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

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

This is a strange book and I can’t understand why it’s a classic, but it is. We got multiple copies as gifts when the kids were born, and we got a bit of a nostalgia rush when we looked at it for the first time since we were kids ourselves. But I don’t think the kids liked it much. I don’t recall them ever asking for it when we read stories at bedtime.

Margaret Wise Brown has a unique voice and her rhythm is evident in Goodnight Moon, but this is not one of her best. Yet, it seems every American kid needs to know it.

The L.A. Review of Books has a 75-year retrospective

How One Librarian Tried to Squash Goodnight Moon

There’s a reason this classic is missing from the New York Public Library’s list of the 10 most-checked-out books of all time.

Sandra Boynton

Sandra Boynton has had children’s books in print for the past 40+ years, ever since publishing “Hippos Go Berserk” in 1977. Her distinctive and very recognizable illustration style may be more familiar from her many, many calendars, coffee mugs, and cards. By her own estimate, she has drawn between 4,000 and 6,000 greeting cards! Her most famous is probably the birthday card that reads, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”

We have several of her 60+ children’s board books and they are an easy and popular gift to give and receive. The drawing style is fun and whimsical and the “stories”, as simple as they are, are great for read-along time. Our kids essentially memorize entire books and then can read along with us.

Her most popular books include “Moo, Baa, La La La!”, “The Going to Bed Book”, “Barnyard Dance”, “A to Z”, “Blue Hat, Green Hat”, and “Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!” A complete list of her books is on her Wikipedia page

She also has several children’s music albums, including:
“Rhinoceros Tap” (1996)
“Philadelphia Chickens” (2002)
“Dog Train” (2005)
“Blue Moo” (2007)
“Boléro Completely Unraveled” (2010)
“Frog Trouble” (2013)
“Hog Wild” (2017)

Our kids love “Philadelphia Chickens” in particular.

More information about her books at sandraboynton.com

And The Atlantic has a charming article on her (2019/11)

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:

Simon

What is it

Simon is a French TV show (translated into British English) for kids about a rabbit boy and his family and friends

Who is it for

The animation in Simon is simple and appealing enough that kids as young as 2 will enjoy it, and the themes presented are appropriate for kids up to age 9 or so.

What Kids Like

Simon is not as sanitized as most American and Canadian shows for kids are these days, and the characters are often bickering and dealing with bullies and other realistic situations. My kids like seeing characters handle scenarios that come up in their own life and thus are more relatable.

What Parents Like

I like that there is a show that hits the sweet spot between the overly safe PBS Kids stuff (e.g. Daniel Tiger) and obnoxiously sassy Cartoon Network/Disney stuff aimed at tweens (e.g. Teen Titans Go!). Simon manages to not talk down to kids but isn’t trying to be cool, either.

As it says on the Simon Wikipedia page:

He’s at an age when little rabbits (and indeed little children!) are starting to come into their own – challenging relationships with parents, embarking upon school life, learning about the world in general, dealing with authority and of course, language.

I also like that it’s a French show. Every culture has a slightly different approach to raising children, which is why I like my kids to see shows like Pocoyo (Spanish), The Fixies (Russian), PJ Masks (French), and Pororo (Korean), each of which gives a glimpse into a world that is not quite the same as the others.

And lastly, the “full” episodes are all 5 minutes, 19 seconds long. This makes the show a bit easier to digest and makes it easier when watching videos close to bedtime. I can say “OK, last one” and know that there will be closure within a few minutes. That’s harder to do with movies or longer shows.

What the Critics Think

IMDB gives Simon 7.9/10

A review at Animation Magazine

Life with Wifey puts Simon among the top 5 shows for kids on Netflix

Who Made it / History

The show is based on books by Stephanie Blake (American-born, living in France) who is best known for books such as “Poo Bum” (2011) and “Stupid Baby” (2012) which were originally published in France and introduce the character of Simon the rabbit.

The show is produced by GO-N Production and premiered on France TV’s Zouzous channel

More on Wikipedia

Where Can I Get it

Simon is streaming on Netflix and there is an official YouTube channel where the episodes are streaming for free.

Llama Llama

What is it

Llama Llama is a book series and an animated series based on the characters from the books.

Llama Llama is a young child with some separation anxiety, learning the basics of interacting with others and overcoming the conflict and resentment toward his mother.

Who is it for

The themes in the books make it ideal for very young children, age 2 to 4. The show is more general and kids as old as 6 might get something out of it

What Kids Like

The main plot of the first book Llama Llama Red Pajama is of a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed, who misses his mom and gets lonely. He screams for her and she comes running, but then scolds him for his “Llama drama”.

Our young kids relate to that very well and became obsessed with the book after having it read to them the first time. The red pajama book is worth sharing with your child. If they like it, you might consider the other books as well. A few others in the series deal with the same theme of the conflict that can arise between parent and child, especially at bedtime.

The appeal to kids is that, of all the kids stories out there, there aren’t many that explore the anguish of being left alone in a dark room at bedtime.

And the TV version also depicts scenarios that are not common in other kids media. For example, in one episode the child (called simply, “llama llama”) throws a fit at a grocery store and makes a mess by knocking items off a shelf. The mother (“mama llama”) then scolds him and makes him clean it up.

What Parents Like

The illustrations are fun and the rhyming language of the text makes it fun to read with a child.

I can’t think of another book, or set of books, that address the particular issue of the child getting angry at the parent. We see young adult literature in which teens defy the parent, but not board books for kids in which the child resents the parent for unfair bedtime practices.

And I like having scenes like the grocery store one described above. It’s good for kids to see depictions of bad behavior in other kids and seeing the consequences of it.

What the Critics Think

Several books in the series have won awards:

  • Llama Llama Red Pajama: Scholastic Parent and Child “100 Greatest Books for Kids” award winner; Bank Street “Best Children’s Book” recipient; Missouri Building Block Award winner; National Public Radio pick; Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List winner (picture book category)
  • Llama Llama Home With Mama: Children’s Choice Book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2012)
  • Llama Llama Time to Share: Children’s Choice book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2013); Thriving Family magazine’s Best Family-Friendly Picture Book finalist (2012)
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama: Missouri Building Block Award winner; winner of Alabama’s Emphasis on Reading program (grades K-1); Book Sense Book of the Year Children’s Illustrated Honor Book (2008)
  • The show has had mixed reviews, with most ratings giving it ~3 stars out of 5.

    Common Sense Media gives the series 5 stars, however

    In some ways, the show doesn’t really distinguish itself from other shows aimed at young children, with themes such as the importance of sharing, how to express frustration, etc. The way that it does distinguish itself is in how it also addresses themes of conflict between a parent and a young child: e.g. the fights that happen at bedtime when the child decides he wants one more thing to eat before bed.

    Concerns/Flaws

    The show can be a bit generic – not bad, but not particularly different from Daniel Tiger or any of the other many, many wholesome kids’ cartoons out there now.

    In the cartoon, the mother is voiced by the actress Jennifer Garner, so to me the show sounds like a long Capital One commercial. Although, after hearing so much of it, I’ve decided that she has a particularly clear and appealing voice.

    Who Made it

    Anna Dewdney wrote and illustrated about two dozen books, most of them in the Llama Llama series

    She died at age 50 in 2016

    More on Wikipedia

    History

    Dewdney illustrated many books for other authors, but Llama Llama Red Pajama was the first one she wrote and illustrated herself in 2005. It almost immediately became an enormous hit.

    An interview with the author at Parenting magazine

    Where Can I Get it

    The books are published by Viking and are available everywhere. The show is on Netflix