Posted in gaming, geek culture, Librarianing

Free RPG Day, and what can libraries do next year?

Earlier this year, I learned that Free RPG Day is a thing! Similar to Free Comic Book Day, gaming stores can purchase kits with free modules and giveaways to promote role-playing games. I mentioned this to our gaming committee, and we were EXCITED. It’s right in line with what we want to do, and bring gaming to our library spaces. We didn’t hear about it early enough to plan events for it, so we discussed what to do, and decided we’d continue to promote gaming in our branches and mention that Free RPG was coming up, and encourage our patrons to visit their local retailers for goodies.

SO! My teen and I hit the local gaming store in our area – shout out to Gamestoria in Astoria, Queens! – and picked up some modules. The staff is fantastic, very approachable and knowledgeable. We picked up:

 

Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duerger Cult, from Steamforged Games (compatible with D&D 5e, playable for novices through experienced players). I saw this box set at GaryCon earlier this year and wanted to give them all the money. This free module gives me a chance to play, get a feel for gameplay and ease, and with luck, I’ll be able to invest in this for my library (or home. Or both.)

Dungeon Crawl Classics: Danger in the Air!, from Goodman Games. My brother-in-law introduced me to Dungeon Crawl Classics back in March, when we were at GaryCon. They put out consistently good modules (I have a few that I picked up in March), and they are great about giving free modules away at events, to promote their games. DCCs are stand-alone and world-neutral; it’s compatible with Dungeons and Dragons 5e. This is a Level 0 adventure; great for introducing new players to a D&D-type world.

Also from Goodman Games, the Teen picked up Three Wizard Conundrum, another 5e compatible module. This one is better for 3rd or 4th level players.

I was so excited for this one! Root is a roleplaying game from Magpie Games, where players play woodland creatures in a fantasy setting. I loved the Mouse Guard comics, (also an RPG!) and I am all about anything that lets me be a cute woodland creature who’s also a little badass, so this speaks to me. This year, Magpie gave out a Quickstart module for their Talon Hill story, and I cannot wait to show this to my library kids (because my 10 year old is already on board for this one). It’s an E for Everyone game, so definitely get a good look at this one.

 

Finally, we get to A Familiar Problem, a one-page RPG from Darrington Press, the tabletop publishing arm of Critical Role, a weekly livestreamed show that’s also a roleplaying campaign. One of the folx at Gamestoria talked this one up for me, and I am so glad. In A Familiar Problem, the players are familiars – magical creatures who assist magic users (think Hedwig in Harry Potter). Players can pick from 12 different Familiars, including Bats, Lizards, Owls, or Hawks. The point of the game is to go on your own adventure with your Familiar companions when your magic users are away, and how can you NOT talk that up? My Teen devoured Adam Jay Epstein’s series The Familiars when he was a middle grader, and immediately said, “We’re playing this, Mom.” Again, this looks like a quick, easy, fun game to bring to your younger gamers as well as your more experienced gamers. Because honestly, who doesn’t want to be a smart alecky raven who can summon a horse? (Yes, that’s absolutely going to be me.)

There was much more available, but I wanted to make sure other people had a chance to get stuff. For those of you, like us, new to Free RPG Day, let me also direct you to Level 1, an anthology of indie RPGs collected and distributed for free by 9th Level Games. There’s something for everyone in these (I’ve downloaded 2020’s and 2021’s), and am hoping to use one or two of these this summer in my branch’s RPG program.

So this is great, but how can libraries get involved? I’d love to work with Free RPG Day to buy kits to distribute at my branch! I’m waiting to hear from Free RPG Day on how we can work together in the future, but until then, here are some things I’ve been thinking of:

  • Keep an eye on when Free RPG Day is happening, and plan events close to the day. Follow Free RPG Day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; bookmark the Free RPG Day website.
  • Schedule some roleplaying events! I’m keeping PDFs of RPGs (including Level 1 anthologies and Free RPG Day modules) in a binder at Reference, ready for anyone who wants to try something out while at the library.
  • Search DriveThruRPG for freebies. There is a search feature that includes price, language, genre, and more; navigate and find games to introduce.
  • Promote your gaming library! If your branch or system has RPG books and resources, promote them with displays, flyers, bookmarks, or anything you want to come up with.
  • Get in touch with Free RPG Day and ask how libraries can work with them! The best way to show the people behind Free RPG Day that we are interested is to let them know we’re here and willing to help.

More resources for your RPG collection:

Dungeons & Dragons were superstars during the 2020 shutdown, making a lot of their gaming modules available for free. You can download the Basic Rules at the DnD website. The Basic Rules is a 180-page document that runs from Levels 1-20 and covers major classes: cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, with a handful of race options (dward, elf, halfing, human). It’s a quick and affordable way to get started. Visit DnD’s downloadable’s page for free adventures and character sheets. Hit Dice Cove’s webpage for more DnD-related downloadable adventures. WhatNerd has a good article on more DnD freebies.

And if you’re ready to start planning for another upcoming RPG Day, D20 is December 20th!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Pink is Not a Color

A day late, and I apologize, but trust me, it’s worth the wait: Lindsay Ward is back with another crayon in the crayon box! Two years ago, she told us about all the great ways we can use the color gray, with her book This Book is Gray; now, it’s all about Pink!

Pink is Not a Color, by Lindsay Ward, (July 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542026864

Ages 4-8

Lindsay Ward bring us back to the group of crayons we met in This Book is Gray (2019), where the crayons are getting ready for a Rainbow Extravaganza! Pink sees all the planning and fun, but… why wasn’t she invited? The Primaries and Secondaries are all there, after all. Pink asks why she’s never heard of the Extravaganza before, and the uncomfortable truth is revealed: she’s not in the rainbow, so… she’s not really a color? How can that be? Luckily, the Tints are there to save the day: colors mixed with white, like Coral, Mint, Buttercup, Lavender, and Sky are all there to welcome Pink into the fold, and Gray even makes an appearance with some sage wisdom and friendship.

What a great story! Pink is going to be an instant hit with readers, with her adorable unicorn horn headband and pink Western boots. (She reminds me of my adorable niece, which makes me love her even more.) She has a cheery room, with ballet slippers, her best friend, a pink flamingo named Phil, pink-tabulous artwork on her walls, even a pink microscope! The colors all have such vibrant personalities: purple has a tutu and an antenna headband; blue sports a backwards baseball cap; yellow wears sunglasses. The story is told in word balloon dialogue, making it easy for a Reader’s Theatre summer reading activity and for illustrating dialogue over narration. Have a Rainbow Extravaganza of your own and invite your kiddos to choose what color they would be: and then ask them to illustrate themselves! Make sure to check out the color glossary at the beginning of the book; there are great explanations of color groups that make for an excellent color theory sorting activity for preschoolers. Endpapers give readers more of a glimpse into Pink’s character..

Pink is Not a Color is perfect for storytime and colorful programming. I really hope we get more Crayon Box stories from Lindsay Ward!

Make sure to visit Lindsay Ward’s website!

“Ward’s cast of colors, pink-cheeked and wearing accessories, speak in color-coded speech bubbles; appropriately, pink hues dominate the exuberant art. A rosy take on selfhood.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as Between the Lines, Scooper and Dumper, Rosie: Stronger than Steel, This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio with her husband, three boys, one dog, and eight ducks. When she’s not drawing, Lindsay loves to bake. Pink-frosted cupcakes are her favorite. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward
Instagram: lindsaymward

Posted in Librarianing

Pride Displays and the Children’s Room

By now, many of you may know that earlier this week, a library in Smithtown, New York pulled a Pride Display in the children’s room. For a library to be the point of removing a children’s book display – a violation of the American Library Association’s policy on intellectual freedom – is a travesty. The Board of Trustees was also out of line when involving themselves in displays and collections. The library board should be concerned with financial budget and policy; let us trained professionals do our work when it comes to collections.

Last night, the Smithtown Board of Trustees held an emergency public meeting to discuss the backlash. The Zoom meeting room capped out at about 1000 attendees; luckily, a colleague was able to get in and let my colleagues here at Corona listen in via a Facebook call. As expected, there was a lot of “I have LGBTQ friends in my personal life, I have no prejudices against LGBTQ or – to quote one trustee – “a transgender” – people, BUT…” mealymouthed foolishness that we’ve come to expect when these kinds of people are exposed to the light. Marie Gergenti, the trustee who was behind the move to remove the display, said this was not a politically motivated decision but done out of a need to “protect the children” and that the material was “over the top”. Ms. Gergenti is also a parent who has attempted to have the learning tool BrainPop, feeling it was “biased against conservative viewpoints”.

The decision was ultimately overturned, and the Pride displays will be restored to the libraries. One member of the board reversed his decision; one abstained; two firmly stuck to their “I’m not a bigot, but…” defenses. My friends, we have so much work to do.

I’ll say it again: if you do not like books you see at your library, you are free to walk by them. You are free to counsel your young children that you do not like those books. You do NOT have license to tell other parents and other children, not yours, what they can read. Objectionable? Inappropriate for children? These are children’s books written by children’s authors for children. Your children aren’t the only children using the library. What may not apply to you may apply to many, many other children and families using the library. Why would you deny other families the chance to see themselves in books and materials? Why would you believe yours is the only point of view that matters?

A few months ago, a tween approached me and asked for any “LGBTQAI books I can read”. She took such time and care to make sure she communicated this; it clearly meant a lot to her. I told her I would go through some of our collection with her and talk to her about books I was familiar with, and walked through the middle grade collection, booktalking and pointing out authors as I went. She took a few books and went over to a table to look them over, absolutely delighted. Two weeks later, she returned and asked, “Do you have any more books like the ones you showed me?” Did I! We discussed the books that she liked, what else she was interested in reading, and we walked through the fiction section again, finding more to read.
Yesterday, a middle schooler admired the Pride display that our general librarian created, comprised of YA fiction and nonfiction, adult fiction and nonfiction, movies and documentaries, and asked if she could borrow a book on the display. How wonderful is it that our display spoke to a middle schooler and that they felt comfortable enough to talk to us about our collection.

THAT is the importance of Pride Month. THAT is the importance of libraries. THAT is the importance of Pride displays.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Pigeon & Cat embraces kindness and joy

Pigeon & Cat, by Edward Hemingway, (June 2022, Christy Ottaviano Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316311250

Ages 4-8

Cat lives all by himself in an abandoned city, and a cardboard box with his few possessions. He fiercely guards his little area from other neighborhood strays, but things change in Cat’s life when he discovers a little egg, intact, from a fallen nest. The unbroken egg is too pretty to eat; as Cat watches over it, the egg hatches and a sweet little Pigeon emerges. With Pigeon, Cat discovers something bigger than himself; he’s a parent now, and Cat’s world grows brighter. He nurtures Pigeon, who starts exploring her world, much to Cat’s concern: after all, Cat has only known the city to be large, lonely, and cruel. But Pigeon loves discovering her world and always returns home with a gift for Cat: until the one day that she doesn’t. Bereft, Cat looks for Pigeon, using chalk she gave him to create messages all over the city, hoping to lead her home. It’s an act that makes the City warmer, looking more like the comforting alley home that Cat has created for Pigeon, and gives Cat the ability to open his heart and home up. He befriends the other strays that he used to keep away, sharing food and friendship with them, and when Pigeon does return, Cat throws a party that the whole city can enjoy. An achingly gorgeous story of love, kindness, and the power of community through art, Pigeon & Cat will make you weep and cheer before you close the book. A storytime staple. Edward Hemingway’s mixed media illustrations create expressive animal characters that move readers; he uses color to show how Cat’s heart opens as Pigeon brings joy and companionship to his life, going from a brown-based palette to joyful, vibrant pages filled with color and happiness. Word balloons throughout the story add dialogue to the narration. Pigeon speaks in emoji-like rebuses, perfect for emerging readers.

Publisher Christy Ottaviano Books and author Edward Hemingway included a box of chalk in my review package, encouraging me to use the chalk, like Cat, to leave messages around my neighborhood; I’ll be sure to hand some out at my next storytime and encourage my families to do just that. Visit Pigeon and Cat‘s book detail page to download a free activity kit and book discussion guide.

Pigeon & Cat has a starred book review from School Library Journal.

Check out this Vimeo from Edward Hemingway on the making of Pigeon & Cat!

Edward Hemingway Presents PIGEON & CAT from LB School on Vimeo.

 

“A satisfying story exploring heart and home.”  —The Horn Book

“A sweet tale celebrating the joys of both personal and communal togetherness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A satisfying story exploring heart and home.”  —The Horn Book

Edward Hemingway is the acclaimed creator of many popular books: Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story, Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, and Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. His writing and artwork have been published in The New York Times and GQ Magazine. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Bozeman, Montana. He invites you to visit him at EdwardHemingway.com.

Twitter: @EdwardHemingway

Instagram: @edwardhemingway

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Live your dreams! Donut: The Unicorn Who Wants to Fly

Donut: The Unicorn Who Wants to Fly, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Andrea Zuill, (Apr. 2022, Random House Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593376256

Ages 3-8

Donut is a shaggy unicorn with a thick white mane and a rainbow-striped horn who sees birds and butterflies fly, and wants to join them. Envisioning herself flying next to her winged compatriots, she jumps, thumps, and flumps; she even tries making her own wings, but she’s not able to get airborne. Can her friends give her a hand? The story is told in two-word rhyming phrases, with occasional speech bubbles for emphasis. Ink and digital artwork is colorful and light, with expressive body language and movement; Donut’s stunts get more and more laughable as she does mental math to figure out how to get in the air and flails, Wile E. Coyote-like, once gravity takes hold. Endpapers add to the story.

Honestly, kids love unicorns. EverydayMom has some fun unicorn craft ideas for a post-storytime extension. Donut: The Unicorn Who Wants to Fly is a great readaloud choice and a testament to imagination and the power of having friends on your side.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Traveling through Time via my TBR: Ripped Away by Shirley Vernick

Ripped Away, by Shirley Vernick, (Feb. 2022, Fitzroy Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781646032037

Ages 10-14

Abe Pearlman is a kid that who’s a bit of a loner. He’s got a kinda-sorta crush on his classmate, Mitzy Singer, but he doesn’t think she really notices he’s alive. When Abe spots a new fortune teller shop in his neighborhood, he goes in, figuring it’s worth a shot. Zinnia, the fortune teller, tells him he can save a life, and Abe leaves, only to discover that he’s not in his neighborhood anymore: he’s somehow been transported back in time to the slums of Victorian-era London, England! He’s now working as an assistant to a jewelry salesman named Mr. Diemschutz, living with his mom in a tenement apartment, and discovers that Mitzy has been sent back in time, too. She and her mother are living with her deceased father’s brother, in the same tenement building as Abe, and Mitzy is blind. Both were given cryptic clues by Zinnia, and now they have to figure out how to get back to their own place and time… but they also have to try and figure out how their fortunes are connected to Jack the Ripper, who’s on the loose in their neighborhood, and they have to survive the hatred directed toward Jewish refugees, already being accused to stealing jobs and housing from the English, and now being accused of possibly counting The Ripper among their community. Inspired by true events, Ripped Away is a great time-traveling story with a strong historical fiction backbone. Characters are realistic and have strong personalities that extend beyond the main plot; the author brings the history of anti-Semitism in Victorian Europe, particularly in the Jack the Ripper case, to light, and there are great points for further discussion throughout the story, including comparing and constrasting the plights of refugees, anti-Semitism, and family structures, from Victorian England (and further back!) through the present day. Back matter includes an author’s note that touches on the Victorian England, Jack the Ripper, and the anti-Jewish sentiment that gave rise harmful theories about the killer’s identity. An excellent read.

The Forward has an interesting article on Jack Ripper and anti-Semitic hysteria.

Shirley Vernick is an award-winning author. Visit her website for more information about her books and to follow her on social media.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Animals, Animals, Animals! Books for everyone!

I’ve got a bunch of great animal books, courtesy of NatGeo Kids, to talk up today, so sit back and start your program and collection planning!

Can’t Get Enough Shark Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426372582

Ages 7-10

The latest NatGeo Kids offering fits perfectly with the CSLP “Oceans of Possibilities” Summer Reading theme, and it’s a good add to your collections and programming. Filled with fun spreads and facts, quizzes, and experiments, this is part workbook (remind kids that we don’t write in library books!), part STEM/Discovery Club handbook, and part primer on sharks for shark fans. A glossary “Catch and Match” game challenges readers to match terms with their definitions and a “Find Out More” section offers resources for further reading and a list of scientists and researchers who contributed to this volume. Over 250 color photographs show a variety of sharks, many labeled with names. A great resource to create shark-related scavenger hunts, trivia programs, and science projects for the summer and beyond.
Don’t forget that Shark Week starts on July 24th! STEAMsational has some great Shark Week activities that I want to try out with my Queens Kids (my affectionate term for my library kiddos); TeachersPayTeachers has some great freebies, too, including these coloring sheets courtesy of The WOLFe Pack; these Facts vs. Opinion cards from A Classroom for All Seasons would make for fun trivia or debate programs, and Simply Learning Life’s Feed the Shark Counting Game is a quick and fun printable for busy bags.

Critter Chat, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371707

Ages 8-12

If animals used social media, it would probably look like this amusing digest from NatGeo Kids. Using imagined screenshots, webpages, and social media accounts like “Llamazon”, “Dolphinstagram”, and “Yowl”, Desert_long-eared_bat reviews the Algerian Desert (5 stars – “…everything I could ever want in a dining establishment! It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s sandy, and it’s packed with scorpions”) and Upside_down_jellyfish posts selfies from the Caribbean Sea. Animals chat to one another via “Critter Chat”, and Animal Influencers spotlight famous animals like Fiona the Hippo, Punxsutawney Phil, and Brigadier Sir Nils Olav, the only penguin who’s also a knight. Hashtags and selfies communicate fun facts about animals, habitats, and more. It’s a fun way to learn little tidbits about animals, and perfect for middle graders to relax with and enjoy. Great for trivia and a side project – ask readers what they think animals would post to social media!

TeachersPayTeachers has fun social media templates that your kids can customize to make their own Critter Chats: here’s one from ZippaDeeZazz, and The Cute Teacher has phone screen layouts.

 

 

Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371493

Ages 4-8

Great for younger nature fans, the Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs introduces little learners to all sorts of bugs. Full-color photos are labeled and accompanied by easy-to-read and understand facts, scientific terms, and diagrams. Spreads on insect life cycles of demonstrate a photo-by-photo, step-by-step explanation, using photos of different bugs. Profiles on ants, bees, beetles, and other bugs give readers a close-up look at different insects, with facts and related (but not the same!) bugs. Fun activities like Hide-and-Seek and Move Like a Bug! encourage readers with extension activities, and a glossary of terms keeps all that new vocabulary on hand. The flexible binding is made of sturdy cardboard and will hold up to many, many nature walks. Fully indexed for easy reference. A fun, informative guide for preschoolers and early school-age kids.

Education.com has fantastic butterfly activities you can download and print for free; ditto for sheets on bugs in general. There are some adorable activities on Pocket of Preschool that you can do on a budget.

 

 

Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426371462

Ages 4-8

The Little Kids NatGeo Kids books are adorable, aren’t they? I’ve got a bunch here at my library, and my now 10-year-old loved them when he was in Pre-K and Kindergarten. (As he’s 10, he is no longer a “little kid”, as he tells me. Often.) The Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals contains over 120 pages of squeal-worthy color photos of baby animals with their families. You pull this out and show it to your kids – library or otherwise – and you will have a roomful of little ones in the palm of your hand. And when you tell them things like a panda cub’s cry sounds like a human baby’s cry? Or that a hippo can’t swim yet, so it gallops underwater? They will tell you ALL about their favorite animals, and the cute things that the animals in their lives do, so get ready to have the best, cutest conversations about baby animals. Fun facts and thought-provoking questions run throughout the book, and text is larger in size, making it easier and less dense for younger kids and emerging readers. A map of the world at the end of the book is color coded to show where animals referenced in the book live, and parent tips help caregivers extend the knowledge from the book into the real world. There is a glossary of terms, a list of additional resources, and a full index. Add this book to your animals collections.

123Homeschool4me has some free printables where kids can match baby and adult animals and learn the terms for different baby animals.

 

 

Little Kids First Board Book: Birds, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426371448

Ages 0-3

I love NatGeo Kids’s First Board books! They’re so bright and cheery, and the photos and activities are perfect for engaging littles during a lapsit storytime. The latest is Birds, and contains 12 spreads with color photos of different birds. Each spread has a simple, one-sentence factual statement and a colorful callout fact about birds, and each picture is labeled with the name of the bird in a colorful box with bold black lettering. Names of birds and key phrases get a nice, colorful font that sets them off from the rest of the text. A final spread invites readers to try different activities to identify six featured birds: “Tap the toucan’s beak. / Flap your arms like the eagle.”

This is the seventh Little Kids First Board Book. It’s a great series for beginning learners, with sturdy cardboard to hold up to many circs and readings. NatGeo Kids has a birds website where learners can watch videos, see maps, and learn facts about 24 different birds, presented in alphabetical order. Also check out their Strange Birds website for photos of more feathered friends.

Happy Hooligans has a great list of 25 bird crafts for little ones that are easy on easily done on a budget.

 

National Geographic Readers: Mythical Beasts: 100 Fun Facts About Real Animals and the Myths They Inspire, by National Geographic Kids, (Jan. 2022, National Geographics Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426338939

Ages 7-10

Unicorns, dragons, and krakens all have one thing in common: they’re mythical creatures with origins in very real history. NatGeo Kids’s Mythical Beasts is a Level 3 Reader, good for most readers ages 7-10, that provides 100 facts on real animals and the myths they’ve inspired or are named for. A helpful key to NatGeoKids’s leveling system is right on the back cover, and I like using the 5-finger rule for choosing a book when I do my Readers Advisory. The book is organized into 3 chapters and two 25 Facts spreads that give readers the roundup on history’s mysteries: mermaids were most likely manatees, who have fishy tales but can turn their heads from side to side like humans; the giant Kraken was most likely a giant squid. Using research and the fossil record, color photos and illustrations, NatGeo Kids author Stephanie Warren Drimmer takes kids through the process of figuring out why ancient people mistook a distant ancestor of the elephant was mistaken for a cyclops, and how dinosaur fossils led folks to believe that they discovered proof of dragons. We get some modern-day mythical behavior, too: the basilisk lizard can run across water, and adult jellyfish can age in reverse and regrow into adults again, like the phoenix’s power to be reborn (sans ashes, though). The back matter rounds up all 100 facts across a spread (and makes for great trivia questions).

Fun for a STEM/Discovery Club, fun for collections. And you can extend the activity with mythical creature-inspired crafts. Give kids a manatee coloring page and let them create mermaid friends. They can create a giant squid of their own, or try their hands at this fun paper roll squid craft. Make a handprint unicorn and give it a narwhal friend.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Exciting Afrofuturistic middle grade reading: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, (June 2022, Margaret K. McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781665912617

Ages 8-12

Onyeka is a tween living in the UK with her mom. She’s got a thick head of hair that makes people stop, stare, and whisper, but her best friend, Cheyenne, couldn’t be bothered what other people think, which helps calm Onyeka’s anxiety. When the two head to the pool for some swimming, Cheyenne almost drowns, until Onyeka – or, is it Onyeka’s hair? – saves her. Everything moves quickly from here: Onyeka’s mother reveals that she is Solari, a secret group of people with unique powers, unique to their home in Nigeria. Her scientist father has disappeared while trying to research the Solari, and her mother brings Onyeka to Nigeria, to the Academy of the Sun, a special school – think the X-Men’s school run by Charles Xavier – for Solari, where they are trained to work with their powers. But nothing’s ever that easy; as Onyeka starts learning more about her family and the Rogues, a group of Solari working against the school, she and her new friends have to figure out where they stand.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is the first in a new series, written by British-Nigerian author Tolá Okogwu and inspired by a lack of representation in children’s books. The decision to empower Onyeka by channeling her power through her hair is a deliberate move, as she notes in her author’s note: “our hair has never just been hair… the lie we’ve all been fed that Afro textured hair is somehow inferior because it doesn’t conform to the Western standards of beauty”. Onyeka’s hair is incredible: it shields her; it saves Cheyenne’s life; it curls around her to comfort her. The characters are African; the Solari are all Nigerian, and the school is organized into different areas, according to student’s Ike – the Igbo word for “power”. The story moves at a brisk pace while still bringing these characters to life, fully-fleshed out with backstories and personalities. The students will empower and inspire readers, and the family relationships are beautifully realistic, with conflict and love often sharing the same space. A glossary of words and an explanation of Nigerian Pidgin English provides even further depth and educates readers. I can’t wait for the second book.
Give this to your Rick Riordan Presents fans; your Black Panther readers (not just the comics! Remember, Shuri and Black Panther have middle grade novels, and Okoye’s got a YA novel, too!), and your Tristan Strong readers. Give this to any of your readers who love reading about different cultures, and are always up for adventure. It’s awesome.

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in gaming, Librarianing, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Tabletop Tuesdays with Nightmarium

I’ve been behind on… well, everything, but especially on my gaming posts. Our gaming club is coming along nicely, and since I’ve sent Carcassone out to the next library on the rotation, the kids are back to playing the games we’ve got in house and the goodies I bring from my home stash. The last couple of weeks, Nightmarium has been all the rage here – and why not? It’s creating monsters that turn on one another with glee! I backed Nightmarium as a Kickstarter a few years ago, and it has been a mainstay of gaming in my own home. You don’t need to read to play, the monsters are hilariously weird, and game play moves along at a good pace. Let’s dig in.

Nightmarium: A Game About Conquering Nightmares, Ares, Igrology, et al (2014)
Ages The box says 10+; I’ve actively played this with my then 5-year-old, and easily explained to 7-10 year-olds here at the library. I’d go 7+
Play time: 20-30 minutes, depending on number of players
Number of players: 2-5

Find Nightmarium on Board Game Geek

The monsters featured in this game are a group of Night Terrors ready to haunt your dreams. The backstory is fun, organizing the monsters, by color, into four Legions of Horror. The backstory isn’t necessary for game play, but it adds to the fun. Each legion has its own color: blue stands for Necromunculi, brown for Constricti, green for Chimeridae, and red for Mansters.

Cards come in three types: feet/legs, trunks/bodies, and heads. Some cards can serve multiple functions, like this striking fella, who can be either a head or a body:

 

Players get two actions per turn. You can:

  • draw a card from the top of the deck
  • play a card from your hand
  • discard cards and redraw: one card for every two you discard

If you draw a card and play a card, that’s two actions. If you draw two cards, that’s two actions. If you draw two cards and you want to play the second card, you have to wait until it’s your turn again; playing that card would be a third action. You can discard two cards, draw one card to replace them, AND play or draw another card. That counts as two actions.

You have to assemble your monsters from the bottom up. Feet first; if you have a handful of really great heads, that’s awesome, but you have to start from the feet. There’s no hand minimum or maximum; if you don’t want to get rid of any of your cool head cards, keep them, and keep drawing until you get feet you want to play to start things off.

When you complete a monster, congrats! See those See those pictures in the upper right hand corner of most cards (not all have them)? Those are different abilities that activate once you complete a monster.

Watch out for that Devourer – you have to cut one of YOUR Creatures’ heads off, not your opponents! This can actually be a good thing, because you can add another head and reactivate powers, if you have good ones. It’s a good secret weapon to have. Creature powers are only active when the Creature is completed – not every turn, and not while under construction.

Okay, let’s talk about Legions. I don’t tend to play Legions at the library, because I modify to make things as simple and fun as possible for my younger gaming kids. Legions, like I said before, are organized by color. You don’t HAVE to create Creatures with all parts from the same Legion, though – you’ll still get your abilities when you complete one. Look:

       

Here’s a creature composed of parts from all different Legions (Notice the bottom in #2 can also function as the middle in #3). In #1, the Creature has only one power to activate: the Scavenger, where the player can discard any incomplete creature belonging to another player. If I’m playing against this player, and I have a 2- or 1-card Creature under construction, that player can say goodbye to it, and I have to put it in the Discard pile.

The #2 Creature has Scavenger and the Herald, which lets that player reveal two cards from the deck, face up, so all other players can see it, and play them if they can. If the player gets a pair of feet, awesome; they can play it. If the player draws a body and a head, they can only play them if they have under construction Creatures that can use those cards. Anything that the player can’t use right then and there goes in the Discard pile.

Other powers include the Weeper, which lets the player draw two cards from the deck. They don’t have to play them, they just add them, regardless of what they are.

The Mocker lets you play one card from your hand.

The Executioner lets you take another player’s top card – heads, but also anything that’s on top – if you have a monster under construction and the top card you have is a body, your opponent can take that with Executioner. Cards claimed when someone plays Executioner goes into the player’s hand, not the Discard pile.

Playing abilities does NOT count toward your actions! If the first move you make during your turn is to complete a monster, you play the abilities, and THEN play your second action. It’s pretty awesome.

Okay, so let’s talk about Legions. Like I said, I tend not to play Legions because it’s easier for younger kids to just get used to playing cards, but playing Legions can mix things up for extra fun. Match the colors of your creatures to trip up your opponents: when you finish a monster with cards from the same Legion, everyone else has to discard a card of that Legion OR discard any two cards. Look:

Here’s we’ve got a Manster and a Constricti. If you were to complete these guys on your turn, everyone else would have to discard either one red card and one brown card. If your opponents don’t have those colors? Get rid of any TWO cards per color. Have a red, but no brown? Discard a red and two other cards. Have only blue and green in your hand? Discard four.

You don’t have to complete two at a time; I just took a picture of these two together. But you catch my drift.

Okay, if you are playing Legions, you also have to be careful when you’re putting down cards. If you play a card belonging to a certain Legion, your second action cannot be to play a card from another Legion. If you put down a red pair of legs, you can’t play a blue pair of legs or put a brown body down next. (This is why I don’t play Legion with my library kids yet.)

That’s about it! First player to complete five Creatures wins the game! I play this game pretty regularly at home with my own family; it’s one of my 10-year-old’s favorite games. The library kids ask for this every Monday and Tuesday (our gaming days), too; it’s fun, you can be as silly as you want, and the opportunity for good-natured smack talk is mighty. While Board Game Geek lists it as only available via eBay, I’ve seen it available in several places online, including GameNerdz, Boarding School Games, and Target. Average price is about $20, and it’s well worth the cost. This one will become a foundation game for a lot of collections.

If you feel like testing before you buy, head over to Tabletopia and play online for free!

Happy Gaming!

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Happy Book Birthday to Rosa’s Song by Helena Ku Rhee and Pascal Campion

Rosa’s Song, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Pascal Campion, (June 2022, Random House Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593375495

Ages 4-8

Jae, a young boy from South Korea, and his mother move into a new building in a new country. Missing his home and friends, Jae is withdrawn, but his mother urges him to get out and meet other kids in the building; Jae meets Rosa, a friendly young girl whose pet parrot, Pollito, sits on her shoulder and warbles a sweet song. Rosa and Jae become fast friends, and engage in imaginative play that evokes memories of each of their home countries; scaling sofa mountains and exploring lost Incan cities and rainforests. When Rosa and her family suddenly leave one night, she leaves her parrot to console the heartbroken Jae. Shortly after Rosa leaves, Jae meets two new children in the building, and follows Rosa’s example, becoming their friend and guide to their new home and world. Helena Ku Rhee’s childhood inspired the story, which shows the need for connection and highlights the often erratic home lives of immigrant families, who often have to move suddenly, whether because of immigration status, employment, financial stress, or family issues. Pascal Campion’s digital artwork gives vision to Helen Ku Rhee’s voice: Jae stares out a window at a brick wall while standing in a beige room with faded wallpaper; upon meeting Rosa, his world becomes more colorful. Touches of each child’s home country are represented, with Asian brush paintings decorating the walls of Jae’s home, and colorful parrots and lush green trees in the rainforest of Rosa’s memory. When Rosa leaves, Jae’s world goes gray again, and the portrait of Jae in Rosa’s vacated apartment is absolutely devastating. Endpapers show Rosa and Jae at imaginative play, with Pollito flying around them. A touching and lovely book on empathy and friendship.

Rosa’s Song has a starred review from Booklist.