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.

Duolingo

Duolingo

I often have a desire to better myself, but being extremely lazy I seldom make the time. So it’s good for me every time I stumble across a “life hack” that offers a positive change for minimal investment of time or effort. The first such thing I tried was the “7-minute workout“, which is essentially just good, old-fashioned calisthenics, in 30-second sets. It’s a good workout and seems to be at least as beneficial as running a few miles, which is usually too much of a commitment for me to make.

Another one of these life-hacks is Duolingo, which operates on the premise that you only learn effectively in 10-minute chunks. Trying to do more than that has diminishing returns – it’s a waste of time to try to cram for two hours when only that first ten minutes will be effective. I’ve been using Duolingo for several months and can vouch for its ease and effectiveness.

What is it
Duolingo is a free (ad-based) language learning app available on all platforms, including a website. They offer dozens of languages.

Who is it for
It doesn’t seem geared for any particular age group, but a child using it needs to be a competent reader in English, since most of the prompts in the app are written English. Our 7-year-old is a good reader and has been using Duolingo to learn French.

What Kids Like
The interface is heavily gamified, with constant feedback, badges, leveling-up, etc. So there is continual affirmation and a sense of progress.

They see it as yet another game, yet instead of learning about how to defeat zombies or level up their spaceship, they are learning a foreign language.

All instruction is passive and indirect. There is no overt instruction – no lectures, only translation of words and sentences. If you translate correctly, you get a happy chime and your progress bar goes up. If you fail, you get a chance to try again and you can’t complete the level until all the sentences in the level have been translated correctly.

What Parents Like
I like that it works and I need to do nothing to motivate my child since the app is fun on its own. I like that there is an app on my phone that I can share with my child that isn’t yet another game or Youtube, or whatever.

The interface is really one of the most effective teaching environments I’ve ever seen. I wonder whether other subjects could be taught this way.

What the Critics Think

iTunes users rate it 4.7/5 as do users on Android

Language-learning site Fluent in 3 Months has a review https://www.fluentin3months.com/duolingo/ and gives the app 4 out of 5 stars

PCMag gives it 4.5 stars

Concerns/Flaws

My complaint is that not all language courses on Duolingo are good. The Chinese one, for example, is terrible. I think the Duolingo interface works best with Roman alphabet languages. Trying to learn Arabic, Russian, or any Asian language will be a challenge – too big of a challenge for a kid because they have to learn the alphabet as well as the vocabulary and grammar.

Who Made it

Duolingo is based in Pittsburgh and was started in 2011. There are currently 300 million users

Where Can I Get it

Download from iTunes or the Google Play Store
or just visit the Duolingo site

PJ Masks

I didn’t think the world needed yet another cartoon series, but this one is pretty good. It’s based off a series of French books (“Les Pyjamasques”) which gives it a certain je-ne-said-quois that differentiates it from the standard cookie cutter format of most American shows.

The idea is of three kids who have superpowers and solve crimes at night as Catboy, Owlette and Gekko (not ‘Gecko’), and they learn valuable lessons about friendship, teamwork, yada yada.

Disney is behind this, so expect the usual flood of board games and figures and spinoff games, etc. The cartoon is very wholesome, though, so I don’t mind.

They have their own official YouTube channel with live streaming of new videos, and the series is also currently streaming on Netflix.

Press Here – Hervé Tullet

Known simply as ‘Un livre’ (a book) in its original French publication, ‘Press Here’ is a fun book that our kids enjoyed and wanted to read again and again. Of all our books, this one has probably been physically damaged the most through heavy use. The book asks the reader to press colored dots on the page, blow them, and tilt the book to slide them around. There are no electronics in the book, on the contrary the images are very clearly hand-painted and non-computer-generated-looking. So, the dots don’t actually move – you have to turn the pages to see what happens as a result of your actions.

For children used to interacting with the touch-screens of phones and tablets, the ‘old-fashioned’ medium of a printed book asking them to interact with it turns out to be a delight.

The author has written several other books for children, all fun, and many of which also include the dynamic of the book being treated as a physical object, and not just a set of printed pages.

Biography of the author