Great Big Things

  • Great Big Things
  • written by Kate Hoefler
  • illustrated by Noah Klocek
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

What’s that old adage? Oh, who am I kidding? You know what it is. Great things come in small packages, right? Well, Kate Hoefler’s Great Big Things is a beautiful picture book dedicated to that very idea.

Plus, it comes with a tagline on the cover that just screams movie poster: “Even the tiniest heart can be mighty.”

Echoes of Galadriel in the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, sure, but come on. It’s still catchy.

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Science Comics: Volcanoes Q&A with Jon Chad

Today, I’m thrilled to take part in a blog tour to celebrate the awesomeness of Science Comics. If you’re unaware, First Second Books has been quietly publishing an entire library of graphic novels that cover various nonfiction, scientific topics. From coral reefs to dinosaurs to flying machines to plagues, these books are a goldmine of accessible information for young readers.

They’re really great and should be on your shelf right now.

For a few weeks, the creators of some of these books are making the bloggy rounds (full list and links at the bottom of this post) to talk up the lineup and individual titles. Today, we welcome Jon Chad, who wrote and illustrated Volcanoes and who illustrated the upcoming Solar System.

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Play Fair 2017 Toy Unboxing

For the past few years, I’ve attended Toy Fair in New York and come away with nothing but good things to say about it. However, Toy Fair is a trade-only event, accessible only to industry professionals, corporate buyers, and press. It’s not open to the general public, and kids aren’t allowed. Which is a shame – and superbly ironic, considering it’s a convention center full of toys.

Last year, however, was the first year that Play Fair arrived in the same space to fill the void. Play Fair is “a public celebration of play and entertainment for all ages [that] brings new and beloved toy and pop culture brands together under one roof for an interactive and fun-filled live event open to families, fans, and media.”

This year’s event will be held at the Javits Center in Manhattan on November 4-5 (tickets available nowUse discount code ROARBOTS to save $5 of your tickets!). If you’ll be in the region and have some time, I highly recommend checking it out.

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The Wolf, The Duck, & The Mouse

I’m certainly not the first to say this, but Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen are consistently putting out some of the most compelling picture books on the market.

They’ve collaborated several times before, including on the extraordinary Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and a personal favorite here at Roarbots HQ: Triangle. Their books are deceptively simple but offer so much to chew on.

I even talked to Mac Barnett last year about how he pushes the boundaries of picture books and children’s literature in subtle (yet revolutionary) ways. And their newest collaboration – The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse – is no different.

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Disney on Ice: Dare to Dream

We’ve been to enough Disney on Ice shows at this point that I could probably serve as a creative consultant. Still, no matter how many we’ve seen, there are always a few pleasant surprises.

If you’re unfamiliar with Disney on Ice, check out our reviews of Follow Your HeartWorld of Fantasy100 Years of Magic, and Treasure Trove. They should give you a good idea of what to expect.

The newest version of the show – Dare to Dream – is notable as the first Disney on Ice performance to include Moana. And, let’s be honest, that was really the main attraction for us.

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The Wendy Project

  • The Wendy Project
  • written by Melissa Jane Osborne
  • illustrated by Veronica Fish
  • published by Super Genius / Papercutz (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Sometimes it feels like there are just too many adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Every time you turn around, there’s another film version, another “reimagining,” or another new take on the classic tale. And many of them are, how should we say…less than thrilling.

So it was a genuine surprise to discover The Wendy Project, a graphic novel interpretation of the Peter Pan story that’s incredibly moving and explores the story’s fundamental themes along with a deeper dive into grief, family, and adolescence.

And it really is a fresh take on a familiar story.

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The Journey That Saved Curious George

As hard as it might be to believe, Curious George is still just as popular in 2017 as he’s been for the last 75 years. Yep: 75 years. Did I blow your mind? He’s gone from simple illustrations in a few picture books to becoming the center of a global franchise that includes an endless supply of books, toys, TV shows, and movies.

But have you ever wondered about the couple behind the perennially popular character, Margret and H.A. Rey? Turns out that have a remarkably compelling story, and the Curious George we all know and love almost never made it out of Nazi-occupied France!

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Ticket Giveaway: Disney On Ice Presents Dare to Dream

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 Dare to Dream, and it’s got both familiar faces and fresh acts.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Disney On Ice shows, check out our reviews of Follow Your HeartWorld 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.

Dare to Dream is notable as the first Disney on Ice performance to include Moana, so if you (or your little ones) are fans of that movie – and who isn’t? – then you probably won’t want to miss this one.

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Backroads Travel: Red Wall Garden Hotel, Beijing

Backroads Travel is an occasional series that focuses on out-of-the-way, lesser-known, or otherwise off-the-beaten-track travel destinations that are nevertheless well worth the time and energy it takes to get there. These are places that might not be highlighted in your travel guides or pop up in typical Google searches. They’re the hidden and unsung wonders of the world.

Let’s get this out of the way right up top: I don’t particularly care for Beijing. I lived in China for several years, and it’s where I met my wife and got married. I’ve been to Beijing multiple times, but the city and I just never hit it off. And this is coming from someone who currently lives in Washington, DC, so I’m familiar with cities overwhelmingly defined by politics and government.

However, my personal feelings about the city aside, it’s chock full of historic sites and tourist must-dos. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting Beijing, nor would I recommend visitors to China avoid the capital. Far from it. Beijing has the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and some of the best urban parks and museums in the country. It’s home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In short, it’s a required stop on any Chinese itinerary.

So it was that I recently found myself in Beijing for about a week. We took our kids (now 5 and 8) back to China for the summer and did a fair bit of backpacking around the country. How could we NOT take them to Beijing to see some of the country’s most famous and spectacular sites?

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Shanghai vs Hong Kong: An Incredibly Detailed Breakdown and Comparison of China’s Disney Parks

Buckle up, nerds! This post is gonna be a doozy.

If you’re a Disney nerd, odds are that you’ve at least thought about visiting the international parks at some point. As of this writing, there are 12 Disney parks worldwide, and only half of them are located in the United States.

Each provides a unique experience with a wealth of rides, attractions, shows, and cultural influences packed in. The internet is filled with information and opinions about all of them, and there’s certainly no shortage of Disney sites willing to overwhelm you with the minutiae of every Disney park.

The purpose of THIS post, though, is to give a detailed comparison between the two Chinese parks – Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disney Resort. How do they compare? How are they different? If you can only visit one, which should it be?

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NPS Adventures: George Washington Birthplace National Monument

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 George Washington Birthplace National Monument!

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NPS Adventures: Thomas Stone National Historic Site

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 Thomas Stone National Historic Site!

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BB-8 On the Run

  • BB-8 On the Run
  • written by Drew Daywalt
  • illustrated by Matt Myers
  • published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press (2017)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

The job of most Star Wars books is twofold. First, they have to tell a compelling and interesting story. Second, they have to fill in some untold backstory or relate events that happened off screen for rabid fans who simply need to know everything.

The newest original picture book from the galaxy far, far away checks both boxes. BB-8 On the Run is a charming book with an important message for kids, and it also fills in a pretty major story hole from The Force Awakens.

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Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Ben Hatke is something of a celebrity at Roarbots HQ. His Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is pure magic, and his other books (Little RobotJulia’s House for Lost Creatures, and Nobody Likes a Goblin) are just downright enchanting.

We look forward to each new book as a major event, and the arrival of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (the sequel to the phenomenally awesome Mighty Jack for First Second Books) set off all kinds of squee alarms around here.

If you’re familiar with our Questions from a Kid series of interviews and you haven’t seen Ben’s installment, you really should do yourself a favor and go check that out. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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The Gauntlet

  • The Gauntlet
  • written by Karuna Riazi
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 3/5

“Win and destroy the game, lose and be stuck in it forever.” Descriptions of Karuna Riazi’s debut novel The Gauntlet will naturally draw comparisons to Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Jumanji, which is only to be expected. Both are about board games that magically trap players in a dangerous, high-stakes world created within the confines of the game.

Riazi’s book, though, is free to explore the ramifications of what that experience might really be like – something Van Allsburg’s picture book couldn’t do in as much depth with a mere 32 pages.

Farah Mirza is 12 years old, and games are a standard in her family. But when a mysterious board game shows up during her birthday party, she assumes it’s a gift from her aunt. The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Something seems a little…off about it, but she and her friends decide to crack it open and give it a go. And that’s when things start to go south.

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Rolling America: The Star-Spangled Dice Game

  • Rolling America
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Plays 1+
  • Ages 8+ (realistically, 5+)
  • Playing Time: 15 min
  • Initial Release: 2015
  • Elevator Pitch: dice + math + a wee bit of geography = a great “light” strategy game for kids
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Fancy dice? Fancy a bit of patriotism in your game? Looking for a quick game for the kids that’ll help them put their strategic brains to use this summer?

Rolling America is a fun, light dice game that uses a U.S. map as its base. It doesn’t really teach geography, and the map is a bit abstract, but that’s not really the point of the game. This is really a number game in disguise.

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Dinosaur Pirates!

  • Dinosaur Pirates!
  • written and illustrated by Penny Dale
  • published by Nosy Crow / Candlewick Press (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Look, sometimes you want a picture book to impart a deep meaningful message about life. Sometimes you need a picture book to help your kids get through a difficult time. Sometimes you want one that just makes you feel are warm and fuzzy inside.

Other times? You just want a book about dinosaurs. Or pirates. Or both! And that’s where Penny Dale’s appropriately named Dinosaur Pirates! comes in handy.

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Let It All Hang Out with the TreePod Hanging Treehouse

I should preface this with a quick note about this year’s Toy Fair. A trip to Toy Fair is usually overwhelmed by stuffed animals, cheap plastic toys, action figures, and – increasingly – loads of STEM-focused toys and products. So I went this year with something different in mind. I want kids to get outside. Get outdoors and leave all those toys behind. So I walked the aisles of Toy Fair looking for companies with that as their focus. How can we get kids outside, exploring, and having fun in nature?

And that’s how I found TreePod. Their hanging treehouse is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a tent that hangs from a tree.

The idea is pretty simple. Secure the tent to a tree (that’s large enough to support the weight), let it hang, and then hang out (literally) in the tent, suspended a few feet above the ground.

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Feminist Baby

  • Feminist Baby
  • written and illustrated by Loryn Brantz
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2017)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

We’re beyond board books at Roarbots HQ, but sometimes a book comes along that just begs to stick around and become part of the collection. Feminist Baby is one of those books.

Listen, I could babble on and on about this book…or I could just let a 5-year-old read it to you (who insists on pronouncing it “venomous baby”). That’s a no-brainer.


(Disclosure: Disney Hyperion provided us with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain our own.)

Funko Mega Man Pint-Size Heroes

I’m an unabashed Mega Man fanboy. Like so many others, Mega Man 2 on the NES was my jam as a kid (and still is). It’s the only game I beat multiple times, and to this day, I can play through the game and remember all of the tricks and patterns. That doesn’t make it any easier, of course. The Mega Man series is still the most difficult franchise of games ever created. Bar none. No contest.

Dons crotchety old man cap and prepares “Get off my lawn!” speech…

Kids today have no idea how brutal and unforgiving old-school NES games were. They have no idea many times we had to die just to clear a stage. I watch my kids play games like Skylanders – where it’s next to impossible to actually die – and shake my head at how easy they have it.

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