Princess Decomposia And Count Spatula

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Image By First Second Books

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.

GM: Thanks, Andi!

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula comes out February 24th by First Second. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Geeky Pleasures Gift Shop!

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Image By Jules Sherred

“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!

Magic Card for Love

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Image By Luke Maxwell

 

I love seeing what my son comes up with to give as Valentine cards each year. Sweet and geeky is the usual. Using Powerpoint, he created a Magic card for Love that’s quite powerful.

Now the only question is: will he pull it out when playing Magic with friends?

Musical Love Chemistry

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Image By Lilianna Maxwell

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.

Here’s a song called “The Chemistry of Love” by The Midnight Society, which should lower your levels of serotonin, just like falling in love. With geeky stylophone! Free listen and download here.

Now, go boost someone’s testosterone tonight!

This Saturday Is Ice Cream For Breakfast Day!

Ice Cream Cutie By Lilianna Maxwell

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.

For recipes and random love of the creamy stuff, The Ice Cream Geek has great ideas.

You know you tried this as a kid yourself. Astronaut ice-cream.

Did you know the ice-cream scoop was reinvented?

Go all out and get some Superhero Ice Cream Treat Tubs to make it even more fun.

The Hulk ice-cream sandwiches are cool. They use matcha (green tea) powder, so this tea geek gives them a big thumbs up!

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?

Enjoy your sweet holiday :)

Shaping A Life In The Sculptor

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Image By First Second Books

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).

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Global Game Jam 2015

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Image by Global Game Jam, Inc.

Innovation, experimentation, collaboration. That’s Global Game Jam. For 48 hours teams around the world will be given a theme to create video, board, and card games. For what? For fun!

It’s not a competition, and teams are formed by on-site participants (not beforehand). It’s a way to meet people who like to game, design, create, and enjoy using their imaginations. In 2014 there were 488 locations, and 72 countries that created over 4000 games! Many of these quick weekend game developments have continued to become fully realized versions afterwards.

Here are groups around the world saying hello:

Want to participate? Go here to find a location. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the fun, but you have to register; go for it!

Tea Without Princesses

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Image by Rebecca Angel

 

Discovery by Eileen Spinelli
The kettle is boiling
The scones are set out
The company’s hungry
And gathered about
And though you seem cozy
And snug, little mouse,
I warn you, Mom’s teapot
Is not a safe house.

Recently, a tea party was held at my homeschooling group for the youngest kids. The leader of this lovely afternoon wanted to read the kids stories while they enjoyed their fine beverage. She went to the library to find some picture books about tea parties. Since there were a mix of genders, and kids with various styles, she asked the librarian if there were tea party books that did not feature princesses and lace. The librarian replied,”Good luck.” Well, she did have luck! I attended the tea party wearing an enormous hat, and enjoyed the stories with the children (and the tea was good too!).

Tea Rex by Molly Idle is the perfect example of how illustrations can enhance a story, not just, well…illustrate it. The text is about the proper etiquette of hosting a tea party and being welcoming to your guest. But when the guest is an enormous dinosaur, it can be pretty amusing to watch.

Tea for Me, Tea for You by Laura Rader is a story of pigs, tea, and not enough room! Very funny.

I did a check on my own shelf and found these two books:

Tea Party Today: Poems to Sip and Savor by Eileen Spinelli has colorful illustrations of multi-cultural girls and boys enjoying tea with a variety of short, rhyming poems that children will enjoy. Here’s one I like a lot:

Tea Around the World
In Ireland tea is cozy.
In Russia tea is strong.
In China tea is served to guests
And sipped the whole day long.
In Burma tea is pickled.
In Turkey, sold on streets.
In England tea comes on a tray
With sandwiches and sweets.
Japan has rules for formal tea
And one is wear your socks.
Go to Tibet and you would have
To chip your tea from blocks.
Moroccans favor green tea
With mint and sugar, too.
My favorite place in all the world
For tea is home with you.

The King’s Tea by Trinka Hakes Noble was one of my favorite stories as a child. “The King’s tea had to be perfect. But sometimes things weren’t just right…” In this book, the king complains about his morning tea, and the complaints trickle down from the steward to the cook to the kitchen girl and on and on. The King is taking his walk and overhears the final blaming going on in town about whose fault it was for ruining the King’s tea. Realizing he started it all, the King goes back to his castle just in time for afternoon tea in a different mood. What happens next? Hint: It involves a tea party.

Invite your sons and daughters for tea, and enjoy some fine stories while you sip!

Virtual Choir for Choral Geeks

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Image By Eric Whitacre

If you have high school-aged kids, I hope they have had a chance to sing a choral piece by Eric Whitacre, today’s rock star composer for classical music. But not every school has the number of students, the right teacher, or even a music program at all. This is where the internet and Whitacre’s modern view come in: a virtual choir.

Back in 2010, Whitacre put together his first virtual choir with his song, “Lux Aurumque.” 185 singers participated from 12 countries.

In 2013, Virtual Choir 4 debuted with 5,905 singers from 101 countries, and with an animated video accompanying the virtual city of music, this project has become something more than just video chat/sing, it is the perfect example of how the digital revolution can be about beauty and opportunity in a physically disconnected world.

What about Virtual Choir 5? The discussion online is speculative, but nothing is set. There’s still time for you and your young singers to get in on the action!

Gamin’ Up New Year’s Eve

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Image by Rebecca Angel.

Family game night is a nice thought, but usually in our house, we just don’t have time for more than a quick Fluxx after dinner. But New Year’s Eve? Oh, there is time! No matter the ages of your children, if you are home or at a party, New Year’s Eve is a great excuse to break out the looooong games as we wait for the ball to drop. Here is my list of games that you probably already have—and ones that you should pick up before the 31st:

Monopoly: I never liked this game growing up, but everyone seemed to have it in their house. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I ever finished a game (and won!). No matter where you are, this game is sitting in a closet somewhere. The fun is hearing the random “house rules” people have. Tip for Monopoly fun: no mercy. Be as bloodthirsty as possible. If everyone agrees to this, then it is ridiculous—and makes for a quicker game too.

War: Yup, the traditional card game. This can go on for hours, with lots of people, especially if you have multiple decks of cards combined. It’s easy enough for the youngest to play, and handing off your deck to someone else to continue in your place is simple.

Chess Tournament: Although one game of chess can certainly go on for awhile, a tournament stretches play time in an exciting way. Most people probably have at least one board in their house (often more). You could even find online versions to play each other, if no physical board is available. Most adults are familiar with the basics and New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to finally learn. If everyone tries to play the first round, they’ll all be invested in who wins overall.

Phase 10: This is a really easy game to learn based on pairs and sets. It also takes a long time to play to the end. It’s more luck than strategy, so it’s great for sitting around chatting or watching the entertainment on TV at the same time. I highly recommend this one for New Year’s Eve, especially if you have multi-generations in your house. Grandmas and grandpas will love it.

Balderdash: This is a hilarious party game. It’s creative and silly and takes awhile to finish. Each round is based on a strange law, word definition, movie synopsis, or initial, with players trying to fake each other out to win points and move up on the board. For example, the Dasher would roll the dice, pick a card, and read out, “The initials are A.D.R.C.” Then, each player writes on a paper what they think it could be. I usually go for silly and may write, “Arsenic Diletantes of Rochester Corporation.” Everyone hands their paper secretly to the Dasher, who mixes them up and reads them out loud. Then the players choose which they think is the real one, and points are distributed. (The real one in this case was: American Dutch Rabbit Club.) Trust me, it’s a good game for non-gamers and gamers alike. Kids who aren’t deft at reading and writing can pair up with an adult.

The Settlers of Catan: As gamers, we know it and love it. You’ve told your friends and family about it, but it’s hard to get them to sit down and just play it. New Year’s Eve is the time! Warning: I know you’re excited, but don’t do the expansion sets. Just stick with the original to introduce it to others. Once they’re hooked, you can break everything out when they finally start coming to your gaming nights :)

StarCraft: The Board Game: Just kidding. But if you happen to have this in your house (sigh…we do) and your son has been begging you to play it more than just that couple of times he wrangled you over, and you never finished either time because setup alone took about 20 minutes, then you should probably be a good parent and finally play a full session of it on New Year’s Eve. Maybe.

MMOs: I mention this because my son had a great experience one year playing StarCraft on New Year’s. As he played with random people from all over the world, each hour someone would mention it was New Year’s for them. He thought it was very cool to realize how much of an international community he was part of.

So what other games do you already have or played once at a Con that would be perfect for New Year’s Eve?

Pirate vs. Ninja Christmas

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Image By Rebecca Angel

In my house, there is a year-long… shall we say, “disagreement” between my son and I. He is a ninja fan, and I am most certainly pro-pirate. Both of us share a love of Christmas, so naturally our inclinations come into our decorating and festivities. Or maybe not “naturally”–but mashing two unrelated things together does make us giggle.

Now obviously pirates would be more fun at Christmas time than ninjas. Carousing! Singing! Hot Buttered Rum!

Pirate Christmas – by Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew

But Santa is most certainly a ninja as “Ask A Ninja” explains. Probably one of the best lines about Santa’s suit I have ever heard: “The red comes from the blood of children who have woken up in the middle of the night…”

What about decorations and gifts? This pirate stocking really puts me in the spirit:
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But then I came upon these Ninjabreadmen cookie cutters.
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What about entertainment? I found a Facebook page for a ninja Christmas show, but no real details on it. Yet there is a published children’s musical called “A Pirate Christmas“. Obviously, pirates win on that one.

What do you think? Pirate Christmas? Ninja Christmas? Or, why do people try to ruin a perfectly peaceful holiday with karate and rum?

Get In the “Misty Mountains” Spirit

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Next week brings the conclusion to the trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderful book, The Hobbit. I don’t care what the critics say, I’m excited to get back into one of my favorite worlds on screen. For my family, music is how we get psyched up about everything.

For The Battle of Five Armies, we are going back to the first movie. Anyone who has seen The Hobbit remembers that scene in Bilbo’s house when the dwarves start singing that low, gorgeous song. It’s called “Misty Mountains,” and my kids and I love it. My son said it takes him to faraway places in his mind. Being a bass, he recently sang it at a concert. My daughter asked to have it played on repeat as she wrote in her journal. Although you can buy the soundtrack version, other people have taken their musical gifts to this tune:

This one with violin gave me chills. The parallel fifths harmony (all sung by one person) in the beginning brings us back in time, and then the singer lets loose some impressive cluster chords that I adore. When the violin harmonizes with itself, and the singing the background—woop!

Mixed voices a cappella take a slightly different, more march-like feel to the song, and with women! For anyone who loves baritones (and I do), check out the final note the guy sings on this one. Swoon…

And just for you nerds, this woman sang the full twenty-seven verses that Tolkien wrote:

But don’t just listen to it, sing or play it yourself! Here is where you can buy and download the sheet music. Enjoy!

Geek-twisting Holiday Songs

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Oh, who wants the same old boring lyrics to our holiday favorites?  Altering words to existing songs is a playful, challenging, and creative endeavor. It’s the fan-fiction of music. Winter and Christmas tunes are so well-known, it’s a great place to start. Here are some people who have already done so with a geeky twist:

The Twelve Days of Future Christmas created by Bridge 8, goes through a list of current science topics that are on the verge of becoming reality! “12 drones delivering…”

OH NUMBER PI
(TUNE: “Oh Christmas Tree”)
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. Your digits are nonending,
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. No pattern are you sending.
Want more math Christmas songs? Go here!

Hee-hee. This is some crazy editing. Star Trek TNG in “Make it So!”

You better watch out; you better not sneeze.
You better not cough, ’cause you’ll spread a disease….Viruses are comin’ to town.
“Catch” all the lyrics here.

This one doesn’t change the lyrics so much as it is performed in a geeky way. All electronic devices band in “Feliz Navidad.”

Pirate Christmas Carols! This is from me. I’ve written a lot of these. Here is one you can listen to with lyrics. No Ale!No Ale! No Ale! No Ale! Six months at sea with no dark, stout or pale.

So what’s does your family geek out about? Make it a family game to rewrite lyrics to a familiar holiday tune. You’ll be singing it every year afterwards!

Here’s one I wrote about my favorite Avenger…

Loki Was A Gentlemen
(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
Loki was a gentleman when he took all the power.
His smile was quite debonair as he told us to cower.
“Sweet lady, kneel before me now, no need to look so sour.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy, been a joy.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy.”

Elevenses: Tea With Strategy

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Image by Rebecca Angel.

“You are a respectable 1920’s socialite striving to serve the finest morning tea!”

Sounds like a light, silly card game, right? Nope. This is a diverting strategy game by David Harding that just happens to be clothed in pale pink, with sugar cubes as tokens. It is distributed by AdventureLand Games. I purchased Elevenses because I’m a wee bit obsessed with tea and gaming, and wondered if the twain could meet? Why, yes they can!

My son, my mom, and I played first. It was an easy setup with clear rules for a quick start. I enjoy games where I can learn as I go—no studying tombs of rule literature just to begin. My son found it annoying that all of the pronouns in the rules are feminine. Ha. Welcome to how I feel as a female gamer All. The. Time.

The rules state that the person who most recently sipped tea is first. With my mug still in my hand, I started us off. We each chose a colored deck of cards. The artwork by TJ Lubrano is stylin’ and elegant, depicting various essentials for an 11 o’clock spot of tea and snacks. Unfortunately, the back of these cards have eye-straining stripes with blunt colors that don’t match at all. What happened there?

After choosing our deck, we shuffled and placed our eight-card “spread” face down in front of us. The rest of the cards were held in our hands, called the “kitchen.” We then proceeded to play our kitchen cards, following directions right on the cards as our actions, or rearranging our cards for later actions. Some of the actions are being able to peek at your spread, exchange cards with other players, take extra rearranging chances, etc. Each card played has a point value (the number of tea spoons depicted on the cards). It’s a race to have the most points face up in your spread, then play the “elevenses” card to end the round, and gather up sugar cube points.

This isn’t easy. Our first round was slow as we began to understand the various strategies to stay ahead long enough to play the ending card. The second round was more conniving towards each other, and we finished the game by the third round with some clever moves. My son and I played a two-person game later and it was fine, but not as fun as with three. We hope to play with four people.

The game comes with a mini-expansion: Extra guests come to tea bringing extra points with them if you can match up your face-up spread to what they like most on the various cards.  We played with them, and it was more interesting to have that extra challenge.

The cards all have sayings on them to bring some proper fun, while trouncing your opponent. (“Setting the table correctly is of utmost importance!”) Sipping my tea while playing added to the experience, of course. It is recommended for ages 10 and up, though I think younger gamers could get a handle on it pretty quick. I recommend Elevenses for anyone who enjoys a fast-start strategy game where fancy hats are optional, but will make it so much more fun.

Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

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Image By Rebecca Angel

My 8-year-old niece and I were sitting for a few minutes waiting for her sister to finish up. Before she could sigh in frustration, I handed her Unbored Games and told her to open it to a random page. Now this was taking a huge chance. The book is chock full of instructions, illustrations, and easy to follow guides to over 70 games, but they aren’t all indoors, under ten minutes, and for two people to play. Luckily, she opened up to a page detailing a few hand-clapping games. Perfect! We learned some silly rhymes, and tried to keep a rhythm together with snaps and claps. By the time her sister was ready, we were both laughing.

Unbored Games by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen begins with a rundown of why games are important. That’s right! Games aren’t just something to fill the time, or only do at parties. All their reasons are legit, but I like these three the best:

“Gaming encourages you to develop skills and expertise, by practicing something over and over. More importantly, gaming challenges you to teach yourself how to do something.”

“Gaming teaches you that your environment is modifiable. You realize that everyday life is a puzzle to be solved: the more difficult the obstacles, the more fun you’ll have figuring out how to beat them.”

“Jumping in and making mistakes is the fastest way to learn how to play a game. Not worrying about being perfect, and just trying your best, is known as ‘fun failure.'”

The book is divided into four chapters:

PWNAGE: This is what most people think of as games, like board games, back-of-the-classroom fun, and dice and card rules. But there are also “secret rules” games, app recommendations, and more.

HOMEGAMES: Whether for a simple family night or a big party, there is entertainment in these pages. There are even games for the car. I especially enjoyed the section on croquet. My family plays croquet often (really!), and the variations mentioned look intriguing.

GAME CHANGERS: These aren’t your typical ones. Online activities to fight climate change, “guerrilla kindness” in your neighborhood, and a list of cooperative board games to mention a few. I really liked the outdoor, big group game “Survive! Predator and Prey.”

ADVENTURE GAMES: The final section has plenty of ideas to create your own fun indoors or out. There are photographic instructions on how to build a rocket, for example. And a whole section on LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

Within each chapter of the book are short histories of gaming, and suggestions on how to modify, vary, or hack any and all the games presented. The illustrations are in a likable, quirky style, and all the instructions are clear.

Regardless of age, there are games in the book that will interest anyone. Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

Geekmom received a copy for review purposes.

Science Literacy: Statistics Shmatistics

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Image By Rebecca Angel

“It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The ‘scientific method’ of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions.”
Odds Are, It’s Wrong: Science fails to face the shortcomings of statistics
BY TOM SIEGFRIED MARCH 12, 2010

Read the whole article; it’s very good, and makes my head spin. If we can’t trust statistics in science, what is the basis for drugs being approved by the FDA, or the stated risks associated with everything my teenagers do, or how much pumpkin pie can I really eat before going over my daily limit of recommended fat?

That article was written in 2010, which you may think is old news, but How to Lie with Statistics has been around a very long time. That’s a book on how statistics can be used by companies, politicians, anyone with an agenda, to manipulate people with “hard facts”—a.k.a. math.

To be fair, Siegfried’s article is not about scientists purposefully fudging numbers, but how they generally don’t understand how to organize their data properly. They’re not bad guys (like certain advertisers), but still misleading the public because they don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe that’s worse.

So what can we do? How can you teach your children to understand the numbers thrown out in the media? Reading that the percentage of the U.S. population that will get the flu, on average, each year is between 5% and 20% on WebMD doesn’t mean much unless you understand how average is calculated (mean? median? mode?), what was the sample size, and maybe most importantly: who funded the research to get the data?

That last question may be a tough one to find. But understanding how statistics work, and how they can be manipulated, is doable and important. First, you might want to brush up on the knowledge. You could read Stephen King, but for something more encompassing, you need to stretch your brain. And no, I’m not talking re-reading the mind-numbing statistics textbook from college somehow still in your basement.

The free site Udacity has an  accessible and comprehensive statistics course (my sixteen year old is taking it right now). There’s also The Manga Guide to Statistics, reviewed here, and the popular series take on it: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Statistics. I like that one a lot.

The resources above are good for teens and adults. For the younger set, it isn’t hard to bring up how statistics work because they are everywhere, everyday. Next time a percentage of something is thrown out as evidence to do, or not do, (buy, or not buy), explain to your child what that number means, and how it could have been manipulated. Make them aware that just because math seems straightforward, using statistics may not be.

To make it fun, have them conduct a survey with their family and friends. It can be about anything (“what’s your favorite pie?” at Thanksgiving, for example.) Your job is to help them word the survey to get simple results. Then, help them make some fun graphs and play with their data. That hands-on manipulation is the best way to learn. I did it with my own kids. We asked people about tea! You can check out all our fun graphs here.

Hopefully, by the time they become scientists, their understanding of organizing data will be enough to trust their research! Especially if that research tells me I can eat all the pumpkin pie I want. Let’s all become more science literate by understanding how statistics works.

Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game

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Image by GoblinArmyGames

I put a new game on our table along with all my other stuff from the day. My fifteen-year-old son was immediately drawn to the unwrapped box.

“What’s that?”
“A game I need to review.”
“Nice art. Can I open it?”
“Sure.” I smile. “You can figure out the rules for me…”

He happily spent some free time reading the rules and playing on his own before we found an evening where he, his dad, and I could sit down and play Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game. It was a successful Kickstarter project early this year by Matthew Papa.

(Full Disclaimer: GeekMom received a copy for review purposes AND Matt is someone I chat with at my local gaming store, plus, we went to college together waaaaay back when. He’s a great guy! Okay, back to the review.)

Ruckus has definite curb appeal with its adorable-looking creatures with amusing props and scenes on each card, plus silly names for all the goblins: Both “Jerry” and “Jerry’s Uncle Larry” can help you win. It’s strictly a fighting game, with the winner gaining the most victory points after multiple battles.

My son did my homework for me, and led our family in the first gameplay. There are three levels of play, and we did the first level. It was halting with rulebook checking, and I doubted the “eight years and up” on the box. But by the end of the game, we were getting it. My son and I played a few times on the second level, and game play was smooth and fun. He then taught my eight-year-old niece, who picked it up faster than I did, and quickly trounced me later that week. She loved the art.

So how does the game work? There are four Goblin Guilds: Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, and Necromancers. Each has their own deck with unique characters. The goblins in each army have an attack level, defense level, and special ability. Learning how to best use your army as a unit is your personal battle to win. The strategies vary depending on the guild and which cards you happen to draw each turn.

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Image by Rebecca Angel

Everyone sets up their army cards behind a battle screen for two or three lines of attack. After removing the screens, different card abilities are played, the top fighting guilds are determined, and damage is distributed. Eventually only one player is left standing, and they collect a card from a specific deck that usually comes with a Victory Token. There are other rules and ways to get VP points, and another deck of randomness that keeps the game beyond just a power-card fight.

Overall it’s well-designed, though we did have some sticking points, the main one being a power unbalance. After half a dozen game plays, no one in my family could figure out how to win with the Thieves. It may be we are missing something, but that guild seems to be underpowered. My son also felt the rulebook could have been clearer. He also argued that there was a snowball effect with how the cards are dealt back into the individual decks each round, but I disagree on that one.

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Image by Rebecca Angel and YES! I did get that token! Wooooot!

Ruckus is straight forward enough to keep play exciting for all, while the multiple strategies will make it interesting for many game nights to come. Check it out!

A Little Death With Your Tea?

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Image By Duncan Barfuss http://duncantje.deviantart.com/art/Tea-for-two-371640506

As a TeaPunk, I come across some interesting tea facts. To get into the spirit of this month, I looked up death. Can you die from tea? Apparently so (or at least get really, really sick). Bring these up at your Halloween tea party for some macabre conversation starters:

The “Teacup Poisoner,” an English serial killer of the later 20th century put poison in the tea (and other drinks) of over 70 people! I like this quote from his father, when his boy had been “experimenting” with poisons on his family in his early years: “He warned his son to be more careful in future when ‘messing about with those bloody chemicals.'” Really? Be more careful? That’s it?! It wasn’t until he killed his step-mother that the family finally turned to the police.

This seems to have been an honest mistake: A server mixed up sugar with a toxic cleaner in a restaurant making tea for a patron. She survived, but eeeeep!

I am a big fan of bubble tea, but this is so dangerous! You can’t even see them in the glass! Who created these? Choking hazard!

Not exactly deadly, but cheap tea may contain too much fluoride for your health. Good tea doesn’t cost that much, so don’t go for the cheapest box on the shelf, okay?

Taking too many green tea supplements can cause liver damage. This is how people come to the conclusion that “natural” remedies are bad for you: A lab takes a whole food, like green tea, turns it into some concentrated pill form, and then someone is able to take waaaay too much of the stuff and gets sick. Drink a few cups of the normal version (it’s so much nicer of an experience than chugging pills!) and get all the benefits without liver problems.

However, even the whole version of tea can be abused. Too much of anything is a bad thing. Moderation, people. Even tea. This woman had 150 cups a day!!! Of course something is going to go wrong! Is her bladder half the size of her body? How is this even possible?

And now for death fun and games! How much caffeine would it take to kill you? Plug in your drink and weight and find out! My son explored this a bit, and laughed at how hard it would be to ingest that much tea…though I’m sure someone has tried.

This Book Just Ate My Dog!

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Image by Henry Holt and Co.

I had believed the Choose Your Own Adventure books were as interactive as it got. But what about a book where the book itself is a character? And the reader has to help out to move the story along? Yeah, that blew the mind of my five-year-old niece, too.

That’s exactly what happens in This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne. He got all meta on himself with this picture book. Brightly illustrated with adorable-looking characters, it’s a quick read and very, very silly. Both my nieces enjoyed it, the younger one especially. When has your child been asked to shake a book sideways by a character?

The main character here is Bella. She was innocently walking her dog across the page when the book ate her dog (it disappears into the crease). Her friend Ben walks by and is eaten too, then an ambulance, and finally Bella! It’s up to the reader to sort it all out and save the day. Though, things aren’t sorted out perfectly in the end…

Interactive and funny, I recommend This Book Just Ate My Dog! for preschool and up. GeekMom received a copy for  review purposes.

Ninja Dolls, Zombie Plants, and Gloom

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Image By PegNation

Only just getting into the Halloween spirit now that October is here (not before October, dammit!), I was at a local festival and saw this ninja family. So cute! So deadly, I’m sure. Want a custom made peg doll? She’ll do whatever you like. I was thinking of a pirate-Christmas theme. (But not until December!) You can find PegNation on Etsy and Facebook.

 

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Image By Ticklemeplant

How about a plant that dies and then rises from the dead? My son thought this one was really cool. It’s called a Zombie Plant. Perfect for your party, or just to freak out visitors.

 

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Image By Atlas Games

I’ve mentioned this game before, but it’s absolutely perfect for the season: Gloom: Kill off your family to win!

Oh, there’s so much more to get into the creepy spirit. What’s on your radar this month?

Cowboys Vs…Dinosaurs?

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Image By Roaring Brook Press

“Why, those Toad brothers would steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili.” This book made me giggle—and that was while reading it all alone. Sharing it with my nieces made it so much more fun.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads is a new picture book from Roaring Brook Press. It will be a favorite read-aloud this season. It’s hard not to put on a ridiculous twang:

“Why I bet it were some crazy diney-o-saur what jumped my claim and stole my gold.”

Written by Bob Shea, a veteran comedy writer for both kids and adults, he packs in the jokes for everyone. I enjoyed the little details like how the mayor loves his cumin, to the overall plot: the Toads, a band of outlaws, are terrorizing the old west town of Drywater Gulch. A young boy sheriff, expert on dinosaurs, tricks the outlaws to save the day.

Lane Smith, an award-winning illustrator, stylizes the tale with vintage tones and patterns. The expressions on the outlaws are hilarious, and look for the hidden designs within the landscapes.

When my daughter was young, she was one of those dino-obsessed kids, throwing random facts around, just like the Sheriff in the book:

“A hole this big means one thing- T.rex,” said the Sheriff.
“Or dynamite,” said the Mayor.
“T.rex don’t need no dynamite. Largest predator of the cretaceous period,” said the Sheriff.
“Wow, you’re good,” said the Mayor.

But in this book, those facts will save the town. My niece thought the tortoise part was pretty darn funny. Get Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, grab a kid (or giggle by yourself), and you’ll understand why.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Keeping Geeky Contact In College

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“Miss Us?!” was the caption for this photo postcard sent to my daughter in college. Her brother and I worked hard to get the perfect shot. (Image By Rebecca Angel)

ME: Did you find out if you made it into the jazz ensemble yet?
DAUGHTER: Not yet, but I had my first art studio class today and my teacher is really enthusiastic.
ME: That’s great! HUGS!

It has been almost a month since my daughter left for college, and we’ve been exploring the different ways of keeping in touch. Chatting with some other moms with first-year-college students, we all agreed that modern-day technology is great. Gone are the days where there was one phone for each dorm floor, with students waiting in line.

One mom said she had never texted before in her life, but solved her daughter’s laundry crisis with texts and photos. Another mom said her son set up Skype for her, and she wasn’t sure they’d ever use it, but he needed a heart to heart the other day, and she was so glad to see his face, even on a screen.

For my daughter and I, texting is the casual “I’m thinking about you” mode of communication. The above text is typical, and that’s it for the day. We don’t go back and forth, and I don’t text her more than once a day. If she wants to, I don’t mind!

One of my favorite apps is Postagram. You take a picture, add a note, and the app sends a real postcard with the photo via regular mail. (See the top photo. Heh-heh.) Once you have your addresses in, it takes so little time to send something fun.

There’s also the old-fashioned way of using snail-mail: I sent a fan art card of Korra to remind her to finish up season three. I also sent a box of snacks, and she gets a magazine subscription at home, so when that came in I mailed that out, too.

Email has been used for business things: she forwards us things the college needs, or alerts, or whatever, us forwarding her information about schedule stuff with the family.

My daughter has a Facebook page, but doesn’t post much. I’ve gotten a “like” or two on photos I’ve posted. And she did send a photo of one of her art projects to a few people via messaging. Facebook isn’t so popular now with the younger set?

Skype, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, these are things I don’t use and have no idea if she does. I’m sure there are a dozen more social media sites that could be part of keeping in touch with your kid away from home.

We’ve had three phone calls. The first one was right away, and she needed to talk about a college paperwork financial thing. The second was two weeks later. I asked if it was an okay time to talk and she said she was studying and would love to take a short break. We chatted about this and that, and I tried not to tell her exactly how much I missed her, but happily listened to all her adventures. The third was a “I need my mom” call after a particularly harsh day in figuring out college social life.

As the semesters go on, I’m sure we’ll get into a familiar rhythm of communication, but this is where we are now. Of course, there is the dilemma of how or even if to tell about emergencies. For example, I decided to send this text at the end of a crazy day:

ME: Everything is fine, but I wanted to let you know your aunt got her finger caught in the food processor. She’s very lucky. We spent the morning at the clinic, but she has her whole finger! Your cousins were freaked out, but everything is ok now.
DAUGHTER: Poor Aunt! Glad everything is ok. Hugs!

Pirate Week: Gamin’ Like a Pirate

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Avast! What will yer hearties be doin’ to pass the time on deck September 19th? Idle pirates are a dangerous lot, so here are some suggestions fer gamin':

Loot be the best pirate-themed table-top game me crew has ever played. It says ages 10 and up, but younger have been able to join in. Always most fun while talkin’ in pirate-speak!

A close second is the pirate version of Fluxx!

Now if ye want to get fancy with some historical pirate games (or at least ones shown in a pirate movie), check out the rules for Liar Dice.

And if ya want to put some effort into a game fer yer mini-pirates, here are ideas for Pirate Scavenger Hunts.

Or if ye be a lazy pirate fer online fun:
Silly Pirate Personality Test
Pirate Name Generator
Plus a whole list of online pirate-theme games

Enjoy a gamin’ day at sea with yer hearties enjoying International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth

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Image by First Second.

“I like how it got all the plot points across, but kept it kid-friendly.”

This was my son’s comment after reading The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo. He recently took a Shakespeare course, and Macbeth was one of the plays studied, so I was curious about his take on this graphic novel. My son gave it a thumbs up.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth is a First Second offering for this fall that will appeal to Shakespeare fans of all ages, but especially the younger set just meeting the Bard. This version is full of animals, food, and humor.

The story takes place in a zoo, where the animals put on shows for each other after the human crowds go home. The audience is as much fun as the cast, with silly-to-witty commentary throughout. I particularly liked the little aside from the vultures with their opera glasses:

“Ooh! I love the witches look!”
“They say warts are the new black.”

Macbeth is played by a lion who thinks he loves food more than anything until he meets the witches, and realizes he’s really hungry for power! However, he would have to eat the king to become king himself. He talks to his wife, Lady Macbeth the leopard (out damn spot… hee-hee!), who hands him a cookbook, “100 Ways To Cook A King,” suggesting they saute in lemon-butter sauce.

“But still, Macbeth refused. Eating someone just didn’t seem polite.”

He finally relents and eats the king: “What follows was horrible and gruesome and definitely the best scene in the whole play…” But of course, we don’t see it because the elephant shows up right then to see the play and blocks the whole stage.

And so the silliness continues in this amusing version of classic theater. The artwork bounds through the pages, with the dialogue and narration clear, but with a kid-friendly twist. Like the best animated movies, the jokes are on a couple of levels, so parents reading this to their children will find it just as fun.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth comes out the end of this month, recommended for ages seven and up. Check it out!

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Ben Hatke’s Lost Creatures Blog Tour

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Trolls Image By Ben Hatke

What makes a creature lovable? Mysterious? Fun? Children draw or create stories about creatures from their imagination all the time. Do you? Some people still do, and I’m glad to highlight Ben Hatke.

There are many kinds of creatures in the world of Ben Hatke (I’m looking at you, PINK! on page 52 of Zita the Spacegirl), and the newest set is from his book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. It’s a wonderful picture book I reviewed last week. This week, Ben is taking a blog tour with some of his creatures to spark the imagination.

Today is his stop with GeekMom and he has shared a few leafy and literate trolls. Who are they?

Trolls: Pictured above from left to right: river troll, hill troll, and Mountain King. River trolls (also called bridge trolls) frequently live quietly outside villages and always near running water. They have a bad reputation as eaters of livestock, mostly due to one particular story of dubious veracity involving three goats. Most river trolls find this story to be offensive and one-sided. Anyway, they prefer fish. Hill trolls, on the other hand, are wilder. They inhabit high pasture land and forests and mostly make their dens in dry caves. They eat sheep whenever they can. Mountain kings are the largest kind of troll, but they are rarely seen. They inhabit rocky highlands and are known to nestle in among boulders and can sleep for hundreds of years.

A Note from Ben: Only the river troll and the hill troll appear in Julia’s House. They are old friends and they are really interested in poetry and music (not all trolls are uncultured). The river troll develops a bit of a crush on the mermaid.

For a complete blog tour schedule click here!

Korra: Why You and Your Kids Should Be Watching

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Image By Nickelodeon

There are many reasons to enjoy The Legend of Korra. It’s full of action: stunning martial arts, elemental power fights, speeding car chases, airship rides, and flying bison. There’s comedy in every episode: Bolin’s silly and frightening romance with Eska, one-liner brilliance from Varrick, and various cute animal antics. There’s romance too. The plot keeps moving and moving. The characters grow and change. And the world itself is artistically creative and engaging.

But there are other, very important reasons to watch The Legend of Korra, and I will give you a brief description of some characters to prove the first one:

1. A trainee who will never let a friend down, but is quick to fight and lacks patience.
2. A ruler who keeps order with cruelty, and steals from the people.
3. A stylish and good-looking engineer who likes fast cars and planes.
4. A thoughtful child who struggles with Dad to take on responsibility.
5. A captain of the police force who doesn’t crack a smile, but is clever and self-sacrificing.

These characters may not be anything you haven’t seen in a show, but in this case they are all female and in the same show- sometimes even the same episode! Gasp!

Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the female population is represented in an equal and diverse way—the way it should be in every story. I wrote a post awhile back called “Great Heroines for Boys“: “Why should you encourage your son to read books with heroines? That’s easy. You want your son to grow up knowing that a strong female for a friend, wife, or boss is normal and good.”

Korra is the lead character in the show, but she is far from the only interesting girl and woman to watch. When first watching, you may think it is female heavy in its speaking and side characters, but don’t be fooled! We have been trained to see mostly males on screen, even though our real world is half and half. When seeing something in entertainment that is closer to reality, it seems odd. That’s a good reason to watch Korra with your kids. Make seeing women and girls as part of the “normal” storytelling world. Regardless if they are good, bad, speaking, or in the background—just make us be there!

Are there awesome boys and men? Absolutely! The cast is full of great male heroes, villains, and some that play both sides too.

Besides being diverse with gender roles, I have never seen a show that has strong characters of so many different ages—this is truly a family show where everyone can see themselves in a cool role. There are children to kick ass, teens that kick ass, mid-lifers that kick-ass, and a couple of grannies that made me laugh. When Lin Beifong had a big scene at the end of Season One, I found my new hero—and she was an older woman with gray hair. In season three we meet her sister (with curly gray hair!).

Working through relationships is a huge part of the plot lines between siblings, friends, children and parents, and romantic interests; even the spiritual essence of GOOD and EVIL had a relationship to balance out. One of the overall plot arcs is a romance with Mako, the angsty, fire bending teen boy. Within the first two seasons (or books), Mako alternately is dating the main character Korra, and/or Asami. They all make mistakes, and by the third season Mako isn’t dating anyone. Asami and Korra become friends, and it’s an important relationship for both of them. And although it’s awkward with Mako for awhile, eventually the need to work together overshadows everything else, and he is able to be friends with his exes. Rarely do series show the normal ups and downs of dating, such as how time is needed to heal, and how to handle it all in a mature way.

I recommend The Legend of Korra because it proves that bringing quality and equality to cartoons only adds to the fun and entertainment. We need more shows like this!

Ben Hatke’s New Book: Julia’s House For Lost Creatures

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Image By First Second

Every page of Ben Hatke’s new book has a visual delight to make you wonder and dream. The first page has a sleeping kitty made up of patchwork. Is it made of cloth? Is it as soft as it looks? The second page has a giant walking turtle with a house, complete with wrap-around porch, on its back. Where is it going? Where did it come from? Who lives in the house? Can I go visit?

And those are just the title pages!

Ben Hatke, best known for his Zita the Spacegirl graphic series, has come out with a picture book from First Second. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures will have your child asking questions about this world, and the creatures that inhabit it. Most of the questions will be left to the imagination—perfect!

Julia has settled on the coast, somewhere, with her big house on the back of a turtle, but it’s too quiet. So she makes a sign in her workshop to put outside the front door: “Julia’s house for Lost Creatures”. Very soon she has plenty of magical guests who need a home. But they are not being the most respectful of roommates, and Julia goes back into her workshop to make a new sign with some basic rules for living in harmony with a most eclectic group.  It’s a book about making a home, and how to work together to create a family.

Every knock, scritch, and bang on Julia’s door is an opportunity to ask your child, “Who could that be? What kind of creature will come next?” From the very sad troll who had his bridge torn down, to the floating ghost who enjoys a game of checkers, these strays are strange—but lovable.

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures goes beyond the text with a world rich in visuals to inspire your child to perhaps create their own set of lost creatures…

GeekMom was given a copy for review purposes.

Summer Science Fun: Track Fireflies!

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Image By Clemson University

Do you remember catching fireflies on hot summer nights, putting them in a jar as the prettiest present for your mom, and then releasing them again before bed? I do. The image of so, so many little lights all around my yard is a fond memory. For my kids, they have collected and enjoyed fireflies too, but I don’t see as many around.  Are these beautiful insects disappearing?

The Clemson Vanishing Firefly Project wants to answer that question, and has started a firefly census. The goal is “to promote environmental sustainability and stewardship through the participation of local communities in environmental science research.” That means you! Your family can take part in real science that is important to our world. How? There is a mobile app (or an online version) that is easy to use for the census. Check out these videos:

One for kids:

and adults:

There is also a Firefly Facebook page to continue the conversation. Our world needs your help, so do some science with your kids that’s meaningful, fun, and gets you outside on those hot summer nights.

8 Current Favorite Family Games

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Making Gloomy families at ConnectiCon. Image by Zach Schuetz.

Everyone goes through phases. In our family, it’s about games. We tend to play the same ones over and over until we’re ready for something new. This year, we happened to buy and play lots of new games, and they are keeping our interest. Most of them have been around for a few years; we just didn’t know about them until now! My kids are teenagers, but almost all of them are suitable for the younger set. Here’s a round-up of my family’s tabletop fun:

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Image by Gamewright.

Sushi Go! Yes! This game was introduced by a geekdad (Hi, Jamey!) at our homeschooling group and quickly became a favorite. Everyone selects sushi choices to add up points. The game play is passing card hands around each turn and selecting cards from your current hand. This means everyone is playing all the time. It is easy to learn, fast, and suitable for elementary ages and up. Plus, the pictures on the cards are adorable. Oh, the pudding…

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Image by Gamewright.

Forbidden Desert was a birthday present from my husband. So far, I have died a dry, sandy death more than survived. But I always had fun. This is a cooperative game, which I love, and the tiles that make up the board move around, which I think is fantastic. It takes constant attention, communication, and of course, luck.

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Image by Asmodee.

For a couple of years now, 7 Wonders has been one of our top choices. We’ve brought it to family game nights with friends and visiting grandparents. The first time through, we were ready to give up in 10 minutes because it seemed way too complicated. Then we actually played… and it’s not. And it only takes a half-hour. And there are multiple strategies. And we all enjoy it! The artwork is great and with cards being passed around, everyone is always playing. What I like best about this game is that you can play without having to pay attention to anyone else, or start looking around and use that to your advantage. This comes highly recommended!

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Image by RandR Games.

UnNatural Selection was a random pick at ConnectiCon‘s gaming area this year by my son. When we needed something that a large group could play and that didn’t require much, well, thought (it was Sunday morning), this was perfect. It has Apples to Apples-style of play (someone is the judge and the “winner” of the round is whatever they want, ending is whenever you want). The group puts together strange combinations of animals, beings, and attributes that are then compared to who would win in a fight. All ages. Ridiculous fun.

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Image by Atlas Games.

Gloom is disturbingly enjoyable. My friend Jenn introduced this one to us years ago, but we only recently started playing it ourselves. Everyone gets a family. Your goal is to kill them off, but only after they have become depressed (more depression is more points for you!). Attribute cards are both negative (for your family) and positive (for other people’s families). The best part of the game is making up storylines of why another player’s character Mr. Giggles was “delighted by ducklings” when he just was “diseased by dysentery.”

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Image by Fireside Games.

Castle Panic is another cooperative game. Ogres and other nasties are attacking your castle, and it’s up to your group to defend it! Lots of communication and planning several moves ahead for your team to win the day. A good one for elementary age and up. At ConnectiCon, our group won!

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Image by Rio Grande Games.

Race For The Galaxy is definitely for the older set of players. It’s kind of complicated, though to be fair my son and I were introduced to the game playing with the expansion set. Our friend Zach (again, at ConnectiCon) talked us through several rounds, and then we played a game. Each player is building civilizations in the galaxy. To win you must be capitalistically ruthless. There are multiple strategies, which is cool. My son really, really liked it. On the birthday list…

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Image by AEG.

Love Letter: Legend of The Five Rings was a random choice for me at my local gaming store. It is probably one of the easiest games to play without knowing what in the world you are doing. I learn by playing so after a few rounds I got it. It’s a lot of luck, but there is bluffing and keeping track of cards. Basically, every player is trying to win the hand of the princess by sending her a letter, but in a court of intrigue, that is harder than it sounds. The mechanics are pick a card, play a card. There are several version of Love Letter, so choose your favorite artwork!

Drift: A Unique Summer Read

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Image by Tu Books.

I’ve been reading fantasy novels since I was a kid. Most of them had a new take on a similar world based on European folk tales, a la Tolkien. I have no problem with it and still enjoy reading stories like that. But when someone writes a fantasy novel in a new setting, with practically nothing I find familiar, I’m fascinated. That’s what happened when I read Drift.

Drift, a new Tu Books YA novel by M.K. Hutchins, has some references to ancient cultures the world over, specifically the Maya, but those are only inspiration.  It’s a unique world that you have to paint in your mind, instead of just filling in new characters on old fantasy landscapes.

The main character, Tenjat, lives on an island on the back of a giant turtle that swims the oceans of Hell, while it feeds, keeping the soil good for farming, and a giant tree alive. But nagas (nasty mer-creatures) gnaw at the roots of the tree below water and want to kill the people on the island. The Handlers and Tenders are the high-ranking groups that defend the tree and turtle. The farmers and artisans are low-ranking, with those who have many children being the despicable members of society.

But that’s just what you learn in the beginning. It’s more than that (but I won’t spoil it for you). And the true story is not the world, but the young people we follow: Determined Tenjat, wise Eflet, fierce Avi, mischievous Daef, and more.

Tenjat and his sister Eflet are trying to live independently on this turtle island. They fled their own turtle when a family secret put them all in danger. Their father and younger brother were left behind; their mother sacrificed herself on the way. They lied to be taken in by this new community, and are struggling. Tenjat believes the only way to help himself and his sister survive is to become a Handler, but that requires a test. This test is shrouded in secrecy, but those that fail come back with scars, both physical and emotional. Eflet, who knows more than anyone should, tries to convince Tenjat there is another way, but Tenjat can’t see beyond what he has been taught of what life is about…yet.

This is a story of breaking out of the set ways of a culture, of (literally) realizing your world is upside down. But it’s also a story of the importance of family and friendships. There are battles, magic, and love. I recommend Drift for ages 12 and up.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.