When I was a teen, I really wanted to like Greek mythology, but the complexity of the pantheon and some of the absurdities of the stories lost me rather than sucked me in. I quickly became confused and bored. Over the years, I've gained a greater appreciation and understanding of classical mythology, but I haven't gone back to try and relearn everything I couldn't retain in school. Until now, thanks to George O'Conner's impressive Olympians box set.
The set contains six volumes, Zeus (King of the Gods), Athena (Warrior Goddess), Hera (Goddess of the Air, Sky, and Heavens), Poseidon (God of the Sea), Hades (Lord of the Dead), and Aphrodite (Goddess of Love). Each one runs 85 pages, and besides the origin story (and a few other key tales) for each god, there are also author notes, a summary of the key characters in each book, a recommended reading list, and even a series of discussion questions. The author and publisher definitely designed these books to be taught to young people and I would definitely recommend them to teachers, home schoolers, and students who want to learn of the “august residents of Mount Olympus” (as the back cover puts it) in a fun and resonant way. These books are really beautifully illustrated and produced. Most of the book covers include spot foil stamping. The Zeus cover is seriously cool, with the silver lightning in his hands actually flashing dramatically as you move the cover to catch the light. I dare you to hold this book in your hands and not want to move it around and make thunder sounds like a ten year old (OK, maybe that's just me). Read the rest
Princess Pinecone is a the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors, and she lives for battle. But every year on her birthday, her parents give her a cuddly sweater. What she really wants is a mighty charger, from whose back she might smite other warriors.
This year, Princess Pinecone put her foot down. She let it be known that nothing less than a huge, imposing horse would do.
Unfortunately, what she got was a cuddly, funny-looking pony whose eyes point in opposite directions. It refuses to be trained for warhorse duties. She rides it into battle anyway. When Otto the Awful spies her on the sidelines and charges her, the pony just stands there, while Princess Pinecone digs for her spitballs. Then it happens: Otto the Awful screeches to a halt, unable to believe how TOTALLY CUTE the pony is.
The mighty battle stops. The warriors crowd around the pony. They get in touch with their cuddly sides. So Princess Pinecone shares her supply of excess cuddly sweaters. And they all live happily ever after!
Beaton is one of the sharpest, funniest comics creators in the business. Her witty, take-no-prisoners feminism is absolutely on display here, but she doesn't go for an easy girl-power resolution: instead, she lets everyone be both a badass and a sentimentalist.
The spreads in this are amazing: the giant fight scene and the warriors in their sweaters? Read the rest
This tennis ball-size orb knows what you are thinking. Most of the time it will guess what you have in mind after asking you twenty yes/no questions. It is eerily smart, and slightly addictive. The toy is remarkable. Because it is so small, so autonomous, its intelligence is shocking to the unprepared. Most children can’t stump it, and if you stick to objects it will stump smart adults about 80% of the time with 20 questions and most of the time with an additional 5 questions. I love to watch people’s reactions when they think of a “hard” thing, and after a seemingly irrational set of questions you are convinced are dumb, the sly ball tells you what you had in mind. (For instance, it can correctly guess “flying squirrel” without asking “does it fly?”) People who play chess machines won’t be surprised, but just about everyone else will be tickled. It feels like the future. But right now, for fourteen bucks, you can get an amazing little artificial intelligence, about as smart as an insect — but an insect which specializes in guessing what object you are thinking of. And in that part of the brain, it’s smarter than you are.
I bought this crossbow pistol because my family’s favorite character on The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon, uses a crossbow to take out zombies, and we thought it would be fun for target practice. It was only about $25, and I didn’t expect it to be very powerful, but I was wrong. A bolt shot from this thing could kill someone. It easily penetrates plywood. I’m not sure if a bolt could go through someone’s skull, but it would definitely lodge itself in a leg, arm, abdomen, or neck.
If you buy this, give it the same respect you would a firearm. It’s not a toy, but it sure is fun. That said, I don't think anyone under the age of 18 should use it without adult supervision.
It doesn’t require a lot of effort to cock it, but a smaller kid would not be able to figure out how to do it. The safety automatically engages when you cock it, thankfully. The crossbow comes with three aluminum (very sharp) bolts. You can buy a pack of 36 additional bolts for $12.
The Guardian rounds up half a dozen brilliant picture books where girl characters defy stereotypes: Princess Daisy and the Dragon by Steven Lenton; The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp; The Princess and the Pony by Kate "Hark! A Vagrant!" Beaton; The Fairytale Hairdresser, by Abie Longstaff; Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood; and the forthcoming I'm a Girl!, by Yasmeen Ismail. Read the rest
Meet the SKEYE Nano Drone ($34.99), the shockingly agile and tiny flying machine, perfect for airborne stunts (like figure 8s, banking turns, flips, etc) both indoors and out. The Nano Drone provides high thrust, low weight, and has incredibly responsive controls that are complemented by advanced hardware to give the Nano Drone outstanding stability and maneuverability.RTF (ready to fly) technology 6-axis flight control system w/ adjustable gyro sensitivity Extreme portability Rotor protection guard for beginner-friendly piloting 3 distinct flight modes: beginner, advanced pilots, and seasoned flight veterans Stable & easy to fly Aerobatic “flip” capability LED lights for night flights
Irotoridori, described as a “color palette puzzle” on the box, is a sudoku board game where the numbers have been replaced with colors. It uses sturdy, plastic bird shaped paint drops and a board shaped like an artist’s palette to add a physical dimension to a brain game. It’s great for solo play or for small groups; I’ve found that while it is safe for elementary school children, it’s middle school ages and up that really enjoy the game.
Inside the Irotoridori box, you’ll find 81 birds, nine of nine colors each, a clip for picking up the birds that looks like a tube of paint, and the board itself. The birds are bright, solid plastic, and have numbers imprinted on the back, just in case you’d like to add a level of difficulty to your game. Along with these game pieces, there is a booklet with 24 puzzles and solutions.
Although the instructions are written entirely in Japanese, if you can play Sudoku (and you can) then you’ll understand this set easily enough. (For anyone who may not be familiar, sudoku is a puzzle system where the goal is to arrange groups of numbers such that there are no repeating numbers in any row, column, or square. Like many puzzles, it is easy to learn to play but becoming a master takes a lifetime.) The printed puzzle booklet uses pictures to show each layout and solution. For those who want the challenge, the Japanese printed inside the box is written at a grade school level with furigana over the kanji to aid in pronunciation and meaning! Read the rest
Most of the really great construction sets are rectangular in shape, or they obey rigid angles. Lego, Kapla Blocks, Kinnex, or Zomeworks are fabulous kits that foster open-ended creativity. But they all tend toward very rectilinear structures. ZOOB is the first construction set I’ve seen that encourages organic, free-flowing builds. There are five basic ZOOB shapes centered on a ball-and-socket connection. When you click them together you have full 180-degree freedom in how the connection is oriented, leading to creations that are curvy, complicated, or ones that repeat like vertebrate in a spine, or carbons on a chain, or even amino acids on DNA. I was surprised by how sophisticated you could make the forms; you may need a bit of patience to get complex ones to fit perfectly (note to 8-year olds). In fact the force and precision needed to assemble pieces may be beyond toddlers, but school kids should have no problem. The plastic pieces are largish, unlike lego, so the finished forms can be quite hefty.
ZOOB Ages 6 and up, 125 pieces $20 Buy a copy on Amazon