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!
- 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.
The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, Episode 59: Roger Langridge
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, Episode 58: Faith Erin Hicks
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
(Disney on Ice Presents Treasure Trove is currently playing at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, through Monday, February 15. Buy tickets here. The show is currently touring around North America, and there are lots of dates in lots of different cities, so check the full calendar to see if it’s playing near you.)
We’ve been to our share of Disney on Ice shows, so by this point, we pretty much know what to expect. Still, it’s always a nice surprise when we see something new, and a show isn’t just the same old routines with a new name.
If you’re curious about the other shows, be sure to check out our reviews of World of Fantasy and 100 Years of Magic. They should give you a good idea of what to expect, too.
Treasure Trove is one of the newer shows currently touring around the country. As usual, they’ve tried to divide the show up so the acts target stereotypical “boys” and “girls” properties equally. However, we found this show to be particularly light on the princesses, much to both of my kids’ delight. (My daughter is not a fan of the overly “girly” princesses.)
OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist
- playing at Kennedy Center (Washington, DC)
- dates: now through February 21, 2016
- directed by Juliette Carrillo
- book and lyrics by Karen Zacarías
- music by Deborah Wicks La Puma
- Roar Score: 4/5
My 6-year-old daughter is suddenly a huge fan of musical theater. She’s constantly asking us to play the cast recordings for Wicked, Matilda, and Les Miserables, and she recently came home raving about a local performance of Oliver! It was therefore with great interest that we learned of the Kennedy Center’s newest offering in their Theater for Young Audiences series: a musical retelling of Charles Dickens’s Oliver set in Brazil.
Our excitement only amplified when we learned that the music was by Deborah Wicks La Puma, the woman responsible for the music in the charming Elephant & Piggie’s We Are In a Play!
- Batman’s Dark Secret
- written by Kelley Puckett
- illustrated by Jon J. Muth
- published by Scholastic (2016)
- Roar Score: 5/5
In 2016, another retelling of Batman’s origin story wasn’t high on the list of things I thought I needed to see…even in a children’s book. But Batman’s Dark Secret came out of nowhere and showed me how wrong I was.
This gorgeous hardcover picture book is a new edition of a book that was originally published in 1999 as a leveled reader. That book is not in my library (so I’m not familiar with it), but I think it’s safe to say that this is the preferred version. The oversized pages let the story breathe and do right by the art — watercolor illustrations that deserve a bit more of a “deluxe” treatment.
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 Treasure Trove, 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 Fantasy and 100 Years of Magic. 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.
Treasure Trove promises acts from many of the princesses, Peter Pan, The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, and Toy Story. As usual, they’ve tried to divide the show up so the acts target stereotypical “boys” and “girls” properties equally.
The Suspended Castle is the third book in the Philémon series, and it’s also (obviously) the third release in Toon Books’ English-language versions. If you’ve been reading along with the first two books, then you should already have some idea of what to expect here, in terms of tone and content.
I mean, one look at the cover is enough to tell you that you won’t be disappointed…if, that is, you came for absurd visuals and unforeseen plot twists. In short, it’s still totally insane. And an insanely good time.
I can’t believe I let this one sit for so long. I included The Wild Piano in this roundup of new titles from Toon Books, but it’s well past time for it to appear here, especially now that the third Philémon book is out.
Philémon is a French character who’s been around since 1965. His stories, however, have never been published in English before now. Therefore, in the pantheon of French-language comics, he’s mostly been relegated to Tintin’s and Asterix’s shadows. Toon Books recently published his first adventure, Cast Away on the Letter A, and it was such a success that they expedited the release of this second book. (See here for my review of that first book.)
- Fortune Falls
- written by Jenny Goebel
- published by Scholastic (2016)
- Roar Score: 4/5
“Even if you aren’t lucky, you’re smart, and that’s far more important.”
Fortune Falls is a town you probably wouldn’t want to visit…unless you came prepared. With a four-leaf clover…and a rabbit’s foot…and a horseshoe. This is a place where superstitions are very much real things that have active control over people’s lives.
If you step on a crack, you really will break your mother’s back. If you don’t hold your breath while passing a cemetery, you really will end up dead. If you find a penny and pick it up, all day long you really will have good luck. And if you blow out all of the candles on your birthday, your wish really will come true.
And that’s where Sadie Bleeker comes in. In a town where 12-year-olds are classified as either Lucky or Unlucky (and then sent to appropriate, segregated schools…for everyone’s safety, you see), Sadie’s about to turn 12.
Admittedly, she’s had a streak of bad luck (that’s lasted about 12 years), but she’s still technically classified as an Undetermined. However, her birthday is in a few days – on Friday the 13th, naturally – and she’s about to take the Luck Test…which will determine the course of her entire future.
Discovery Times Square has become one of the hottest go-to venues for nerdy exhibits and traveling shows. The space recently hosted the incredibly high-tech Avengers STATION and has been home to a Hunger Games exhibition for more than a year now.
The newest exhibit to come through may have a clunky name, but – in short – it’s well worth your time and money if you’re in the city. Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume opened in November of 2015 and will remain on exhibit until September of 2016 (before moving on to the Denver Museum of Art).
The traveling exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service in partnership with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Lucasfilm. Rather than focus on the narrative structure, special effects, or chronology of the Star Wars films, the exhibit instead turns its focus to the costumes created for the saga.
More than 60 different costumes, spanning all seven films, tell the story not of Star Wars but of the collective vision to develop that universe. The exhibit walks the visitor through the creative process of turning ideas into reality.