Parts – Tedd Arnold

What is it

Parts is a book about a kid who thinks his body is falling apart.

There are also two sequels: “More Parts” and “Even More Parts”

The book is written in rhyme:

“I stared at it, amazed, and wondered,
What’s this all about?
But then I understood. It was
My stuffing coming out!

And has whimsical, cartoon-ish full-page illustrations.

Who is it for

Kids from 4 to 8 are the core group, but younger kids might enjoy it. There is a bit of gross-out humor (boogers and ear wax) so kids of the age to enjoy that are the right age.

What Kids Like

The book is funny. The character gets increasingly anxious as he thinks he’s discovering evidence that his body is falling apart. The pictures are fun in their detail.

Part of the pleasure is having an anxious kid finally realize that there’s not really a problem after all

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is for this book, but it’s one of the few that gets pulled off the shelf at bedtime every few months. The kids remember it, even after months have passed, which is much more than can be said of most of their books.

What Parents Like

There is just a hint of education in the book, with simplified explanations of the relationship between skin and bones and teeth and guts. It’s not much, but it’s enough to spark curiosity about anatomy and lead to conversations about it.

What the Critics Think

Parts gets 4.3/5 on Goodreads

and 4.7/5 on Amazon

There is a review at the-best-childrens-books.org

Who Made it / History

Parts was written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold and published by Picture Puffin Books.

Arnold is probably best known for his “Fly Guy” series.

Brain Bashers

What is it

Brain Bashers is a collection of free logic puzzles updated every day.

The puzzles come in easy, medium, and hard varieties and are implemented in JavaScript so can be played on any computer or smart phone.

Puzzles include: Sudoku, 3-In-A-Row, ABC Path, ABC View, Battleships, Bridges, CalcuDoku, Fillomino, Futoshiki, Hitori, Kakurasu, Killer Sudoku, Light Up, MathemaGrid, Neighbours, Net Slide, Network, Nonogrids, Nurikabe, Range, Skyscrapers, Slants, Slitherlink, Sudoku, Tents, Tracks, and Web Words.

Most of these are so-called Japanese-style paper-and-pencil logic puzzles that you see in many newspapers.


Who is it for

Anyone who likes puzzles will like the site. Kids need to be old enough to think abstractly so I would say 7+ for some of the easier variants of the simpler types of puzzles.

What Kids Like

Puzzles are fun, and kids like mini-challenges that don’t take much time but make them feel smart.

Web Words is fun. The New York Times has a similar (and slicker) version of this, called Spelling Bee.

Nonogrids is like a paint-by-number puzzle.

The site also has various brain teasers, optical illusions, and word puzzles.

The site also saves your progress, if you want, without requiring an account.

What Parents Like

It’s free! And there is a huge amount of content. You could spend hours every single day on the site since it’s updated daily. I have to assume the creator has a program that generates all the puzzles automatically.

Logic puzzles are a great way of exercising the brain and I’m happy to let my kids spend as much time as they like on it.

Many sites have logic puzzles on them, but require you to print them out. Brain Bashers let you play right on the screen

Concerns/Flaws

The interface has not changed all that much since it was started and it now seems a bit clunky, and not quite as mobile-friendly as other sites. This site really ought to be an app at this point.

Who Made it / History

The site began as Puzzles4U way back in 1997 by Kevin Stone

More here

Secret Coders

From graphic novel superstar Gene Luen Yang comes Secret Coders, a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic coding instruction with a page-turning mystery plot! Follow Hopper and her friend Eni as they use their wits and their growing prowess with coding to solve the many mysteries of Stately Academy.

What is it

Secret Coders is a series (6 as of October 2018, and I think they are done) of graphic novels where kids have to fight bad guys using programming concepts.

This may sound dry, but the writing and drawing is compelling and the education value is high, but never at the expense of storytelling.

Who is it for

This is for kids who can understand abstract thinking. 7 may be too young, depending on the kid, 8 and up is probably right. A kid who has shown an interest in chess or writing code, is probably old enough and a good match.

What Kids Like

The kids like the fun, funny, exciting storytelling. The content is easily digestible and the experience of reading the books is similar to watching a cartoon on TV.

What Parents Like

I like that the educational aspect is deeper than many other STEM-focused books. These books cover topics such as binary trees, if/else statements, variables and other essential computer science concepts. But again, not in a way that takes away from the pleasure of reading.

The books are a great introduction to computer science, and there are really very few of those. Most CS intros for kids just start with a bunch of code without that initial hand-holding and explanation that many kids need, especially with such an abstract subject.

There is a website for the series: secret-coders.com with activities related to the books, and readers can download a simple coding language called Logo and try some of the code presented in the books.

In Secret Coders, Hooper, Eni, and Josh learn Logo, an ancient and nearly-forgotten programming language! You can learn Logo, too, by downloading and installing UCBLogo! UCBLogo is a Logo interpreter — a piece of software that allows your computer to understand the Logo language. You can download it for free here.

What the Critics Think

The box set and the 5th book in the series (Potions & Parameters) get 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, which is very high.

GoodReads rates the books with an average a little over 4/5 The ratings on Amazon and GoodReads go up as the series progresses.

Common Sense Media gives the series 4/5

Winner of the Mathical Book Award in 2015.

(The Mathical book list is a great set of good books, organized by age.)

Concerns/Flaws

The illustrations are black-and-white (or really, black-and-white-and-green) and it’s possible that some kids, who are used to saturated colors in all their media, will be turned off by this. But that is a minor concern.

Who Made it

The books are written by Gene Luen Yang

From the Macmillan author bio

Gene Luen Yang writes, and sometimes draws, comic books and graphic novels. As the Library of Congress’ fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, he advocates for the importance of reading, especially reading diversely. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second Books, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. His two-volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints won the L.A. Times Book Prize and was a National Book Award Finalist. His other works include Secret Coders (with Mike Holmes), The Shadow Hero (with Sonny Liew), New Super-Man from DC Comics (with various artists), and the Avatar: The Last Airbender series from Dark Horse Comics (with Gurihiru). In 2016, he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. National Book Awards Finalist

And illustrated by Mike Holmes

Mike Holmes has drawn for the comics series Secret Coders, Bravest Warriors, Adventure Time, and the viral art project Mikenesses. His books include the True Story collection (2011), This American Drive (2009), and Shenanigans. He lives with a cat named Ella, who is his best buddy.

The books are published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan, with many beautiful and interesting titles, including the ongoing Science Comics series.

History

The first book came out in 2015 and the others were published about every 6 months after that.

Secret Coders (Volume 1)
Gene Luen Yang is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and is a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of what’s popularly known as the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes! From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

Secret Coders 2: Paths & Portals
Hopper and Eni are back in the second volume of the exciting new computer-programming series by New York Times-bestselling author Gene Luen Yang.

Secret Coders 3: Secrets & Sequences
The coders are back in the third volume of the exciting new computer-programming series by New York Times–bestselling author Gene Luen Yang.

Secret Coders 4: Robots & Repeats
Dr. One-Zero has added a new class to Stately Academy’s curriculum. But in “Advanced Chemistry,” they only teach one lesson: how to make Green Pop! While their classmates are manufacturing this dangerous soda, the Coders uncover a clue that may lead them to Hopper’s missing dad. Is it time to use Professor Bee’s most powerful weapon: the Turtle of Light?

Secret Coders 5: Potions & Parameters
Dr. One-Zero won’t stop until the whole town—no, the whole world—embraces the “true happiness” found in his poisonous potion, Green Pop. And now that he has the Turtle of Light, he’s virtually unstoppable. There’s one weapon that can defeat him: another Turtle of Light. Unfortunately, they can only be found in another dimension! To open a portal to this new world, Hopper, Eni, and Josh’s coding skills will be put to the test.

Secret Coders 6: Monsters & Modules
The Coders always knew their programming skills would take them far, but they never guessed they would take them to another dimension! Or to be accurate, one dimension less—to save humanity, Hopper, Eni, and Josh must travel to Flatland, a dangerous two-dimensional world ruled by polygons. If they can return home safely with a turtle of light, they might just stand a chance in their final showdown with Dr. One-Zero!

Where Can I Get it

Amazon and everywhere else

On Beyond Zebra!

Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 books, many of them selling 10 million or copies or more over the past several decades. While “On Beyond Zebra!” has never been as popular as “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”, it is one of his better ones, in my opinion.

I don’t actually recall how we got this added to our collection, but it was probably a gift. And of all the Dr. Seuss books on our shelf, this is the one the kids pull out most frequently. “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” is fun, and we read that to the kids when they are very young, but they lose interest in that once they begin learning to read on their own.

And while I frequently push for titles such as “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”, that just doesn’t resonate with the kids as much as “On Beyond Zebra!”

What is it

The book is typical of most of Dr. Seuss’s books, where each page is a nearly standalone depiction of a whimsical creature in a whimsical location, with a few lines of verse. In the case of this book, however, each page is also devoted to an exotic novel letter. That is, the book suggests there are letters that come after ‘Z’, which are needed to spell these creatures and their locations.

Who is it for

“On Beyond Zebra!” is ideal for kids in the first few years of learning to read, but also appeals to older kids who enjoy wordplay. I would say ages 4 to 8

What Kids Like

The kids like the exotic creatures, such as the cow with 98 udders or the “Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs” that float around as living stepping stones. They also like the invented letters. For new readers, the standard alphabet is already strange and foreign, so introducing them to ever stranger, more foreign letters actually gives them confidence about the standard letters that they do know.

What Parents Like

It’s a book that’s fun to read, and the images are so fantastical that I’m able to maintain my interest. And more than many other books, “On Beyond Zebra!” inspires questions about words and animals.

What the Critics Think

Goodreads gives “On Beyond Zebra!” 4 out 5

Oliver Jeffers has

Concerns/Flaws

Some of Dr. Suess’s books have not aged well, with depictions of people or cultures or places that are now seen as offensive. This book has none of that, however.

Google has a preview

Someone has taken the time to add the “Seussian” letters of “On Beyond Zebra!” to the Unicode standard: http://www.evertype.com/standards/csur/seuss.html

Adventuron

What is it

Adventuron is a free web-based coding environment for creating text-based games.

The games created in Adventuron are similar to the classic Infocom text-based games such as Zork or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (My personal favorite from that era was “Infidel”)

Who is it for

The user needs to be able to read at a 3rd- or 4th-grade level to get much out of this. There is a fair bit of documentation, and the code itself requires accurate spelling.

Some adults will have fun with this as well.

What Kids Like

Kids always like making their own games, whether its coming up for new rules for ‘Tag’ or for a board game that’s missing half its pieces. Most programmers I know got their start and developed their initial interest in programming by making computer games. Unlike developing high-end console games, though, creating simple text-based adventures is easy enough that an entire (simple, but complete) game can be created in a few hours with Adventuron.

There are other game-making tools out there. PuzzleScript is one, that creates simple 8-bit style puzzle games. And MIT’s Scratch is another. As is Blocksworld

Choicescript is another interface for creating text-based games, but the coding for Choicescript is a bit more advanced and the games are more like interactive novels than text-based games.

What Parents Like

I like that this system teaches actual programming concepts. Most junior programming environments have a drag-and-drop interface, which is a fun and easy introduction to programming, but such an interface is limited in how much the child can do, and it doesn’t teach aspects of coding such as the importance of syntax.

In Adventuron, variable names have to be spelled correctly and a stray quotation mark, or missing semicolon can mess up everything – just like with real code.

I also like that the games created are not violent. The games require typing answers and so can not include the kind of violence seen in most computer games.

What the Critics Think

Adventuron came out in 2019 and there doesn’t seem to be much awareness of it yet.

A more thorough review and description of Adventuron is here

Concerns/Flaws

Some kids just won’t care for text-based games, so won’t have any interest in trying to create them. Modern games are so sophisticated compared to older ones and most kids I know are so used to sophisticated graphics that they just don’t have any interest in the 8-bit style.

The coding is potentially frustrating. Because the child writes actual code (mostly defining arrays and if-then conditionals) there is necessarily some debugging aspect. Introducing this kind of experience to a child before they are ready can backfire and they could end up thinking that writing code is just too hard for them. For a child with no coding experience, I would advise starting with Scratch or something similar and then graduating to Adventuron once they have a little mastery over writing code.

Who Made it/History

Adventuron Software Limited is based in the UK (Ireland, I believe) and has been developing the software since 2017

Where Can I Get it

Play some sample games:

The Beast of Torrack Moor (30th Anniversary)
Excalibur: Sword of Kings (TALP)
The Path
Hamurabi

Visit the creator website

And try out the “Classroom” where you can get started.

Mug Brownies

What is it

A mug brownie, or brownie-in-a-cup, is a single serving of brownies made in a mug and cooked in the microwave. They take just a few minutes to make, are vegan, and very tasty.

Mix equal parts flour, sugar, cocoa powder, oil, and water in a mug. Microwave for a minute. Done.

i.e. in a big mug
1/4 cup flour
+ 1/4 cup sugar
+ 1/4 cup water
+ 1/4 cup cocoa (this is unsweetened baking cocoa, not hot chocolate mix)
+ 1/4 cup oil

or:
50 ml flour
+ 50 ml sugar
+ 50 ml water
+ 50 ml cocoa
+ 50 ml oil

You can easily halve the recipe for smaller servings

Optional:
• a pinch of salt brings out the chocolate flavor
• add a dash of vanilla extract and/or almond extract and/or peppermint extract add/or a few shakes of cinnamon
• add 1/4 tsp (1 or 2 ml) of baking powder to make it a bit fluffier
• replace some (or all) of the flour with the same amount of cocoa powder for an extra chocolate-y brownie

Who is it for

Mug brownies are for anyone with a sweet tooth, but the activity of making them is for anyone who can manage a measuring spoon. 3+ is probably right.

What Kids Like

Kids are motivated by the speed of the process. From saying, “Let’s make brownies!” to actually having them in your mouth can take as little as three minutes. Cooking is a great activity to do with kids, but they often get bored or frustrated having to wait.

What Parents Like

Cooking is a great way to teach some basic math (how many teaspoons in a tablespoon? [3] how many milliliters in a quarter cup? [~60]) as well as basic cooking concepts (mix the dry ingredients before adding the wet, leveling the measuring spoons before dumping it) and this recipe lends itself to some scientific inquiry. For example, what happens if we add half the sugar, or half the oil, or use brown sugar?

Concerns/Flaws

Now, teaching kids to wait, and be bored for a bit is actually an essential concept these days, with instant access to almost anything, and these brownies are the food equivalent of on-demand streaming media, but they are fun and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Idle Human

What is it

Idle Human is a game app that teaches human anatomy in a surprisingly fun way. It’s not easy to gamify a subject as dry as anatomy, but the developers of Idle Human (Funcell Games) have managed to do so.

From the iOS app page:

Have you ever wondered how the human body works? In IDLE HUMAN we give you the unique chance to discover and create the various parts of a human right from the first cell! Discover the amazing sequence in which a human body unravels, starting from the very first bones to every organs leading to the nerves and muscles then, finally, a complete human body!

Ultimately, it is an ‘idle’ game, which means lots of mindless clicking in order to unlock levels and components. But unlike other idle games, the things being unlocked are bones, organs, and facts about the human body.

Who is it for

The app is rated 12+ but that’s only because it shows certain body parts. The game is not at all explicit when it comes to sexual organs and the developers handle that is a tasteful way. I would say the game is appropriate for kids 5 and up and adults looking to learn something while killing time would enjoy it as well.

What Kids Like

The benefit of idle games is that you can’t really lose, you control how quickly you win. So there’s no frustration like there often is in action or strategy/puzzle games. The gamification is strong and there is constant feedback about achievements and unlocking new bones and organs.

What Parents Like

Idle Human is both genuinely educational and actually fun. Our 6-year-old literally said, “This game is making me smart” and it’s obvious that there is a lot of knowledge in the game: names and positions of the organs and bones and “Snapple cap”-level factoids about the body, such as “The cornea is the only part of the body that does not need a blood supply. It gets oxygen directly from the air.” I did not know that.

What the Critics Think

Idle Human gets
4.8/5 on the Apple iOS/iTunes App Store
4.4/5 on the Google Android Play store
5/5 from Sensor Tower – which is a meta app review aggregator

Concerns/Flaws

The game does have ads. They are not as intrusive as on many other games, but a disadvantage of clicker-type games is that when you’re actively tapping the screen an ad may suddenly appear, which you then inadvertently click.

I have mixed feelings about idle/clicker games because they are so passive. The kid playing is not actively engaged the way he/she would be with a different kind of game. If the game were not educational I wouldn’t want my kids to play it.

Who Made it

The developer of Idle Human is füncell games, a very small (3-person) development team in India. The game is published/distributed by Green Panda Games which is a developer and publisher based in France.

History

Version 1.0 was released in July, 2019 and version 1.5 in October, 2019

Where Can I Get it

Apple iOS/iTunes App Store
Google Android Play store

Science Comics

Science Comics: Sharks: Nature

What is it

Science Comics is a series of 20 illustrated books on topics such as: cats, sharks, robots, trees, and the solar system.

Each book is written and illustrated by a different cartoon writer and artist.

More info at the First Second website:

"Science Comics extends our non-fiction offerings to middle-grade readers. The Science Comics books will be narrow-focus, single-topic 128 page narrative nonfiction graphic novels, and a new volume will be published each season. The series will be written and drawn by some of the finest graphic novelists in the industry, and feature introductions by leading experts. Each book will cover topics from the fields of biology, chemistry, and physics, subjects that are part of the classroom curriculum and can be easily worked into lesson plans."

Who is it for

Based on my own observation, eight- to ten-year-olds are the most receptive to these books. They appeal to anyone with an interest in science topics, and who like having a lot of pictures.

What Kids Like

The books are fun and funny, as well as informative, and kids like that they can be entertained while also learning.

There are lots of fun, illustrated books about science topics, but this series gets the balance of humor and education just right.

What Parents Like

My kids like science and nature, but don’t want to sit through a documentary or read a book that is all (or mostly) text.

So I like that there is something that keeps them motivated to open the book and keep turning pages.

What the Critics Think

Goodreads reviews all 20 books with an average rating of around 4/5. The highest-rated of the series is Andy Hirsch’s "Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture" and this is the one that got my kids hooked on the series.

Science Comics: Cats: Nature and Nurture

Popular Science has a review with large sample pages

Who Made it / History

First Second is an imprint company under Macmillan and they began the Science Comics series in 2016 with "Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers" (MK Reed and Joe Flood; Spring 2016), "Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean" (Maris Wicks; Spring 2016), and "Volcanos: Fire and Life" (Jon Chad, Fall 2016). There are now 20 titles with more on the way. The next three in the series will be "Rocks and Minerals" by Andy Hirsch, "Crows: Bird Geniuses" by Kyla Vanderklugt, and "Skyscrapers: The Heights of Engineering" by John Kerschbaum.

First Second has lots of very attractively illustrated books

Where Can I Get it

Thriftbooks has the series, some for less than $6.

And Amazon, of course

Fireboy and Watergirl

What is it

Fireboy and Watergirl is a series of five free collaborative/cooperative online 2d platformer games.

One player uses the WAD keys to move Watergirl and the other uses the arrow keys to move Fireboy. Watergirl can’t touch fire and Fireboy can’t touch water. They have to help each other unlock doors in order to collect the gems and reach the doors at the end of each level.

Who is it for

Anyone who likes puzzle games would enjoy these games, adults as well as kids as young as 5 or so. A child can play by themself but it’s more fun to have a teammate.

What Kids Like

My kids like the idea of multiplayer games, although I’m reluctant to let them do much with that yet. And we sometimes play “hot seat” games where we hand the iPad back and forth to take turns, but this kind of game that requires sitting side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder is novel to them and is much more intense, and thus that much more satisfying when a level is completed.

What Parents Like

I love that there are games where everyone can win or lose together instead of always being a zero-sum situation where one child has to lose. Collaborative games force situations where the kids have to work together and communicate effectively – not just criticizing for a bad move, but encouraging and helping when possible.

Concerns/Flaws

The games were originally created with Flash, which is very near being completely unsupported. You can still activate the Flash plugin in your browser but it’s a bit cumbersome to do so. Fortunately, some fans have made HTML5 versions of the game, which run anywhere, even on iOS devices (which didn’t support Flash at all). However, these versions tend to be on sketchy sites with loads and loads of ads. And I’m not sure whether these copies of the games provide any income to the initial developers

Who Made it

The games were made by Oslo Albet and Jan Villanueva and have since been adapted with new levels made by fans of the original.

Where Can I Get it

Flash versions of the game are easy to find. Here is one place https://www.freegames66.com/platform/fireboy-and-watergirl/

And the HTML5 versions are pretty easy to find as well: https://www.fireboynwatergirl.com/

Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery

What is it

Knights Club is a series of “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style comic books, in which the reader decides the order in which they read. On each page, they may be given a choice about where to go next. E.g. “To follow the merchant, go to page 93. To explore the forest, go to page 15.”

Some pages also include puzzles, the solutions of which are other page numbers. The puzzles are essentially “locks” that must be opened before proceeding.

From the website:

This middle-grade graphic novel series makes YOU the valiant hero of a fantasy quest—pick your panel, find items, gain abilities, solve puzzles, and play through new storylines again and again!

Magic, adventure, and triumphant battles await you in this graphic novel that plays just like a role-playing game. Choose to play as one of three brothers eager to join the Royal Order of Knights, and keep track of your hit points, abilities, and inventory on a handy adventure tracker sheet—then set off on your quest! The road to knighthood is a long one: you will journey through snowy mountains, haunted lakes, and dark forests in search of the bracelets of bravery, facing down trolls, wizards, and fellow warriors along the way. You will solve riddles, discover hidden compartments, learn combat techniques, and gather magical objects. With the analog fun of a tabletop game and the classic elements of a fantasy video game, you’ll pick your own paths and forge your own knighthood in this irresistible comic book that you can play again and again.

Who is it for

These are for kids who like puzzles and interactive stories. Some of the puzzles are a bit tricky so younger kids would be frustrated by them.

The theme is of medieval swords-and-shields so kids who like Lord of the Rings or “Knights in Shining Armor” kinds of stories might enjoy it.

What Kids Like

The graphics are fun and the story is silly but engaging. Kids today have no memory of the original Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from the ’80s, so this is a novelty they probably haven’t seen before. Mine hadn’t.

What Parents Like

I like that the books is as engaging as a videogame, but can be taken in the care, to a restaurant, etc. And unlike many videogames, the solutions to all problems come from thinking it through, not from violence.

What the Critics Think

The Bands of Bravery is a winner of the 2019 National Parenting Product Awards

Goodreads only gives it 3/5

Amazon gives it 4/5

Who Made it

The Knights Club books are made by Novy, Shuky, Waltch

Novy is a comics author, letterer, and an illustrator living in France. Shuky is the founder of Makaka Editions, a comics and graphic novel publisher in France. He is an illustrator and the author of nine interactive comics as well as several traditional comics. Waltch is a comics artist who contributes to several fanzines, including Ribozine. He clients include Wind West and Ankama.

The books are published by Quirk Books, a new-ish and different book publisher based in Philadelphia

Where Can I Get it

The paperback is available everywhere, as is the e-book version. The e-book version is a bit more appealing since you can just click to the next page instead of having to continually flip through to the next one.

You can see a preview here: