Giveaway: Thomas and Friends Mini Trains


I’m running a quick giveaway here for a couple of Thomas and Friends Mini Trains. Why? Well, for starters, they’re pretty darn cute.

Also, during August, Virgin Atlantic and Thomas & Friends joined forces in a month long partnership to bring a screening of the new movie Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure on all international flights. Children on those flights also received kids packs that included a coloring book and a Thomas mini train.

And finally, that new movie (Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure) is now available on Blu/DVD and digital download.

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Peanut Butter and Brains


  • Peanut Butter and Brains
  • written by Joe McGee
  • illustrated by Charles Santoso
  • published by Abrams Books (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Kids’ zombie books rarely disappoint, and this one is just adorable. Cute zombies? Who can refuse? Cute zombies with a penchant for PB&J? Sold.

Peanut Butter and Zombies, you basically had me with your title.

Reginald isn’t quite like the other zombies. While they all shuffle around Quirkville looking for brainssssss, Reginald just wants a gooey peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Who can blame him? They’re WAY tastier than brains, believe me.

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I Yam a Donkey!


  • I Yam a Donkey!
  • written and illustrated by Cece Bell
  • published by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

A children’s picture book whose entire reason for being is to make bad grammar jokes? Don’t mind if I do. Written and illustrated by Cece Bell? Oh my goodness, YES!

Bell is perhaps best known for the graphic novel El Deafo, for which she won the Newbery Honor and then the even greater honor of being part of our Questions from a Kid series. However, her background is more heavily focused on picture books…and I Yam a Donkey! is the latest and greatest.

The book centers on a “Who’s on First?” style dialogue between a donkey and a yam…which is where all great works of literature ultimately begin. The yam, being a stickler for correct grammar and pronunciation, can’t help but correct the slightly dim-witted donkey.

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Ultimate Star Wars


  • Ultimate Star Wars
  • written by Patricia Barr, Adam Bray, Daniel Wallace, and Ryder Windham
  • published by DK Publishing (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

The ultimate Star Wars coffeetable book is just about the prettiest encyclopedia you’ve ever seen. Ultimate Star Wars came out earlier this year, but it’s certainly still worth a look. This gorgeous book is the latest title to attempt an encyclopedic look at the Star Wars universe, and it’s the first since Disney and Lucasfilm rebooted canon and relegated nearly 30 years of stories to non-canon “Legends.” Therefore, this book covers the first six films, The Clone Wars, and Rebels.

It was a monumental undertaking, and the book reflects a deep love for the subject. The text is incredibly detailed and presents both significant events and minutiae with equal aplomb. In addition, it’s just a downright beautiful book (if you’re a fan of Star Wars). Every spread – every page – is filled with full-color photos that make casually flipping through the book an absolute pleasure.

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Kings Dominion: Big Thrills in Central Virginia


It’s no secret that we here at The Roarbots are big theme park fans. It was therefore surprising that we’ve lived in the Washington, DC, region for as long as we have and never made it to Kings Dominion. It’s a couple hours south, just outside of Richmond, and we’ve certainly passed it a number of times. The sign is visible from I-95, and every time we’ve driven down to Busch Gardens Williamsburg or other points south, we comment that we really should check it out one of these days.

Well, this summer, we finally did it. And I’m so glad we did. It’s actually a great park with a lot to do for all ages!

The summer season for mid-Atlantic theme parks might be drawing to a close, but it’s not over yet! And now’s also the perfect time to pick up 2016 season passes, if you’re so inclined. As an added incentive, the park recently announced a new ride coming next season: Delirium — a powerful, spinning pendulum.

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Troll and the Oliver


  • Troll and the Oliver
  • written and illustrated by Adam Stower
  • published by Templar Books (Candlewick Press) (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Just reading the title should clue you in that this is a twist on the standard “monster vs boy” tale. Every day, Troll goes out and tries to catch and eat an Oliver. But Olivers are pretty sneaky and – as it turns out – exceedingly hard to catch.

The cat and mouse game, as it were, continues for some time. And the Oliver, though seemingly quite innocent, is all too eager to tease Troll and literally sing about his failures right to his face.

When Troll finally gives up, the Oliver immediately notices his absence. And just when life returns to “normal” (cue the clickbait headline writers)…you’ll never guess what happens next!

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McToad Mows Tiny Island


  • McToad Mows Tiny Island
  • written by Tom Angleberger
  • illustrated by John Hendrix
  • published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Tom Angleberger is kind of big deal in this house. As the author of the Origami Yoda series, his books (well, the audiobook versions of them) are on an endless loop in my daughter’s bedroom.

It was therefore with great excitement that I caught up with him at this year’s Book Expo America and grabbed a copy of his new picture book, McToad Mows Tiny Island.

It’s a picture book, so it’s certainly shorter than something like Origami Yoda, but it still delivers the goods…big time. The story is simply dripping with Angleberger’s humor, and the illustrations by John Hendrix are a perfect match for the story.

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Disney In Concert

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Another stellar performance at Wolf Trap. Did I show my hand too early? Come on now, we’re huge fans of Wolf Trap, Disney, and films projected with live orchestral accompaniment. So what’s not to love here?

After last summer’s Pixar In Concert, we knew what to expect from Disney In Concert, and it didn’t disappoint. And the sold-out crowd filling every seat and covering every square inch of grass seemed to agree.

In short, there was a full orchestra on stage, playing music timed to video clips projected on a big screen over the stage and outside the amphitheater for everyone sitting on the lawn. For this show, we were also treated to four vocalists who sang several of the most popular Disney songs.

Please, Wolf Trap, do more of these. (psst….Star Wars, just sayin’)

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Questions From a Kid: Giant Panda Keeper


(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with Jennifer Becerra, panda keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

After chatting with two other animal keepers, Zoey knew she wanted to talk to someone with a connection to pandas. A recent trip to San Diego yielded results.

The San Diego Zoo is rightfully one of the most famous and popular zoos in the country, but the animal collection is actually spread over two different complexes. The zoo itself is in downtown San Diego, and the Safari Park occupies 1,800 acres north of the city near Escondido.

Only four zoos in the United States have giant pandas, and their number totals only 12 (not counting the twins recently born at the National Zoo). It was therefore a real pleasure for Zoey to chat with one of the keepers responsible for the care of three of those pandas.

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Addison’s Tales: Tom Thorneval, Dream Merchant Extraordinaire


With the release of the first paperback from the Addison’s Tales musical storyworld this month, we took a moment to catch up with the man behind the man behind the storyworld. Jerome Goerke has been working to bring the tales and songs of C. E. Addison to the public as audio books, ebooks, apps, and now paperbacks as well. The writer himself proved tricky to track down. We asked why.

Who is C. E. Addison and why doesn’t he answer his emails?

Yes, sorry about that. I have to apologise on his behalf. I am not completely sure he actually knows how to use the email we set up for him. I use the post to reach him and always receive a handwritten reply. I can tell you this though: He began writing after spending most of his life working as a gardener at Calladin’s Old Town History Museum. As for who he is, I can say he’s a very reclusive but well-humoured elderly gentleman who writes musical tales of high fantasy. He says he purchases the characters from a character merchant called Mack, and wrote about their first meeting in The Dream. Sometimes those characters sing, so he includes a few music sheets with his manuscripts. He generally keeps himself to himself, but occasionally reveals his thoughts at his Goodreads blog. More than that I don’t really know. He’s not exactly forthcoming with info, being quite shy, and he’s flat-out refused going on a book tour. Which leaves me doing most of the leg work. It’s not as if I haven’t got enough to do …

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Super Tooth


  • Super Tooth
  • Designer: Neil J. Opitz
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Plays 2–4
  • Ages 6+
  • Playing Time: 10–15 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2015
  • Elevator Pitch: Race to collect matching dinosaur cards to earn tooth tokens, all the while avoiding natural disasters that mess with your hand.
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There’s no point in denying it: we’re unashamed Gamewright fanatics in this house. Especially their card games. So easy to teach and learn. So much fun to play. Perfect for almost all ages. I don’t think we’ve found a bad one.

Super Tooth is the latest in their “small box” line of card games. Gameplay is relatively simple (my 3-year-old son can absolutely hold his own), and the dino theme obviously appeals to the target audience (and me…gotta be honest).

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Terra Kids Flying Dinosaur Assembly Kit

IMG_6260It was literally a rainy day when we decided to take on this bad boy. The box had been sitting on a shelf, taunting and enticing us for far too long. It was finally time to bust out the modeling skills and put her together.

The Terra Kids flying dinosaur model kit comes from the good people at Haba, so you should know right there that it’ll be high-quality. Haba is perhaps most well known (at least in this house) as the company that makes fantastic kids games in those bright yellow boxes.

Turns out they also have a ridiculously extensive line of “classic” baby, toddler, and kid toys. I picked up the Haba catalog at Toy Fair back in February, and this model leaped off the page at me. My kids are dino-obsessed, and I knew we had to have it.

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…and Nick


  • …and Nick
  • written by Emily Gore
  • illustrated by Leonid Gore
  • published by Atheneum Books / Simon & Schuster (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Once in a while, a book comes along that touches you before the very first word. Sometimes, the cover design enchants you. Sometimes, a title is magically worded in such a way as to draw you in. Other times, it’s something unexpected.

…and Nick, from father-and-daughter duo Emily and Leonid Gore, touched my heart from the most unexpected of places.

The copyright page.

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Questions From a Kid: Norton Juster


(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with legendary author Norton Juster.

Juster is most well known for his first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary! The Phantom Tollbooth is perhaps the ultimate book of puns, wordplay, and double meanings. First published in 1961 (with illustrations by Jules Feiffer), it is the story of Milo’s adventures through the Kingdom of Wisdom to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason.

Along the way, he is joined by Tock the watchdog and the contrary Humbug, and they all travel through places such as Dictionopolis, the Doldrums, and Digitopolis. They conduct the sunrise, and they traverse the Mountains of Ignorance.

Not a sentence in this wonderful book is wasted, and it takes several readings to fully appreciate the craft and connections that hold The Phantom Tollbooth together.

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My Pen

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  • My Pen
  • written and illustrated by Christopher Myers
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There are a million pens in the world
and each one has a million words inside it.

I’ll admit, stories that tap into the power of imagination hit a soft spot for me. Particularly when the gateway to imagination is creativity and art. It should come as no surprise, then, that My Pen zeroed right in on that soft spot.

The message of this fantastic book is a beautiful one.

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The Princess and the Pony

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  • The Princess and the Pony
  • written and illustrated by Kate Beaton
  • published by Scholastic (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Based on the title and cover, The Princess and the Pony initially got a lukewarm to mixed reception in my house. The 6-year-old girl looked optimistic (though she’s not a “princess girl”), and the 4-year-old boy eyed it with extreme skepticism.

It only took a couple pages, though, to find them both roaring with laughter and repeating the lines after me (between giggles, of course).

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LEGO Prototyping Challenge

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The National Week of Making was a few weeks back in June, and the event coincided with the National Maker Faire here in Washington, DC. The White House even joined in the fun, and President Obama called for a nation of makers. It was a pretty big deal.

In case you missed it, or in case you’d like to celebrate the Maker Movement every day, LEGO is answering that call and continuing the celebration with a national prototyping challenge. The contest is called “Are You a LEGO Maker?” and LEGO is providing “prototyping kits” to 50 makers (age 13 and up) so they can make working version of their own inventions.

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GKIDS Retrospective: Sita Sings the Blues


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…

Sita Sings the Blues (2008): Nina Paley

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Day Out With Thomas…and Percy!

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Last week, we had the joy of attending another Day out with Thomas event at the Strasburg Rail Road outside of Lancaster, PA. (To read about our previous visit, when Percy made his grand debut, click here.)

Not much has changed since last year, so our review of the event and offerings still mostly hold true. The biggest difference is that rides on Thomas and Percy are sold separately now. Thomas trains (22-minute trips) depart every 30 minutes and alternate with 12-minute Percy rides.

In addition to the train rides through beautiful central Pennsylvania farmland, there are still photo ops (with Thomas, Percy, and Sir Topham Hatt), temporary tattoos, Thomas video screenings, storytimes, and more Thomas train tables than should be legally allowed in one place.

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Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise


  • Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise
  • written by Sean Taylor
  • illustrated by Jean Jullien
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise might be my favorite book of a recent spate of bedtime storybooks we’ve read here at Roarbots HQ. The art is adorable, the main character is a total joy, and the story is a genuine pleasure.

Hoot Owl is, as the title would suggest, a master of disguise. Or so he thinks. Everywhere he looks is a tasty treat. Here’s a rabbit, there’s a lamb, over yonder is a pigeon … and is that a pizza??

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