Alien Invasion in My Backyard – From slobbery robots and aliens with briefcases to didgeridoo lessons

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling Andrews McMeel Publishing 2015, 112 pages, 5.3 x 8 x 0.4 inches $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

TV will tell you the truth is out there. Decades ago folks would warn you to “Keep watching the skies!” But kids know the truth: The mysteries aren’t out there, they’re right here. They are in every bump from the attic, that weird locked door in the basement, and, especially, the often mystifying backyard. Kids know that’s where the real mysteries lie, and we’re all lucky that Ruben Bolling knows it, too.

Alien Invasion in my Backyard, the first in the EMU Club series, is a fun and ridiculous (in just the right way) story of the creation of the Exploration Mystery Unbelievable Club. The book itself is intended to be the Official Report of their first mystery and written by eleven year-old President Stuart Tennemeier who, other than planning on a growth spurt in college, is planning to document all their amazing adventures. His best friend, CEO Brian, and his little sister Violet (no title because Mom makes them let her join) join him to solve all of life’s important mysteries. And we can’t forget Sergeant at Arms Ferdinand, Stuart’s loyal dog who proves critical to cracking the case. As an Official Report the reader gets direct access to the EMU Club files, including photos of their whole adventure lovingly taped to the lined graph paper it’s printed on. Read the rest

Deceptive Desserts – Bake the most ghoulish sweet treats you'll ever eat

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Deceptive Desserts: A Lady's Guide to Baking Bad! by Christine McConnell Regan Arts 2016, 288 pages, 8 x 10 x 1 inches $19 Buy a copy on Amazon

Take a ripened crafter, mix in a pinch of YouTube lessons on cake decorating, blend that with a humorous fascination with the macabre, and you’ve got Christine McConnell’s new cookbook, Deceptive Desserts. Read the rest

Mover Kit - a programmable wearable kit for kids

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My friends Bethany and Daniel, founders of Technology Will Save Us, have developed the "world’s first active wearable that kids, young and old, can make and code themselves." It's called the Mover, and it looks like a lot of fun to build, program, and use! Read the rest

The NYT's tips on spooking your kids into not smoking weed

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At The New York Times, Lisa Damour tackles the changing vocabulary of talking to teens about marijuana. Once good for standard-issue parental rants about drugs 'n' crime, legalization and research are making the issue more complex. You might even have to talk about the science!

Our most successful conversations might be the ones where we join our teenagers in questioning authority – that is, discussing what legalization does, and doesn’t, mean. Indeed, it’s easy to be on the right side of the law and the wrong side of science. Cigarettes and tanning beds serve as handy examples of legal ways to harm yourself. Savvy consumers are expected to look to the available evidence, not legislation, when making decisions about their own health and well-being. In terms of the science of marijuana, we know that adolescence marks a critical period of neurological development and that cannabis is harder on the developing teenage brain than on the comparatively static adult brain. Specifically, studies suggest that regular marijuana use during adolescence harms the parts of the brain responsible for learning, reasoning and paying attention.

It's an odd column, mind you: still very much in the "how to win arguments with your disobedient offspring" vein. Middle-aged, middle-class America, always on the precipice of an epiphany. Read the rest

An inventor, maker, and toy designer shares his favorite projects

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The first thing that struck me about Make Fun!, a collection of toy and game projects from former Mattel designer Bob Knetzger, was how many of my favorite projects from the pages of Make: magazine were his. Bob has contributed to the magazine for over nine years, and this collection represents a best-of from that run (with some original projects as well). WINK’s own Mark Frauenfelder (founding editor-in-chief of Make:) also contributes the book’s introduction.

Make: Fun! features full step-by-step instructions for some 40 projects. They range from the very simple, fun, and ephemeral, such as the actuated “Ouija Be Mine” Valentine’s Day card and “Gnome Holiday Hats” to a classic “Diving Spudmarine” bathtub toy to more elaborate builds, such as constructing your own “Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former” and building a “Desktop Foundry.” Some of my favorite projects include the “Monster Candy Snatch Game” (think: Operation), the “E-Z-Make Oven” (think: Mattel’s Thingmaker), and vacuum forming your own “Tiki Masks.”

Make: did a really nice job on the production of this book. The projects are well photographed, in full color, and the instructions are well laid out and easy to follow. And there are fun little “gimmicks” that serve the playful spirit of the book (a flip-book animation on the page edges, QR-code videos for some of the projects, and colorful templates and paper project components in the back). You can see the videos, view the templates, and find out more on the book’s companion website. Read the rest

Book with fun examples of painted rocks

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I bought a book about rock painting in 2001, and posted about it here. I still have the book, and more importantly, we still have some of the rocks my family painted 15 years ago. The book has lots of inspiring examples of the kinds of things you can paint on rocks. The book is out of print, but you can buy used copies on Amazon starting at just 24 cents, plus shipping. Read the rest

Attack of the Journal – Part journal part sketchbook and a great companion to the Star Wars Jedi Academy series

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

When an author who writes books for grown-ups is successful at translating his voice into books for kids it’s a win-win. Jeffrey Brown, author of graphic novels such as Clumsy and Funny Misshapen Body has done just that with his series Star Wars Jedi Academy. These graphic novels follow Roan, a young Jedi fumbling his way through middle school’s version of the Jedi Arts. This latest installation, Attack of the Journal, is part activity book part sketchbook and a great accompaniment to the series. It features familiar characters from the books, but you don’t need to have read the actual novels to enjoy the journal. Unlike many character-based activity books for children, Attack of the Journal gives the reins over to the reader. Instead of preprinted mazes and simple seek and finds, Brown’s activities are open-ended and challenge readers to try drawing new things and to write their own stories.

The book is great for elementary-aged kids, but even younger can have fun with the “Draw Your Friends As Aliens” page or attempt a self-portrait. I found it’s a great way to practice letters and words with kids in a way that is fun for everyone. Even the fact that it’s a hardback makes whatever you create inside feel more important. Jeffrey Brown’s sense of humor and kind encouragement are felt in the journal activities, helping young authors and illustrators not take it too seriously if their “Create your own Lightsaber” page looks more like a Wookie. Read the rest

Minecraft: Blockopedia – for full-on Minecraft geeks, as well as over-the-shoulder admirers

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Shaped like a hexagon to mimic the dimensions of a cube, Minecraft: Blockopedia is designed for full-on Minecraft geeks, although those of us who have only watched the game over the shoulders of children and loved ones will find plenty to admire here too. After the briefest of introductions and a quick glossary to help noobs make sense of the stats that accompany each block’s name, it’s off to the races, with page after page devoted to blocks made from rocks, blocks made from plants, blocks that serve particular functions (a ladder), and blocks that do particular things (acting as a switch).

One of the coolest characteristics about Minecraft is how it chooses to observe the laws of nature and physics, or ignore them. Sand, we are told, can be a cave-in hazard, but when it’s smelted in a furnace, it turns to glass. Both statements are true, but don’t go looking for glowstone the next time you’re spelunking – it is only found in a sinister dimension of Minecraft called the Nether. And while sugar cane in both the real world and the Overworld of Minecraft can be used to make sugar, guess where it can also be used to block flowing lava?

Though the format and illustrations in Minecraft: Blockopedia are the book’s most prominent features, it’s still a book filled with lots and lots of, you know, words. Writer Alex Wiltshire mostly plays it straight (“Water is incredibly useful.”), but often he lets the language and logic of Minecraft add color, as in “Sticky pistons are made by crafting a piston with a slimeball…” and “If you dig podzol without the silk touch enhancement it drops dirt.” Got that? Read the rest

Adventures with Barefoot Critters teaches ABCs with charming woodland flora and fauna

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

A is for adorable and that’s just the beginning of the attributes you’ll want to ascribe to this sweet account of anthropomorphic animals and the alphabet. Teagan White has created a charming book filled with colors awash in the glow of nostalgia, where forest critters romp across a scenic woodland, bundled in impossibly cute sweaters and tiny, striped scarves.

Adventures with Barefoot Creatures is characterized as an ABC book but its letter-themed, rhyming stanzas also follow the woodland flora and fauna through the seasons. A, B and C take place in deep winter as the critters clean out the attic and sniffle through colds. Spring arrives, with robin’s eggs and growing things twining their green vines and reaching across the pages in a riot of whimsy. Exuberant, the critters frolic in the summer’s sun, swimming in the lake and collecting ocean artifacts from the shores. As the end of the alphabet approaches, cable knit sweaters reappear and the illustrations become clotted with the changing colors of leaves and the warmth of campfires. Z arrives to find the barefoot critters snuggled together, exhausted from their delightful New Year’s festivities and tumbled together in a darling snoozefest on the couch.

ABC books are a well-explored subgenre that usually offers little in the way of novelty. Adventures with Barefoot Critters is a title that steps outside the clichéd with playful, quaint artwork that beguiles. If you enjoy the fascinating world of the quirky, imaginative Ms. White and her cast of cheery woodland companions, keep your eyes peeled for her latest book arriving in late summer, Counting with Barefoot Critters. Read the rest

Dad teaches 10-year-old daughter how to design and cast a pewter ring

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Designer Ivan Owens showed his daughter how to use Tinkercad to design a ring, print it in PLA plastic on a 3D printer, make a mold, and use the lost wax casting process to make a pewter butterfly ring.

My 10 year old daughter wanted to learn how to make her own metal ring by melting down the metal herself. …The video shows her learning to design and fabricate her own metal ring via sand casting using 3D design software, a 3D printer, scrap pewter, blowtorch, hammer, anvil, vise, drill & various other tools. I provided knowledge and supervision, but she drove the process. Through this process she learns that hazardous materials, such as molten metal, can be safely manipulated using the right equipment and techniques. She wanted to make a video of the process so that other kids could see all of the steps that go into making an everyday item like a ring.

[via] Read the rest

Dad makes awesome toddler toy

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This brilliant dad secured a bunch of fascinating hardware items to a board and let his toddler have at it. The best toy ever and educational.

[via] Read the rest

See microbes with a DIY phone microscope

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Anna Rothschild says, "See the tiny creatures living in a pond or puddle using your smartphone, poster tack, and a laser pointer."

Build a microscope stand for your laser pointer lens scope.

Create a 1000x smartphone microscope with a glass bead.

Don’t have a smartphone? Try this water drop microscope from Mr. Wizard.

[via] Read the rest

How Machines Work: Zoo Break! – An interactive book of building machinery and moving gears

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Walking through the children’s section of any given book store, this book will immediately catch your eye. The front cover has gears sticking out the side, and if you turn them, you can see one of our main characters moving up and down on a wheel and axel system. Open the book, and you’ll be treated to even more interactive illustration done in the book’s playful art style.

The plot of the story follows two friends who live in a zoo, Sloth and Sengi. After many years of living there, they have decided to escape using some simple machines. Along the way, they encounter many problems (as you can imagine would occur when a sloth and a variety of elephant shrew attempt to scale a zoo enclosure). Each page outlines a different type of machinery and invites the reader to learn about how each system functions. When Sloth and Sengi try and use an inclined plane to escape, the narrator demonstrates why it takes less effort to climb up an inclined plane than straight over the vertical fence. Later on, this idea of the inclined plane returns when Sloth and Sengi try and use a screw to escape. Probably my favorite section of the book involves the section on levers. The author outlines how a lever functions with an effort, a fulcrum, and a load. You can construct a lever from cardboard cut-outs in the book, and then use it to try and fling Sloth and Sengi over the fence of their enclosure, usually with more success than our main characters. Read the rest

Think up and create your own board game with this Game Inventors Kit

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It's exciting to get a new game in its pristine box, wrapped in cellophane, begging to be opened. Inside you find the game board, colorful game pieces, cards, and, of course, instructions. Instructions are the worst part of a new game. Reading and rereading the sheet of rules, digesting them, and teaching them to your friends so you can get your game on can be excruciating. And how many practice games do you have to play before you really get it?

Instead of learning how to play someone else's game, how about inventing one of your own? Combine the elements of all those games you've played and loved into your own unique adventure using a board game inventors kit by Board Game Manufacturing. Don't be put off by their site's poor graphics and design. Their product is worth the slog through its eye-crossing pages.

I purchased their Junior Game Inventors Kit. The kit includes everything you need to start building a game: a pre-cut box, a blank folds-to-square game board, paper to cover box and board, nine pawns, a pair of standard dice, a 12-sided numbered die, 56 blank cards, and a bundle of play money. You can also purchase a la carte from a long list of goodies. I added a money tray, a set of ten chipboard blanks, and ten stands to the basic kit. They offer an Advanced Game Board Inventors Kit as well, with a mind-boggling array of pieces.

The components of the kit are sturdy and as good as those in a purchased game. Read the rest

Kano Computer Kit – If kids can put together Legos, then why not a whole computer?

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Confession: I know nothing – NOTHING – about coding. I’m still stuck in the glory days of the “if/thens” of my original Apple IIe, circa 1983. And I barely knew how to do anything past whatever I copied verbatim from Byte. I never got that right either. I don’t think. Ever. I remember staying up all night to do a Thundercats hi-res game. Tried to run it at 4am. Nothing. No Lion-O, no Cheetarah, no Snarf... NOTHING. Thus began a life of failure. BUT. I did not want my kids to suffer that same fate. Especially because it is now a presidential mandate that all kids must learn to code. And code they shall.

Kano is built on a simple idea: If kids can piece together Legos, then why not a whole computer? So they not only have a tactile experience in the building of the thing, but more importantly, they take ownership. Have a hands on experiece with their computer, and know it inside and out. My kids opened the cleverly packaged Kano box and had their machines up and running in about 45 minutes. The directions are sort of similar to Lego directions. Very simple, very easy to understand, and I’ll be damned... these boys, ages 7 and 9, were coding within the hour.

The computer itself comes with a Rasberry Pi brain, all the necessary cables, a keyboard, instructions and stickers to personalize the experience. It comes loaded with a bunch of different apps: Minecraft, Scratch, hack old school Pong, hack Snake, and many other great things, all with an eye towards hacking, coding and exploring. Read the rest

Best older kid's literature from 1966

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a true-blue fan of intermediate-reader adventures published during the Sixties (1964–73). Attribute this, if you will, to the fact that these books were popular when I was an impressionable adolescent in the late 1970s. The fact remains, the Sixties were a cornucopia producing a flood of extraordinary titles: Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles series, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, I dig older kids’ lit from other eras, too. But nothing compares.

In anticipation of their 50th anniversaries, this year, here’s my list of the Best Older Kid’s Lit of 1966. Please let me know which favorite titles of yours I’ve overlooked!

OLDER KIDS’ LIT on HILOBROW: Best of 1963 | Best of 1964 | Best of 1965 | Best of 1966 | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince (serialized) | YA Sci-Fi | ALSO SEE: Best 1966 Adventures (for Grownups).

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In no particular order…

René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s bande dessinée Asterix adventure Asterix the Legionary. The tenth Asterix story is a particular favorite of mine — because it is a sardonic inversion of one of my favorite sub-genres of adventure: the all-for-one, one-for-all argonautica. In order to rescue a Gaul who has been conscripted into the Roman army and shipped to North Africa, where Julius Caesar was battling Metellus Scipio, Asterix and Obelix enlist in the army themselves. Read the rest

The delight of the unexpected moment when your child comes upon a character at a Disney park

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With the unsettling closure and uncertain future of a vast original area of Disneyland which has remained mostly undisturbed since park opening in 1955, it seems fitting to reflect upon some things which made it memorable. This is the first of a series of pieces, and also the most indirect — it’ll take me six paragraphs to make my real point.

One thing every parent knows is the delight of “the unexpected moment” when your child comes upon a character at a Disney park without warning.

There’s less of that these days, with “Character Meet and Greets” having been turned into controlled experiences and fewer instances of the characters simply walking the parks and freely mingling with the guests. (You tend to see much more of this at the Tokyo Disney Resort.)

On a trip to Disneyland when my daughter was about 4 or 5 years old just under a decade ago, we entered the park early, passed through Main Street, and were taking the walkway up to Sleeping Beauty Castle that curves to the right, past Snow White’s Grotto. The white marble statues of Snow White and the Dwarfs were a gift from the Ambassador of Italy, I explained to my daughter. They reside in a man-made grotto with a waterfall.

On the walkway itself is a full-size replica of the wishing well from the film Snow White. If you lean over and listen, you will hear Snow White singing. My daughter was listening intently, looking into the well, and when she turned around there was Snow White — pretty, indeed, as a picture. Read the rest

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