K’nex Builds Interest In STEM

There was much celebration!
There was much celebration!

We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.

The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.

As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.

We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.

More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.

Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.

Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.

Photos: Dani Weiss-Bronstein

5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

It’s inevitable.

I get excited, borderline giddy sometimes, when a favorite book of mine gets ready to make its way onto the big screen. I follow the trailers, pour over pictures of the casting choices, sets, and costume designs. I gather up the family or plan a date night when the book hits the big screen, but am always unable to turn off my “book was better” skepticism.

I loved both the Harry Potter and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit/Lord of the Rings film series, but had my criticisms of these big-screen versions. Too many characters and scenes added to The Hobbit, and too many scenes and characters left out of Harry Potter. Where was Peeves, for goodness sake?

This has always been an issue. How many ways can they mess up Wizard of Oz? Or Peter Pan? Or Treasure Island?

Continue reading 5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

Five Classic Movies That Need the ‘Ghostbusters’ Treatment

Now that we’re seeing Ghostbusters trailers featuring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon, the process of seeing gender-swapped characters feels more real. An all-female version of Ocean’s Eleven is in development with Sandra Bullock at the helm, so what other classic movies could be re-energized with a gender change-out? Continue reading Five Classic Movies That Need the ‘Ghostbusters’ Treatment

Steampunk! ‘The Invention of E.J. Whitaker’

This month is Women’s History Month and what better time to talk about this really cool Kickstarter, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker by Shawnee´ and Shawnelle Gibbs, a sister team. This story caught my eye because it melds some of my favorite things: women inventors, diversity, comics, and women creators together in to one exciting project.

The tag line reads: “A steampunk comic adventure that follows one heroine’s epic journey to become a distinguished inventor at the turn of the 20th century.”

The Gibbs sisters graciously answered a few questions for GeekMom. Read on to see why I think this is such a fun project.

Continue reading Steampunk! ‘The Invention of E.J. Whitaker’

Delilah Dirk’s Second Adventure!

Image From First Second Press

Delilah Dirk strikes again! In the new graphic novel by Tony Cliff: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, we are once more in the company of the swashbuckling heroine and her faithful friend, Mister Selim. This time, it’s Delilah’s reputation in her homeland of England that is at stake. She gets on the wrong side of a new character, Major Merrick (not being the submissive woman he expected), and he decides to use her as a scapegoat for his own traitorous deeds. I had the opportunity to ask Tony some questions about his second book: the action, the friendship, and even the fashion.

GEEKMOM: Creating, writing, and illustration on your own sounds overwhelming. How do you keep yourself motivated? Were there different challenges with the second book?
Continue reading Delilah Dirk’s Second Adventure!

A Different Kind of “Fangirling”: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone

Throughout my years with GeekMom, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I have written about meeting book, comic, music, and film/TV celebrities and I get my share of fangirl “squeeing”—hopefully mostly internally—while I’m shaking his/her hand and talking.

A couple weeks ago, through a program at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had the opportunity to listen to Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone (say that four times fast!) give an account of the events that led to his incapacitating a terrorist on a high speed train in France last August. The two-day event was filled with inspirational speakers, and I heard several wonderful talks from non-profit owners, industry leaders, and higher-ranking military leaders. However, I was the most excited about hearing Sergeant Stone’s account. Inside, I was certainly Kermit-flailing! Continue reading A Different Kind of “Fangirling”: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone

It’sa MAR10 Day! Make This Super Mario Pencil Cup to Celebrate

Nintendo has declared March 10 Mario Day to celebrate all things Super Mario Bros. This plucky plumber has been around for over 30 years, dashing and jumping his way into our hearts, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

Take part in the MAR10 Day fun with this upcycled pencil cup craft for you and the kids. Continue reading It’sa MAR10 Day! Make This Super Mario Pencil Cup to Celebrate

DC This Week: ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Soars

It’s rare when Ray and I rave about a book for multiple issues, and for the same reasons. When that happens, it usually means we’re reading something extraordinary. That’s the case with The Legend of Wonder Woman #3, our book of the week, and those superlatives apply to the series. The series is so good, and so what Wonder Woman has needed that I basically teared up reading that.

Sounds silly, right? But Wonder Woman means a lot to many people. There’s a reason everyone smiles at me when I wear my Wonder Woman shirts or hoodies or shoes: people love her. It’s about time she has received a story deserving of that love.

Overall, it was good week for DC issues, too, including one of my favorite issues of Batman & Robin Eternal for a long time, Constantine musing on how awful fairies are, Superman getting to be Superman again in Action Comics #50, and some good stuff from Gotham Academy, Starfire, and Batman/Superman. Plus, the crossover between Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to work, even showing some character depth.

Yeah, there were a few that mucked it up for the rest. See the bottom of our list. Continue reading DC This Week: ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Soars

RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

A great patriarch of my own biggest geekdom, Sir George Martin (not the author, no “R”s), died last night, March 8, 2016. This is no tragedy. He was 90 years old. He led a thoroughly fulfilling life.

The tragedy would be to ignore this, to not acknowledge or realize the monumental impact he had on popular music. George Martin helped turn rock music into a relatively respected art form. And “helped” is even too mild a word for it.

Continue reading RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

Literary Geocaching: When Books Leap Into Real Life

We all know what geocaching is—a global treasure hunt where participants use a GPS receiver to locate hidden “caches” of tiny toys or rubber stamps. Literary geocaching (or GeoLit) takes the treasure hunt concept one step further by asking readers to find parts of stories hidden in physical locations.

Available only in e-book form, these next-generation narratives provide only part of a story. The reader must actually travel to a specific location (germane to the tale) to access the rest of the work. When the GPS in the reader’s iPad or iPhone matches the target position, another portion of the story is electronically revealed.

The locations chosen for this distinction are places where action in the story might actually happen. For example, if the Little House on the Prairie books were given the literary geocaching treatment, a reader would need to travel to Pepin, Wisconsin, before the text regarding Laura’s little house in the Big Woods would appear. Imagine reading about the cozy cabin while sitting in the grass in front of the very building (a replica of which does stand today).

Photo: Jodamiller
Photo: Jodamiller

The concept of enhancing the reading experience through technology opens a wide range of exciting opportunities. One popular work, The Silent History, encourages readers to write their own segments of the story through “Field Reports” that are tied to specific locations. In the original story, written by four authors*, 120 “Testimonials” or oral histories were included. Each Testimonial was narrated by a character in the story, and provided the background on which the tale was based. Readers who live in the areas mentioned in the Testimonials can enhance the original reports with details of their own, tied to specific GPS points in real locations. To date, over 300 Field Reports have been written, including one that can only be opened at the White House.

To unlock all of the essential parts of a GeoLit story, a reader must leave his quiet home and travel. Some might view this as an annoyance, but to those who love the concept of geocaching and treasure hunting, the obstacles are just part of the fun. The thrill of being able to see, hear, and smell actual elements of a fictional work overcomes the minor inconveniences inherent in the hunt.

Chrissy Clark, a writer who created Stories Everywhere, describes GeoLit as “a magical way of allowing you to have one foot in the physical world, and one foot in the … annotated world on top of it.” Clark’s location-based storytelling includes a project on a historic block in San Francisco where she left short notes about events that happened there, marked with red balloons for passersby to find.

Photo: Michael Kozlowski
Photo: Michael Kozlowski

Clever authors have adapted the GeoLit concept in many ways. Marcelo Rubens Paiva wrote The Trip Book, which uses GPS to change the locations in the story into landmarks that can be found where the reader is situated. Mark Melnykowycz created Lost in Reality, an app that lets users record their stories as they walk through cities, and search for stories recorded by other users. Andrew Mason, founder of the NPR show RadioLab, has collaborated on Detour Austin, an “immersive audio walking tour” that allows users to hear a fictional story about a serial killer in 1885 in Austin, TX, as they walk around that city.

Finding GeoLit e-books can be tricky, as the genre is labeled in many different ways, but for the eager treasure hunter, the obstacles are just part of the fun!

*Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, and Russell Quinn.

Review: ‘Space Match’

We are a gaming family. We love ’em, all four of us. Card, board, RPG, you name it, we have at least one example of the type; we’ve even played most of them at least once. Our six year old is patient enough for Doctor Who RiskGloom, and the Imperial Assault training missions (we haven’t tried the longer missions yet). Even our rightfully shorter-in-the-attention-span three year old will play Trouble, Surprise Slidesand King of Tokyo.

Finding time to game as a family can be challenging, however, with my weird and irregular nurse schedule, which includes a fair number of weekends and evenings, and the boy being in school full-time plus attending Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. In an effort to increase playing opportunity, nights we’re all here, we’ve been trying to take the half hour between dinner and bedtime once devoted to the day’s non-educational television (except on Dinner and Rebels night; nothing shall replace Dinner and Rebels night so long as there are episodes of Rebels to watch) to play a family game. Not that there’s anything wrong with TV. There isn’t. I love the stuff, probably too much, but it’s more fun for the four of us to spend that half-hour engaged with one another when we can, especially since we don’t have that time as regularly as many families.

Continue reading Review: ‘Space Match’

Community Builds Support Construction-Minded Kids

When my daughter O was in preschool, we hosted an annual gingerbread house-making party for friends every December. We experimented with different pre-made kits, but the mini village with pieces that the kids could remix into freestyle builds was always the hands-down favorite. They worked for hours, swapping parts and suggestions. By late afternoon, everyone had created their own candy-plastered, gravity-defying structure cemented into place with royal icing.

In elementary school, O loved to build, but few friends shared her interest. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
In elementary school, O spent most of her free time building. Photo: Jen Citrolo

As O moved through elementary school, her passion for building grew. Sticks, Lego bricks, wooden blocks, and random recyclables were commandeered for an endless series of fantastical projects. Meanwhile, though, most of her girlfriends discovered other interests. So, we decided to retool our gingerbread gathering and the “community build” was born.

The idea was to convene a small group of construction-minded kids to experiment, exchange ideas, and inspire each other a few times a year. The format was simple: theme, inspiration materials, supplies, and lots of creative freedom.

Our community builds weren’t fancy. They were just a way to support my daughter’s interest and help her connect with other kids. O dreamed up the themes, developed the supply lists, and chose most of the inspiration resources. We reached out to friends who were game and gave it a shot.

Parents were thrilled to have messes made in someone else’s house and the kids had a blast together. O said that sharing ideas with friends who were into building pushed her to think differently and be more creative. And, they laughed at each other’s crazy jokes.

Here are a few of our favorite community builds:

GNOME HOMES (Ages 6-9)

Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo: Jen Citrolo

A hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the theme for O’s 7th birthday party and inaugural community build.

Inspiration Materials: Gnomes by Wil Huygen, Rien Poortvliet, and Brian Froud, and this news footage on Firefly Forest in Overland Park, KS

This was the Gnome Home setup for six kids. Everyone started off with a wooden base and a pre-painted, red wooden door. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Everyone started off with a wood base and a pre-painted door. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • Two hot glue guns
  • Ten glue sticks
  • Seven 6″ x 5″ wooden rectangles
  • Two bags of moss
  • Two bags of large stones
  • One bag of small stones
  • One bag of small pinecones
  • Two 3-packs of 1.5″ x 2.25″ wooden rectangles
  • One 5.5″-wide roll of burlap
  • One bundle of decorative twigs
  • One can red Krylon spray paint to pre-paint doors
  • Aluminum foil

Lessons learned: Yes, it is ridiculous to purchase stones, pine cones, and twigs. (Our supplies came from the floral and woodworking departments at Michael’s.) This is how I rationalized it:

1) Clean, smooth surfaces adhere more easily than gritty, jagged ones, thereby reducing the potential for frustrated freak-outs.

2) Eliminates the need to risk prosecution for illegal removal of natural resources from local parkland.

3) Parents are more likely to allow a clean-looking work product in the house.

MICRO-SCALE (Ages 8-12)

Building in micro-scale was new to all of the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Building in micro-scale was new to the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo: Jen Citrolo

O wanted a Lego open build. I wanted to keep the budget reasonable. So, she proposed that we go micro-scale: “In Lego, there is this idea of ‘micro-building.’ Sometimes, you don’t have enough of the bricks you need to build a full-scale model. But with micro-scale, you can make an entire city with fewer bricks.” Done.

Inspiration Materials: Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle, Lego Micro SquareTM tip clips, and a few sample micro-scale buildings

The ingredient list for the micro-scale community build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
The ingredient list for the micro-scale build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • Disposable mini loaf aluminum tins to hold each builder’s supply allotment
  • One per child: 6×8 plate, White
  • One per child: 6×8 plate, Dark Green
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×2 plate, Transparent
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×1 plate, Transparent
  • Twenty per child: 1×2 brick, White
  • Twenty per child: 1×1 tile, White
  • Twenty per child: 1×2 tile, White
  • Ten per child: 1x1x2/3 roof tile, White
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×1 stud, Lime

Lessons Learned: To amass supplies, we hit up the Pick a Brick wall at our local Lego store and ordered the rest online. Once all the bricks had arrived, O and I divvied them up so that each builder would have her own materials to start with and trade.

  • Buying by the container from the Lego Store Pick A Brick wall is most cost-effective for small pieces: Go there first.
  • You’re able to fit the most 1×2 bricks in a large container if you stack them (14-16 bricks per stack) and then fill in the empty spaces with loose bricks.
  • To maximize value and creative flexibility, buy large quantities of just a few brick types and colors.
  • Plan ahead: Online Pick a Brick orders ship from Denmark and can take up to three weeks for delivery to the US.

VOLTAGE VILLAGE (Ages 9-12)

Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Once they had a few community builds under their belts, the crew lost their taste for gingerbread. So, we switched to an amped-up holiday activity: circuits!

Inspiration materials: Holiday music, candy canes, and string lights

Supplies:

Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Lessons Learned: O got a kick out of seeing how the kit had been improved from the original, which we’d purchased a year or two before. Upgrades included perforated forms (no mat knife needed!) and a reconfigured circuit map, making the project easier for kids to tackle on their own.

Based on prior experience, we purchased one kit (two houses) per child in case of faulty components or the need for a do-over, which made for a particularly pricey community build.

  • Purchasing a pot of conductive paint wasn’t necessary; the kits came with conductive paint pens which contained an ample supply and were easier to use.
  • Kids used the mini tree holiday ornaments to create a wintry setting for their homes.
  • A little adult help was needed for wire stripping, but the crew built, “wired,” and decorated one house each in about an hour.
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Were all the builds a success? Absolutely not. The 3D LED Christmas Tree stands out as a particularly unfortunate choice. We had one soldering iron to share and there were too many components to be soldered into place to hold the kids’ attention. Instead, they raided the playroom shelves and got to work with littleBits and Snap Circuits. It all worked out.

The best builds were open-ended. However, we did go with a kit for the LED houses because it made sourcing materials easier for a rookie like me. In most cases, adult supervision was minimal. Occasionally, we’d help the youngest kids with the soldering iron or hot glue gun, but the older kids would usually help out instead.

If you’ve got a kid who likes to invent or build cool stuff, consider the community build. If you don’t want to wing it, there are a number of helpful resources online to get you started. Two to check out: Google Maker Camp and the Fundamentals of Tinkering List from the tinkering studioTM Coursera course, “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructivist Approach to STEM Learning.” Good luck!

Growing Down: What Mothering Has Taught Me

From becoming more responsible to reliving my favorite stories with my children, being a parent has been a blast! While it has helped me “grow up” I have most certainly grown down. I am still new to the extremely rewarding field of being a mother. My oldest child is three years old and I have a set of twins that just turned one. I know the years ahead will bring much more adventure, but I’ve learned so much in my three years of motherhood.

Continue reading Growing Down: What Mothering Has Taught Me

‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Chapter 18: Exclusive Preview

If you’re not reading The Legend of Wonder Woman, I urge you to start because it’s the best Wonder Woman origin story that I’ve ever read. (Issue #3 of the print series is on sale this Wednesday and, go, BUY IT.)

The digital chapters are well ahead of the print chapters, however. Check out this exclusive preview of chapter 18, which will go live on Thursday.

As the Duke’s legion of undead warriors attacks, Diana must decide whether to chase her answers of home, or use her new strengths to defend the Outsiders.
Writer & Penciller: Renae De Liz
Inker & Colorist: Ray Dillon

Cover Artists: De Liz and Dillon
The chapter will be available for download Thursday via the DC Comics App, Readdcentertainment.com, iBooks, comiXology.com, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, and iVerse ComicsPlus.

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Continue reading ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Chapter 18: Exclusive Preview

I Need to Fun More

I know it’s not a verb, the word “fun,” but maybe it should be. Forcing me to use the word “have” before it, making it something I must acquire, adds that much more distance to the goal, an extra obstacle I must overcome before reaching my desired level of happiness.
Continue reading I Need to Fun More

Bullying: What You Can Do

Recently, I documented that pain that I feel at being unable to help my son when kids are mean. It’s so hard to watch our children be hurt while we feel powerless to help them. As our school year has continued, my son’s feelings have intensified, culminating with him expressing the ideation that death means no one can tease him anymore.

Those kinds of intense feelings sent me into Mommy Fix-It Mode. Fixing bullying is difficult. In these kinds of situations, we feel powerless as parents because we recognize we cannot control the behaviors of others. However, we can work to create an open culture within our schools.

Continue reading Bullying: What You Can Do

Author Mishell Baker Geeks Out About Gaming

MBWalking-200x300
image courtesy Mishell Baker.

Mishell Baker’s urban fantasy series The Arcadia Project begins with the novel Borderline, just released this March. The series is narrated by Millicent Roper, a snarky double-amputee and suicide survivor who works with a ragtag collection of society’s least-wanted, keeping the world safe from the chaotic whims of supernatural beasties. Mishell’s short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede.

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are. In the meantime, she enjoys sending and receiving old-fashioned handwritten paper letters.

I always hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” since my tastes are so specific. But within the very small subcategory of “story-driven fantasy RPGs for PC,” the term “enthusiast” doesn’t even begin to cover my obsession or these games’ effect on my writing. Here are five RPG series I could easily play (and geek out about) endlessly:

  1. Quest for Glory – My first gaming addiction was Sierra’s classic Quest for Glory series, by Lori and Corey Cole. I grew up right along with the game’s hero as I played and replayed a tale that is by turns silly, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. I began the first installment—in which a naive young hero saves a small town from a curse—at age twelve. By the end of the fifth installment, I was in my mid-twenties, and my hero was king of a powerful nation. Talk about epic!
  2. Guild Wars – This one had me at the tutorial. I painstakingly discovered lush forests and fields, quest by quest… and then the moment I completed the introductory section I watched everything I’d just explored get blasted into noxious wasteland. I was traumatized… and hooked. Both the original game and its follow-up Guild Wars 2 gave me plenty of opportunities to crawl back through the ruins of that first memorable area and experience a strange mix of grief and nostalgia. I love trying to recreate this feeling in my work: trying to identify readers’ strongest first impressions, then finding ways to tease, twist, and distort those memories later on.
  3. The Elder Scrolls – The lore of the Elder Scrolls’ world of Tamriel has changed the way I approach world-building. Unlike the typical coherent mythology created by a singular author, the books and scrolls you find lying about in the Elder Scrolls games reveal diverse and uncomfortably irreconcilable views of theology and history that only suggest, never reveal, the truth. The second book of the Arcadia Project series owes a lot to my fascination with this startlingly realistic approach to world lore.
  4. EverquestEQ was the grandmother of MMORPGs, and it’s where I discovered online roleplaying. During my time in EQ and EQ2, I practiced my character creation and dialogue skills and met some amazing writers. Most importantly, it was while playing Everquest 2 that I first invented a deadpan gloved warlock named Caryl Vallo. She didn’t thrive in that world; too many other strong-willed characters steered her story in directions that didn’t satisfy me. So I plucked her out of Norrath, gave her a different backstory, and found her a new home in my debut novel Borderline.

    BorderlineCover-300x453
    Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster. Available on Amazon.
  5. Dragon Age – Put off by the blood-spattered marketing campaign, I tried the first Dragon Age game only reluctantly. But within a week I was wholeheartedly immersed in the world of Thedas, and immediately after finishing the game for the first time I surprised myself by bursting into tears. All three Dragon Age installments differ radically in interface and design (a common criticism), but the world and characters consistently enrapture and move me to the point that I find myself irritated when I have to actually fight monsters to earn another 24-karat nugget of story. BioWare’s writers are astonishing; their games are master classes in how to set up and pay off emotional effect.

I’ve loved computer games as a storytelling medium all my life, and to this day it affects the way I construct story. As a writer I try to address what I think the readers will want to explore, not what I, as the Authority, feel the need to explain. The fun in plotting for me, as it may well be in game design, is trying to guess what the audience would choose. In deciding when it’s best to indulge them and when it will satisfy them more in the long run if I frustrate or subvert their desires. If I’ve learned anything from games it’s that when a story is well designed, losing can be almost as fun as winning.

Visit http://mishellbaker.com/ for more information about Mishell and her books!

STEM Strewing

You can’t go very far these days without hearing someone talk about STEM.

Or STEAM.

Or STREAM.

Why is STEM so important? Are your kids getting enough STEM at home? Should you incorporate more STEM into your day? And, if so, how? Continue reading STEM Strewing

My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

Do you ever feel like you hit a streak of not-so-great books, and then boom! You get a ton of really great ones in one shot?

Below are the library finds my family and I enjoyed reading in the last month, including everything from picture books about having a can-do attitude to graphic novels strangely reminiscent of Doctor Who.

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed. Image credit: Gibbs Smith

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Ron Stucki is, as you can probably deduce, a picture book inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Edgar is a boisterous young raven whose answer for everything is, you guessed it, “nevermore!” The kids won’t get the reference, but you will. Adorable!

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
I Had a Favorite Dress. Image credit: Harry N. Abrams

I Had a Favorite Dress, written by Bonie Ashburn and illustrated by Julia Denos, starts with a young girl’s favorite dress and a problem: her dress is now too short. Continue reading My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

Who out there has a MacBook Pro? Go ahead, raise your hand! Are you as brutal with them as we are here in my house? It’s okay…in today’s day and age we are using laptops on the go more than ever, right?

I’ve been a Mac convert — a serious one — since 2009. My change of heart occurred during my Middle East deployment; we had to go to a public space to access the “non-official” WiFi, and I would see folks on their MacBooks video chatting with their families easily. Meanwhile, I was on an older Dell laptop screaming obscenities while I suffered through spotty connections during my own once-weekly video chat*.

*I want to caveat my whining here by saying that I understand that the ability to chat with my sons and husband while deployed via Skype, ooVoo, or Google Hangouts was a privilege, not a right. My only point here is that those around me with MacBooks had far less trouble doing this, on the same WiFi that my Dell was on.

The very first purchase I made after returning home in spring 2009 was a MacBook Pro and it was glorious. I’m now on my second MacBook Pro (I had to get my second one in 2012, because the 2009 version fell from a car-top carrier). My husband has one of the newer “retina display” MacBook Pros from 2013.

It is with my husband’s newest model that we were able to check out the Urban Armor Gear case for the 13″ MacBook Pro. This case is for those who are seriously brutal on their laptops — perhaps by wanting to toss them into duffel bags, running to catch the commuter train with laptop in hand, or walking back and forth from office to classroom with the laptop open and running**. Continue reading Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

The Original Genrenaut: An Interview With Mike Underwood

Mike has circumnavigated the world, knows why Tybalt cancels out Capo Ferro, and rolls a mean d20.

He is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and GENRENAUTS, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show as well as Speculate! The Podcast for Readers, Writers, and Fans.

Full disclosure, dear readers: I’ve interviewed Mike once before and it was a blast, so I knew this was going to be fun. That he was generous enough to allow me to do so again speaks to his being an utterly rad dude and one who has a lot of really interesting stuff to say.

Give us the basement to penthouse elevator pitch for the Genrenauts concept.

A. The Genrenauts are a group of storytellers that travel between dimensions, each the source and home of a narrative genre (Western, Romance, etc.), to find and fix broken stories. Because if they fail, the damage from those broken stories ripples over and causes disaster on earth.

The series starts as struggling stand-up comedian Leah Tang is recruited to be a probationary member of the Genrenauts. The team heads to the Western story world to fix a story where the posse of heroic gunslingers was killed by the black hats, leaving the town defenseless. And it just gets wackier from there. Continue reading The Original Genrenaut: An Interview With Mike Underwood

GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

I had been wanting to add to wonderful list of GeekMoms’ origin stories for some time, but had been putting it off for fear I would say the wrong thing.

Let me offer this disclaimer to say in my story I am NOT:

  • Saying it’s okay to bully someone or to allow a bully to continue their hurtful behavior, once it has been discovered.
  • Hoping everyone has to go through being bullied in order to grow creatively. No one should have to hear nasty things.
  • Going to lecture anyone on positive “body image.” At least, that’s not my intent.

What this story is about is how I used my personal experience with bullies to propel me forward into not being afraid to embrace my own passions. Continue reading GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

When the team behind Li’l Gotham is back for a unique take on DC’s Big Three in a book for kids, it’s almost a no-brainer for any Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman fan to pick it up. You know, for the kids. (If you want to share it, I mean.)

Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) is a new middle-grade book series from Scholastic that is part journal, part graphic novel, and all DC Comics fun.

Continue reading DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

Crying Bravo for ‘Cry Havoc’

Hanging on the window of my local comic store is a dark blue poster with the tagline, “It’s not about a lesbian werewolf going to war, except it kind of is.” The moment I saw it, Cry Havoc had my attention.

I’m still fairly new to reading comics, having only picked up my first book a couple years ago, so I am still trying to determine what it is that I like and what I do not. But, in my experience, if it is published by Image, I am likely to enjoy it, and this book is no exception.

Cry Havoc is like no book I’ve read before. Split into three different time periods – differentiated by color and colorist – the book tells the story of our protagonist Louise Canton from the beginning (blue), the middle (tan), and the end (red), jumping fluidly between the eras in each book. Though, regardless of how the scenes in the red part of the book are labeled, the twists at the end of each of the two books published show that something much deeper is going on than we have seen far and it only leaves me wanting more. Continue reading Crying Bravo for ‘Cry Havoc’

Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve had those times when I’ve actively mourned “celebrities”artists, let’s call them because it isn’t the fame that made them important to me, and I think the “celebrity” label cheapens that importance.

But the experience I had five years ago at the end of this month was just a little different. Yes, I was mourning one of my favorite authors. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that now I had to—was being called to—carry on her legacy.

And in at least one way—the forcing-other-people-to-listen-to-me-rave-about-her way—I’ve had help with that. During March 2012, a year after her death, her publishers held a blog tour/on-line celebration of the life and works of Diana Wynne Jones. So many bloggers wanted to participate that “#DWJMarch” managed to take over April and May as well. Each year since, Kristen M. at the book blog We Be Reading has continued to host #DWJMarch, and a smaller-but-dedicated group of fans continues to pitch in.

Since last March took Terry Pratchett away from us, too, she’s added him into the mix this year as well, renaming the celebration “March Magics.”

It’s a combination that makes a lot of sense. They’re both English fantasy writers who wrote books that not only skewered the conventions of fantasy, but also offered biting observations of any other topic (especially real life). They created characters both hilarious and heartbreaking. The Venn Diagram for Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones fans ought to be nearly a circle, but somehow she is less well-known in the mainstream. Continue reading Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

Help Kickstart “End of the Line – The Game of Post-Apocalyptic Family Survival”

The first game I played from the folks at Fight in a Box was Squirrel or Die. It’s a quick and easy game that involves tiles that will either help your squirrel survive the winter or see him starving. Win or lose, it’s a fantastic little game. That’s why I’m very excited for their new Kickstarter for End of the Line.

Continue reading Help Kickstart “End of the Line – The Game of Post-Apocalyptic Family Survival”

How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.

Continue reading How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

Wordnerd T-shirts = Big Geek Fun

Last fall, while I was on the Tor Books Fall Flights of Fantasy tour, I brought along WordNerd t-shirts for my fellow authors Ilana C. Myer and Seth Dickenson (Geeks bearing gifts, get it?) and we got into all sorts of authorshaming shenanigans.

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Authorshaming, on tour. GeekMom Fran, at your service. Photo courtesy of Fran Wilde

The velcro-emblazoned t-shirts with the interchangeable letters just kind of lend themselves to shenanigans, what can I say?

I’m so happy that the inventor of these shirts, the word-nerdy Gabrielle Miller and her family agreed to answer a bunch of questions about the Wordnerd’s shirts – which include children’s and adult sizes, as well as different color letter packs. Gabrielle’s also generously offered a free kid’s shirt and letter pack to GeekMom readers at the end – so stick around! (Get it? Stick around?!! hahaha.)

GeekMom: Where did you get the idea for WORDNERD APPAREL?

Gabrielle Miller: T-shirts on the market are hilarious, but to buy them all would be expensive.  I kept thinking that someone is going to make them–but then no one did.  Now we are.  We decided to use hook and loop to bring the best to the world of customizable apparel.  We started with our own shirts and got so much positive feedback we researched and decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge.  It’s been madness ever since!  Pure wordy nerdy madness. Continue reading Wordnerd T-shirts = Big Geek Fun

A Second Half of Life College Degree

I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that most 18-year-olds have no idea what they really want to do with their lives. Three out of our four children have hit that age and we have another who will wrestle with this problem soon. I’m sympathetic. I was there once too, and I even had the benefit of thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career.

When I was finishing high school I knew I’d study Elementary Education in college. From the time I was a little girl I loved the idea of teaching little people. I was fortunate to be able to do a high school senior year internship where I co-taught with a childhood mentor, in her first-grade classroom. I loved every minute of it.

Continue reading A Second Half of Life College Degree

Clever Entrepreneurs Create Havens for Creative Geeks & Gamers

The popular image of a gamer is typically a skinny kid in a hoodie hunched over a controller in a basement somewhere. In reality, anyone can be a fan of video games, or a LARPing enthusiast, or a Dungeon Master, and the characterization of these enthusiasts as anti-social loners is often far from the truth.

In fact, the very nature of games requires social cooperation, and in most cases, “the more, the merrier.” More importantly, gaming tends to attract players with vivid imaginations and a passionate creative spark. Far from preferring to toil alone in a dark room, many gamers actively seek like-minded peers to improve and expand their game experience.

Continue reading Clever Entrepreneurs Create Havens for Creative Geeks & Gamers