My local orchestra, The Albany Symphony, has a concert series aimed at families with young children. This season they are total geeks. Harry Sonata and The Baton of Power, Star Warriors: The Opera, and The Superhero Show. Here’s a write up for the first one:
“Young Harry Sonata doesn’t want to be an ordinary wizard; he wants to become a musical wizard. But to do that, he’ll have to do battle with the evil Lord Moldywart and learn to wield the “Baton of Power.” He’ll need your help learning all about the art of conducting so he can vanquish the forces of evil and make the orchestra SING! Great music by: Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Strauss, Beethoven, and others.”
I know, I know; everything is online. It’s the death-knell of the magazine publishing industry. But not in my house. I love tucking a rolled-up magazine in my purse or flipping through one on the couch at the end of the day. I only have two online “subscriptions” delivered to my inbox: The Optimist and The Daily Tea. My email is overwhelming as it is; I don’t want anything else.
GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.
Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.
GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?
Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.
It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.
GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?
Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.
Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie! Continue reading Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview
Well, here are three to check out with dinosaurs! pirates! robots!
First up is Carter Goodrich’s We Forgot Brock! It’s a tale about all kinds of friendship. Brock is the coolest pirate/rocker/hero young Philip could imagine. But when Brock is forgotten at the fair, another child invites him home. Will Brock ever find Phillip again…does he want to? The artwork is key to the book’s charm. The “real” world is colorful, round, and soft. The “imaginary” friends are black and white and flat, but with expression and sincerity. Although I was at first disappointed in the gender-stereotypical depictions of what boys and girls would imagine, it was hard to keep a chip on my shoulder as I read the story aloud to my nieces. We really, really enjoyed it. (And they thought Princess Sparkle Dust was as cool as Brock.) Highly recommend for all ages.
Next is Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park. If you have ever visited the NYC’s Museum of Natural History, and then walked in Central Park, it’s easy to see where Pett got his inspiration. Those dinosaur bones are so huge! And where would these giants fit in our world? That’s the problem Leonard, a young boy in the city, has when he hatches a lizard egg that may not be just your average lizard. As the mother to a young girl who was obsessed with dinosaurs, this is a sweet book I recommend for all ages.
Finally, Little Robot is Ben Hatke’s new book. This is perfect for youngsters looking for the next level up in storytelling from picture books. Without the need for many words (there is some dialogue) Hatke puts the emotion and layering of story in his artwork. The protagonist is a curly-haired, barefoot girl who finds an abandoned tool set, and box-o-robot in the local junkyard. She activates the robot and they quickly become friends. Yet, they are so very different! Can they stay friends? What is the meaning of true friendship when robot is in danger?
I have an upcoming interview with Ben Hatke about Little Robot, so stayed tuned for that. In the meantime, I recommend this book for ages 6 and up.
One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.
My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games, “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!
First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.
You can watch a video of game play:
“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy? Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”
I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribes, a board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.
The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.
We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)
And here’s a video of game play:
My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…
Not spending money at a Con is very hard to do—so many cool things! But I do take business cards and look through them at home to shop online later. Here are some talented artists I saw at ConnectiCon this year:
Moss Fête: This hat shop features exceptional felt creations. Just beautiful.
Matt Becker has a variety of art, but I was intrigued by The Disciplines. All are women of various body types, ethnicities, and ages depicting the sciences. Very cool. This is “Biology.”
SkimLines: My son and I were very impressed with this young woman’s pottery. He loved her tea mugs, I loved her yarn bowls.
Mink Works: My son loved her fox print, and I loved her soup print (adorable anthropomorphic food…if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). But these martini-glass-monsters made me squeak with delight.
Next time you’re at a Con, be sure to check out these and other talented artists in our geeky world!
What defines the worst cosplayer? Perhaps not remembering much about the character. Not even their real name. That was me!
This is She-Ra, Princess of Power. In case you aren’t familiar with her, you might know her brother He-Man. When I was little, I watched He-Man on a regular basis, and then She-Ra too. I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma with my sister. First we got a snack of two cookies (never enough!) and a cup of milk (eww, but I had to drink it.) Then we would sit in front of the TV and watch those two cartoons.
Skeletor was seriously bad when I was six. The speedos didn’t faze me. I wondered why that scene of He-Man throwing a rock was in every show. I loved, loved, loved She-Ra’s pegasus. And she was so cool.
Flash-forward to now, decades later. My sister decided she wanted to be She-Ra for Halloween last Fall. Our mother made a fantastic costume. Getting ready for ConnectiCon this year, I remembered the costume and decided I could cosplay! I haven’t cosplayed in several years, and with no work involved getting it ready, I figured I was all set.
Forgot about the research part. Research? Yeah. I watched the cartoon thirty years ago, so my memories are really, really vague. It didn’t occur to me that I should review some stuff before going to a geeky convention where people might actually be FANS of my character. Oops.
It started the morning I was getting my costume on at a house crowded with people all going to the Con.
ME: (getting the headpiece on over the wig)
CON-GOER 1: You look adorable!
CON-GOER 2: That’s fitting since her name is Adora.
ME: No. I’m She-Ra.
CON-GOER 2: Right… and her real name is Adora.
ME: It is?
CON-GOER 1: (laughs)
CON-GOER 2: (sighs)
ME: Didn’t He-Man have another name too?
CON-GOER 2: Yes.
CON-GOER 2: Adam.
I filed that information away in case someone called me Adora instead of She-Ra. I was all set! Except I wasn’t. The first person to recognize me unfortunately knew way more about the show.
REAL FAN: She-Ra! Yes! Great costume!
REAL FAN: Watch out for (insert random strange name here.)
ME:…um…yeah! Yeah, I will!
(Walking away with my son)
ME: Was it obvious I had no idea who she was talking about.
MY SON: Yes.
I ran into the fellow con-goer from the morning and pumped her for more info. I couldn’t remember most of what she told me (should have written it down) but I did remember the power sword words: “For the honor of Grayskull… I am She-Ra!” Good for me. By the end of the day, I didn’t run into anyone who quizzed me, but I did get some thumbs up from fans, and one photo taken. Yay!
Next time I cosplay I promise to know a little more about my character before parading around. I really am a fan of She-Ra, just a very old one.
I have been attending ConnectiCon for over ten years now. When I first went, I enjoyed it, but felt that it was geared for people in their teens and twenties (I was cusping thirty then.) I had young geeky children, but I didn’t feel that this convention was for them. Besides, I liked my weekend away.
However, my kids would hear all about my adventures at this mystical world of geek fandom, and couldn’t wait to attend. I started taking my older nephew. When my daughter turned thirteen, I took her with me. Then my son was allowed to join in the nerdery and fun. And that’s when I started noticing families with young kids attending the Con. The con noticed this too and added some programming for kids. This year, there was a whole track just for the younger set. I love that.
Here are some pics of geeky families enjoying themselves and passing down the fun of fandom:
Practicing meditation has become part of my daily routine. Even if I don’t want to, think I don’t have time, or sit there and wonder when I can get on with my day, I do it. Why? Because it works. For what? Oh, so many things.
I like to figure things out myself, do research, and come to logical conclusions. In this way, I started keeping a food diary to understand what was triggering my heartburn. Although I had had mild heartburn before, now it was waking me up with pain at night, randomly during the day, and getting worse. My daughter, an herbalist, created a soothing tonic for me that worked well, plus I had some other natural remedies on hand. But what was causing it in the first place? My husband and I read up on GERD, and I checked out some books from the library. Diet seemed to be an obvious culprit. So the food diary. I wrote down everything I ate for two months, including time of day, plus information about my cycle, how I was feeling, and general events of that day. Conclusion: It wasn’t food.
The solution wasn’t going to be as straightforward as cutting out chocolate (though I was happy it wasn’t that!), because all signs pointed to stress. Staying home reading and drinking tea for the rest of my days might sound nice, but not practical. My husband pointed out the obvious: “Now you need to figure out how to handle stress better.” Doing my next round of research, regular meditation kept popping up. What did science say? Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis says, “Despite the limitations of the literature, the evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation programs could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations.” Could I be the right clinical population? Only one way to find out!
As a teen, I had bought some incense and tried out mediation for a few weeks. It was easy to slow my breathing and completely chill out (oh, the ease of the young… and empty-headed). But one night, I kept holding my breath longer and longer until I scared myself from meditating (plus my mom complained about the incense). As an adult, I took up yoga and always enjoyed the short relaxation part at the end lying down. Since I do yoga in the mornings, my thoughts during this resting time were usually planning out my breakfast menu (I love breakfast). I needed some help with this mediation thing.
At the start of the year, I joined up for the Albany Peace Project, which combined daily guided meditations with a science study. My daughter, on break from college, decided to join me each evening as we listened to that day’s guided meditation. Since our house is small, the best place for us to sit together was on the couch. It’s a small couch, so if one of us moved, the other did too. The couch is also right near the kitchen where my husband would be doing dishes or getting a snack, or make a snarky comment about a part of the meditation he was forced to listen to. My son might wander in and out, or ask me something really important like, “Mom, where’s my book?” “Wherever you left it.” “No, really, do you know?” “Did you spend five minutes looking before you asked me, while I’m trying to meditate?” “Um…” And the daily meditations were by different speakers and some of them made us giggle… a lot.
We tried our best, though I didn’t notice any change in my heartburn. Once my daughter went back to college, I attempted to meditate on my own in my quiet bedroom with some online guides. My son recommended some he used. I kept falling asleep. I gave up. A few weeks later, my book club picked A Tale for the Time Being. One of the main characters learns how to meditate (sitting zazen to gain her “supapowah!”) from her great-grandmother Old Jiko, (love, love, love her). And this inspired me to try meditation again. Besides, my heartburn was making me cry. The character in the book meditated in the morning, so I decided that might be my whole issue—wrong time of day! Of course! Now, I’d be able to meditate like a zen master.
I spent much of the spring sucking at meditation. By “sucking,” let me give you an example: I get out my timer, set it for 10 minutes, sit down, close my eyes and fidget while trying to count, forget which number I’m up to because I need to fidget some more, take a few deep breaths to calm down annoyance, start from “one” again, get to “two,” and then remember that I just bought a fancy cheese that would probably be good on toast, open eyes quickly and start to rise, remember I’m meditating and can wait 10 minutes before the cheese, sit back down, close my eyes, start from “one,” realize I never called back X, open eyes and look around for a pen and paper to write that out so I don’t forget, realize I should finish the meditation—just freakin’ finish—take a deep breath, close eyes again, start at “two” just to encourage myself, get to “three”… get to BEEP! Timer goes off! Yay!
But I kept trying. Everyday. A couple of months went by. Regardless of how badly I meditated, I couldn’t help noticing that my heartburn was improving. Days in a row would go by without any pain. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had just completed a yoga class where the teacher had us visualize different colors for different points up and down our spine. I liked that. When I meditated that day, I decided to visualize a color of the rainbow for each exhale instead of counting. Amazingly, I was able to keep most random thoughts at bay. I did that for a week, and then I remembered I was a musician. I focused on one note in the do-re-mi scale for each exhale. To be specific, I listened to the Mystics from The Dark Crystal singing each note in my mind. Not only did it help me focus and slow my breathing, but even after I finished the Mystics were still singing—and my breathing was calm for awhile afterwards.
My heartburn continued to go away. Other issues were also improving (migraines!). I have sleeping problems, and one night was particularly bad. I thought, “I will never sleep well again and slowly go crazy until I die!” (Things always look bleak at 3:00 a.m.) Then, I remembered meditation. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to fall asleep while meditating, so I had that going for me. I sat up and the Mystics sang while I inhaled and exhaled. At some point, I realized I was (ironically) nodding off. I looked at the clock and had been meditating for over an hour—a new record! I smiled, lay down, and drifted back to sleep.
Six months since that first January distracted meditation, my heartburn is barely a thing for me. My migraines are minimal, and other issues have steadily improved. My meditation experiment will be a long-term study. My daughter encouraged me to keep it up. (“It can’t hurt.”) With the warmer weather, meditating outdoors has been a change of pace. I am still not anywhere near a master. I think about upping the time to even 12 minutes, but I’m not ready yet. I still can’t go the full 10 minutes without being distracted—even with my Mystic singers. But it’s in the journey, right?
“…we will bridge the connection between everyday learning and the latest scientific discoveries, as reported in our award-winning Science News magazine, and inspire more young people to pursue careers in science.”
I am a huge proponent of science literacy, and a big fan of Science News magazine. As a family, we regularly discuss the amazing discoveries in each issue. As a teacher, I have used the magazine to foster students’ curiosity about their world. The Society for Science and the Public conducted a survey and found out that 95% of teachers polled wanted Science News in their classrooms. Of course they do!
A Kickstarter campaign has begun to bring the fantastic magazine and Teacher’s Guide to classrooms around the country. The Teacher’s Guide will help high school classrooms best utilize the information in the magazine. Jump in to promote science for all.
Science experiments are fun when you can play with them, but they are more fun when you can eat them! Or, in this case, drink.
Litmus paper is used to show the pH scale in chemistry. Litmus is what chemists call an acid-base indicator. Although it’s great for science, do you have it handy in your home? Well, I don’t, and any extra step means I never get around to doing the science. For the busy (lazy) parents like me, we need a different acid-base indicator. And I love tea.
In a previous post, my daughter made me violet flower tea, which is blue but turned pink when lemon juice was added. She also gave a good explanation on how this happened. If you have some violets, it’s a simple recipe to try (and pretty! and tasty!).
How about regular tea? Tea (Camillia Sinensis) contains tannins, which can act as acid-base indicators with color: Acidic lemon juice and tea turn light yellow, alkaline baking soda and tea turn reddish-brown.
Kashimiri Tea, Pink Tea, or Noon Tea are all the same names for a distinct tea recipe from Kashmir, a region near the Himalayas in South Asia. (A quick geography lesson would be appropriate here too.) The tea turns pink! And you can drink it! Yummy science!
5 cups water
1 tablespoon semi-fermented tea, such as oolong (some recipes use green tea, so use it if that’s what you have)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (traditional, but sugar can be substituted)
cream, half and half, or whole milk (Yak milk is often used, if you have it…)
cardamom seeds and star anise (optional)
1. In a sauce pan, combine a quart of water with the tea and baking soda. Let it come to a boil and then lower to medium heat for a half hour.
2. Turn off heat.
3. Add cold water.
4. Mix the tea by lifting a ladle filled with tea up about 8 inches and letting it pour back in the pan. A parent or older child should do this since it will splash. Repeat 10-20 times. This is the fun and messy part!
5. Add some cardamom and star anise.
6. Add salt (or sugar).
7. Let sit for a few minutes.
8. Strain the tea.
9. Pour in cream until the color is pink.
10. Drink up!
As you can see in my picture above, I didn’t get a super pink color, but since I really liked the flavor, I’ll be trying it again. Here is an explanation of tannins and color changes. Remember, if you have acidic water, it won’t work! What other acid-base indicators are in our kitchens? And did you like the tea?
This review for the live show of the podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale” comes too late for you to see a show, which is too bad because it was a fantastic stage performance. I wasn’t sure if the voice actors’ talents would extend to live theater, but my son and I enjoyed ourselves the entire time.
Cosplaying is an important part of any fandom, and there were plenty in the audience. I think the best part of cosplaying Night Vale is that it’s an audio-only story, so everyone imagines the characters differently. My son recognized a group in costume that ran a Night Vale panel at Genericon. I liked the Ominous Glow Cloud a few seats in front of us.
The weather was performed by Mary Epworth. We liked the lyrical dance music, but the volume was too loud. Actually, the music during the main performance (by the brilliant Disparition) was often louder than the speaker.
Cecil Baldwin, the narrator of the show, carried us along through a murder mystery in the town of Night Vale. I am very impressed. He was onstage the entire time and kept the energy going. He was joined by many guests, each greeted with enthusiasm by the fans. They looked like they were having as much fun as the audience. The actors were polished in their performances, and the humor was constant: “Just listen to my smile!” The audience even had a participation element to the storyline.
I would love to tell you more about the plot, and the guests that appeared, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Yes, the tour is over, but the DVD will be out soon and then all the fans who couldn’t get to the theater can see for themselves who graced the stage and kept us delighted the entire evening.
Imagine a place where librarians must be confined in their libraries because they are so dangerous. A place where the weather report is a song. A place where the company cat is suspended in air in the men’s bathroom (but with water and food and is doing just fine). This is Night Vale, a desert town somewhere in the American Southwest that’s creepy, odd, and somehow really funny.
Welcome to NightVale is a podcast presented as a radio show. Kind of like A Prairie Home Companion… as an episode of The X-Files. My son and I are fans of the series. He even went as Carlos (the scientist with beautiful hair) for Halloween this year. We soared through a bunch of episodes last Spring when we were down with the flu. Let me tell you, Night Vale is already surreal, but with a fever? Wow.
Welcome to NightVale is currently on tour with never-before-heard tales of the famed town. The live stage version is coming to a theater near us, and we are so very excited to go! Listen to a few episodes, or binge on the whole thing, then score some tickets to the stage show. But you have to be quick: Their tour ends next week!
Dragons Beware! is the latest graphic novel of Claudette, a fearless girl who adventures with her younger chef brother, and princess best friend. What? You haven’t read Giants Beware! yet? Go! Go! Go!
I asked the creators of both books, Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre a few questions about the series and the latest adventure, and they were happy to oblige:
GEEKMOM:Claudette is a “leap before you look” type of character. Was there a particular person (or people) in your real lives that inspired her?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We both have lots of leap-before-they-look kind of people in our lives, but there wasn’t a single person who inspired Claudette. Her personality is somewhat inspired by the character Mafalda, an Argentinian comic-strip that both Jorge and I read as kids.
GM:I really enjoy the relationships between Claudette and brother, and best friend. Having a strong female lead in any story is breaking stereotypes, but to have good relationships with her brother (instead of being jealous or competitive with siblings) and enjoy her unashamed girly-girl best friend (instead of putting down “girly” things)—well, that’s just fantastic! Was it purposeful to create the series to be so different?
JORGE/RAFAEL: Thanks! We both like to put new twists on familiar archetypes. But we’re also trying to create interesting characters who we care about that. That means fleshing them out three-dimensionally and when you do that, you can avoid stereotypes. As for Claudette and Gaston: we love that their relationship is both that of siblings and friends–maybe it’s a Latino thing; we’re usually pretty close with our siblings.
GM:What were your favorite stories growing up?
RAFAEL: I loved superhero comics, Batman and Fantastic Four were my favorites. Anything by Kirby, especially in the 70s (Kamandi, New Gods, Mister Miracle).
JORGE: I loved Greek myths, superhero comic books, fantasy books, that sort of thing.
GM: Claudette’s father is a tough and capable guy who is also in a wheel chair. Have you gotten any feedback from wheelchair-bound kids and/or adults who have read the series?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We have not heard from any wheel-bound folks, however we both loved the idea of a warrior not impeded by the fact that his mobility is partially restricted. It makes him even more of a tough guy. And by the way, May is National Mobility Awareness Month.
GM:The dress up scene with Claudette in all the different outfits had my family and I cracking up–hilarious! Did you make yourselves laugh with the sketches? Were there outfits that didn’t make the final cut?
JORGE: I love the scene too. And it’s a pretty good example of how we work to entertain each other. The script only specified that Marie wanted to play-dress up and Claudette was not happy about that. And Rafael drew the really funny page of costumes.
RAFAEL: We always try to crack each other up first! If that works, we run it past our kids, and if that works, then we know we’re on the right track. As I go through the script I’m always trying to find ways to make it visually funny, to complement the funny dialogue that Jorge’s come up with.
GM:In this second book, each of the kids are moving forward in their own plot-lines: Claudette trying to get her father to officially train her, Marie and her suitors. But my favorite was Gaston and learning magic spells are like cooking. Was this planned from the first book? Do you already see where each of their personal stories are going next, or is that book to book?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We’re mostly figuring out the specific steps of each character’s journey as we go along. However, we have a pretty good idea where these characters end up. It’s the getting there that always takes time to figure out. How far do you let each character grow in each book—that’s a toughie. We had talked about Gaston using magic spells since that does feel related cooking. And Rafael drew the spellbook with the ingredients in the back of the book and that just felt right for Gaston.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Dragons Beware! is recommended for ages 5+.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.
I was the kid that had to stay in at recess in second grade. Was I bad? No, I needed extra help in subtraction. Sister Brendan, a very nice old lady (who gave me snacks too) sat patiently with me each day to get my wee brain to learn the tools of taking away in an equation. I was a smart kid, and I could memorize how to do it, but I didn’t understand why and that made me second guess myself and screw up on tests. Eventually I got the concept, but I also learned another lesson: Math isn’t fun.
But it can be! My teen son loves to play board and card games with his young cousin. They both homeschool, so I suggested he come up with a math curriculum for her that incorporated games we already owned to teach the concepts she was supposed to learn in second grade (according to Common Core for a reference). Her parents thought that was great, and when she took a simple test at the end of the year, she aced it. No boring textbooks and worksheets!
Unlike most math curricula that teach one concept at a time, games utilize several skills at once in a fun atmosphere that keeps the challenges from getting overwhelming. Basically, instead of learning to do math on its own, the student is using math to play the game.
Granny Apples is a good example of multiple math skills at once. It is a simple game of tossing wooden apples on the ground and counting the different types to find a total score. However, it involves fractions, addition, subtraction, sets, and is all mental math in a visual setting. There is no writing involved, which is perfect for learning concepts without tripping over the writing/reading challenges. It is a fast game with tactile satisfaction with smooth wooden objects.
Bakugan is perfect for those writing/reading challenges, and so fun that kids will not care. Each sphere is tossed into a ring and pops open to reveal a monster. Each monster has a number printed on it for its “battle score.” But these scores are up to triple digits. The student must keep track of all the digits, keep their columns neat, and continually add and subtract to figure out if they win the battles.
Polyhedron Origami is not a game, but the best way to teach geometry of three dimensional shapes—by building them with paper. It is not difficult, but requires attention to detail, with a satisfying ending of something beautiful with math. Using this method, even the youngest students can make truncated octohedrons, and know what that means!
Could there be a more entertaining way to learn graphing skills than Battleship?
The top half of the Yahtzee sheet is a fun introduction to multiplication. Rolling dice, counting, and writing. Over time, students will count the dice faster and faster based on the visual sets of dots on each die. This is learning sets and geometric reasoning for multiplication skills. Sounds complicated, but in this game, it’s just fun.
Games like CathedralChess, Tangoes, Mancala, and Connect 4 are ways to teach spatial reasoning, patterns, shapes, strategy, structure, reasoning, and mental acuity. They range in complexity, but are able to be played by children as young as five in simple formats.
Not that I’m a Disney fan, but my teen son showed me these, and they are a great way to procrastinate for geek moms and dads! (WARNING: The language is NOT for young kids…)
Disney Princess rap battles! There are a few of these, but this one features Sarah Michelle Gellar & Whitney Avalon as Cinderella and Belle. “Cindy’s dreaming she’s important; well, someone should wake her. This gold-diggin’ trophy wife is the royal baby-maker. Fear the nerdy, wordy princess…”
Honest Trailers take clips (or full trailers) of your favorite movies and do voice overs that are…well, a little too honest. “Meet Ariel: a half-naked fifteen year old, who’s a confirmed hoarder.”
Remember back in the early days of YouTube when there were lots of youngins putting out their videos each week? Where are they now? Most faded away either because they ran out of ideas, got tired of it, went to college, got a job, etc., etc. But NigaHiga (Ryan Higa) has been making consistently funny videos since 2006. Here’s one with a Disney theme. The Lion King one made me snort (even though I did see it coming…).
I hope I helped you take away valuable work time to laugh today.
While sitting inside the loveliest tea house I had ever been in, I read their tea guide which explained that the difference between green and black tea was fermentation.
“What? No!” I exclaimed loudly to my friends, who were trying to enjoy their beverages. “Regular black tea is oxidized, not fermented! How can a tea house get it wrong!” My friends shushed me and didn’t think it was a big deal. But I wrote a long explanation on a comment card when we left.
In another tea house bathroom, they had a wall display that also stated this fallacy. I took my pen and boldly crossed out “fermentation” and wrote “oxidation” in its place. There. At least the ladies would be informed of the truth in that establishment.
Green, black, white, oolong, and pu-ehr tea all come from the same plant: camellia sinesis. Yet the tastes are different depending on the growing location, harvesting techniques, and most importantly, how they are processed after picking.
Most teas are dried in different ways with different levels of oxidation happening. There are teas that undergo fermentation, like pu-erh. Who cares? I do. If a book, company, or shop is going to bother explaining the science behind their product, get it right!
So what is the difference between oxidation and fermentation? I’m going to step away from tea for a moment to explain, since the tea videos I found are boring and/or interchange “oxidation” and “fermentation” as if they were the same thing. If I leave my metal bike outside in the rain, it will rust. That’s oxidation.
If I coat my bike with sugar and let some wild bacteria start to grow…then I have a bad example. Nevermind. Back to drinks.
Fermentation involves bacteria or yeast that eat sugars to produce carbon dioxide, and in the case of yeast—alcohol. Beer is made with fermentation. If you let beer oxidize, sadness. The difference is important! Here’s a video about fermentation and an example of making soda.
They are two completely different chemical processes and anyone who is in the tea business should make it their business to get the science correct. Science literacy and delicious tea forever!
Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.
First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.
This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.
My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.
There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risusby S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.
My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.
Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.
My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”
My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.
Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.
I am not a scientist, but I consider myself science literate. I understand how studies are conducted and I have a basic knowledge of statistics. But more importantly, I actively keep up with science articles in everyday magazines, compare them to each other, and ask questions of people I know in the science fields. Being science literate means I care about how science affects my life. I also thinks it’s pretty cool.
My children are surrounded by scientists in the family: Their father, aunt, and grandfather all have PhDs in molecular biology, and their great-aunt is currently working on her doctorate in nursing. Granted, the science topics veer towards biology more than astrophysics, but as scientists, they all enjoy talking about any new discoveries.
I started college as a psychology major, not because it was better than “undeclared” but because I thought it was interesting. I ended up in music, but I still enjoy hearing about new studies in that social science. All this means is that my children consider science a part of life, not just a subject in school.
I decided to take this science literacy skill into our homeschooling group. For six weeks, I led a class of kids from ages six to fourteen on a discovery of what science literacy means. Their homework was to find a science article from a lay-person’s source, and then try to find the original scientific article referenced. This was very tough because real science journals are often expensive for libraries to carry, are not easily accessed on the web unless you are part of a scientific community, and are generally not for sale in stores. Yet, many were at least able to find the original title and abstract for their chosen article. The most amusing part of class was when the children would read the lay person title like: Alzheimer’s Linked to Lack of Zzzz and then the scientific study title, Rapid appearance and local toxicity of amyloid-beta plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. They came to appreciate good science writing for non-scientists.
That first class, I told the kids to choose any topic, as long as it was a current scientific study. I’m running a science literacy class again this spring and decided to narrow down the topic to health and nutrition. This time around I’ve also allotted more time for discussion. I hadn’t counted on how intense the kids’ options would be on the various studies presented in the first class. I had to cut them off just to make sure everyone had a chance to present.
What about at your home? Don’t have a couple of PhDs to pass the potatoes and ask a question about the validity of the latest diet craze? Start reading good science articles. Science News is by far the most accessible, varied, and current science publication. Regardless of your educational background, you will be able to understand and get a quick look at the most recent and groundbreaking work in a variety of scientific fields. Read one of the shorter articles aloud at dinner and start a conversation about possible life on the moon of another planet, how robots are learning like babies, or if obesity is linked to too many hours playing video games.
Here’s a short checklist for evaluating science in the news:
-Who funded the study?
-How broad was the sample (people of different ages? genders?)
-How many people?
-Was it a blind study? Double blind?
-Did the reporter tell you about other similar studies to compare?
-Did other scientists review and comment on this study?
Science shapes our culture, politics, and personal health. Read about it, talk about it, become more science literate with your kids!
Everyone has their way to unwind. For me, I like to browse fan art, especially when the artist takes liberties with the clothing, environment, or other characters. I asked my daughter to draw me having tea with Wolverine one year for my birthday, and you can see that she made me an adorable old lady with my fictional guy. (Apparently, my jokes are so funny his claws came out.)
Lately, I’ve combed DeviantArt to find fan art with tea. Combining my geeky interests with my love of tea on artwork might sound like a challenge, but it’s not. I am not alone with my obsessions! Here are some of my favorites:
50 Shades of Grey goes back to Twilight, which goes back to the bodice-ripper romance novels, which goes back to our fairy tales of young, beautiful princesses who need to be taken care of by a powerful man. The song “I Will Save Myself” refers to princesses in fairy tales who annoy me as much as Bella. My two children are teens and I can only hope I instilled a strong sense of self and independence. Now that I have two nieces of elementary age, I’m still worried about our culture and the lure of being the sparkly “princess.”
I wasn’t really into princesses growing up. I loved Star Wars, and yes, Princess Leia was cool, but I really wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be the one who everyone counted on to save the day. I like that there are powerful women in stories, girls who are main characters; my problem is that it’s considered odd or there’s only one cool girl character to every 10 cool boys.
I wanted to be awesome and not singled out because I’m an awesome girl. If the continual challenge of a girl in stories is to prove she is as good as any man, that’s not high enough for me.
My favorite book growing up was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Except the main character isn’t a princess. It was what her father called her; it became a part of who she was, who she wanted to be. She defined a princess as someone who had the privilege to be generous. Even when her resources were gone, she acted like her father’s definition of a princess. Although this is certainly a “Cinderella” story, the main character is active in fixing her situation. Sarah in that book was another character I wanted to be, much more than any princesses in fairy tales.
In Disney, which has its hands in every facet of media aimed at children, the princess factor is still going strong. In every princess story I know, they are very pretty (and if they are not, that’s the point of the story). I found it annoying as a child. As an adult in the entertainment biz, I completely understand the need for pretty visuals, but I was never a pretty girl, and so I couldn’t relate.
I had a pretty sister who became embarrassed and neurotic about people commenting on her beauty. I felt bad for her, and I was glad to fly under the radar and do my own thing. (This, of course, wasn’t how I felt as a teenager, but that’s a different topic.) So these princesses were pretty (not me), were considered the top of their social heap (not me), and had a lot of money (not me, again). I had more in common with boy characters than any princesses in books and movies.
I know the point of these kind of tales is to fantasize about being someone completely different from yourself. But I liked myself. I had a very healthy self-esteem as a young girl and had no desire to be someone else. I wanted to be me—just more awesome. I liked books and movies that gave me the tools to help me become what I could envision would be the best Becca. Or at least, pretend to be, if I had superpowers. So I needed characters that I could see myself in.
Somewhere in my later childhood years, mainstream media (Disney) did start to reflect different cultures and attitudes towards women, but I think the whole thing became even more ridiculous. Now, they weren’t just pretty, kind, and rich (by the end), but were also clever, strong-willed, and sometimes could fight. And they were princesses?
Does being a princess help the character achieve a goal?
Maybe the definition of a princess has changed. From the press coverage, modern-day royalty hardly live a fairy tale life. Princesses, then and now, are tied to convention, their social class, their money. Their stories have to involve breaking girl stereotypes because the princess one is so ingrained in our culture. Maybe there needs to be some other role our little girls can live up to. There are fantastic stories out there, traditional and new; stories that involve girl protagonists who are both intelligent and kick-ass. They don’t have to be a princess to succeed.
Maybe the entertainment world can learn from A Little Princess: it’s not the title, money, or looks that makes someone a princess, but your character, integrity, and strength.
“Aargh!” I yelled.
My son poked his head out of his room, “You finished the second book, right?”
“It’s so good, right?”
“And now we have to wait for the third book!”
This is about The Whisper, the second book in the The Riverman trilogy by Aaron Starmer. My teen son was in-between books, saw The Riverman on our shelf, devoured it, read The Whisper, and asked, “Where’s the third one?” I let him know it wasn’t out yet. That’s when he let out his own sigh of frustration, and then told me to read the books so at least we could discuss them.
These books are ones you will want to talk about.
Now before I get into the ever-moving plot, the complex characters, the imaginative worlds-within-worlds, I want to talk about Starmer’s writing. There are plenty of modern YA authors who are good storytellers, but not so many are good writers. Aaron Starmer is an intelligent writer that paints pictures with his words.
“Cars moved slowly, as if they weren’t really going anywhere. They were nothing but steel wolves, out roaming.”
“The spot where her nose had been broken all those years ago—that knobby bit of cartilage right below her eyes—made me imagine that a tiny asteroid had crashed into her face and had determined the orbit of her life. She probably hated that asteroid, but to me it was essential.”
“Your mind is constantly wishing, even if you don’t realize it.”
In the first book of the series, the main character, twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary, wonders what is real or not; what’s the story behind the story? The reader is waiting along with him. Fiona Loomis, his neighbor, has decided he should write her biography. She tells him about traveling to a magical world where imagination rules, where storytellers can see creations come to life around them, where children are gods. It is called Aquavania.
“In Aquavania you can create anything your mind can think up. You’d be surprised what your mind can’t create. It’s often the things you really need.”
Fiona describes the worlds she creates: creatures, landscapes, impossible things. Then she tells of other children imagining their own ridiculous, outlandish, weird creations. But the story Fiona tells Alistair has a dark edge, and she truly believes children are in danger, including herself. He decides that either Fiona is crazy, or hiding a terrible truth behind the fantasy. Can Alistair keep a secret? Should he? Does he truly understand what is going on? You will be guessing alongside him until the end. The next book ends with another twist to this tale. It’s a great ride.
“Well,” Charlie replied, setting down the controller, “the most powerful monsters are the ones that don’t even seem like monsters. They’re the little things, the soft things that sneak in and haunt you.”
“Ghosts?” Alistair asked. “That might be a good title.”
Charlie shook his head. “Whispers.”
Alistair is one of the most real and likable characters I’ve met in a long time. Too often, writers are unable to create young characters that are both heroic and true to their age. Alistair cares about people, he has a strong sense of right and wrong, and his need to help is genuine. But how to show he cares, seeing the gray areas in choices, and figuring what is the best way to help, are a struggle that is depicted honestly through this young man’s actions, words, and thoughts. His weaknesses frustrate him, but he doesn’t know how to change fast enough to keep up with the problems and events happening all around him. That’s relatable to all ages. Besides Alistair, the novel is full of characters that are conflicted, flawed, changing, and all too recognizable.
“He’s not a bad guy, deep down,” I said.
My dad slipped the key into the door. “Deep down, no one is. But you make choices.”
I recommend this for twelve and up. Kids younger than that can enjoy the story, but much is implied, things get dark, and the headier stuff will be appreciated more by an older reader. I can’t say much about the plot of The Riverman or The Whisper without giving everything away, which makes it hard to review, so you’ll have to trust me (and my son) on this: It’s very, very good.
Being a geek is becoming more and more mainstream. Yet there are still stereotypes of what makes a geek a “geek.” Being a comic book fan is a quintessential sign, and often linked to the old-school idea of socially-inept, single guys. For women who proclaim their love of comics (like me), it’s just…strange.
But that is changing. I was just invited to a Fan Girls Night Out at my local comic store by another mom who is also into comics. There are more of us than you realize. And although it may seem new to the mainstream world, it is far from abnormal. The history of women in comics as both fans and within the industry stretches back to the beginning.
The new documentary She Makes Comics is an eye-opening and heartfelt look at women within the history of comics, and I highly recommend watching it. The film is directed by Marisa Stotter and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect!Films. It is executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and by Columbia University comics librarian Karen Green. It is a series of interwoven interviews of passionate people with different roles and points of view. My teenage son and I watched it together, finding it informative and entertaining.
Did you know that women and men made up equal numbers of comic book readership before the 1950s? American comics were about many topics, had various settings, and reflected every possible interest. By the ’70s, women readers started to drop off dramatically, partly due to the focus on male superheroes as the best-seller comic book theme, as well as the feminist movement awakening a generation of women who were tired of the same “wedding bliss” ending. An underground women’s comic movement began, and it was fascinating listening to the creators talk about it on camera: both the excitement and the fears.
Several women really changed the comic book world, from Wendy Pini, the original chain-mail bikini awesome cosplayer who then created ElfQuest, to Janette Kahn, former publisher of DC who broke the glass ceiling, to Gail Simone, notable comic writer, and author of Women in Refrigerators, an unapologetic look at how female characters are unfairly treated in comic stories, to Kelly Sue DeConnick, the creator of the hugely popular female Captain Marvel, and many more.
How do women get into comics in the first place? Better comics. The consensus of the interviewees was: Give us a variety of women featured, complex characters, and in-depth storytelling. As an X-Men fan, it was cool to know how many other women in this film cited that series as their turn-on to the whole genre. The fact that the male creator of the series had two female editors makes sense. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was another “gateway” comic, again, with a female editor. In fact, that editor, Karen Berger, is credited with developing the talents of some of the biggest names in comics for the past several decades.
I personally got into comics in the 1990s, and was quite alone. I took my two young children to the comic book store and was the only female there, let alone a mother. I found it interesting to hear about that time period. The film talked about how more women were getting into the creative side of comics then, but still not equally represented by a long-shot. The industry was not welcome to women or women-centered stories, but also, women are not as confidant in promoting themselves.
Comics used to be sold in supermarkets and bookstores, but then only in specific comic stores that were (and mostly still are) very much a bachelor den of boob posters and all-male staff who assume a girl is only there because she is dating a comic book fan. In 1994, a support organization for women in comics was created called Friends of Lulu which put out a book helping comic book stores understand how to attract more females to their stores—why shut out the biggest consumers in the country? The internet ushered in a huge change. This has given women a place to connect, collaborate, and share their love of comics. The film also mentions the influence of the manga craze during that time as well, with comics targeted to girls.
There is so much to this film, but what stood out to me most was the passion of the people interviewed, and the range of ages. I loved hearing from the elder pioneers in the industry, as well as the younger talents of today. Inspiring the next generation of comic creators came up a lot, and is something I support wholeheartedly. Everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever medium suits them best, boys and girls. Check out the film!
She Makes Comics is now available to order on DVD and as a digital download at SheMakesComics.com.
Andi Watson has created a creepy-cute romance with the new graphic novel, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. The Princess is overwhelmed taking care of the business of the Underworld while her father convalescences in bed and complains about his food. In comes a pastry chef vampire, Count Spatula, who sees the stress the Princess is under, and tries to help.
Andi was kind enough to answer a few questions about this sweet gothic tale.
GEEKMOM: What was your inspiration for the story and characters?
ANDI WATSON: As always with a book, several different elements have to come together to spark things off. Most importantly I wanted to create a full length graphic novel for the first time in my career, a challenge I hadn’t met after many years of making comics. At first I was a bit intimidated, knowing I’d have to write the whole thing ahead of time, but that became an advantage as I could go back and forth over the course of the story, adding and taking away scenes and dialogue. I loved being able to clearly see the overall shape of the story, something it’s quite hard to do when I’m serialising. The other inspirations came from my sketchbooks. Both Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula had been lurking in the pages in separate stories for years, but neither of their stories worked alone. It was only when I put them together that the book fell into place. I love it when that happens.
GM: Did you see romance right away for the Princess and Count?
ANDI: One of things I wanted to achieve with the book was tell a relationship story, a romance that would be fun to write and draw. I’ve told “real world” romance stories before, and enjoyed writing the dialogue and creating characters. The slight downside is that I’ve found them a bit less fun to draw. It’s often two or more people in a room talking. That’s a real challenge to keep visually interesting, so I wanted to combine a relationship story with a strong visual element and I found I enjoyed drawing the spooky stuff. Having more freedom to play visually and allowing my imagination a bit more of a free reign was a real treat. That the Princess has the cute bat-wing hair and the Count is a vampire made it extra fun to draw. Add to that, designing all the other characters and I had a blast.
GM: The relationship between the Princess and King changes over the course of the book. What’s the message about father/daughter dynamics?
ANDI: Yes, I thought it would be interesting to explore the family dynamics of who’s in charge and who is driving things behind the scenes. The child has adult responsibilities without being allowed her own choices, while the King enjoys power with none of the obligations. The adult is the child and vice-versa. The shape of the story follows how that balance changes. I’m not sure I have a message about father/daughter dynamics, although I am interested in them, being dad to a daughter myself. One thing that strikes you as a parent very early on is how much and how little power you have over your kids. On the one hand you’re completely responsible for every aspect of their lives, on the other you can’t make a child eat, you can’t make them sleep, and you can’t make them stop crying. You are utterly helpless, as any parent with a crying toddler on a long haul flight knows! As children grow up that divide is less stark but you’re still trying to juggle how much responsibility to give a child and also the anxiety that comes from letting them go little by little. Perhaps this whole book is about my daughter becoming a teenager and my wanting to take to my bed and hide!
GM: The Count’s fun desserts like Mud Monster Cake and Lemon Drizzle Cake were charming to see and imagine the taste! Do you bake? What’s your favorite dessert to make or eat?
ANDI: Yes, I began baking with my daughter when she was little. We both enjoyed making a mess and eating the results. I hadn’t baked since school so it was the perfect way to begin again as the emphasis was on fun and play, not on some exquisitely presented end product. As long as it was edible we were happy. I’ve continued baking over the years, which is why it was a joy to invent the Count’s set-piece desserts. My job was to flick through recipe books and doodle ideas in my sketchbook… it was tough, I tell you. Sadly, my own skills fall well short of the Count’s, but I do enjoy making quick and simple recipes like cookies, rock cakes, fairy cakes and the like. I’ll have a go with fondant icing for birthdays. Past projects have included Minions from Despicable Me and a crash landed Tardis. I also made a traditional Yule log over Christmas that turned out all right. The recipe my family likes best is a chocolate cake with Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache. Super sweet and easy to make.
GM: Finally, what project are you currently working on?
ANDI: I have a couple of books in the bag, including my webcomic Princess Midnight which finishes up at the end of January. I’ve also finished a graphic novel for grown ups that I’m hoping to find a publisher for. As for brand new stuff, I’ve finished writing another spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing and aim to have done by the summer.
“I just really want to give all you great people out there exactly what you want!” This is from Jules Sherred, author, web-designer, radio personality, and fellow GeekMom. After his wildly successful Indiegogo campaign, Jules has unveiled the LGBTQI and Everyone Under the Sun-friendly Geeky Pleasures online store—a one stop shop chock full of geeky awesome!
Geeky Pleasures offers oodles of fun and interesting must-have items for you or the favorite geek in your life. Using everything from licensed fabrics to his own imagination, Jules has created a rainbow of geeky things for all sexualities and genders: bow ties, wallets, dice bags, wristlets, phone covers, tablet covers, coin purses, and more that can be ordered through the shop.
There’s also a newsletter (with monthly prize drawings) and a Patreon program. This is the first I’ve heard of Patreon and it is a wonderful way to support artists. The dice bags are my personal favorite in the shop, fun and practical. Go check it out!
They say that love is just a drug
An addiction you keep thinking of
But don’t get the wrong impression
We’ll teach you all a science lesson
About the chemistry of love
Ah, those sweaty palms, the obsessive thoughts, the dopamine rush. Yes, geeks fall in love and we like to be specific about it, thankyouverymuch. Infatuation has lots of chemical components, and desire can be broken down into an excellent lesson on biochemical processes. Boring? Not at all! Especially when you learn about it in song.
Celebrate Ice-Cream For Breakfast Day this Saturday, February 7th. What? You’ve never heard of this splendid holiday? Gasp! Well, now you do and there’s no excuse. And your kids will love you for it. Here are some resources.
Several ice-cream parlors around the country use this day to raise money for children’s charities. Check if there’s one near you: Make your kids happy and do good in your community. What’s not to like?
When I introduce graphic novels to those new to the format, I advise them to read through once to get the story, and then look at it again, lingering on the images to catch nuances. Often, those used to novels-sans-graphics miss the extra dimensions to story and characters that the art provides.
This is especially true with The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I read many comics and graphic novels, both for GeekMom and for fun, and I appreciate when an artist puts in the time and effort to detail, especially the background. He literally draws you into the New York City of the main character, David Smith: a close-up swipe of a metro card or a birds-eye view of towering skyscrapers in the rain. What word-based novels provide with beautiful phrases to set the tone, McCloud gives in his expressive panels; each series cinematically moving from shot to shot, creating a consistent pace. The fact that The Sculptor is 490 pages makes that attention to detail extraordinary.
So the art is good, but what about the story?
The novel has an intro that only makes sense when you finish the whole thing, so let’s start with the first chapter. Meet David Smith, a young artist in a diner, talking to his Uncle Harry about his lousy life at the moment: his absolute positions on artistic integrity have cost him his career and social life. He’s happy to see his uncle whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. Nothing too exciting until David realizes he hasn’t seen his uncle in awhile because… he’s dead.
Uncle Harry reveals that although, yes, he lived the life of Uncle Harry, he is in fact Death. Yup, Death personified comes to this down-and-out sculptor to offer him a deal: David will be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but will only live another 200 days in return. It sounds like a dream for someone who has put art before everything, but having a superpower doesn’t solve his problems. That’s something he has to figure out by experiencing life, even if he only has 200 days left of it.
David is an unlucky person who has lost his mother, father, and sister to unrelated deaths in the last several years. His art is the only thing he has left, but even with the ability Death gives him, David has to find focus and meaning to make a name for himself in the world. Along the way he falls in love, but all people are complicated, and love doesn’t come easy.
Even if you are a regular reader of graphic novels I recommend lingering over the pages of The Sculptor. There is much to take in, and it’s worth it.
The Sculptor comes out February 3rd, for around $23. I recommend this book for upper YA and adults (sex and profanity).