Posted in Guide, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Create your own Scratch games with Scratch Coding Cards!

scratchcodingcards_coverScratch Coding Cards, by Natalie Rusk, MIT Lab Scratch Team, (Dec. 2016, No Starch Press), $24.95, ISBN: 97-1-59327-774-1

Recommended for ages 8+

Better than flash cards, these Scratch coding cards teach users to design:

  • virtual pets that can eat, drink, and play;
  • games where you can catch things falling from the sky;
  • animated dance scenes with music and dance moves;
  • a bouncing ball game with sounds, points, and other effects;
  • characters that you can dress up with different clothes
  • stories, where you can choose characters, add conversations, and bring your story to life;
  • hide and seek games with characters that disappear;
  • a music program, where you choose instruments, add sounds, and press keys to play music;
  • a game where two characters race one another, and
  • a program that will animate the letters of your name.

Each activity comes with a set of cards, walking users through each action in the process. Every card is fully illustrated and includes screenshots and brief, clear text. I spent the better part of an afternoon creating Pong-type games with my 13 year old when I received my cards to review, and I’m going to start working with my 4 year-old on making up a story using Scratch. I’ve even gushed about these cards to the Collection Development group at my library system, because I love these cards so much.

Librarian or teacher? These cards are a class/program in themselves. Parent, or just interested in learning how to code? You can’t beat these cards for teaching and learning block coding.

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Posted in Fiction, geek, Guide, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Holiday Book Shopping: Science and Tech

Books make fantastic holiday gifts! Need a stocking stuffer or are stumped by a kid who has seemingly everything? Try one of these!

I am guilty of favoring books in the STEM/STEAM areas, because that’s what I love evangelizing to my own kids and the kids at my libraries. Take a look – you don’t need to be a Stephen Hawking-in-the-making to enjoy these.

scratch-playgroundScratch Programming Playground, by Al Sweigart, (Oct. 2016, No Starch Press), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1593277628

Recommended for Ages 8-12

I love working with Scratch for young coders. It’s all about teaching kids how to computer code using interconnecting blocks of code, and the Scratch program, developed at MIT, is free and available online. Scratch Programming Playground walks kids (and grownups – I used this book extensively while putting together programs for this coming winter) through the process of learning Scratch by making cool games, like Fruit Slicer (a Fruit Ninja clone), Brick Breaker (where my ’80s friends at?), and Asteroid Breaker (Asteroids! Remember that one?). There are tons of full-color visuals and step-by-step breakdowns that will have kids programming in no time. I buy No Starch books for my libraries all the time – they’re great to have on hand.

 

how-things-workHow Things Work, by T.J Resler (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2555-7

Recommended for ages 7-12

Know a kid who’s constantly taking everything apart to see how it works? This is the book for her or him. It’s loaded with gadgets and how they work; fun facts; in-depth pieces on technology and how it works; profiles of scientists and innovators, and yes, experiments that are totally safe to try at home (with adult supervision, please). Learn how a tablet really works, how an aquarium works to keep fish healthy and happy, even how a toilet works, complete with diagram. Design a roller coaster with your kids – it’s easier than you think! Because it’s a NatGeo Kids book, you know the writing is great; it speaks to kids in easy, clear, fun language that educates and never talks over their heads or down to them. The photos are amazing, and the dog on a surfboard (page 131) is worth the cost of the book all on its own.

science-encyclopediaScience Encyclopedia: Atom Smashing, Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2543-4

Recommended for ages 8-13

I know, it’s a NatGeo Kids lovefest right now, but it’s well-deserved. The Science Encyclopedia is info-packed with everything kids need to know about physical and life sciences, covering matter, energy, electronics, the universe, and more. There are record breakers, key dates in atomic science, and activities to try at home. Information is presented in 2-page spreads broken out into subject-specific blocks, with stunning photos, fun facts, and hilariously bad jokes (Where does bad light go? A prism!) A glossary, index, and additional resources round this volume out. Fantastic gift for any tween who wants to know more about everything.

 

These are all available now, either in your local bookstore or online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or IndieBound.

Posted in gaming, geek, Guide, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Minecraft teaches kids Python, empowers future programmers

minecraftLearn to Program with Minecraft, by Craig Richardson (Dec. 2015, No Starch Press), $29.95, ISBN: 9781593276706

Recommended for ages 10+

The kids in my library are obsessed with Minecraft. From 2:30 on, as the kids storm the beachhead that is my children’s room, I hear shouts of, “Don’t touch my skin!”; “GET THE CREEPER! GET THE CREEPER!”; “OMG, get away from the Enderman!”; and “DIAMONDS!” I see the potential of Minecraft, and how it can be a fantastic tool to teach kids to create online worlds. I also, as a children’s librarian and mom of three boys, know that for the most part, they want to kill creepers and each other in some kind of 8-bit battle royale more often than not.

Books like Learn to Program with Minecraft are my gateway drug to programming with these kids. First, I get the fiction in (the GameKnight999 series by Mark Cheverton is available in English and Spanish, and they fly off my shelves), then I introduce coding programs like the Hour of Code, to show them how playing their game actually teaches them the building blocks of coding programs and apps of their own. Finally, I use part of my book-buying budget to buy coding nonfiction to keep around. I love DK’s coding books; those are especially great for my younger coders. My older kids need a little more, though, to keep them interested. That’s where the No Starch Books come in.

No Starch has great programming books for kids and teens, and Learn to Program with Minecraft is a solid addition to middle school and YA collecctions. A heads-up: you have to download Python to work with this book, but it’s a free programming language. Don’t be scared! The book will guide you along your Python/Minecraft journey, with screenshots and step-by-step bullets points that make creating much less stressful.

The book will help you create mini-games within Minecraft, take you on an automated teleportation tour around your Minecraft world, and teach you to make secret passageways. You’ll learn to make lava traps and cause floods, but be a good Minecraft citizen: no griefing.

I don’t quite have the Minecraft skills for this just yet, but I’m confident in my crafters here – I’ll be investing in this for my summer crowd, especially since we’ll be running a Google CS program here in a couple of months. Get kids to love programming, and watch what they come up with. I’m pretty psyched.

 

Posted in Guide, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Sleepover Party is a great guide to a fun girls’ nights in!

sleepoverSleepover Party, by DK Publishing, (May 2016, DK Children), $14.99, ISBN: 9781465450975

Recommended for ages 8-12

Sleepovers are a part of life for tweens, especially tween girls. It’s socializing, it’s girl time, it’s just fun. DK’s new guide to sleepover parties is going to be a hit with the tween set: it’s got everything to plan sleepovers with five great themes: Pamper Party (aka, spa night), Campout, Fashion, Pop Star, and Movie Night. Loaded with games, activities, and craft ideas, this book is a hit for girls who want to kick their sleepover game up a notch.

I love DK books. I’ll say it a hundred times, and then, a hundred times more. I love their step-by-step guides to crafts, their detailed photos for everything, and their uncanny ability to make books that kids want to grab off the shelves. I love that I can use some of these ideas for my own Summer Reading programs (I am ALL over Fashion and Pop Star activities for the kids here). There are templates, recipes, and quizzes galore to get everyone talking, too – no lonely girl sitting on the bed with a cat while the others are chattering away and doing each other’s nails this time!

There are exclamation points throughout the book, used as callouts to let kids and parents know when cutting or use of sharps (like a needle, to thread candy for bracelets – YUM) is necessary and adult supervision may be required.

Add this one to your collection where you have tween girls who want some fun and crafty activities.

Posted in gaming, geek, geek culture, Guide, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Video Games

Yogscast: The Book!

yogscastYogscast: The Diggy Diggy Book, by The Yogscast, (Feb. 2016, Scholastic), $8.99, ISBN: 9780545956635

Recommended for ages 8-13

Yogscast is an insanely popular YouTube channel by gamers, for gamers. They have skits, animations, videos, songs – it’s like SNL on crack for gamers, and it’s pretty kid-friendly (otherwise, Scholastic wouldn’t be putting this book out). If you have Warcraft and/or Minecrafters in your household, library, or classroom, you’ve likely heard of Yogscast, or the kids in your life have.

My gamer boy was a faithful Yogscast fan when he was 7 or 8; I’d see him curled up with his iPad and headset in, cackling and snorting, and wondering what in the world he was listening to. So I asked him, and he told me, and then he showed me.

Yogscast is HUGE. The channel has over 4 BILLION views. If they were a movie, they’d be Deadpool PLUS Avengers, and that is just something that warps my fragile little mind. When I saw that they had a book out, I knew I’d need to check this out.

The Diggy Diggy Book is for people who know this channel and know it well. You will meet the creators and explore different areas. There are tons of in-jokes, a tour of YogTowers, a the tourist’s guide to Datlof, and the chance to become a JaffaQuest cadet. I was pretty clueless reading this book, because it is such an inclusive community (yes, I know calling a community of millions and billions inclusive is hilarious), but if you’re a fan, you’ll love the book. Carry it in your library at your own risk, though – there are workbook-type pages in here and they’ll most likely get written on. This book will do gangbusters at the Scholastic Book Fairs, bet on it.

 

Posted in Fiction, Guide, Middle Grade

DC’s Backstories: Digest-sized origin stories for your fave superheroes!

supesSuperman: Man of Tomorrow, by Daniel Wallace/Illustrated by Patrick Spaziante (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 9780545868181

Wonder Woman: Amazon Warrior, by Steve Korté/Illustrated by Marcus To (Feb. 2016, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 9780545925570

Recommended for ages 7-10

Just in time for the Batman vs. Superman movie, Dawn of Justice, Scholastic is giving us the Backstories series: digest-sized origin stories of our favorite DC superheroes, including a list of friends, foes, and family; a chronology of the characters’ origins; a short biography in chapters; timelines; glossaries; fast facts, and indexes.

 

Superman: Man of Tomorrow, by Daniel Wallace tells the story of how farm boy Clark Kent discovered that he was more than just the farm boy son of Martha and Jonathan Kent, graduated from college with a degree in journalism, and went to work in the big city of Metropolis, where he found a job at the Daily Planet. The biography, told through pictures, newspaper excerpts (with a Lois Lane byline!), and artwork, also touches on Clark Kent’s Kryptonian heritage, both sets of his parents, and his first big feud with Lex Luthor. We learn a little bit about Superman’s allies on the Justice League and his biggest foes.

wondyWonder Woman: Amazon Warrior tells the story of Wonder Woman’s childhood on Paradise Island, also known as Themiscyra; her warrior training and the Amazons’ war with the Greek god, Ares, and the origin of her name, Diana, after Diana Trevor, the mortal woman who crash landed on the island and fought with the Amazons against the creature, Cottus. We learn about Steve Trevor’s – Diana Trevor’s son – arrival on the island, and how Diana won a contest of skill to be the one to take him back to America, where she would defend the human race against Ares. We also learn about Diana’s allies, foes, and armor – did you know that her tiara’s edges are razor sharp and can be thrown like a chakram? Me, either!

Each book provides a foreword from the hero, leading us into their story, introducing themselves to us. Artwork in my advance reader copies are black and white, but I’m hoping there will be some color illustration, too. These books are a good addition to a juvenile library; in my library system, the superhero trade paperbacks are largely in the teen area for content. When the kids ask for superhero stories – and they do! – I have to make sure that I’ve got a rich set of offerings for them! I’ve got easy readers and chapter books; solid little origin stories like this will really round out my superhero collection.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Guide, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Lego: Legends of Chima Gift Guide over at WhatchaReading!

I’ve been in gift guide mode these days, as I’ve been getting a lot of my holiday shopping done thanks to the Internet (which helps save my sanity and avoid crowds). I’ve written a few of these up, and thought I’d share my Lego Legends of Chima Volume 3 review and gift guide, written for WhatchaReading.com.

chima_1

By now, you may be in that panic mode, wondering what the heck to buy for kids who seemingly have everything: video games, action figures, cool sneakers. What the heck do you get a 9 year-old who has a better phone than you do? Relax. I’m here to help.

Kids love building stuff. I’m a librarian to a population that may guffaw when I try to get them to read, but when I bust out the Lego for STEM/STEAM time, it’s an entirely different story. So when I started adding Lego graphic novels to my collection, I knew these books were going to move, and I was right. I put the latest Lego Legends of Chima graphic novel, Chi Quest, on the shelf a couple of weeks ago, and it hasn’t been back yet.

Read the rest over at WhatchaReading!