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.

Enjoy!

(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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NPS Adventures: Canaveral National Seashore

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 Canaveral National Seashore!

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Bronze and Sunflower

  • Bronze and Sunflower
  • written by Cao Wenxuan
  • translated by Helen Wang
  • published by Candlewick Press (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Bronze and Sunflower is 381 pages of pure poetry. The book is so beautifully written that every paragraph – nay, every sentence – dances off the page and is so powerfully evocative and lyrical that it’s hard to believe Helen Wang (for I give her the lion’s share of the credit here, in the new English translation from Candlewick Press) can keep it up for the entire book. But she does.

Author Cao Wenxuan is a professor of Chinese literature at Beijing’s Peking University and is considered to be one of China’s preeminent authors of children’s literature. Though he has written some 15 novels (and several other short stories and picture books), Bronze and Sunflower is his first to be translated and published in English.

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Tinyville Town Gets to Work!

I must admit, though I would’ve guessed that my kids were beyond the target audience for Brian Biggs’s Tinyville Town series, the books were nevertheless a surefire hit. My son (5), especially, fell in love with them.

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! is the “core” book in the series and is a picture book very much reminiscent of Richard Scarry’s Busytown series. If you know and love Busytown, then there’s a lot to love in Tinyville Town. The book establishes some of the residents of the town as they come together to build a new bridge.

Three of those residents then take center stage in complementary board books. I’m a Firefighter, I’m a Librarian, and I’m a Veterinarian dive a bit deeper into those characters and what they do each day.

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NPS Adventures: General Grant National Memorial

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 General Grant National Memorial!

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NPS Adventures: Cabrillo 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 Cabrillo National Monument!

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Triangle (Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen)

  • Triangle
  • written by Mac Barnett
  • illustrated by Jon Klassen
  • published by Candlewick (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

In my house, the sign of a good book is when we finish reading it and the first question my kids ask is, “Is there a second one?” They’ve become so used to series and multiple books that all feature the same characters. When they find a story or characters they like, they just want to live in that world and read everything there is.

When we finished Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s new Triangle, my son (5) immediately asked, “Is there a #2? Maybe a book about Square or Circle or something?” This meant the book was a winner.

At the time, I thought Triangle was a one-off, so he was a bit disappointed. But I’ve since learned that it is, indeed, the first of three books from Barnett and Klassen. And the other two will be, indeed, Square and Circle. However, they’re not due out until 2018 and 2019, respectively. Bummer.

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Kings Dominion Expands with Even More Fun for the Little Ones

It’s no secret that we here at The Roarbots love Kings Dominion. We’re huge theme park fans, big-time coaster fanatics, AND we still have a little one in the family. All of which, together, makes Kings Dominion such a logical choice.

Located just north of Richmond, VA, and just a couple hours south of Washington, DC, the park has an incredible number of rides, including 12 roller coasters and an impressive 19 rides in its kids area.

And it’s that kids area – Planet Snoopy – that really sets Kings Dominion ahead for families. Planet Snoopy is the largest Peanuts-themed area in the country (probably the world), and this season sees the area expand even further with three new rides.

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Be Quiet!

  • Be Quiet!
  • written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2017)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Be Quiet! is a gorgeous wordless picture book. Well, at least, that’s the idea. But the characters don’t seem to get the message or understand what “wordless” actually means.

Before we even get to the first page (the story actually begins on the inside front cover), Rupert the mouse breaks the fourth wall and informs us that he’s going to make a wordless book. They’re very artistic.

The trouble is, Thistle and Nibbs are two incredibly chatty mice who are in love with the idea of a wordless book. They just can’t seem to stop talking long enough to actually make one. And Rupert is quickly running out of patience.

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