This month in Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about alien parasites, parenting skills, dark fantasy, climbing Everest, and the songs that tell the story of modern Britain. Check out what we’ve been reading after the jump.
Fantasy author Django Wexler has had a busy couple of years. He is the author of the Shadow Campaigns fantasy series for adults (The Thousand Names, The Shadow Throne, and the just released The Price of Valor), the Forbidden Library series for middle grade kids (The Forbidden Library and The Mad Apprentice), as well as the cyberpunkish fantasy John Golden: Freelance Debugger novellas. Despite this, he took some time to write us an article this week about something that makes him geek out. Please welcome Django Wexler!
Stranger Than Fiction
I am, I have to admit, a bit of a history geek. I love the little details and vignettes you find in a good history book, and a lot of that stuff comes in very handy when writing novels. The Shadow Campaigns is based, very loosely, on the Napoleonic Wars, and there’s all kinds of tiny bits and pieces from various histories that have found their way into the text.
That said, I can’t put in just anything. The problem with history is that it doesn’t need to have a sense of dramatic tension, or even of plausibility. The former is a little more intuitive than the latter—in real life, things don’t often work out in a way that satisfies our dramatic sensibilities. The hero gets killed in a random skirmish before the final battle, or the villain dies of a cold before the epic confrontation. Wars are often decided, not by heroic action, but by idiocy and incompetence. (There’s an old maxim that says the battle is won by the general who makes the second-to-last mistake.)
Fiction has to do better than that, obviously. It needs to be more than plausible—it needs to be a good story, which means that dramatic arcs are completed, characters change and grow over time, and generally the reader feels satisfied at the end of the book. It’s one reason I write vaguely historically-inspired fantasy, rather than historical fiction—in actual history, things often don’t work out the way you’d like!
It’s the second point, about plausibility, that seems weird. Obviously anything in history that actually happened has to be plausible, right? But it’s not true. The problem is that weird coincidences and strange behavior, while common in real life, feel wrong in a story. It feels like cheating, like the author taking sides. Again and again, I find myself coming across bits of history that would make me roll my eyes if I read them in a novel.
Here’s my current favorite example. In 1920, while Greece was at war with Turkey, the King of Greece was walking on his own estate when he was attacked and killed by a rogue monkey. The results, politically, were catastrophic—the pro-war party gained power, and Greece went on to lose the war disastrously.
Can you imagine putting that in a novel? If George R. R. Martin revealed that Tywin Lannister was randomly killed by a rogue monkey? Readers would cry foul! History is full of this stuff. In 1862, Union General George McClellan received a complete copy of General Robert E. Lee’s order of battle, because a Confederate aide had used the order as a wrapping for his cigars, which he had then absent-mindedly dropped. In 1940, a plane carrying a German officer and plans for the invasion of France crashed in Belgium; with their strategy revealed, the German’s switched to Erich von Manstein’s far more audacious, and ultimately successful, scheme.
On a slightly darker note, in The Price of Valor, one of the plotlines is concerned with the first all-female regiment of the Vordanai army, led by Winter Ihernglass. Some of the old aristocrats object to this arrangement, and one of them rants at Winter about it. To get a properly insane feel, I cribbed most of the rant from stuff I’d read online, in some of the less savory corners of the internet. When I sent the book out to the first readers, they all objected that this was unrealistic, cartoonish—nobody could be that transparently awful!
What I’ve learned is that the fact that something actually happened isn’t good enough. Fiction demands higher standards, and you can’t lean on “but it really happened that way!” as an excuse. I still take lots of interesting stuff from history, but nowadays I’m a little more careful with it. After all, reality can be very unrealistic!
Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.
Back in the 1960s, Raymond Barrett wrote a book on how to build a complete science lab to explore biology, chemistry, and physics. With tools and ingredients in hand, you could embrace the unknown of experiments and chemicals! Some of the formulas and instructions may no longer be practical, but what makes his book so compelling is the spirit behind it. The bold citizen scientist who could harness his or her interests, learn empirically, and take risks without everyone freaking out.
No one was more delighted than me to have Windell Oskay put into my hands a new, annotated copy of this book, re-written for modern technology, safety standards, and learning styles. This is exactly what was needed. So much of home-based experimentation right now is focused on technology and making. While there is nothing wrong with that, traditional sciences are just as important. Labs are important. The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory brings the magic of science home again.
My husband and I were waxing nostalgic on how these kinds of books were still totally available in libraries during the 1980s and how they simultaneously inspired us and disappointed us because while we were motivated and fearless, not all of the ingredients were available anymore. We couldn’t just saunter down to the pharmacy and pick up some mercury, sulfur, and salt peter. Three things make this kind of book work now: First, the DIY movement has charged people up again about owning and creating the skill building and education they desire. Second, a new annotated version helps guide you when you don’t know what you are doing, but offers modern advice and alternatives, improving accessibility to science. Finally, the problem we had in the 80s around getting our hands on the dicier ingredients has been solved by internet commerce and a little click of agreement on a liability waiver.
There are so many different options in this book, that there is something worthwhile for everyone. It will not matter if you don’t know what you want to study, you will find something that sparks—literally and figuratively.
I started off in the Geology section because it reminded me of my days in Paleontology and then later Archaeology, but was quickly distracted by the options on building generators. I also love that the book poses lots of questions without answering them for you, allowing you to find your own answers, and most likely more questions. The book places responsibility and trust on the user in a very tangible way, which is the best way to invest in a relationship. In this case, the relationship is between the authors and you who, instead of warning you to proceed with unnecessary caution, are encouraging you to try, to do, to make, to fail, and to do again.
But the most special reason I liked this book was an acknowledgment from Windell Oskay at the very end of the Forward. He says, “This is the book that taught me how to make things.” Oskay founded Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories with his awesome wife Lenore, and the work they do is creative and joyful. You can tell that they enjoy the products they make. So if this book helped Oskay get from a 10-year-old aspiring scientist to a maker and entrepreneur with a PhD in Physics, it’s definitely staying on my bookshelf. Not just for me, but for the other little scientists running around my house and my hackerspace who may find that it is the catalyst they were looking for too.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.
There have been a number of fantastic DC Comics books for kids published recently—if you know where to find them! After enjoying Batman Science so much, I wanted to look at some of Capstone’s other new offerings featuring our favorite DC super heroes. How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains is a step-by-step art book with characters drawn in Bruce Timm’s wonderful style of the animated series. This isn’t a how-to-draw book for young kids or beginners, but the facts included about each superhero and villain make it worthy of being added to a young comic fans’ collection.
As you might expect from a book with this title, How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains focuses mostly on poses of the first two heroes in the list. Batman and Superman are given the how-tos for their civilian clothes, head and shoulders, fighting in various poses, and even their vehicles and lairs. Having never taken a drawing class and possessing no talent, I was grateful for the head shots, as those simpler drawings are just about the best I could manage.
Wonder Woman is featured on the cover of the book, even if she’s not named in the title, but I was disappointed there was only one full-body action pose included in the book. I would have loved to see the up-close head and shoulders how-to for both Wonder Woman and Batgirl. With the focus on Batman and Superman, it is still nice to see them at least included in the book, along with other heroines like Black Canary, Supergirl, and Lois Lane.
The descriptions and backgrounds of each character, item, and locale make fun reading themselves. This is one of those books that you’ll see your kid curled up with under the covers when they’re supposed to be asleep, memorizing every little fact about the heroes and villains within. With over 50 characters inside, there’s a lot to look through again and again.
How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains may be best suited for kids age 10 and up who won’t get frustrated when their drawings don’t look exactly like Batman: The Animated Series. But even if your child has never taken an art class, it’s fun to try to draw a favorite character. My 6-year-old and I had a blast drawing a wobbly Wonder Woman and a blobby Batgirl. The drawings may not have been perfect, but we loved laughing and trying together.
GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.
Please help us welcome fantasy author J. Kathleen Cheney to GeekMom! Ms. Cheney is the author of The Golden City series from Roc Books. The Shores of Spain, book 3 in the series, has just been released today.
The Real Steampunk
I’ve always thought that if I had a chance to do my life all over again, my new day job would be as a civil engineer. It would be right up my alley. I have a nerdy fascination with sewer systems, underground building design, highways, rooftop gardening, and distribution/transport systems.
So when I worked on the first of the Golden City novels (aptly titled The Golden City), I fell in love with these:
Those two beauties are the Titans in Matosinhos, Portugal.
For those people who live in areas with harbors, they might even recognize what they are. Essentially, they’re cranes that specialize in building breakwaters. A breakwater is an enclosed area around a harbor or river’s mouth that makes for calmer waters where a ship comes in to dock. What the Titans do is carry 10-ton blocks from a building yard out to the end of the breakwater (via its own railway) and set the block into the water. Once enough stone is there to support the crane, the railway is extended, and the Titan goes back to get another block.
(Titans, by the way, are a classification of crane. It’s not the name of this particular set of cranes. So there are far younger Titans all around the world, in many industrial and nautical settings.)
I’ve included this picture so that you can get a bit of perspective on how big they are. The little “house” that’s sitting atop the crane’s boom arm is actually the housing for the steam engine. Beneath that, inside the boom arm, is the ballast that balances the heavy weights (up to 50 tons) that the Titan is made to carry. It’s an amazing piece of technology, particularly when you realize that these two were made during the Victorian age.
You want steampunk? These babies are real steampunk!
In my first novel, I managed to squeeze these guys in. There’s a scene where my hero, Duilio, ducks behind one of that behemoth’s rail wheels for cover during a gunfight. If you look at the little tiny people standing around on the temporary tracks, that will give you an idea how tiny he must have felt hiding under the Titan’s bulk. It’s huge, and in his place, I would have been terrified.
Now, at a ripe old age of 132 years, the Titans have seen better days. As they’re not being used for loading, they generally sit idle on the breakwaters. However, one did have an accident in 1892—it was swept into the ocean during a storm. The city managed (after a few years) to haul the thing back out of the water and set it back on its railway tracks. In early 2012, one of the Titans dropped some metal (metal fatigue), causing a rupture in a gas line and an industrial fire. After that, the city decided that instead of demolishing them, they would refurbish the two Titans to stave off another accident. That fall, when I traveled to Matosinhos, one of the Titans was, indeed, missing, having been taken away for that promised work.
There are many people arguing for the Titans to be named International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. There are actually very few of these things left throughout the world. One that was built in 1907, in Clydebank, Scotland, was recently converted into a bungee jumping site. So I watch with fingers crossed and hope that they will last another 132 years, and that our descendants will look at them and marvel that we could have—with our limited technology—have managed to build such beauties.
If you’d like to see more pictures of the Titans, click here to see my Pinterest Page: https://www.pinterest.com/jkathleencheney/the-titans/
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). The sequel, The Seat of Magic, came out in 2014, and the final book in the series, The Shores of Spain, will come out July 2015.
Books about princesses and ballerinas are always fun reads, but it’s also great to find books starring heroines who also enjoy getting their hands dirty and figuring out how things work. Here are three charming and notable picture book picks featuring girls who love to tinker, fix, build, and make.
Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt
The classic fairy tale meets sci-fi in this lovely and welcome twist on the story of Cinderella. Cinderella doesn’t dream of living in a castle or meeting her prince, but of getting her own ship to fix and tinker with.
All of the familiar elements are there: the unpleasant stepmother and stepsisters, the prince, and the ball, and Underwood’s take on other parts of the tale are both clever and obviously well thought out. Cinderella’s mouse friend is a robot, she comes to the Prince’s rescue, and her response to his marriage proposal makes picking up this book worth it alone. And I’m not certain, but I like to think there’s an intentional nod to Doctor Who in there as well.
Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
Rosie loves to build and tinker, but when one of her inventions goes haywire, can she find the courage to keep trying? Not only does Rosie Revere, Engineer include both colorful characters and a great jumping off point to talk about history, the story gives the rare message that it’s okay to fail. In fact, failure can be celebrated, as long as you keep trying.
This important theme and the wonderfully detailed illustrations of wacky gizmos make this a book that we revisit time and time again.
Violet the Pilot, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
Violet is a mechanical genius who loves disassembling and reassembling things to see how they work. When she turns eight years old, her dreams turn to the sky. She works hard to make her own airplane, even as the other kids avoid her or tease her. Her parents support her, which I loved to see in the story, and she and her best friend Orville never give up in their work to reach the clouds.
Violet the Pilot has a vintage feel with soft illustrations, and can even begin conversations about life before selfies and social media.
Since my experience with the wonderful Kate Beaton’s work is limited to the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Wonder Woman of Hark, A Vagrant, when I first received an email about her new picture book for children, my first response was, “A children’s book?”
I should have known better because The Princess and the Pony is equal parts adorable and funny, and still very Beaton, especially given that the Pony is a character from Hark, A Vagrant. It’s about a warrior princess who is given sweaters as gifts instead of warrior things and given the Pony who farts instead of a war-horse.
I read it out loud to all of my nearly-adult kids and we all loved it, and then spent time looking for all the fun hidden in the artwork.
Now here’s a chance for GeekMom readers to win a The Princess and the Pony Gift Pack.
SMALL, FAT, AND MIGHTY prize pack
One (1) winner receives:
· A copy of The Princess and the Pony;
· $50 Visa gift card;
· Plus a Kate Beaton-designed Pony t-shirt and “Small Fat and Mighty” coffee mug.
Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Scholastic.
Just enter the giveaway widget below the video trailer for the book.
Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, and her work has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto, and you can find her online at www.beatontown.com and on Twitter as @beatonna.
Tell Should-Zu to Shut Up, by Brian Kirk
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent far too much of your life pretending.
And I don’t mean the cool kind of pretending, where you imagine yourself to be a shape-shifting spy ninja that can perform a perfect cartwheel and fly.
I mean the not-so-cool kind, where you pretend you enjoy looking at Power Point slides created by your boss who seems to have been born without an imagination at all.
I’ve pretended to like things I didn’t, like professional football.
I’ve spent so much of my life, it seems, conforming my likes and dislikes to the expectations of someone else. A vague parental/peer-body amalgamation that hovers over my decision making like some amorphous judge. Let’s call this thing: Should-Zu. Like Shih Tzu (which is one of my all-time favorite names), but with a “should.” Plus, Should-Zu can be yappy little thing, too.
Let me tell you a little something about Should-Zu. I grew up loving to tell stories. Scary stories, more often than not. And writing has always been the activity that provided me with the most inner joy. But then college came, and Should-Zu told me that writing was frivolous. That it was time to grow up and choose a field of study that could become a career. My dad was in advertising, so Should-Zu suggested I do that. And that’s what I did. For nine years I worked at a large ad agency, adhering to Should-Zu’s demands, counting down the days until I could retire and break free. I made it through about 2,000 of the requisite 12,000 days.
Pretty early on I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the work. It wasn’t the people. And it wasn’t the pay (although it was pretty abysmal at the beginning). It was the fact that I felt like a fraud. I felt like I was playing the role of an Ad Exec rather than being my authentic self. And it seemed like everyone around me was doing the same thing. Assuming this stiff, awkward posture, wearing clothes they wouldn’t normally wear, speaking in some strange language I never heard outside the office, “net-net, value add, core competencies (that no one would want to have)”.
See, it may have taken me thirty-one years, but I finally wised up to Should-Zu’s game. I saw it one day, at first from the corner of my eye, and then head on. Instead of appearing as some guiding light, it was this malformed lump of guilt. Not only was it gross to look at, it was dumb, and didn’t know me at all. Worse, it was a coward, frightened that I would find fulfillment living as my true self, something it itself was too afraid to do. So, I resigned from my corporate job to work freelance and do the thing I love most: write fiction.
What’s up with Should-Zu? Why do we listen to it? Why do we allow it to outfit us in these phony costumes and pretend to be something we’re not?
This is one of the themes I address in my debut novel, We Are Monsters, which takes place inside a mental institution and studies the attempted restoration of mental health. I had an epiphany when considering this environment. It seemed to me that the patients with their crippling mental disorders were living more authentically than some of the doctors likely were. Sure, it may not be how they would choose to live. Schizophrenia doesn’t sound like fun. But they weren’t putting on a pretense. They were in no way beholden to Should-Zu, and its unwarranted demands. Whereas the doctors may be living lies, or have emotional burdens they were hiding from or shoving deep down inside.
I wanted to unmask the doctors and see what I’d find underneath. I wanted to see what would happen if I woke them up from Should-Zu’s somnolent trance.
I still hear Should-Zu, it never leaves. But I don’t listen anymore, and I’m much happier now. If Should-Zu speaks to you, just tell it to hush.
Brian Kirk lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys. He works as a freelance writer in addition to writing fiction, and is currently working on the second book in a planned trilogy. We Are Monsters is his debut release. Feel free to connect with him online. Don’t worry, he only kills his characters.
The summer slide is real. And no, I don’t mean the kind that includes water and a slippery surface. I mean learning lag, which happens during the summertime when kids are out of school. Thankfully, our sponsor Scholastic and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is here to help. They’re challenging families like ours to “Power Up & Read”—powered by Energizer.
Teachers report that they end up re-teaching materials to kids during the fall because so much is lost over the summer. And with camps and family vacations—and the sometimes unbearably hot weather like here in North Carolina—it’s not surprising. After a demanding school year, the first thing my son Liam wants to do is not to read.
But we’re finding ways to help him, and you can, too. Picking books for him is the first big challenge. Thankfully, with the help of his teacher last year, we discovered a Minecraft series of novels. While they might not be my first choice of literature, they get his attention. He gets so invested in these books, you can hardly pry him away. Couple that with the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, and he’s got real motivation to continue reading—and to get rewarded all along the way. Bonus: There’s games he can play, and any time “screen time” is part of the deal, you know his attention is piqued.
What’s particularly nice is that we can let Liam choose his own books during the summer. With his ASD, the pressure to perform can be really overwhelming. But he doesn’t let it get to him this way. He can read whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
The free program runs from May 4 to September 4, 2015, and like I mentioned before, you can sign up for free on their website.
Even better is the new addition of short stories by some of the biggest names in kids’ writing. Kids can unlock stories by Blue Balliett, Patrik Henry Bass, Varian Johnson, Gordon Korman, Michael Northrop, Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, Roland Smith, R.L. Stine, Tui T. Sutherland, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, and Jude Watson. For a fiction writer as I am, that’s a truly exciting reward! Not to mention, they’ve got a host of exclusive videos featuring kids’ authors, monthly Klutz books sweepstakes, and lots more.
The site is chock-full of great resources, including printouts, guides, and book lists for kids of all ages. And you can get Daily Digest tips and hey, even enter a prize packet for you that includes Scholastic tote bag, water bottle, a copy of Reading Unbound by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, a $10 gift certificate to Scholastic Store Online, Energizer® brand batteries, Scholastic books, and more.
Want more? We’ve got more! Check the links below.
- Sign up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
- Find more Scholastic Resources to keep your kids reading all summer long!
- Learn more about the Energizer® Instant Win Game
- Follow @Scholastic on Twitter
- Like the Energizer® Bunny on Facebook
Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.
Two weeks ago, GeekMom premiered the gloriously geektastic knitting book, Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds by Joan of Dark, with photographs by Kyle Cassidy.
Currently hanging out around the top 50 most popular knitting books on Amazon, Geek Knits features actors, authors, and celebrities from across the geek pantheon. (Yes, I went there. Hush.)
We love behind-the-scenes exclusives at GeekMom, and Kyle and Joan were happy to oblige with the following stories.
Plus, know what makes exclusives even better? The wonderful folks at St. Martins’ Press do: a giveaway. You’ll find your own chance to win a copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds at the bottom of this post.
Read on, crafty friends:
Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 1: George R.R. Martin – From Kyle Cassidy
“Fun fact: I spent nearly a week in George R. R. Martin’s guest house, waiting to take the photo for Geek Knits of George and the knitted Dire Wolf. George would stick his head in and ask if anybody wanted to go out for tacos (and of course, I’d say yes). Then he’d say he felt like writing and I wasn’t about to be the guy on the internet who told George R. R. Martin to not write, so I read books and took photos of rollergirls out in the desert and went running and I’d check back periodically and he’d invite me to dinner and I’d go and then it would be late and everybody would go to bed. One day, he suggested we go to a movie at his theater. It was a South Korean western called The Good, the Bad, and the Weird—a bunch of the authors from Wild Cards were there. Finally, one evening his assistant called and said, ‘Can you do it now before the football game?’ and I raced over and did the photos in his office in about 15 minutes. He was loads of fun to be around and I had a great time hanging out there.”
Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 2: Adam Savage – From Kyle Cassidy
(Or how Kyle ran a marathon, set up the perfect shot, and hung out with stormtroopers and a shark.)
“The shot of Adam Savage with the dragon is probably my favorite one in the book. It wasn’t difficult to set up, but it was still the most difficult.
I’d been planning on taking a weekend of vacation, meaning that I’d fly from Philadelphia to Chicago, run a half marathon with Peter Sagal, do his photo for Geek Knits, then jump on a plane and come back to Philly the next day. That’s ‘vacation’ in my mind. Joan called and said that Adam Savage from Mythbusters was available for a photo shoot, but only in the middle of my vacation (after I ran the race, but before I came home) and could I go from Chicago to California and then back to Philly instead of sleeping after the race?
I had my photo gear, but no props and nothing in mind for Adam’s shoot. I didn’t even know where it was going to be. It turned out to be backstage at a concert hall—Adam was doing a performance and I had the run of the backstage area to figure something out and when Adam came off stage, we could do the photo.
I wanted to do something in the Mythbusters tradition, meaning some sort of construction and Adam was modeling a dragon. What would Adam do with a dragon? Melt something? Fire, there should probably be fire. Joan’s husband, (Dill Hero) was totally on board with the idea of setting something on fire in the theater. Somehow cooler heads prevailed and the fire idea was nixed. Maybe Adam would set a trap for a dragon and catch it. So Dill and I started scouring the backstage looking for things to make a Rube Goldberg trap out of and a place to set it up.
This is our proof of concept.
What remains is how to light it. Here’s one light behind an umbrella. It lights everything up. Nice maybe, but not dramatic enough for a dragon.
I went with two lights, a soft box above the dragon , and a second light straight on the trapper. The dragon is being lured into the trap with a little pile of gold coins. Because that’s how you catch a dragon. Photo geekery: Because I was ostensibly ‘on vacation’ and thought I was only taking one photo of Peter Sagal, I packed a small camera kit consisting of a Panasonic Lumix GX7 and a 20mm f 1.7 lens. The Lumix is very small and very capable and it’s become a go-to for a lot of my work that involves traveling. I had two flashes triggered by Pocket Wizard radio flash triggers. I also brought one light stand and the umbrella was a Photek Softlighter II, which converts into a soft box, a shoot through, or a reflective umbrella. It’s very useful. The umbrella and the light stand both fit in my suitcase; everything else in a small camera bag.
That looks appropriately dramatic! So we waited for Adam, he came off stage, I did like four photos, which was kind of pointless because we nailed it on the first one. I love how the dragon looks happily and innocently inquisitive and Adam looks delightedly triumphant—his trap is working! Click! And now with my job done, I could go lay down in a hotel and sleep for five hours before my red-eye back to philly! Glorious sleep!
Then Adam said: ‘Do you want to come back to my place and hang out for a while?’
Wot wot?! Anyone who says ‘no’ to that does not deserve to be working on a book called Geek Knits.
So we went. You can see in this selfie, I’m still wearing my running shirt from the half marathon.
Adam has a shark. He found it in a dumpster and brought it home and hung it up by himself. Because when he’s not building things on Mythbusters, he’s building things. He’s the least lazy person I’ve ever met in my life. So I figured, ‘suck it up and sleep some other time.’ And we went on into the evening. Adam showed us the most powerful flashlight ever invented, the prop gun from The Bourne Identity, we had tacos. I got on an airplane at midnight and flew back to Philadelphia. The plane landed and I went off to the next thing, still in two-day-old clothes without unpacking my bags. Tired didn’t mean anything, so much had happened. We made great stuff, we had an adventure; that’s all I really remember.”
Joan adds: “The dragon was designed by Noel Margaret (www.noelmargaret.com). I asked several designers about making a plush dragon and Noel nailed it, hands down. I love how the texture makes it look like the dragon has scales! Instead of doing the obvious green, she wanted to do a bright red, which I was absolutely on board with. It came out so cute and cuddly instead of creepy or scary!
Also Adam not only had The Bourne Identity gun, he had the red bag and trash can! (Bourne Identity is one of those movies that I can watch once a week and never get tired of it. I was having a major geek out!)
It’s really, really hard for me to pick a favorite photo from Geek Knits, but this one is up there! I was so paranoid about it getting in since it’s um, sideways. (Kyle what’s the fancy photo term for sideways???) Most photos in knitting books are vertical. As soon as I turned these photos in to the publisher I was like, ‘This photo. This photo has to be in the book!’
As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. The publisher and art department saw that photo and were instantly in love with it!”
Thanks so much to Joan of Dark and Kyle Cassidy for providing behind-the-scenes stories from Geek Knits, as well as great tips on how best to light a dinosaur trap for posterity!
Even better, the fabulous folks from St. Martin’s Press have authorized GeekMom to do a giveaway. Sign up on our rafflecopter for your chance to win your very own copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds.
Terms: US/Canada only. Contest runs Tuesday, June 30, through Monday, July 6.
Your kids might be in the middle of their summer reading challenge or program and wondering, “What should I read next?” I recently happened upon the perfect book to add to the book pile this summer, aimed at kids who love science and/or comic books: Batman Science from Capstone Publishing and DC Comics.
Have you ever seen a batarang fly through the air or Batman fly up the side of a building with his grappling gun and wonder, “Could that really happen?” Batman Science tackles that question for all of the Dark Knight’s signature moves and equipment with clear, concise information. Although the title touts science, most of the topics are overviews of engineering topics worded for late elementary age kids.
Topics range from the Batsuit and utility belt to the various Bat vehicles. You and your kids might be surprised at how much of Batman’s fictional weapons and equipment have a basis in real-world science and engineering. There’s a heavy emphasis on real-world law enforcement and military equipment and tactics, as most of Batman’s arsenal is based on the same type of technology and methods.
Authors Tammy Enz and Agnieszka Biskup did a fantastic job of splitting up engineering topics into bite-sized chunks of information ideal for kids’ attention spans. You’ll find yourself picking up the easy-to-read book from time to time to skim over interesting topics, from how Kevlar is made to concept cars like BMW’s GINA that can change its shape like the Batmobile.
Batman Science is available now in paperback, a fantastic way to get kids who love superheroes interested in the amazing engineering in the real world.
“Journey to a distant land where bold adventurers wield magical blades against dark creatures from the shadowy depths. Thrill to the arcane power of enigmatic sorcerers as they master forbidden arts to strike down their diabolical enemies. Marvel at the courage of common folk who refuse to surrender to the tide of evil sweeping over the land. These, my friend, are the CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS!” –Marc Tassin
I’ve been working on a really exciting project for the past couple months alongside the folks at Mechanical Muse and Aetaltis. Champions of Aetaltis is a heroic fantasy anthology that is set in author/game designer/creator Marc Tassin’s world of Aetaltis. It’s going to include stories by some of the top authors in fantasy today, and will develop the already wonderful world into something truly spectacular.
What is Aetaltis? Well, above all, it’s a fantasy world, much like people are used to seeing in Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms, and Pathfinder. What makes Aetaltis exciting is that it is a platform upon which many things can be built—games, stories, comics, art—and as we are learning, the possibilities are endless.
With the anthology, 20 popular authors, including Michael A. Stackpole, David Farland, Lucy A. Snyder, Larry Correia, David Gross, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Cat Rambo, and more, will be exploring the different aspects, areas, cultures, and legends of the world of Aetaltis and creating a rich story base concerning the people who live there. What excites me about this project is that it takes the tropes I grew up loving, and runs with them instead of fighting them or trying to reinvent them. Yet, the world still manages to be fresh and exciting. I asked Marc Tassin, the world’s creator, to explain this concept a little better than I can. So please, welcome Marc!
GeekMom Melanie: What makes Aetaltis different?
Marc Tassin: I’ve been asked this question a lot since I launched the Kickstarter, so I figured I’d better address it. So here we go…
Readers: What makes Aetaltis different from other classic fantasy settings?
Marc: It’s not! <Use your imagination to insert the screeching noise of the needle scraping across a record!>
Not the answer you were expecting? No problem. I’ll explain.
Anyone can break the rules, because breaking the rules is easy! Sure, it takes skill to break the rules in an artful way, but it’s not hard to smash the norms. You just go in and swap out a bunch of stuff and kick the rest over. Boom! You’re done!
But taking something beloved, embracing a long-held tradition, or working with ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our imagination that they’re the stuff “everybody knows”—taking those things and then doing something really wonderful and compelling with them? Now that is hard. In fact, it’s really hard.
That’s why Hollywood often avoids the hard thing. For example, trying to present Superman in his purest man-of-steel, heart-of-gold, “there’s always a better way,” boy scout in red underpants form without looking stupid is really, really hard. Do it wrong and it comes out really wrong since, like I said before, “everybody knows.” Hollywood can’t afford that risk. It’s way easier to skip all that and just change things up a bit. Doing it the other way is hard!
But… it’s not impossible.
Which brings us to Aetaltis. I decided that I wanted to embrace the traditions and tropes that we love about fantasy, and I took the hard road. After all, I love that stuff! I just wanted to see it done right! It’s like the artisan food movement. It’s not about avant garde departures from the norm—it’s about doing the classics exceptionally well.
So if I’ve done my job right—and if the reaction I’ve received from the authors and pre-readers is to be believed, I have—Aetaltis will give you even more of everything that made classic fantasy classic in a way that you’ll absolutely love. It will do it so artfully and respectfully that you’ll give it a place in your imagination, along with all the other wonderful worlds that it was borne from.
This is also why I turned to the authors I did. I’m not ignorant to the fact that having a New York Times bestseller on your project is a good thing (it is), but that isn’t why I asked the authors I asked. I asked them because they’re really good authors, and you need a really good author to achieve the goals I’ve set out to achieve. Like I said, doing this right is hard. Not just anyone can pull this off.
So there you go! How is Aetaltis different? In the ways that count, it isn’t—and that’s a good thing.
Thanks for reading! I hope I helped to shed some light on my goals with this ambitious project.
Thanks so much for joining us, Marc, and for explaining why Aetaltis brings the best of the old and the new together into one world. The Kickstarter campaign for Champions of Aetaltis will end on June 23, so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, I encourage you to head over and back it!
This summer, I’m determined to keep my son from playing Minecraft, Roblox, Blocksworld, Eden, Terraria, Splatoon, Disney Infinity, and any other game he has an obsession with 24/7.
Instead, I plan on helping him keep this new found love of reading by stocking his bookshelf with interesting things to explore. It’s taken a long time for us to get him into the world of the written word and I don’t intend for him to slip out of it over the summer.
I reached out to Scholastic Books for help and not only did they send me a few recommendations, but they nailed it by sending books that matched my son’s interests. In fact, he couldn’t grab one of the books fast enough.
The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig by Emer Stamp
“This is me. I is Pig! If you is reading this, you can read Pig, and you is very clever. Unless you is an Evil Chicken, in which case, don’t read this!”
Those are the first words in Pig’s diary and it only gets funnier from there. To get my son interested, I only had to tell him about Pig farting on the evil chickens in revenge. After that, I never had to argue with him to read it again.
Recommended for ages 8 to 12, but I’m positive that younger children will enjoy having this read to them.
Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce
If Mr. Dolittle had a child with J.K Rowling, this book would be the end result.
Pip Bartlett is a young girl who can talk to animals. Not just any animals. Magical animals. Her gift gets her in trouble and in response her parents ship her off to her Aunt’s house for the summer. This was hardly punishment because Pip’s Aunt Emma owns the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures and she was set for an entire summer of talking (without anyone else hearing of course) to the various creatures at the clinic. It’s a summer full of new experiences, new friends, and a disaster that almost destroys a town.
Recommended for ages 8 to 12.
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Any fan of Harry Potter will want to take a look into this new series.
As an adult, the similarities between this title and Harry Potter are hard to ignore. A child, on the other hand, might take comfort in the fact that the formula of Harry Potter and The Iron Trial are the same. The familiarity of the story could be what keeps them reading.
Recommended for ages 8 to 12.
Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey
A superhero who runs around in his underwear and has hilariously heroic adventures? Sign my son up.
When my son saw that Captain Underpants was included in the books Scholastic sent me, he screamed with joy. Apparently he had been introduced to it at school and he was hooked. I have no idea what the appeal is, but if it’s getting my son to read, I’m cool with it. In my son’s words, “It’s awesome. It’s about a principle becoming Captain Underpants and it’s got him taking down bad guys in it. Two kids come along to help him.”
My son was also quick to point out that he likes the full-color versions best.
Recommended for ages 8 to 12, but I could see younger children enjoy looking at the pages.
This is a comic book style series that has a journal like feeling to it. The pages are not in color, which I think is a hinder to my son, but it’s still a cute series that I plan on encouraging him to at least try. The main hero is Roan, a young Jedi padawan who is eager to become a pilot. He attends the Jedi Academy with various other students from other walks of life. There are some familiar faces in the series including Master Yoda and some other familiar faces with different names (T-3P0 and RW-22).
Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan is the second book in the series and The Phantom Bully is the third and final book in the series, covering Roan’s last and hardest year at Jedi Academy.
Recommended for ages 8 to 12
If you are looking for books for your incoming fifth grader, you can rest easy in picking up any of the titles above. My son loves them and that’s enough for me to scream from the mountain tops for everyone to READ THESE BOOKS!!
Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review copy of these titles.
Please help us welcome this week’s “Geek Speaks… Fiction!” guest, science fiction and fantasy author Jeff Somers, who talks about what to do when the ideas overflow.
Sometimes the clichés are true; whenever someone learns I’m a writer, they do inevitably ask the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” As if there is some service you can sign up for that will tweet you brilliancies, or some kids at the local community college or on oDesk who will gladly send you several detailed synopses of awesome novels for $5 apiece. Which, come to think of it, there probably are both of these things, but please do not tell me about them or I will spontaneously die of ennui like Gorey’s sad little Neville.
The thing is, like most writers I’ve spoken to, ideas aren’t the problem. Ideas are never the problem. Formalizing those ideas? Plotting and outlining stories, sketching characters, realizing your story ends with 15,000 words and that’s not a novel? Those are problems.
But sheer number of ideas never is, because writers have ideas all the time. We have so many ideas, as a rule, that we can’t write them all, and that’s why we always walk around with that slight slump and Eeyore-esque aura: The sadness due to not being able to work on all our awesome ideas. So it’s always been with me, with a hard drive crammed with a million ideas I will someday get to, assuming they cure Death and I have eternity to work on them.
And so it is with my character, Avery Cates. When I published the fifth Cates novel, The Final Evolution, in 2011, the story was finished, and I didn’t have an immediate reason to keep going. I’d done exactly what I wanted with those five books: I’d followed the end of civilization through a series of cataclysms as seen through the eyes of the desperate, hilarious, and sometimes brutal Avery Cates, a character I loved. But I lacked impetus to keep exploring that character, so I moved on to other things, most notably We Are Not Good People and an all-new humorous bastard, Lem Vonnegan.
But the ideas keep coming. The overages in ideas specifically about Cates kept piling up to an alarming degree. In the first five books, I’d explored a technological society crumbling into violent collapse. There was now an opportunity to do something cool: Watch the remnants of that society turn into something else entirely, something maybe less science-fiction and more epic fantasy. I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but the ideas kept hitting me in the face. The overages got taller and taller.
So, I started sketching.
Nothing serious. Just get some ideas into a file in case I had time or an offer from a publisher. One surprising thing about writing professionally: You never know when someone’s going to say: Pitch me. Right here.
So I sketched. And sketched. And before I knew it, I had 10,000 words and a stand-alone story about Avery called “The Shattered Gears.” I sat on it for a while, thinking I’d develop it into a novel using some of the other ideas that were overflowing the buckets. And then I thought, why wait? Why wait until there were so many ideas my head just explodes and I have to be fitted for a tattered bathrobe and tissue boxes for shoes (my inevitable end, don’t worry, it is known)? So I put “The Shattered Gears” through editing and put it out digitally.
And the ideas kept coming, and the overages got steeper, and so I started working again. The end result was “The Walled City,” another short story, just released, that continues Avery’s new story. And now that I’ve started this, I’m going to keep going, releasing chunks of the story as I finish them, eventually collecting them into a novel—probably more like a trilogy of novels. I could wait until I’ve written those novels and look into traditional publishing, but that takes time, and during that time the overages will just get worse and worse.
So, after “The Walled City” will come a story called “The Pale.” And after that, even more. It’s just a way of siphoning off some ideas. I’ll be exploring this idea I have of taking a protagonist from a firmly science fictional universe and exploring his reaction as the universe becomes less science fiction, and more… I dunno.
Magical isn’t the right word, actually. There’s no magic, but it’s a world where the hovers no longer fly and no one’s making any new bullets, so it’s not the cyberpunk universe of the first five novels, either. Everything’s winding down, spinning off, and thinning out, and Avery, as always, is there to kill people and somehow make us like him for it.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the basic problem. Only cloning me into several versions that can type out the ideas simultaneously—known as Multiple Jeffs and we would sell out arenas around the world!—would put a dent in The Overages. And the cost of care and feeding an army of drunken, pantsless writers would far exceed the earnings I might expect from those stories, so the math doesn’t work. Which means I am stuck writing things one at a time, like a sucker.
About the author: Jeff Somers was first sighted in Jersey City, New Jersey, after the destruction of a classified government installation in the early 1970s; the area in question is still too radioactive to go near. When asked about this, he will only say that he regrets nothing. He is the author of Lifers, the Avery Cates series from Orbit Books, Chum from Tyrus Books, and the Ustari Cycle from Pocket/Gallery, including We Are Not Good People.
Jeff’s published over 30 short stories as well; his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris, and his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006. He survives on the nickels and quarters he regularly finds behind his ears, his guitar playing is a plague upon his household, and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would wither and die if left to his own devices, but this is only half true.
He has published his own zine, The Inner Swine, since 1995, once in print and now in digital format only. A few hardy fools still read that rag, believe it or not. So can you!
Today, he makes beer money by writing amazing things for various people. Favorite whiskey: Glenmorangie 10 Year. Yes, it is acceptable to pay me in it.
Do any of you have ninja-obsessed kids? How about kids that have trouble working with others? In either case, Ninja Bunny should be on your bookshelf.
Ninja Bunny is the debut book from author/illustrator Jennifer Gray Olson. Aimed at kids 3-7, it features distinctive and adorable illustrations. The book follows a young bunny who wants to be a ninja, and is trying to teach himself how from a book. (I guess he doesn’t have Google yet!)
According to this book, the most important, number one rule for ninjas is that they “must always work alone.”
The book follows our Ninja Bunny friend as he works his way through other rules—be sneaky, have perfect balance, etc.
But what happens when one little Ninja Bunny, armed with nothing but carrot nunchucks, faces down a big brown bear? His friends come to his rescue! And he decides to make his own, new, Ninja Bunny rule: It’s good to have friends who’ll help you out of a jam!
The book has a cute premise and illustrations that stand out. It’s twist isn’t quite clever enough to make this a new favorite, but we will definitely put it in the rotation.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.” – So wrote Dr. Seuss, and for those of us reaching the halfway stage of various reading challenges for the year, we may be wondering “how the time has flewn” quite so quickly this year. Let us know how you’re getting on whether you’re taking a GoodReads challenge of your own or the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge along with countless others. The GeekMoms have been reading about Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, and many other less well-known characters this month so read ahead to see what pages they’ve been turning.
Thanks to a recent birthday and bookstore gift cards, Lisa was able to stock up on a couple of books from one of her favorite reading obsessions: alternative Sherlock Holmes stories.
For those wanting to dive into the many alternative mysteries about Sherlock Holmes not actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the best place to start is with books and stories that bear the seal of approval by the Conan Doyle Estate. This is a good indication that the author involved did their homework in keeping with the spirit of Doyle’s most famous creation. Lisa’s favorite read of the month, Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, (a follow-up to his first Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk), is one of those. This tale introduces the reader to Pinkerton Agency inspector Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard’s Athelney Jones trying to hunt down a sinister criminal with mind to take over as the kingpin of London’s criminal world not long after that fateful disappearance of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.
Horowitz is known for his knack for mystery via his books for adults and young readers, as well as his creation for the World War II TV series Foyle’s War. This was evident with Moriarty, as it will keep Holmes and mystery fans up all night reading ’til the end, as well as pondering the outcome long after they finish the book.
The other Holmes-inspired novel she purchased is the collection of “Holmesian Tales Across Time and Space,” Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by David Thomas Moore. Moore, who had admitted to not being a huge fan of Holmes in his younger days, has since realized what a rebel the detective was after seeing the many new incarnations of the detective in movies and television. As a result, he complied fourteen tales from established and emerging science fiction and fantasy authors that take Holmes, Watson, and the usual supporting characters into scenarios that are anything but usual. The stories range from Wild West adventures to outer space adventures.
There were a couple of tales where the scenario just didn’t feel right (entering the world of the Wizard Lords’ events during the Year of the Yellow Cat was confusing, to say the least), but all of these stories were inventive and certainly not your typical Holmes. Traditionalists who find the modern Holmes’ versions a little far-fetched should steer clear of this collection, because there are female Holmes, a carnival dwarf version of Mrs. Hudson, and even appearances by pop icons like Andy Warhol and Elvis Presley. For those who want to take a journey with an unlimited amount of twists, turns, and surprises, then this anthology won’t disappoint.
Several years ago GeekMom Judy read a book that stuck with her for a long time. It was called Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. The touching story, that Stephen King called “the best memoir I’ve ever read,” was basically heart wrenching reflections on life after the author’s husband was struck by a car while crossing the street, and left with a severe brain injury. Turning to her family, friends, and bed full of dogs for comfort, the author navigated some pretty treacherous life waters. Judy loved the book so much that as soon as the library copy was returned, she bought a copy for her own bookshelves.
Then a few months ago, Ms. Thomas released a new book, called What Comes Next and How to Like It. This book covers a friendship that lasted for decades and some major life events that threatened to end it. The new book is written in very short, sometimes one paragraph “chapters” which make it very easy to read. Like Three Dog Life, What Comes Next is brutally honest and revealing. It will leave you thinking about the friendships in your own life, especially those which have lasted decades.
This month Patricia is reading Judy Blume’s latest book, In the Unlikely Event, released on June 2nd. If you have been a fan of Judy Blume’s poignant youth-point-of-view novels since a young age, as Patricia has been, you won’t be disappointed. The story follows several characters’ lives brought together by a C-46 commercial airliner crash in 1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a true event that impacted Judy Blume herself in real life.
In Blume’s classic style that we have experienced in adult novels such as Smart Women and Summer Sisters, she takes us through numerous points of view, male and female, young and old, privileged and in-need. She covers issues and topics from the 1950s that are still of concern in today’s society, such as racism, religious freedom, and the challenges of single-parenthood. And, of course, first love. Patricia is about halfway through the novel right now and things are getting pretty emotional! She could barely put down the book to write up this brief review!
Sophie has been reading a wide variety of books this month, beginning with Red Dragon by Thomas Harris in preparation for season three of Hannibal which began on NBC earlier this month. This was her first time reading a Hannibal novel and she found the experience fascinating as a die-hard fan of the TV show. She often found herself noticing where ideas had been lifted from the source novel and changed, subtly or not, for the TV show, and she loved getting to see how the characters had been subtly altered to increase the diversity of the cast by adding more women and people of color from the original. Sometimes she even recognized full lines of dialogue that had been appropriated into different scenes. Sophie loved the book and cannot wait to see these new characters introduced this season.
Sophie has also been reading a number of graphic novels this month. She picked up Fury’s Big Week by Christopher Yost after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. The book was published as a prelude to the first Avengers movie in 2012 and although it has its moments she didn’t really enjoy it, much preferring the current ongoing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic series. Staying with Marvel, Sophie also read Mark Millar’s Civil War, her first real foray into the Marvel comics-verse. After getting to grips with the often very different characterization (Captain America was barely recognizable to her), she enjoyed the book but found herself deeply unhappy with the ending which felt like it came out of nowhere.
Sophie’s book club chose The Book Thief by Markus Zusack which she began reading almost immediately thinking the premise sounded very interesting. Sadly, after around 50 pages she ended up passing it on to another member because the writing style was just too annoying for her to stand. This is one month where she will be watching the movie adaptation instead! She chose to spend her time finishing up the third and final installment of Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy—The Last Town—and really enjoyed it despite the extremely violent scenes which pushed her right to her limits despite her being a fan of somewhat graphic horror. The book took a very different journey from the previous two and was non-stop action right from page one; she felt almost out of breath after reading it!
Finally Sophie read the first book in The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The book is the first in a series of YA novels set in a somewhat dystopian future U.S.A. (now renamed Illea and also now a kingdom), which echo The Hunger Games if the parts set in the Capitol had been the entirety of the competition. In The Selection, 35 young women have been chosen to enter what is basically a glorified version of The Bachelor and “compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.” You can imagine the rest of the book from that one sentence. Sophie thought the book was about as good as she imagined from that description (and from the hilarious reviews on Goodreads) but found the book to have that same guilty pleasure factor as The Twilight Saga—you know it’s awful but keep reading anyway! She plans to read more of the series to see if it can get any better!
Fran is re-reading Stephanie Feldman’s Angel of Losses. This Crawford-Award-winning book about family, sisterhood, myth, magic, and mystery grabbed her when she read it last fall. This time, it’s the interweaving of theology, history, and folk tales that drew her back.
She’s also reading an early copy of Max Gladstone’s Last First Snow because she loves the world of The Craft Sequence, and this might be the best one yet—bureacracy-mancy, necro-arbitrage, and more.
Lastly, she has a book hangover because she read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted in twelve blissful hours. Fantastic characters, electric magic that doesn’t color within the lines, and a world that breaks free of its fairy tale origins. Yes, please.
Copies of some books included in these recommendation have been provided for review purposes.
I adore the work of Brian Selznick. If you and your kids haven’t read The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck, stop what you’re doing immediately and head to the library.
In my library classes, reading about Hugo and his automaton is a rite of passage. I’ve read it to every third grade class I’ve taught since it was published in 2007. I’ve read The Houdini Box and The Boy of a Thousand Faces to various classes. I’ve given Wonderstruck as a gift, to friends and students. I keep an eye out for The Robot King in every used bookstore (somehow discovering it seems more appropriate than buying it used from Amazon). Sometimes my students rush up to me with the library’s copies of Ann M. Martin’s The Doll People series or Andrew Clements’ Frindle and excitedly show me who the illustrator was. His work speaks to me dearly, and I love sharing it with kids.
So when Scholastic invited me to a special preview of his newest illustrated novel, The Marvels, it was like being asked to prom. It’s been four years since Mr. Selznick’s last book (Wonderstruck), and I couldn’t wait.
The Marvels is about several generations in a family of London actors, and it is also about a house. Mr. Selznick gave an emotional presentation on his inspirations for the book (including the splendid Dennis Severs’ House). He showed us the first 60 or so pages, all illustrations, which had the entire audience at New York City’s Hudson Theatre in tears.
Mr. Selznick walked us through his process, including photos from the 3 months he and his husband lived in London doing research for this book. He showed us the thumbnail drawings he did for the book before moving on to the full-size illustrations. Which is, in itself, the most incredible thing to see.
He explained that there were hundreds more illustrations, followed by 200 pages of written text. He signed some ARCs of the book, and he also had a surprise for us: small versions of the book’s illustrations put together from all of those thumbnails.
It’s his most ambitious book, and I think it will be his most beautiful. It’s next on my to-read pile, and I’ll be writing a review of it for the book’s release on September 15.
GeekMom received an advanced reader copy of The Marvels.
My boys, ages 10 and 12, wait with eager anticipation for the release of each new Big Nate book. Then, when they get their hands on it, they usually finish it as quickly as a glass of cold, refreshing iced tea on a hot summer’s day. Fast! And, they are just as satisfied too. Plus, I get to hear all the funny excerpts and reenactments of Nate’s latest adventures. I might even pick up the book to enjoy for myself. Reading Big Nate is definitely a family affair in our home.
Big Nate started as a syndicated comic strip in 1991 and has grown to include a whole series of illustrated novels and activity books. Author Lincoln Peirce is very skilled at telling stories so that you laugh while pondering some of life’s most difficult growing-up experiences.
Recently, we were given the opportunity to review Big Nate: Say Good-Bye to Dork City, and Big Nate’s latest adventures are funnier and more meaningful than ever! One of our favorite comic strips from the book was set at Halloween and had us rolling with laughter. Nate’s dad, Marty, decides he should hand out a healthy alternative to the typical Halloween candy, but what seems like a good idea, turns into a disaster. Yuck! My Halloween will never be the same.
About the time we stopped laughing over everyone’s reaction to healthy Halloween treats, Marty decides Nate won’t miss a few pieces of Halloween candy from his huge stash. Wrong! Nate has rigged a motion sensor to detect anyone who dares to mess with his candy. “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, INTRUDER! INTRUDER!” “All I wanted was a box of Milk Duds,” Marty says.
We own similar Spy Gear at our house, and it’s a real riot when the alarms sound and darts fly. I have to cover my ears, but the boys can take turns for hours setting up traps for mom, each other, and Kitty. You know the cat loves that!
My son Joey says he relates to Big Nate because so many of the situations Nate finds himself in have actually happened to him. “A lot of things in this book series makes you want to reflect on yourself,” he says. “We have all protested against things like homework and cooties. Nate is really an ordinary kid just like me.”
While Big Nate books are certainly filled with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and great illustrations, there’s always an important underlying growing-up theme too. In Big Nate: Say Good-Bye to Dork City, Nate works to get into Marcus’ Posse, but once in, he realizes that he’d rather hang out with his true friends than be one of the cool kids. Good for Nate! I am sure many of us can relate to the hurt of being left out of the in-crowd or getting in and then realizing it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, Lincoln Peirce is going to be a part of the Drawn Together event on June 20. For more details, check out Randy Slavey’s post over on GeekDad. I wish we weren’t so far away in North Carolina, or we would absolutely be there.
Big Nate: Say Good-Bye to Dork City also includes a full-color pull-out poster of the book cover. Your kids are sure to love hanging it in their room.
Also, Big Nate has a fantastic website. You can read about the latest books, play games, share your doodles, sign up for the Big Nate newsletter, and read the latest comic strip over on GoComics. Did you know you can download the GoComics app on your iOS or Android device and read your favorite comics, like Big Nate, each day for free? We’ve installed it on our devices and are really enjoying keeping up with the daily Big Nate comic strip.
Big Nate: Say Good-Bye to Dork City is available on Amazon for $9.18.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.
One of my favorite artists I discovered at San Diego Comic-Con last year, Cari Corene, is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for an adorable picture book she co-authored and co-illustrated with Amanda Coronado.
Floral Frolic is the story of two foxes, Queenie and Dawnsing, who are having a friendly competition to see who can find the best flowers. I had a chance to preview the whole story, and it’s perfectly sweet and simple. As the foxes go off on their own to find unique flowers, we are introduced to synonyms and antonyms in an organic and non-preachy way. The story is the perfect length to really let the art shine.
These two artists have worked fabulously together to create art that’s bold and colorful, while also being soft and whimsical. And that is the magic of watercolor. Cari and Amanda earned a degree in sequential art together, which serves them well as illustrators and storytellers for this debut picture book.
I got the chance to ask these talented ladies a few questions about the book and their geeky passions.
GeekMom: Why did you choose to work on this together?
Floral Frolic: When creating something so labor intensive and time sucking as a book, followed by a huge Kickstarter campaign, the benefits of tag-teaming are definitely in play. We decided to work together on Floral Frolic because neither of us could have completed this much work and remained motivated alone. Both of us would have given up on this project after the first one or two illustrations if the other person hadn’t been requesting more work to be finished. While one person is answering comments on Kickstarter, the other person can be posting about Floral Frolic online! (Or, say, corresponding with GeekMom.) Working as a team has also helped the project a lot; we are there to help each other with the artwork and generate ideas. Some of the illustrations in the book only exist because of ideas generated from working in a team.
GM: How did you blend your art together into one consistent look?
FF: We actually had several art melding together failures before finally succeeding! In Update 2 of our Kickstarter (a backer-only update) we actually show the first page spread we did together, which was painted twice in two different ways. It also helps that we are around each other a lot every day, so there is more interaction between us while working on the project.
GM: How did you come up with this story?
FF: We were talking one day about what we would want to write a children’s book about. We each had fox characters. We both wanted something simply written and illustration weighted. We both felt that we were capable of creating a children’s book, so why had we never done it? That brings me back to why we collaborated; we needed the shared time and work burden to get us through. When actually coming up with the script, we each sat down separately, wrote out what we thought would be good, and compared. They ended up being mostly identical scripts about two fox friends picking flowers, almost having a tiff at the end, and then becoming better friends.
GM: As illustrators, what comes to you first, ideas for the illustrations or for the story?
FF: It’s actually the opposite for each of us! Amanda thinks in pictures, her scripts are quick, rough thumbnails based on a plot she has in her head. Cari thinks in words or lists. A rough script for Cari are single-sentence descriptions of actions and dialogue that looks a lot like a list. After each writing a script (a thumbnailed script and a written one), we went to sketching out ideas and fleshing out some tighter thumbnails for possible illustrations.
GM: Why did you choose to pursue self-publishing over the traditional publishing route?
FF: We’re actually very interested in traditional publishing, where one would have their book put out and distributed by a publisher. However, so far in our lives, publishers have only been interested in a story once it has been completed and they can see that the published story has a clear audience. It would not make us sad to self-publish Floral Frolic and that’s all it ever is. That would be completely fine! But we’re really hoping that having a beautiful book one might prompt a publisher to be interested in a book two! We already have a script, all we need is a publisher to believe in us and help us get our book in to stores.
GM: What tips do you have for someone who wants to become a professional illustrator?
FF: The best tip I heard was from a professor in college. He said there are three key parts of being a professional artist, you must rule two of them. The three things are:
1. Be very good.
2. Be very fast.
3. Know the right people.
So far this list has been mostly accurate, so pick your two and go for it.
I think it’s also important that budding illustrators focus on developing a point of view. Some might call it “a style,” but I think style can evolve and develop over time. What’s important is that you are drawing things for yourself, first and foremost. It’s also important to not be afraid to show your work! There are many great places to share online and you just never know.
GM: Do you have any favorite online resources for learning to draw or paint or use new techniques?
Cari: I like my Tumblr dashboard? Because I follow a lot of people who are always reblogging art resources, I wouldn’t think to look for. Just a lot of anatomy tutorials, pretty pictures, and motivational gifs. I know other artists who would really have an exceptional list of websites for learning resources, maybe I’ve faltered here in my duties.
Amanda: I still use DeviantArt for tutorials if I’m struggling with something. Sometimes YouTube can have great video tutorials, as well. I think my biggest resource though is probably Google Images for reference. I can spend hours googling photos of environments, animals, etc., either for reference or inspiration.
GM: What keeps you motivated, for this project and in general?
Cari: Still passion, with a little bit of deadlines and needing to earn a living thrown in there for spice. I’m still pretty motivated by the distant horizon line, too. I’ll think to myself of future projects, new painting ideas, stories I still want to write, but first I need to complete the work in the here and now, because this work will inform the work I do on the horizon. I never have a shortage of crazy dream projects to keep my mind occupied. Occasionally, the crazy dream projects make it into reality (that would be Floral Frolic).
Amanda: I don’t know if this makes sense, but the act of drawing and working on the project is a driving force for me. It’s fun to sit down and flesh out things we’ve only imagined. There’s also the promise of a finished project, as well as the pressure of getting it done. Deadlines are always a motivator!
GM: What is your favorite format to illustrate (graphic novel, comic book, picture books, merchandise, anything that pays, something else)?
Cari: I really, really, really love illustrated pros. So that could be a children’s book, or it could be a fully written story with occasional illustrations. Or some other format?? I love complex, adult-oriented stories that look like children’s books. Maybe that’s what I should say. Graphic novels are really nice, but sometimes I just want to write the story instead of drawing 10 panels. Words and pictures can do very different things. I’m still trying to reconcile words and pictures, I think my entire life of drawing will be about how I learn to put the two together in a way that is uniquely me.
Amanda: I will always have a soft spot for comics. If only it weren’t so time-consuming! I enjoy drawing images that move in a progression. Now that I’ve worked on a children’s book, I’m also enjoying single illustration, but I think I will always love comics. Lately, I’ve been enjoying smaller illustrations for repeating patterns, too!
GM: At what conventions can we find you?
FF: TOO MANY!
SDCC (art show only)
Gen Con (Cari only)
Dragoncon (art show only)
Rainfurrest (Cari only)
Baltimore Comic Con (Amanda only)
New York Comic Con
GM: What other projects might I have seen your art in?
Amanda: I’ve been working as the penciller/inker on Vamplets: Nightmare Nursery for about three years now. I also ran one other crowdfunding campaign before Floral Frolic for the plush I designed, Angry Cat.
GM: What graphic novels or comic books do you recommend for a young audience?
Amanda: Growing up, my greatest inspiration was Cardcaptor Sakura by Clamp. The art was elegant and simple and will always be my favorite. As a kid, my favorite children’s books were by Chris Van Allsburg and Marguerite Henry. Seeing The Mysteries of Harris Burdick really blew my mind in the third grade and inspired me to want to be an illustrator. I’ve also enjoyed The Voyage of the Basset by James C. Christensen, as well as Margaret Hodges’ Saint George and the Dragon.
Cari: Drop everything and go read every book by Paul Goble. Okay, now moving on. I grew up reading Sailor Moon and I love it! So of course, I recommend reading Sailor Moon. Blade of the Immortal and Ranma ½ were also much beloved, but might require parental guidance. Bone and Stardust both really changed my perception of comics and storytelling when I was a teen as well. Sky Doll was also fantastic; it made me want to stretch my art! I can’t help but also drop in novels here too, which shaped me when I was young probably more than comics. I loved Lord of the Rings more than I can even put in words, and how could I not love Harry Potter and all the Pokemon games they were my life! So was Zelda. The Mercy Thompson series was my paranormal romance genre book of choice.
Thank you, Cari and Amanda, for taking the time to talk to us! The Kickstarter campaign for Floral Frolic is already fully funded, but there’s only a few days left for them to reach some awesome stretch goals. Campaign rewards include the book itself (physical and/or PDF), stickers, postcards, posters, lanyards, wallets, wood necklaces, scarves, original book art, and even the option of having a custom portrait of your pet drawn and painted by the artists.
I’ve been accumulating a few favorite library finds over the last few months which I wanted to share with you. Here I have a list of picture books about learning to find yourself, having confidence in your big plans, exploring your passions, and much more, plus a couple of non-fiction books exploring women’s rights through history.
Sylvie, written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler, is a story about a flamingo who learns that she is pink because the shrimps she eats are pink. Naturally, she wonders what color she’d be if she ate something else instead. Let’s just say the process is not scientifically accurate, because this poor flamingo subjects her stomach to food and non-food items alike to turn herself all kinds of crazy colors and patterns. There’s a cute twist in the end, and the art is equally adorable. This is one solid happy little story about being yourself—with a little flair.
Zephyr Takes Flight is the inspiring tale of a little girl who loves airplanes. Written and illustrated by Steve Light, this book shows Zephyr’s active imagination as she travels to a secret land where she learns to fly wonderful flying machines, helps a creature in need, and makes new friends. Or maybe this secret land is real? One thing is for sure, this is a must-read for all little girls (and boys!) who love airplanes and a little problem solving.
This boy has big plans, “BIG PLANS, I SAY!” Big Plans is one of Bob Shea first books, and it’s fantastically fun like all of his other picture books. There isn’t much more to the story than the boy telling people he’s got big plans (which are never revealed in the book), but the amusing repetition of “I got big plans. Big plans, I say!” will leave you repeating it over and over for the following few days. While giggling, of course.
Written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Ruby’s Wish follows the story of a Chinese girl. Following the California Gold Rush, her grandfather returned to China a rich man. As such, he married many wives and had over 100 children and grandchildren. They all shared a big house and those of school-age had a private tutor. Ruby came to realize that, as the children got older, the boys were expected to study while the girls were expected to learn womanly skills for maintaining a household and family. Ruby is the inspiring true tale of a girl who fought to get an education, whose own granddaughter is the author of this book.
You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey and illustrated by Chesley McLaren, is a fun biography of, well, Amelia Bloomer. She was a women’s rights activist in the mid-1800s who worked at a women’s only newspaper. With an article about women wearing baggy pantaloons, she changed the face of fashion for women. At the time, women were still wearing ridiculous corsets and heavy dresses, and the pantaloons that became known as “bloomers” made quite an uproar. The story is informational without being too laden with details, and an author’s note at the end fills in the blanks.
We’ve been fans of the “Ordinary People Change the World” series written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. The latest one we’ve tried is I Am Albert Einstein, and it may be our favorite yet. Granted, Einstein was a pretty interesting dude, but the fictional comic-style conversations included as a complement to the story really make this book fun. We couldn’t stop giggling about his awesome hair!
Invisible to the Eye: Animals in Disguise by Kendra Muntz isn’t a story per se. It’s a collection of beautiful photographs showcasing animal camouflage at its best. For example, can you find the animals hidden in the images above? There’s a short piece of text with every picture that provides what animal you are trying to look for (in case you need a clue!), what region the animal lives in, and other interesting tidbits about the animal. It may not be best for a bedtime story, but it’s a fun activity for when you need the kids to be quiet for a few minutes!
Last but certainly not least, Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas written by Lynne Cox and illustrated by Brian Floca, has been my 5-year-old’s favorite out of this whole bunch. She liked the story all right, but when she found out at the end that it was a true story, she was so astonished that she requested we read it again and again. Elizabeth was an elephant seal who liked hanging out in the warm river water (and roads!) of Christchurch, New Zealand. Town folks tried time and time again to relocate her to her natural habitat for her own good, but do you think they succeeded? This was one determined seal.
How about you, any new favorites showing up in your library pile?
The early reader aisles in the library can be daunting—and not just for the budding reader. Inconsistent reading levels, a large number of titles, and stories with the difficult task of being both short and sweet fill the shelves, making it hard at times to find just the right book that won’t frustrate a new reader.
But don’t worry, here’s a cheat sheet just for you! Here are some fun early reader series for kindergarteners and first graders that are short but interesting, entertaining, and sure to inspire confidence in those cute budding readers.
New Early Reader Series
Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea (Disney Hyperion)
If you’ve read any of Bob Shea’s Dinosaur Vs. books, you know what you can expect from Ballet Cat: bold art, characters bursting with personality, and humor that both kids and grownups will enjoy.
Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret isn’t marked as an “early reader” or “ready to read” book, but the simple sentences and vocabulary make it perfect for kids getting the hang of reading. Combined with an adorable message about friendship and a story ideal for reading aloud, Ballet Cat will leap off the bookshelf time and time again.
Inch and Roly Make a Wish by Melissa Wiley and Ag Jatkowska (Simon Spotlight)
Inch and Roly and their friends are cute critters that star in their own series of Ready-to-Read books written by GeekMom contributor Melissa Wiley. The soft colors make every pretty page just right for bedtime reading, and the sweet story about wishes coming true is a great way to end a quiet day.
Katie Fry, Private Eye: The Lost Kitten by Katherine Cox and Vanessa Brantley Newton (Scholastic)
If your budding reader is still too young for most mystery stories, Katie Fry is on the case. First and second graders will feel like they’re investigating alongside Katie thanks to simple clues and memorable characters.
Marvel World of Reading
Books that feature some of your kids’ favorite superheroes might just be the enticement they need to pick up a book on their own. Sophie Brown recommends the Marvel World of Reading Series, starring the Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man.
Tried-and-True Early Reader Series
There are some early reader series that have been around for years, and have staying power thanks to their memorable characters and sweet stories. GeekMom writers also recommend:
GeekMom received a promotional copy of Ballet Cat for review purposes. Sophie Brown, Sarah Pinault, Kay Moore, and Lisa Tate also contributed to this list.
The colorful simplicity of the Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver BabyLit series has been introducing beginner readers to the world of classic literature since 2011, by teaching simple concepts like counting, weather, colors, and opposites with classics like Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, and Anna Karenina.
Now, readers of all ages can increase their literary appreciation through the ageless practice of doodling with their interactive book, Doodle Lit.
The book includes several doodle prompts based on the works of authors like Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Charlotte Brontë, and others.
Doodlers can doodle some autobiographic sketches inspired by illustrations from Jane Eyre’s life, compose a Shakespearean-style love letter, try their hand at tattoo design inspired by Moby Dick character Queequeg, and even “Hot Rod” up an 18th century buggy.
Both Adams and Oliver explain the importance of the act of doodling in the book’s introduction, as well as what this simple artistic practice means for them.
“Doodling is such a simple form of being creative,” Adams says in her introduction comments. “When you doodle, you usually allow yourself to do it freely—you’re not worrying about trying to make a final piece of art or worrying what someone else will think.”
This book maintains the simple look of the BabyLit series, only in the black-and-white line style indicative of the many popular “doodling” books available from different authors and publishers.
Another nice feature are the periodic “historical footnotes” included throughout the book. Young doodlers can learn such diverse facts as what a scrimshaw was to sailors and what the national bird of India is (peacock), as well as which Brontë sister wrote what.
Although the BabyLit series is geared towards toddlers and beginning readers, don’t make the assumption that Doodle Lit is also just for children. The book may be created with the intention of helping get kids more excited about classic books, but this is something even adults will love doing.
Young children will relish the sheer pleasure of coloring, drawing, writing, cutting out masks, and creating collages using classic literature as source material. Tweens and teens can even get into the prospect of adding their own contemporary creative aspects to timeless classics. This will even be a gateway for young adult readers to be inspired to learn more about the stories and books behind these projects.
For adults, it is a chance to rediscover the classics they may have already read, as well as have an incentive to read those classics they may never have gotten a chance to yet. This would be a fun coffee table book to add to now and again, or you could keep a set of drawing implements nearby for guests to contribute their own “works of art” to a favorite story.
Adams has written two classic lit-inspired books for adults, including Y is for Yorick: A Slightly Irreverent Shakespearean ABC Book for Grown-Ups Hardcover, which would be fun companion gift with Doodle Lit.
There are plenty of books and authors who seemed to be noticeably missing from this series. J.R.R. Tolkien and Jules Verne come to mind, but there is only so much space in one book. This volume is primed for follow-ups; maybe with some focused on specific genres, like poetry or science fiction. Adams and Oliver have certainly opened up the possibilities.
Whether Adams and Oliver ever decide to create a second Doodle Lit volume is up to them, but as for the reader, the question remains “To “Doodle” or “Not To Doodle.”
The answer is clear—and written plainly on the cover—by all means, “Doodle.”
“When you’re young, you’re smart enough to know that art is fun,” Adams says in the introduction. “When we get older, sometimes we forget that. Art is fun. Just doodle.”
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.
When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.
Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.
Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.
What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.
Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.
Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!
Resources from Scholastic Parents:
- Summer Reading Book Review Party & Swap
- Harry Potter Birthday Party
- Chocolate-Almond “Piggy Puddles”
More about the program:
- Sign up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
- Find more Scholastic Resources to keep your kids reading all summer long!
- Learn more about the Energizer® Instant Win Game
- Follow @Scholastic on Twitter
- Like the Energizer® Bunny on Facebook
Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.
Do you remember when Pixar’s A Bug’s Life came out and then right after that, a knockoff from DreamWorks titled Ants was released? That’s probably the best way to describe the first book in the Magisterium Series, The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.
From the beginning, starting with the cover, I could see elements of Harry Potter. Two boys and one girl with magical powers who attend a secret magical school. One of them is a “special chosen one” and one of them was the only one to survive a massacre by an evil magician.
It was difficult to read and not be distracted by the similarities. It’s obvious the authors were inspired by the Harry Potter series, and in some ways, I think they were inspired a little too much.
The lead character, Callum Hunt, has a jerky personality that makes it hard to root for him. He has reasons for being a jerk, mainly his father drilling into him that all magicians are bad and the mages are evil. He’s been conditioned to hate everything around him and in some ways, a part of himself. Despite the fact that I’m not his biggest fan, I’m learning that having a lead character you don’t necessarily want to be successful isn’t a bad thing. I think it brings something new to the reading experience.
In this book, I’m rooting for Aaron, who has a special role to play in the series. He’s one of those kids that is friends with everyone and doesn’t care if someone is popular or not. Every time he reaches out to help Cal and Cal ignores him, I just want to slap the little jerk.
The descriptions of the Magisterium and the characters was done very well. I could easily see the various rooms that Cal and his fellow apprentices were going through and the facial expressions of the characters when something happened. And the overall writing of the book wasn’t bad at all.
I think if I hadn’t read anything by J.K Rowling, I would find it quite enjoyable.
Switching gears, it’s easiest to get a child to read if they find a story “formula” they like. For this one, it has the same basic formula of Harry Potter. With that said, the similarities and the familiarity of The Iron Trial might make them want to read it even more. If nothing else, children will read it not because it’s a different story, but because of how much it reminds them of another one they enjoy.
I hope the next book in the series, The Copper Gauntlet (September 2015), has fewer similarities to a certain lightning scar wizard. If the similarities continue, I’m not sure I’ll be reading the rest of the books. However, I will be picking them up for my son, who I think will enjoy them immensely.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.
This merry month of May the GeekMoms have been stuck on Mars, trapped in a strange town, debating the merits of STEM and creativity in our schools, and solving puzzles in a future dystopia. Check out our reading lists as we get ready for the summer.
Author Ann Leckie’s first novel, Ancillary Justice (2014, Orbit), won Hugo, Nebula, Locus, British Science Fiction Award, and Arthur C. Clarke awards in 2014. Her second novel in the same Radch empire series, Ancillary Sword, won the BSFA and is on the ballots for the 2015 Nebulas and Hugos. And the third, Ancillary Mercy, is on the launch pad. Recently, Leckie signed with Orbit to write more books within the Radch empire as well. Meanwhile, her short stories have appeared (and several can be read for free) at Subterranean magazine, Strange Horizons, and Realms of Fantasy. Her story “Hesperia and Glory” was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition, edited by Rich Horton. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her family.
Leckie recently took a moment away from writing to speak with GeekMom Fran Wilde and answer 10 questions.
Breaking News: Leckie and her publisher—Orbit Books—have generously offered to give away a set of two Ancillary books (U.S./Canada only), as well as personally selected teas. Read to the end of the interview for more information on how to win!
Ann Leckie: Ancillary Mercy is, like Ancillary Sword, not exactly the same sort of book as the one before it. Expect outside events to begin filtering into Athoek—or more specifically, expect the Presger and Anaander Mianaai to show up.
GM: You are a big science fiction and fantasy fan. Do you have other fandoms besides SF/F?
AL: SF/F is certainly my primary fandom! It’s a pretty broad one, actually, since you can say “fandom” and mean something as specific as a particular book or movie. But, the only other thing that I might classify as a (non-SF/F) fandom would be my participation in what was at the time called Gabeweb—that is, three or four websites dedicated to following and discussing Peter Gabriel, back in the, what, the late nineties, early 2000s? I’d decided to learn HTML, and thought for a while about what sort of website I might build—what was there that I knew about, or was sufficiently enthusiastic about, that I might actually make some sort of contribution to? And I discovered a small community of PG fans. It was a good bunch of folks and I had a good time. We were mostly just being kind of silly, and I think the folks running Gabriel’s website at the time had a pretty tolerant attitude towards us, which was nice.
GM: What would you like to tell someone new to your work about the Imperial Radch universe? What would you tell longtime fans who are snapping up Awn Elming memorial pins and debating what various teas from the Radch might taste like?
AL: Hmm. Aside from what’s already on the back covers, and what they might have seen mentioned around here and there, really the universe is meant to be a more or less classic space opera universe. My intention was to tell stories that were fun and gripping or affecting. And, something I’d say to any reader at all, if you give it a few chapters (or less, or more) and you find it’s not doing it for you, by all means put the book down with a clear conscience and my blessing. Thanks for giving it a try and I hope your next read is more your thing. Although, of course, I hope it does do it for you, and you don’t put it down!
To the fans? Hah, you’re awesome. Seriously, having people make fan art and fanfic, and really getting into speculating about details (whether it’s tea or what various passive-aggressive tortures Justice of Toren One Esk used on Seivarden back in the day) is right up there with winning awards, in my opinion.
GM: What one piece of advice would you give a parent who wanted to return to writing or to begin writing?
AL: Do it. Just do it. Make whatever time you can—obviously, particularly when your kids are small, your available time will be small, or even when you have time it’s in circumstances that make it difficult to concentrate on your writing. That’s okay. Do what you can. Eventually, kids get older, and more able to safely amuse themselves for longish periods. And even if you’re in a situation where that doesn’t happen—if there are health or disability issues that prevent that, for instance—whatever time you can take, use it. It’s worth it. It all adds up eventually. The longest novel ever written was written one word at a time, one sentence at a time. There’s no due date, no time limit, no prizes for finishing sooner, or fines for taking a long time. Just put one word after the other, whenever you get a chance.
GM: Do you have any thoughts about the media’s need to modify the word “writer” with adjectives like “lady” or “female?”
AL: I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel like women writing science fiction have been repeatedly invisible. It feels to me like every 10 years or so, someone looks around and sees women in SF and goes, “Wow, look at all these women! It’s sure not like the old days, when it was all guys!” And then 10 years later, “Wow, look at all these women!” So from that perspective, I think it’s maybe a good idea to draw attention to the fact that, no, there are and have been women in the field for quite some time, and still are now, so that 10 years from now maybe people won’t suddenly be surprised to find women SF writers, like fish suddenly surprised to discover that water has materialized around them.
On the other hand, those labels have the potential to rope off women writers and their writing as a sort of “other” to unmarked, “regular” science fiction. And honestly, though this is probably particular to me and my history, I really dislike “lady” as a label. I could probably spend an entire blog post going into why, but to keep it short, there are not only class issues involved, but also a weird “good women/bad women” thing going on with it, particularly with constructions like “ladylike” or “she’s a real lady.” I almost never use it unless I’m asking where a public restroom is. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
GM: What advice have your kids given you that’s really stuck with you?
AL: I’ve only gotten one piece of advice, or what might pass for it, from my son. He was about 12, and I had sent Ancillary Justice out to agents and was waiting for replies, and you know that emotional state when you’ve sent something out and you really, really want to not get rejections back, but you know of course that’s what’s most likely, and I’d been working and working on writing the query letter and the synopses and all that and I was explaining to my husband about what I’d done and what I hoped to accomplish, (he had already heard all of it before, but because he’s awesome he was patiently listening), and my son, who had only been half listening, pipes up, “Mom! I have an idea! You should get an agent!”
It was good advice! The state I was in, I almost snapped at him, “Don’t toy with me!” But instead, I took a breath and said, “That’s what I’m trying to do, honey. That’s what all this is about.” And he said, “Oh.” And went back to his computer game.
GM: Who are you reading these days?
AL: Mostly people whose editors send me mss for possible blurbs! And lots of nonfiction. Whenever I’m in the planning stages of a project, I read large amounts of nearly random nonfiction. And whenever I get stuck. Often I feel like, if I’m stuck, I just need to find the right nonfiction to supply me with some idea or detail that will get things back on track.
It’s weirdly ironic, though of course it makes sense, that one of the reasons I wanted to write was because I love so much to read. But now that I’ve been quite successful writing, I have hardly any time to read, and often when I do, I find my brain sliding off SF/F. I gather I’m not the only writer to have this happen.
GM: What are you crafting these days? (Note: Leckie is a great maker-of-things across the board. She has an Etsy shop to prove it, which occasionally stocks the aforementioned Awn Elming memorial pins. If you don’t know what those are, read more Ancillary.)
AL: I have ambitions to reduce my yarn stash—it’s a very tiny stash by hardcore knitter/crocheter standards, but it would still probably make someone blink, who didn’t do either of those. But I haven’t made much progress, because I haven’t really been in yarn mode for a while.
Lately I’ve been beading. I started out crocheting beaded necklaces and I sold a few on Etsy, and then I discovered the local bead shop and next thing I knew, I was taking classes and doing beadweaving. As a consequence, I have a stash of beads that’s more impressive than my yarn stash, and several UFOs. For possibly obvious reasons, my focus has been on pins lately, which basically means beading up various small things and sticking a pin finding on the back, which has the advantage of not taking as long as, say, the ginormous free-form netted bracelet I’m in the middle of, or the even ginormouser free-form necklace I started a year or so ago. (I am a professional writer, therefore “ginormouser” is now a real word.)
GM: Geek or nerd?
GM: You are an award-winning novelist, an editor of short fiction, a supportive voice in the community, and a lifelong fan of genre fiction. What do you wish for the future of the field?
AL: I wish for a genuinely wide range of voices, and a recognition that when someone says “most people” they often actually mean “most people like me” or “people who fit into certain default categories.” And similarly, generalizations about what “readers” want is nearly always a shorthand for a particular subgroup of readers. And it’s perfectly cromulent to talk about what that a subgroup wants, or what people in one or another category mostly respond to, default categories included, but just realizing that you’re not actually talking about everyone, that the default categories aren’t the center and other groups of people aren’t just weird exceptions, just making that step in thinking about things is, in my opinion, an essential first step to having that range of voices.
Thanks so much to Ann Leckie for joining us!
From May 13-18, 2015, you can enter our GeekMom Rafflecopter giveaway to win two of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary books—Justice and Sword—or tea selected personally by her. To enter, log into Rafflecopter and follow the directions!
There are some books whose titles that don’t just grab your attention, they leap up and lock your attention in a choke hold until you start reading them. The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy by Sam Maggs, released yesterday, is one of those titles. The second I spotted the book, and its amazing cover, I knew I had to read it right then and there.
Tomorrow Quirk book releases The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy: a “fun and feminist girl-power guide to the geek galaxy” written by The Mary Sue associate editor Sam Maggs. I spoke to Sam about her experiences growing up as a “fangirl”, learning to approach media critically, and her hopes for the next generation of geek girls.
GeekMom: At what age did you first realise you were a fangirl? Can you describe that moment?
Sam Maggs: My parents both saw the first Star Wars film over twenty times in theaters, so I was pretty much destined to be a fangirl from the start. But my first foray into fandom was my obsession with Stargate SG-1, which I discovered when I was about twelve years old. Seeing a woman like Sam Carter on-screen, someone who could kick ass but was also an astrophysicist, was huge to me.
GM: What are some of your earliest memories that you look back on and think “only a geeky kid would have done that”?
Sam: The hours upon hours I spent in my basement on my computer reading Stargate and West Wing fanfic instead of making friends, for sure. I was also the head of my elementary school’s Library Club.
GM: How has being a fangirl changed for you as you’ve grown up?
Sam: Fandom has become more and more inclusive for women, so I’ve been able to meet so many ladies online, through social media, that I admire and am now friends with. There’s also so much more merchandise for girls now, so I can express my fandom that way too!
GM: In the book you discuss many different fandoms; do you consider yourself a part of any in particular? If so which ones and are there any fandoms you have left behind?
Sam: I’m definitely a huge fan of Harry Potter, Tamora Pierce novels, Mass Effect, and Marvel comics. The Stargate fandom has died down over the years, but I would still consider myself a part of it. I had a Twilight phase for a while there, but who didn’t?
GM: You also share a great list of female role models from different kinds of geeky media. Who were your role models when you were growing up?
Sam: I mentioned Sam Carter earlier, but Hermione was also big in getting me to accept my nerdy side and realize that it could be an asset, and wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and The Immortals quartet featured Alanna and Daine, two kick-butt heroines I still adore.
GM: Who do you hope is going to pick up this book and read it? What do you hope they get from it?
Sam: I hope that everyone can get something out of this book! For girls new to fandom, it might be a good primer; for veteran fangirls, you might find some new tips and tricks about cons or trolls or a new video game to pick up. I’d even recommend it for allies to see what it’s like to be a girl in fandom.
GM: What geeky events/moments would you like to share with the next generation of fangirls?
Sam: I can’t wait to see more ladies at conventions! They’re so much fun and I just want everyone to be able to go to one!
GM: Do you feel that being a critical consumer is a necessary part of being a fangirl today, or is it possible to just enjoy a fandom without engaging in those debates?
Sam: I think it’s important to remember that you can be a fan of something even if you realize that it’s problematic. But representation for women and minorities will never change unless we speak up about what we take issue with, so it’s definitely important to engage with media on a critical level to realize what you’re taking in and how it influences your views on gender and society.
But you can still like something even if it has issues!
GM: Do you feel that the convention scene has shifted in the last few years, especially for women? Where would you like it to go?
Sam: It definitely has – con attendees are now nearly 50% women across the board. I would love to see more booths and panels catered specifically towards women – ECCC and C2E2 in particular are already doing a great job of this.
GM: Turning the tables from the interviews you did in the book: what does the word “fangirl” mean to you?
Sam: It means loving something passionately and without embarrassment. It means the things you love have changed your life for the better.
GM: How has being a geek positively influenced your life?
Sam: It’s basically given me everything – my career, my friends, my partner. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to make my fangirliness into a career, because I love sharing the things about which I’m passionate with other ladies. Plus, with the advent of social media, I was able to meet so many amazing people through our shared interests that I never would have met otherwise, including my partner! I’m very grateful.
GM: If you could give geek girls advice for their careers or personal lives, what would it be?
Sam: Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to love what you love and to be who you are. If the people around you don’t like it, there are a million other people out there who will.
Many thanks to Sam for her time. Look out for our review of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy later this week.
Ellie, out this month from Disney Hyperion, is a gorgeous picture book written and illustrated by Mike Wu. Wu is an artist at Pixar, and his talent shines through on every page. Ellie is one of the rare picture books where your gaze lingers after you’ve read the words on the page to admire the soft colors and expressive characters.
Ellie is an elephant who calls a quiet zoo home. When the animals rally to save their zoo by pitching in to clean up their home, Ellie isn’t sure what she can do to help. When Ellie finds her chance to make her mark on the zoo, she discovers a talent that just might be the key to saving her home.
This is your chance to win a copy of this beautiful picture book! Thanks to Disney Hyperion, you can win the book, a print by writer/illustrator Mike Wu, and a child’s T-shirt (size S) featuring the adorable elephant.
To enter our giveaway, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway.
A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and displayed below. You must reply to the email notification within two days in order to be considered a winner.
U.S. entries only. Contest ends May 13, 2015.
Visit Tiny Teru for more adorable prints and apparel for kids.
GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes. Special thanks to Disney Hyperion and Tiny Teru for providing the prizes for this contest.
For many years now, I have been reading the works of Todd Parr to my son. When he was a baby, we’d flip through It’s Okay To Be Different and Underwear Do’s and Don’ts. At the age of eight, he still often sleeps with his copy of The I’m Not Scared Book. (It’s quite wrinkled.)
Now, Parr is putting out something new for parents. It’s not just for parents to read, but for them to enjoy—and it’s in Parr’s quirky, colorful, signature style. The author/illustrator of over 30 acclaimed children’s books has just released We’re Pregnant, with the inevitable follow-up We’re Parents coming on June 8.
While you may be quick to pre-order both books on Amazon, know that Parr is actually giving away both of these books for free. Why would he do that exactly? To benefit charity. With every download, The First Years, the same company that makes every baby item imaginable from strollers to sippy-cups, will donate money to two nonprofit charities. Project Night Night provides more than 25,000 free “night night” care packages to homeless infants, toddlers, and children each year, while Cradles to Crayons works to deliver other essentials to children.
GeekMom recently got the chance to chat with Parr and The First Years’ Lynne Mello. Check out the video interview below to find out more about the new eBooks, how giving them away benefits so many children in need, and how Parr’s upcoming The Goodbye Book tackles one of the author’s toughest topics yet.
To download We’re Pregnant, go to The First Years website—and remember to bookmark it for the June 8 release of We’re Parents!