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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Spill Zone

  • Spill Zone
  • written by Scott Westerfeld
  • illustrated by Alex Puvilland
  • published by First Second Books (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Spill Zone does something I don’t think I’ve seen before. It tells a totally dark, creepy, twisted story with a striking color palette saturated with vibrancy. Flipping through the book, you’d be excused for assuming the story is a lot more uplifting than it really is.

The book also pulls you in and compels you to keep turning pages, desperate to find some meaning to the madness that Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland create.

Addison and her little sister, Lexa, live just outside Poughkeepsie, NY, which is now completely off-limits and known as the Spill Zone. Po’Town is no more. A mysterious “event” occurred that basically destroyed the town, turned all of the people into floating zombies, and created a psychedelic version of Stranger Things’ Upside Down.

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Amina’s Voice

  • Amina’s Voice
  • written by Hena Khan
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Amina has always been a shy kid. She does her own thing, is content to stay out of the spotlight, and stays out of trouble.

But now she’s in middle school. And of course, all bets are off. Especially when it seems like absolutely everything around her is undergoing massive change – change she can’t control.

On top of typical middle school struggles, Amina is facing several unexpected challenges that rock her world.

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Playmates Booth at Toy Fair 2017

Another February, another Toy Fair New York. This year was a bit of a whirlwind for me, and I actually had a different focus than in years past. That meant I got to chat with a lot of different companies and learn about a lot of great new products – many of which I’ll focus on over the next few months both here and at GeekDad.

But I still made time to visit some of my favorite booths. And today, I’m here to help with a walkthrough of the Playmates booth. In previous years, Playmates has been all about the Ninja Turtles – almost to the detriment of everything else. Their booth was very green.

But not so this year! In addition to a very healthy TMNT line, Playmates has also added Ben 10 (for the newly rebooted show), Voltron: Legendary Defender, and the upcoming Nickelodeon show Mysticons.

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Sleepover at the National Archives

All Photos: Jeffrey Reed of the National Archives

There’s certainly no shortage of amazing, unique opportunities in Washington, DC. Most visitors to the city hit a lot of the same standard hot spots: the White House, the Capitol Building, a Smithsonian museum or two, the Washington Monument, and so on.

But there’s so much more. And if you have the time – or if you’re a local looking for something truly special – you really should consider spending the night at the National Archives.

What’s that? Didn’t know you could stay at the Archives? Well, normally you can’t. But twice a year, the National Archives Foundation hosts a Sleepover at the National Archives. The next sleepover will be held on October 14, 2017, and you can reserve your spot(s) now. If you’re interested, I highly recommend reserving your spot as early as possible. These events DO sell out.

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Adventure Theatre: Ella Enchanted

  • playing at Adventure Theatre MTC (Glen Echo, MD)
  • dates: now through March 19, 2017
  • directed by Mary Hall Surface
  • book by Karen Zacarias
  • music by Deborah Wicks La Puma
  • Roar Score: 4/5

It’s been a while since we caught a show at Adventure Theatre. When the kids were younger, shows there were one of our reliable standbys. Unclaimed weekend? Odds are, we found our way to Glen Echo Park for a show at either Adventure Theatre or its neighbor, The Puppet Co.

So it was with some excitement that we recently attended the opening of Adventure Theatre’s newest show: Ella Enchanted.

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Blog Tour: Spy on History + Giveaway

Thanks to Hamilton and our constant National Park Service Adventures, my daughter is currently fascinated by American history. Living near Washington, DC, has only stoked that interest. In fact, we recently had the opportunity to sleep over at the National Archives and literally spent the night right next to the Constitution. My daughter couldn’t have been more thrilled.

It’s no surprise, then, that Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is right up our alley at the moment. It’s therefore a thrill to take part in this blog tour in support of the new book by Enigma Alberti (a pseudonym for a group of authors writing the Spy on History series) and illustrated by Tony Cliff (Delilah Dirk).

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