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Kickstarting Maker's Alphabet: an ABC book that celebrates creativity

Melody writes, "We're grad students in the MFA Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. We launched a Kickstarter project called Maker's Alphabet. It's an ABC book that features whimsical illustrations and verses to celebrate creativity of all stripes."

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Daniel Pinkwater's brilliant, hilarious, life-changing books as $3 ebooks


Children's author, essayist and hero of literature Daniel Pinkwater has revived his classic backlist as a line of DRM-free ebooks! Each one is only $3, and there are some astoundingly good titles in there.

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars was my first Pinkwater, and it literally changed my life. It's your basic nerd-discovers-he-has-special-powers book, except it's not: it's got saucer cults, green death chili, mystic bikers, and a sweet and inclusive message about following your weird without looking down on others. It literally changed my life.

The Education of Robert Nifkin is another take on an Alan Mendelsohn-like story, but this time, it's all about taking charge of your own education and an alternative school where the inmates run the asylum. It's probably no coincidence that I ended up at a school much like Nifkin's after reading Mendelsohn (here's my full review).

Young Adults is a hilarious, bawdy romp through the conventions of young adult literature. When got my first paperback copy, I walked around for days, annoying my roommates by reading long passages from this at them until they forgave me because they were convulsed with laughter. Dadaism was never so funny.

Wingman is such a beautiful, compassionate book about race, comics, and a love affair with literature. I read my copy until it fell apart.

What can you say about the Snarkout Boys? They sneak out at night and go to an all-night B-movie palace where they have comic, X-Files-style adventures with the paranormal and diner food. The Snarkout Boys & The Avocado of Death and The Snarkout Boys & The Baconburg Horror comprise the canon.

Fat Men from Space is the greatest paen ever penned to sloppy cooking. If you can't get enough of Shopsin's in NYC, or find yourself throwing everything in a frying pan at 2AM, you need this book.

Then there's Chicago Days and Hoboken Nights, a memoir as a series of comic essays that tell the story of Pinkwater's boyhood, his training as an artist, his late-night hot-dogs, and the forces that made him into the towering force of literature that he is today.

There's so much more!

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Homebrew syringe hydraulic excavator

Here's a video of a young Brazilian man demonstrating justified pride and palpable pleasure as he puts his homebrew excavator, powered by syringe hydraulics, through its paces. Here's an Instructables post that takes you through building an ambitious syringe-hydraulics robot -- full of good ideas for your own syringe hydraulic projects.

Boy Makes DIY Excavator with Syringe Hydraulics (via Geekologie)

My daughter Poesy reviews Hilda and the Black Hound


Luke Pearson and London's Flying Eye Books have published the fourth Hildafolk kids' graphic novel, Hilda and the Black Hound. Like the earlier volumes (reviews: Hildafolk and Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade), it's nothing less than magical, a Miyazaki-meets-Moomin story that is beautifully drawn and marvellously told.

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When it comes to learning computers, play is seriously important

Game on? Or game over? [PDF], a brief research report from the U Washington Information School, summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report on computer skills acquisition. This particular explainer deals with the relationship between playing games and goofing off on computers and learning to do "productive" things with them, finding (as Mimi Ito did, before) that horsing around is a critical component of mastering computers, and that labs that ban games and other forms of playful engagement with computers are hampering their ability to teach the people they're supposed to be serving. Cory 15

Cats of Tanglewood Forest: illustrated modern folktale from Charles de Lint and Charles Vess


For the past two months, my daughter's and my main bedtime reading has been The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a modern folktale written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess, a power duo if ever there was one. This is a story set on an American prairie farm sometime in the 20th century, about Lillian, a kind-hearted girl who sets out saucers of milk for the wild cats, scatters grain for the songbirds, and leaves a biscuit by the oldest, most gnarled apple tree in the orchard for the Apple Tree Man. And it's because of her good heart and her wild spirit that the cats of Tanglewood Forest defy the king of cats, and work cat-magic to rescue her when she is bitten by a snake and brought near to death. Now she has been reborn as a kitten, and she must find out how she can once again become a girl.

The book is lavishly illustrated with Charlie Vess's amazing art nouveau paintings (you may recognize these from his frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman, such as the beautiful picture book Blueberry Girl). The paintings -- which appear as full pages, but are also worked into the margins, endpapers, and jacket -- are a wonderful and gripping accompaniment to the story. Although this story is too sophisticated for my six-year-old to have read to herself, the combination of the illustrations and my reading it aloud made it absolutely accessible to her. And these paintings are so gorgeous that she was more than happy to sit and thumb through the book, enjoying them on their own.

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Rob Ford excuses, uttered by a child

When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was caught lying about smoking crack (and after months of smearing people who accused him of doing so as liars), he busted out the most weaselly, stupid excuse anyone had ever heard. To make it clear how unsuitable this level of discourse is in office, Central Fiction's produced this video in which a child deploys the Rob Ford defense about a cracked window.

Rob Ford's Words in the Mouth of a Child (Thanks, Emily!)

Bizarre, paranoid warning about imaginary predators choosing victims through bumper-sticker-ology


Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy points out a new and disturbing artifact from the weird parallel world of bubble-wrapped-kids: a post warning you that the treacly "My family" minivan stickers are an invitation to canny predators who are after YOUR KIDS. No one's saying that this has ever happened, just that they can imagine it, and if they can imagine it, bad guys can imagine it, and if you can imagine a bad guy doing something bad, then you should drop everything to prevent that imaginary thing from coming true.

When in trouble/Or in doubt/Run in circles/Scream and shout.

That Sticker on My Car Is NOT Endangering Me!

Expiration Day: YA coming of age novel about robots and the end of the human race


Expiration Day is William Campbell Powell's debut YA novel, and it's an exciting start. The novel is set in a world in which human fertility has collapsed, taking the birth-rate virtually to zero, sparking riots and even a limited nuclear war as the human race realizes that it may be in its last days. Order is restored, but at the price of basic civil liberties. There's a little bit of Orwell (a heavily surveilled and censored Internet); but mostly, it's all about the Huxley. The major locus of control is a line of robotic children -- all but indistinguishable from flesh-and-bloods, even to themselves -- who are sold to desperate couples as surrogates for the children they can't have, calming the existential panic and creating a surface veneer of normalcy.

Expiration Day takes the form of a private diary of Tania, an 11 year old vicar's daughter in a small village outside of London. Tania's father's parishioners have found religion, searching for meaning in their dying world. He is counsellor and father-figure to them, though the family is still relatively poor. Tania is a young girl growing up in the midst of a new, catastrophic normal, the only normal she's ever known, and she's happy enough in it. But them she discovers that she, too, is a robot, and has to come to grips with the fact that her "parents" have been lying to her all her life. What's more, the fact that she's a robot means that she won't live past 18: all robots are property of a private corporation, and are merely leased to their "parents," and are recalled around their 18th birthday, turned into scrap.

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Playground removes "safety" rules; fun, development and injuries ensue


The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.

The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards.

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Painting babies' medical helmets

Robbo sez, "Artist Paula Strawn paints the plain white medical helmets of babies and transforms them into super awesome designs. The flight helmets and droid designs are really cool - but so are the Van Gogh and Seurat paintings. And the wee tykes look like they love 'em too."

The kids have flat head syndrome and have to wear the helmets; Strawn's done 1,300 helmets in 12 years, through her business Lazardo Art.

Artist Turns Babies' Head-Shaping Helmets Into Impressive Works Of Art [Mandy Velez/Huffington Post]

(Thanks, Robbo!)

Making pancakes with the amazing Nathan Shields and his awesomely cute kids

The amazing pancake artist Nathan Shields (previously, previously) has launched a video-series in which he makes pancakes with his adorable kids, Gryphon and Alice. Part three, out today, is jaw-dropping and hunger-inspiring! Parts one and two (below) are great introductions to advanced pancaking, and part two features a pancake portrait of Paul Erdos!

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Excerpt: first two chapters of Karl Schroeder's Lockstep

Yesterday, I reviewed Karl Schoeder's first YA novel, Lockstep, which combines genuinely brilliant techno-social speculation with a driving, exciting adventure plot.

Today I'm delighted to present the first two chapters of Lockstep, courtesy of Tor Books, so you can get a taste for this book yourself. As I wrote yesterday: Buy a copy for your favorite kid -- and another for yourself. And remember, Schroeder is launching the book at Toronto's Bakka Phoenix Books this Saturday at 3PM.

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Danish travel company offers "ovulation discount" for couples, rewards if you conceive on holiday

Spies Travels, a Danish travel agency, have conceived of a promotion to help reverse Denmark's plummeting birthrate. They're offering a discount for couples who travel during one partner's ovulation period, and if you can subsequently prove that you conceived a child on the trip, they'll give you three years' worth of baby-stuff and a family holiday.

Do it for Denmark! (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Lockstep: Karl Schroeder's first YA novel is a triumph of weird science, deep politics, and ultimate adventure


As I've written before, Karl Schroeder is one of the sharpest, canniest thinkers about technology and science fiction I know. In the nearly 30 years I've know him, he's introduced me to fractals, free software, Unix, listservers, SGML, augmented reality, the Singularity, and a host of other ideas -- generally 5-10 years before I heard about these ideas from anyone else. What's more, he's a dynamite novelist with a finely controlled sense of character and plot to go with all those Big Ideas.

Now he's written his first young adult novel, Lockstep, and it is a triumph.

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