OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist


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!

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Batman’s Dark Secret


  • 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.

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Ticket Giveaway: Disney On Ice Presents Treasure Trove


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.

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The Suspended Castle: A Philémon Adventure


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.

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The Wild Piano: A Philémon Adventure


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.)

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Fortune Falls


  • 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.

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Star Wars and the Power of Costume

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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.

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GKIDS Retrospective: The Secret of Kells


We continue our series of reviews chronicling all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films — some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world — and how they hold up for a young American audience.

We’re traveling chronologically (the entire retrospective is found here), and this time we’ve got…

The Secret of Kells (2009): Tomm Moore, director

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Playmobil 6692: Techno Chameleon (Super 4)


If you haven’t seen it yet, Super 4 is a Netflix-exclusive show that is based on Playmobil designs. Not to be outdone by the countless animated series starring LEGO minifigures, Playmobil has finally jumped into the animated sphere.

The show follows a team of four heroes: Alex the Knight, Ruby the Pirate, Agent Gene, and Twinkle the Fairy. Each obviously represents a different theme, or–as the show explains–distinct island communities of their planet.

Obviously, the show is also an excuse to create a new themed toy line. And here we are.

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Blog Tour: Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan


Today, it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Sheila Agnew to The Roarbots as we take part in a blog tour for her new book from Pajama Press, Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan.

Previously published in the UK, the book was recently released here in the States and is the first in the Evie Brooks series. The second book, Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown, is scheduled to release in April 2016.

We’re delighted to take part in this blog tour and to have Sheila provide a guest post for you all. Please be sure to check out the previous stops on the tour:

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Bob the Builder Returns, Refreshed and Ready to Fix It


Bob the Builder is back. He and his friends have a new look, but they can still fix it. Yes they can!

If your kids are anything like mine, they’ve gone through (or have persisted in) a construction phase. My son is obsessed with cars and trucks – really, anything with wheels – and shows like Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine are right in his wheelhouse.

When it comes to Thomas, I’ve noticed that he tends to prefer the newer versions with smoother animation over the older series with somewhat creepy stop-motion animation. The same was true for Bob the Builder. He wanted to like the show, but the quirky stop-motion animation always seemed to be a bit of a deal breaker for him.

Well, Bob is back with a new show that not only has refreshed character designs and visuals but also is made with enhanced CG animation.

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Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play!


Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!

  • playing at Kennedy Center (Washington, DC)
  • dates: now through January 3, 2016
  • directed by Jerry Whiddon
  • Roar Score: 5/5

We are huge fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books in this house. If you’re not already familiar with these characters, do yourself a favor and go correct that oversight immediately – especially if you have kids who love fun and being silly. I mean, there are 24 of them now; you really have no excuse.

Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie are best friends and have somewhat opposite personalities. Gerald is careful and quiet. Piggie is spirited and energetic. But they’re the bestest of best friends, and each book is a shining example of how children’s books can tackle themes such as friendship, cooperation, fear, and forgiveness with playfulness and charm.

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Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight


Let’s start with a couple disclaimers.

#1: I wasn’t a fan of James Cameron’s Avatar, and I’m not particularly interested in the three sequels he’s currently working on. (I have to admit, though, that Pandora: The World of Avatar – the incredibly immersive land coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017 – looks astounding.)

#2: I’m a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, have seen 13 different shows (including Varekai, Dralion, and La Nouba) and have even toured its International Headquarters in Montreal.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the brand-new mashup of those two words: Cirque du Soleil’s 37th production since 1984: Toruk – The First Flight. As I said, I’ve seen 13 different Cirque du Soleil shows, and Toruk is completely unlike any of them. It is utterly unique for the company in many ways.

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New-York Historical Society: Superheroes in Gotham

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Superheroes and popular culture. They’re like peanut butter and jelly. For almost as long as there’s been a “popular culture,” there have been superheroes. I mean, Edgar Rice Burroughs had superhero archetypes in the Barsoom and Tarzan novels as early as 1912 . . . and he wasn’t even the first.

But, realistically, when people think of superheroes, they’re not thinking of John Carter or Dejah Thoris. They’re thinking of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, and all the rest. In short, they’re thinking of DC and Marvel characters.

Even those characters are much older than many people think. Mention Superman, and odds are people think of Christopher Reeve. Mention Batman, and people probably think of Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or his animated form. Iron Man? That’s easy. Robert Downey, Jr. essentially introduced the character to a huge population that had never heard of him before.

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Dimension: Spherical, Stackable Fun


  • Dimension
  • Designer: Lauge Luchau
  • Publisher: Kosmos
  • Plays 1–4
  • Ages 8+
  • Playing Time: 30 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2014
  • Elevator Pitch: An abstract game in which each player independently stacks spheres according to a rotating set of conditions.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I have a soft spot in my heart for abstract games. It doesn’t hurt that they’re my wife’s favorite genre, so I (usually) have a reliable opponent in the house. It therefore should come as no surprise that we have a sizable collection of abstract games . . . but we’re always looking for more.

Dimension is billed as a “spherical, stackable, fast-paced puzzle game,” and that’s a fairly accurate description. It’s also a fantastically fun game that gets the hamsters running upstairs. It plays with 1–4 people (a solo option is always an excellent selling point), and everyone plays at the same time, stacking their colored spheres in three dimensions and following the conditions established by a series of task cards.

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Dragonwood: A Game of Dice and Daring


  • Dragonwood
  • Designer: Darren Kisgen
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Plays 2–4
  • Ages 8+
  • Playing Time: 20 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2015
  • Elevator Pitch: A card-and-dice game that mimics a basic RPG and recalls a simplified Magic: The Gathering for a younger audience.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

If you’ve read any of our game reviews here on The Roarbots, you know that we’re kind of in love with Gamewright. Their games are mostly perfect for all ages, the production quality is fantastic, and they’re super affordable.

Dragonwood is one of their latest titles, and it targets a slightly older player than something like Super Tooth or Feed the Kitty.

You play an adventurer on a journey through the enchanted forest of Dragonwood. During the game, you play cards to determine the number of dice you can roll. The more dice you can roll, the higher the potential result, which means you can defeat more powerful enemies or capture more powerful items to aid your journey.

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Windmill Dragons (A Leah and Alan Adventure)


Toon Books continues to kill it. Their entire library is breathtaking, and the latest offering from David Nytra is no exception. Following on the success of his 2012 debut, The Secret of the Stone Frog, Windmill Dragons again focuses on siblings Leah and Alan for another adventure.

Although the reader is left to interpret their adventure in the first book as a dream (or was it?), Windmill Dragons sets up its fantastic events in the first few pages as a story Leah reads aloud. The siblings then dive into the pages and appear as the protagonists of that story.

Welcome to a land where the elemental forces are under the control of three magnificent beasts: the Ziz (sky), the Behemoth (land), and the Leviathan (sea). When they exist in harmony with one another, peace prevails. However, when Leah and Alan arrive, all is most definitely not peaceful, and the duo are charged with saving the land from the windmills – which have come alive and are attacking the citizens.

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Teen Boat! The Race for Boatlantis


Just when I thought every original idea had already been taken, used, recycled, and rebooted to death, along comes Teen Boat! – perhaps the most original concept I’ve read all year.

I somehow missed the first book in the series, which came out 2012, but it’s not necessarily required reading before tackling the sequel: The Race for Boatlantis.

In a nutshell, our protagonist is Teen Boat, an ordinary high school teenager that happens to be able to transform himself into a boat. Yep. And there’s no secret identify nonsense. His entire school knows he can turn into a boat, and it’s apparently no big deal.

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Wearable Books


We’re mostly beyond board books in our house. In fact, we recently brought almost our entire collection (with the exception of some sentimental titles) to the local Friends of the Library donation dropoff.

However, when board books are as much fun as these, it’s kind of hard not to find room on the bookshelf for them.

Behold, a series of fun “wearable books” that kids will inevitably go nuts for: Book-O-Beards, Book-O-Hats, Book-O-Masks, and Book-O-TeethInspired by those ubiquitous lifesize cutouts where kids pose as animals or astronauts, these books bring that giggle-inducing fun home.

Indeed, according to author Donald Lemke: “What parent doesn’t love seeing their baby’s face on the body of a giraffe?” Not this parent, that’s for sure.

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Upcoming: Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight


I have to admit, I wasn’t really a fan of James Cameron’s Avatar, and I’m not particularly interested in the three sequels he’s currently working on. But I am absolutely interested in what he’s doing with the franchise off the big screen.

What I’ve seen of Pandora: The World of Avatar, the incredibly immersive land coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017, looks astounding. And as a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, I’m thrilled to see their take on the world of Pandora, the 10-foot-tall Na’vi, and the Toruk (the flying dragon creatures).

My complaints about the movie aside, it was a gorgeous film with a fully realized alien planet and creatures that lend themselves to the Cirque du Soleil stage quite nicely. Toruk will be Cirque du Soleil’s 37th production since 1984, and I’m really looking forward to this one.

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