familiar world in which kids live, and ends every episode by encouraging kids to “get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!”

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NPS Adventures: Hampton National Historic Site

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The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!

Welcome to Hampton National Historic Site!

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Blog Tour: Children’s Book Week with Raina Telgemeier

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We’re thrilled to help First Second Books once again celebrate Children’s Book Week (which ran from May 2-8 this year), with a blog tour celebrating both their amazing books and the effort to get more books into more kids’ hands.

This year, we celebrate how amazing books for kids and teenagers are! We’re delighted to be celebrating the awesomeness of kids comics this week by taking part in a blog tour that features a star-studded line-up of graphic novelists, including friends of the Roarbots Gene Luen Yang, Faith Erin Hicks, Mike Maihack, and Maris Wicks (see below for schedule and links).

In these interviews, they’re talking about the creative process, their inspiration, and the books they love. We’re thrilled to host John Patrick Green (author of Hippopotamister) chatting with the incomparable Raina Telgemeier.

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NPS Adventures: Big Cypress National Preserve

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The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!

Welcome to Big Cypress National Preserve!

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The Pirate Jamboree

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  • The Pirate Jamboree
  • written and illustrated by Mark Teague
  • published by Orchard Books/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

If you have kids, then Mark Teague’s art is likely very familiar to you. In addition to his own wonderful books, he’s also the artist behind the How Do Dinosaurs…? books with author Jane Yolen.

We’re in love with his style and big fans of his work. His newest book, The Pirate Jamboree, is told in verse and concerns the fearsome neighborhood pirates: the Johnson brothers (Blackbeard, Bluebeard, and Beigebeard), Sharktooth Jane, Eye Patch Sue, Cap’n Gunderboom, and Peg Leg Jones.

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GBBP 59: Roger Langridge

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The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, Episode 59: Roger Langridge

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This week, we’re thrilled to have Roger Langridge – the all-ages comics genius – on the show. Yes, he’s awesome. And yes, I just made up that “all-ages comics genius” moniker…but it’s totally appropriate.

Roger rose to prominence in the comics industry for his work on Judge Dredd, the Fin Fang Four (of all things), and his own creation Fred the Clown. He then worked (as both writer and illustrator) on Boom! Studios’ relaunched The Muppet Show series, and that’s where his style truly had a chance to shine.

From there, all bets were off. He worked on a series of Muppets book for Boom!, John Carter of Mars (Marvel), Snarked! (Boom!), Popeye (IDW), and The Rocketeer (IDW). And then, in my opinion, came the great stuff: his adaptation of Jim Henson’s The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow and the marvelous Abigail and the Snowman, both for Boom! Studios.

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Mad Libs: The Game

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  • Mad Libs: The Game
  • Publisher: Looney Labs
  • Plays 3-8
  • Ages 10+ (realistically, 6+)
  • Playing Time: 20-40 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2016
  • Elevator Pitch: The Mad Libs you know and love crossed with Apples to Apples style gameplay.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

My kids recently discovered Mad Libs, and they instantly fell in love. I mean, can you blame them? The format is timeless and endlessly fun. Yes, they’re still making new Mad Libs (including some licensed ones, such as Star Wars), but we’ve found all of the original, classic ones from the 80s are still a lot of fun. Sure, some of the references are dated, but kids really just want an opportunity to make a story with poop and pee jokes. And Mad Libs always delivers on that front.

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Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants!

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Ballet Cat is a relatively new character series that took us by surprise. We picked up last year’s The Totally Secret Secret, which was the first book, and loved it. In the first book, the overenthusiastic Ballet Cat works through a difficulty with Sparkles the Pony, who doesn’t exactly share Ballet Cat’s love of ballet.

In this newest book, she works through a somewhat similar difficulty with Butter Bear, who is slightly embarrassed and doesn’t want to do super-high leaps. She’s also incredibly resourceful when it comes to stalling tactics. Butter Bear does everything in her power to delay the inevitable.

But Ballet Cat is very insistent, which seems to be her dominant character trait. She loves ballet, and she is very insistent that everyone else loves ballet just as much as she does.

This doesn’t always go as planned.

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Stratos Spheres

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  • Stratos Spheres
  • Publisher: ThinkFun
  • Plays 2
  • Ages 7+ (realistically, 4+)
  • Playing Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2016
  • Elevator Pitch: Three-dimensional Connect Four that players take turns building.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

In terms of great educational games for kids, there aren’t many companies out there doing it better than ThinkFun. We’re big fans in this house, and games like Zingo!, Laser Maze, and Compose Yourself are all reliable standbys.

So it was with some excitement that I checked out ThinkFun’s new products at Toy Fair a few months ago. Stratos Spheres is one of the games that jumped out at me. So simple in its design, gameplay, and execution yet still a lot of fun to play.

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NPS Adventures: Everglades National Park

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I’ve been in love with the National Park Service for a long time. I was a kid on family roadtrips when I first discovered the Passport to Your National Parks and all of the cancellation stamps available at NPS sites. As a completist who was also in love with travel and new places, I was immediately hooked. I wanted all of the stamps. I wanted to visit every NPS site.

I’ve since passed on that love to my kids, who (at 4 and 7) just discovered the passport for themselves and have started their own collections. It also helps that we make it a point to visit NPS site wherever we might be (and that we live near Washington, DC – a city spilling over with national monuments and NPS locations).

Therefore, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the upcoming National Park Week (April 16-24, 2016), we’re starting a brand-new series called NPS Adventures. These posts will take a big-picture view of one location and highlight some of the best activities that site has to offer. This will usually be done through a kid-friendly lens and will almost always include activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience.

And pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

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GBBP 58: Faith Erin Hicks

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The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, Episode 58: Faith Erin Hicks

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This week, we’re thrilled to have Faith Erin Hicks on the show! Faith is an Eisner Award-winning author and illustrator whose newest book, The Nameless City, comes out today! What are you waiting for? Go grab your copy!

I included The Nameless City in my one-title-per-year roundup of books celebrating the 10th anniversary of publisher First Second Books. Yes, even though it’s only April, this is the book to beat. The Nameless City is the first entry in a planned trilogy that centers on two citizens of the eponymous city – Kaidu and Rat – who find themselves on opposing ideological sides in a city that is perpetually at war and sees occupying forces come and go like the weather.

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Bug Zoo

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  • Bug Zoo
  • written and illustrated by Andy Harkness
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

The Walt Disney Animation Studios Artist Showcase books are a new discovery for me, and I wonder how I missed them until now. They’re conceived as a series of original picture books that put the spotlight on individual artists working for Walt Disney Animation Studios, and there’s apparently also at least one title in the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase series. (Which went immediately onto my wishlist.)

Bug Zoo features artist Andy Harkness, who worked as an in-betweener and layout artist on Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear. Andy currently works as an art director for Walt Disney Animation, and this is his first children’s book.

I think it’s safe to say he’s set a high bar for himself, straight out of the gate. This book is eye-poppingly gorgeous.
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Giveaway: Day Out With Thomas at B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore

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Spring has (almost) sprung, and it’s time for that little blue engine Thomas to make his annual rounds. This month, the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD, is kicking things off 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 April 22-24 and April 29-May 1, Thomas will be giving rides at the B&O! 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, sing-a-longs, magicians, and storytelling sessions, among other things.

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

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The Discovery of King Tut Exhibition

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Manhattan is a mecca for world-class museums, and there’s certainly no shortage of genuine art and artifacts from Ancient Egypt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds tens of thousands of pieces of historical significance, and practically all of them are on display – including the magnificent Temple of Dendur and several real-life mummies! The Brooklyn Museum also has two mummies on display.

So it came as a bit of a surprise at how much we enjoyed an exhibit about King Tut composed entirely of reproductions. This is something you should know about The Discovery of King Tut, currently on display at Premier Exhibitions on 5th Avenue (at 37th Street) in New York. It consists of about 1,000 replica objects but is without a single genuine artifact. But that almost doesn’t make a difference.

What came as a shock was just how enraptured my kids (4 and 6) were with the exhibit. I credit much of that to the audio guide that comes with your admission, but neither of my kids wanted to leave until they had listened to all 38 tour stops and seen absolutely everything the exhibit had to offer. As a result, my daughter is currently fascinated by all things Ancient Egypt and has a stack of library books on her bedroom floor. I call that a win.

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Upcoming: Monster Jam

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Monster Jam is like my son’s dreams come true. Gigantic monster trucks crashing into each other and crushing things in their way? That’s pretty much his whole schtick while playing with his cars.

Approximately 12 feet tall and about 12 feet wide, Monster Jam trucks are custom-designed machines that sit atop 66-inch-tall tires and weigh a minimum of 10,000 pounds. Built for short, high-powered bursts of speed, the trucks generate 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower and are capable of speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. They can fly up to 125 to 130 feet (a distance greater than 14 cars side by side) and up to 35 feet in the air!

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