Light It Up With Max Traxxx Tracer Racers

IMG_6285

(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Cars are a big deal in my house. My three-year-old son has more Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and other assorted cars than any other kid I know. My mother never parted ways with all of my toy cars, so he now has all of mine in addition to a growing collection of his own. (It doesn’t hurt that individual Hot Wheels cars make perfectly reasonable impulse buys.)

In short, if it has four wheels, my son will play with it. Therefore, it was with some fascination that we saw Max Traxxx Tracer Racers. Despite the surplus of Xs in the name, these cars and track sets immediately grabbed his attention.

Promising “glow powered racing,” the sets (put out by Skullduggery) include glow-in-the-dark track and cars with small lights on the bottom. In a darkened room, turn on the lights, let the cars race down the track, and you’re rewarded with cool green streaks of light in their wake.

Continue reading

5 Questions with Cece Bell

IMG_6102

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

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with Cece Bell, author and illustrator of (among other things) the graphic novel El Deafo.

ElDeafo_NewberyCece Bell already had several picture and chapter books under her belt before El Deafo hit the shelves. Among them: the Sock Monkey series, Itty Bitty, and Rabbit and Robot. But it was El Deafo that made the biggest splash.

El Deafoin case you’re unaware, is an autobiographical graphic novel that tells the story of how Cece lost her hearing at a very young age (from meningitis), struggled to appear “normal” and fit in throughout elementary school, and ultimately discovered her own superpowered altar ego in the guise of “El Deafo.”

It’s a charming, honest, warm, and funny book that’s a pure delight for all ages. And it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. To name a few, it won the 2015 Newbery Honor, was a Kirkus Prize finalist, and was recently nominated for an Eisner Award.

Continue reading

Razor’s Crazy Cart Brings Mario Kart to Life

Photo Apr 20, 3 16 29 PM

(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Here’s another one to file under “I wish they had these when I was a kid.” Razor, the company perhaps best known for revitalizing the “scooter industry” and making kick scooters cool again, has branched out in some surprising ways.

One of those ways? The Crazy Cart. The second I saw a Crazy Cart, I knew I had to have one. What is it? It’s essentially a drifting go-kart. OK, what does that mean? In a nutshell, it’s a battery-powered go-kart that has the ability to drift sideways, go backwards, and make complete 360s.

Have you ever wished ‘Mario Kart’ were real? Of course you have. We all have. Well, it’s time to set up the Chain Chomps and prepare the turtle shells and banana peels; Razor is bringing real-life ‘Mario Kart’ to your nearest empty parking lot. Boo-yah.

Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading

Bugs in the Kitchen

IMG_6187

  • Bugs in the Kitchen
  • Designer: Peter-Paul Joopen
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Plays 2–4
  • Ages 5+
  • Playing Time: 10–15 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2013
  • Elevator Pitch: Rotate plastic utensils to force the robotic Hexbug into or away from your trap.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I love it when simple games are both surprisingly fun and a big hit with the kids. All too often, simple = boring. Not so with Bugs in the Kitchen. And most of that is thanks to the inclusion of a Hexbug Nano as an integral component of the game.

The concept of the game is very simple. The board is composed of rotating plastic utensils, which form the walls of a maze. The Hexbug is let loose in the middle, and then players take turn rolling a die and rotating one of the utensils in an effort to either lure the Hexbug into (or away from) your corner, collecting tokens as you go. (There are a few different ways to play.)

The first person to collect a certain number of tokens wins.

That’s all there is. The Hexbug moves by itself, and you simply need to stay ahead of it by rotating the right utensils. It’s fast and frenetic, and it’s a total blast with kids.

Continue reading

Giveaway: Bazooka Joe prize pack

bazooka

Believe it or not, Bazooka Joe is 60 years old! Doesn’t look a day over 12 if you ask me. I still remember going to the 7-11 on the corner when I was a kid and buying loose, single sticks of Bazooka Joe gum (off the bottom candy rack) for 5 cents each.

And get off my lawn while you’re at it!

To celebrate the anniversary, the brand is getting a bit of a makeover. Topps (Bazooka’s parent company) has enlisted the aid of four stellar illustrators who will design new looks for Bazooka Joe: Benjamin Balistreri (How to Train Your Dragon), Robert Lilly (Nickelodeon Animation Studios), Ben Reynolds (mobile Games for Ghostbusters and Monster Pet Shop), and Victor Instrasomnbat (Clockwork Animation).

Continue reading

Magic, Myths, and Monsters: Interview with Jim Zub and Steve Cummings of ‘Wayward’

Wayward

(This interview originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

When it comes to comics, it’s not often that I’m immediately taken in and captivated by an ongoing series. It usually takes a few issues for the creative team to find its groove and for me to find something worth latching on to.

Wayward – from writer Jim Zub, artist Steve Cummings, and Image Comics – burst onto the scene last year, and from the very first issue, I was hooked. The story, often described as “Buffy in Japan,” was smart and intriguing. The art was phenomenal. And the series wasted no time in becoming fantastic. From page 1, Zub and Cummings felt completely at home in the world they were creating.

That comfort and confidence was evident on every page – every panel – and Wayward quickly became one of my favorite series.

The story follows half-Irish, half-Japanese teenager Rori Lane as she adjusts to her new life in Tokyo with her mother. Things don’t exactly go according to plan, though. Almost immediately, she’s attacked by mythical monsters no one else can see, discovers she suddenly has a superpower, and falls in with a small band of teenage “misfits” who possess other incredible powers.

This is an original superhero story without the spandex, a coming-of-age story that blends ancient Japanese mythology with modern Tokyo, and a good ol’ fashioned monster tale.

It’s also an epic in the making, and I highly recommend it.

Continue reading

‘Part-Time Princesses': Mean Girls With a Paycheck

0001

(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Part-Time Princesses is a new graphic novel from Monica Gallagher and Oni Press that released digitally (an issue a week) on Comixology before the physical book arrived in stores.

The story follows Tiffany, Amber, Courtney, and Michelle: four high school seniors who work part-time as costumed princesses at Enchanted Park, their town’s local run-down amusement park. It’s very reminiscent of Storybook Land, which was a similar park near where I grew up in New Jersey (and still very much operational).

Continue reading

GKIDS Retrospective: Mia and the Migoo

Migoo_title

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…

Mia and the Migoo (2008): Jacques-Rémy Girerd, director

Continue reading

Interview with ‘Howtoons’ Artist Nick Dragotta

Howtoons_covers

(This interview originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Comics that aspire to be educational are not the easiest things to create. Well, I take that back; I guess they might be easy enough. There certainly are a lot of really bad “educational” comics out there. However, good comics that successfully educate and entertain are ridiculously hard to make.

If you’re skeptical that such a thing exists, I have two things to say to you. First, I don’t blame you. Second, I invite you to look no further than Howtoons (put out by Image Comics). Howtoons is the brainchild of artist Nick Dragotta and engineer/inventor Saul Griffith, and it aims to teach kids the fundamentals of math, science, and engineering through DIY projects that use everyday household materials.

Think Mr. Wizard in graphic novel form.

Step-by-step instructions for each project are in comic story form, and those instructions are sandwiched into a storyline that follows two siblings (Tucker and Celine) who make the projects themselves and go on adventures. Two collections (Howtoons: Tools of Mass Construction and Howtoons: [Re]Ignition are now available. Both are fantastic.

I had the chance to chat with artist Nick Dragotta—who is perhaps best known for his work on Image Comics’ East of West with Jonathan Hickman—about his work on Howtoons, getting kids interested in STEAM subjects, and how to make the world a better place.

Continue reading

Interview With Caldecott Honorees Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

ThisOneSummer-awards(This interview originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Every year, the American Library Association breaks out the medals and awards children’s and young adult books with some of the most prestigious awards they have to offer. The big two—and those with which most people are familiar—are the Newbery Medal (for outstanding contribution to children’s literature) and the Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished American picture book for children).

Graphic novels have always had a somewhat … uncomfortable relationship with these awards. Some claim that they shouldn’t be considered alongside more “traditional” children’s books, and some argue that there should be an entirely separate award for graphic novels.

This year, for the first time ever, graphic novels were recognized in a huge way. This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki, was awarded with both a Caldecott Honor and a Printz Honor (for excellence in literature written for young adults). This was the first graphic novel to ever be recognized with a Caldecott and only the second to snag a Printz.

Continue reading

Interview with Newbery Honoree Cece Bell

ElDeafo_Newbery

(This interview originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Every year, the American Library Association breaks out the medals and awards children’s and young adult books with some of the most prestigious awards they have to offer. The big two—and those with which most people are familiar—are the Newbery Medal (for outstanding contribution to children’s literature) and the Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished American picture book for children).

Graphic novels have always had a somewhat … uncomfortable relationship with these awards. Some claim that they shouldn’t be considered alongside more “traditional” children’s books, and some argue that there should be an entirely separate award for graphic novels.

This year, for the first time ever, graphic novels were recognized in a huge way. Cece Bell’s El Deafo received a Newbery Honor, and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki became the first graphic novel to be awarded a Caldecott Honor. (Click here for my interview with Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.)

Cece Bell’s graphic memoir appeared on many Best of 2014 lists for its charming, honest, and funny portrayal of her experiences and struggles after she loses her hearing (due to meningitis) at a young age.

I had the opportunity to chat with Cece Bell soon after she won the Newbery about the award, setting a precedent, and the lessons she’s learned.

Continue reading

GKIDS Retrospective: Nocturna

Nocturna

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…

Nocturna (2007): Victor Maldonado & Adrià Garcia, directors

Continue reading

Blog Tour: Last of the Sandwalkers

Sandwalkers BlogTourBanner

Today, we’ve got a bit of a treat. Jay Hosler is a biology professor and cartoonist, and lucky for us, he’s combined those two things with spectacular results!

His newest graphic novel, Last of the Sandwalkers, was just released from First Second, and it is phenomenal. It takes you on a journey inside an intricate society of beetles, and believe me when I tell you: it’s well worth the journey.

I’ll be doing a full review of the book in the coming days, but today I’m more than happy to turn it over to Jay! The Roarbots is the penultimate stop on his blog tour, which has been amazing in that each stop has featured a different beetle.

Therefore, without further ado, take it away Jay….

Continue reading

Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

IMG_5179

An airboat ride through a swamp or marshland is one of those quintessential Florida experiences. Most people equate this experience with the Everglades in southern Florida, but would you believe me if I said you could set out on an airboat and be almost guaranteed to see wildlife (including gators) in central Florida, almost absurdly close to all of the tourist spots?

You can.

We recently visited Boggy Creek Airboat Rides and, despite the disclaimer you see above, we did indeed see some Florida gators. Alligators, in fact, are so common in Florida that many residents of the Sunshine State have become immune to them. They’re almost like squirrels. (Well, not quite…but almost.) For those of us who don’t live in Florida, though, it’s still an exciting sight.

Continue reading

GKIDS Retrospective: Azur & Asmar

titleThis is the first in a series of reviews that will chronicle all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films. GKIDS distributes some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world, and I’ll be taking a look at how these films hold up for a young American audience.

We’ll be going chronologically in order of release, so first up is…

Azur & Asmar (2006): Michel Ocelot, director

Continue reading

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey presents Legends

IMG_5193

(Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Presents Legends is currently playing the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area through April 19. Check dates and buy tickets here.)

Ah, the circus. Just the word conjures up so many different images, thoughts, and emotions. For some, going to the circus was an indelible part of childhood. For others, it’s been something to share with their own children.

For many, the circus–and particularly Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey–has become a lightning rod for controversy. Claims of animal neglect and abuse seem to dog the circus at every turn. Protesters are a common sight outside host arenas. And online activism is a more-or-less constant force against the circus.

And it’s taken a toll. Indeed, Feld Entertainment (the company that owns Ringling Bros) recently announced that it would eliminate elephants and elephant acts from all of its shows. After 145 years, they will be pulled from all Feld-owned circuses by 2018.

Some are declaring this a success, whereas others claim it’s merely a first step in the right direction.

On the flip side, there are those who side with Ringling and maintain that elephants are a defining characteristic of the traveling circus. The claim is that if you remove them, then there’s not much left.

It’s so easy to side with one of the extremes on this issue and add your voice to the chorus. Indeed, the voices at both extremes seem to be the loudest. However, I’m honestly somewhere in the middle.

Continue reading

Studio Ghibli Plush Toys from Gund

gund1

If you’re a fan of Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli films in general – or just My Neighbor Totoro specifically – then anything I say from here on out will make little difference.

If you weren’t aware, Gund (the toy company famous for creating extremely huggable stuffed animals) has had a Totoro line for some time now. They have several versions of Totoro available in a few different sizes, from little potato-sized Totoros (both gray and blue) all the way up to a 13-inch behemoth. OK, “behemoth” might be stretching it a little, but it is a very good size … and it’s beyond adorable.

Just take a look:

Continue reading

Broadway on Tour: Annie

Annie

I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point in the past few months my daughter became obsessed with Annie. The musical. She can sing “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” with the best of ’em, and she’s only 6. We’re thinking about dyeing her hair red and bringing her to auditions.

Her Annie obsession came just after the Broadway revival ended its run (in January 2014), but we were thrilled to learn that the show is now on a national tour! It’s currently playing at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music before moving across the country through the summer. (Check cities and dates here.)

It was therefore with much excitement that we recently had a daddy-daughter evening at the opening night performance of Annie in Philadelphia.

And what a night it was. Annie did not disappoint. The audience was a mix of families with young kids and older couples, and everyone seemed equally enchanted by the production, the songs, and the young actors on stage.

Continue reading

5 Questions with a SeaWorld Dolphin Trainer

IMG_3410

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

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Jeannie Carder, a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld Orlando.

Let’s not beat around the bush. SeaWorld (and places like it) arouse a lot of passion in people…to both extremes.

Personally, I’m conflicted about how I feel. I recognize the criticism against keeping animals in captivity, particularly the dolphins and killer whales, but SeaWorld also does a lot of great work. They champion a host of conservation issues and do an incredible amount of education well beyond the confines of their parks.

Continue reading

Playmates Booth at Toy Fair 2015

Photo Feb 14, 11 11 55 AM

Here’s the second in my Toy Fair 2015 booth overviews. Check out the overview of the Bandai booth here (hint: there are lots of Power Rangers). Also check out my Toy Fair coverage over on GeekDad: my Top 10 Highlights of Toy Fair and my take on a couple of this year’s Toy of the Year Award Winners.

Today, let’s take a look around the Playmates booth, which had more Ninja Turtles than I’ve ever seen assembled in one place. Seriously, I didn’t count, but there must’ve been close to a googolplex of turtles.

Apparently, Playmates has gone all in with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they produce almost nothing else at this point. There was a small section of the booth devoted to a preschool doll line, but absolutely everything else was TMNT.

Continue reading