Posts Tagged ‘books’

Holiday Gifts for Monster Kids

Published by Kirsten on December 3rd, 2013 - in Uncategorized

The holidays are already zooming past, and it’s time to shop for the monster kids in the family. Actually, it’s past time to shop for them, but I like to hide at home while people are trampling each other at the mall on Thanksgiving weekend. Looking for some options for the child reader in your life? I suggest starting out with a nice fuzzy blanket, a good pillow, and a book light (preferably one without a timer), and adding some books to the mix.
Harry Potter Box SetHarry Potter Special Edition Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7):  Maybe you already have all the Harry Potter books in their various editions. Or, maybe you’re okay with checking them out from the library or buying them cheaply, used. That second route was the one I planned to go with my own kids, and it has worked pretty well until now. However, I actually own in a nice hardcover edition of the third book. My kids, 6 and 8, are really into the books, and after seeing what my 8 year old had done to the very nice used copy of the first book, I am not terribly excited about putting my hardcover edition into his grubby little hands. I read about this set on BookRiot and it looks like it will fit the bill nicely. Reviews indicate that the artwork is beautiful, and it will be nice to have a matching set that I don’t have to stress over too much. I also think it’s possible that a box set will encourage him to take better care of his books. As collectors know, there is something satisfying about keeping a complete set of matching titles together.  Not sure that your child is ready for Harry Potter? I referenced a very useful article (link here) on this on our Facebook page recently. As our kids are still a little young for the books, and they get really dark, I will keep the set with me and read the books with them until we finish each one.
 The Creature Department: This entertaining book by Robert Weston, in concert with special effects and animation studio Framestore, is a lot of fun.  Two kids, along with a major technology corporation’s mysterious research department (the mystery is that it’s staffed with quirky monsters) must thwart an evil corporate takeover. The primary contribution from Framestore seems to be the illustrations, which give a much more action-oriented feel to the story than traditional illustrations do. It’s big and thick, but not intimidating, and it is a lot of fun. This is another one my son keeps absconding with before I can grab it for review.
®Shrinky Dinks Monster Lab: As a kid, I used to make Shrinky Dink holiday ornaments every year. How the world of Shrinky Dinks has advanced since then! This is a project for a long, empty afternoon when everyone is trapped inside. Coloring in Shrinky Dinks, especially for younger kids still working on coloring between the lines, can be really time-consuming. But once the coloring is done it’s still awesome to watch the Shrinky Dinks do their thing in the oven. Constructing the playset so that it stays all together may be a challenge, but it’s fun to see the finished product.


     SmartLab Toys Squishy Human Body and Dr. Frankenstein’s Human Body Book. Got a junior mad scientist in the house? Stop graveyard robbing before it starts by giving the gift of  learning human anatomy at home with the Squishy Human Body and Dr. Frankenstein’s Human Body Book. Sure, there’s plenty of educational value here, but there’s no reason to point that out when your own little Frankenstein is squeezing brains and guts into place. Cons of these two items are that the pieces of the body need to be used with adult supervision and could be easily lost, and the book pretty much skips over the reproductive system, but older elementary kids will have a blast.

 There’s a Ray Harryhausen fan club in this house, and extreme admiration for the Rankin-Bass film Mad Monster Party.  Once you grow to appreciate the awesomeness of stop-motion animation you get kind of carried along into wanting to do it yourself.  The Klutz Book of Animation: Make Your Own Stop Motion Movies and Hue Animation Studio are a great way to go if your child (possibly your inner child) is interested in actually trying to create a stop-motion animation film. There’s plenty of inspiration during the Christmas season, with all the stop-motion Rankin-Bass specials like, say, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with its terrifying Abominable Snowman. I haven’t used the Hue Animation Studio myself, but it has gotten top reviews, and is supposed to be easy to use for kids as young as five, assuming that a kid that age has the patience for stop-motion animation in the first place.



A Christmas Carol (picture book edition) and  A Christmas Carol (Reissue). What is Christmas without a good ghost story? A Christmas Carol is, in my opinion, the best ghost story of the season, and a great story to share with children of many ages. The picture book version I’m suggesting here is an abridged version illustrated by Bret Helquist, whose talents at illustrating the gothic brought to life Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. His style is a perfect match for this story, which can now be shared with children not quite ready to attempt the original novel. Patrick Stewart’s audio performance is also an excellent way to share the story, especially in extending the experience from the picture book to the more complex story. You can even listen to it as a family, on the way to Grandma’s house.



Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Dare to Look! and A Scaly Tale (Ripley RBI, No. 1). If you have an elementary aged kid, especially if you have a boy, one of the most compelling books you can get into his hands is Ripley’s Believe It or Not (similar titles like the Guinness Book of World Records and National Geographic Weird But True may also be popular choices). Before you write these books off because they’ve grossed you out or are disreputably flashy, let me tell you that the Ripley books are based solidly in research, and there’s usually information about that in the book. This year’s Dare to Look! has an accompanying app that, when you use your smartphone or tablet on particular spots in the book, will activate videos and provide additional information. Ripley’s has carried its weirdness over into fiction with the RBI: Ripley Bureau of Investigation books. These are about a group of extremely diverse kids with incredible talents who, in addition to their schoolwork, investigate wild stories to find out where the truth lies. At the end of each book there’s a little information about the person or item around which the story is built. A Scaly Tale is currently available for free on Kindle. My son has asked for it over and over again.


Best wishes with your holiday shopping!



Thank You For Weeding Mindfully: A New Life for (Very) Worn Books

Published by Kirsten on August 8th, 2013 - in Uncategorized


Inside the covers of the Crestwood House Monsters series, adventures await!

Part of a librarian’s job is to weed the collection (obviously, you know this already if you are a librarian). That is exactly what it sounds like– pulling undesirable materials that have taken root (and shelf space). By “undesirable” I mean books that are damaged, or that have incorrect information, or that are old and worn out. These last are the hardest, because they usually are books that have been thoroughly loved for many, many years. Although they may not be checked out frequently any more, there are certain kids for whom you know those books will be just right. When I was a school librarian, I struggled with getting rid of the falling-apart Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and when it came time to take three shelves of beat up Nancy Drew books down, I offered them to a teacher who couldn’t bear to see them exit the building (teachers will rubber band books together that have fallen apart if they have to).

But it has to be done. I have been in school libraries that had not been weeded in so long that the books on space read “Some day, man will land on the moon”, 35 years after that giant step for mankind occurred.  And I have encountered the same set of monster movie books, the Monsters books from Crestwood House, first published in the 1970s, multiple times: as a kid discovering monster movies for the first time, a librarian wavering on whether to keep the books or weed them, and now as the mom of a Monster Kid.

I was actually very surprised to find the Crestwood House books on the shelf both at my local public library and the school library. I’m not sure how he actually discovered them, as I did not introduce them to him, they were in library bindings (so the covers weren’t visible), and his class was encouraged to choose from more “age-appropriate” books. The school librarian even called me to check if it was okay for him to check the books out. And for two years, he has checked them out, over and over.

Today I got an email from the librarian. She wrote that she had weeded the nonfiction extensively this summer, and the Crestwood House Monsters books did not make the cut. They have been pulled from the collection. “Since he enjoyed them so much, do you think he would like to have them”?

Oh yes.

That was quite possibly the fastest thank you note my child has ever produced.

Libraries have to make room for new books and knowledge by discarding inaccurate and damaged materials, but bless our school librarian for really paying attention to my son’s unusual interests.

These books that are probably as old as I am? They have a new life ahead of them, with someone who will treasure every torn, worn page.


Scary Movies: Taking The Kids to Pacific Rim

Published by Kirsten on July 25th, 2013 - in Uncategorized


I’m going to confess it. I am not a fan of most of the recent horror or monster movies (with the exception of Cabin in the Woods). There’s just too much splat and gore for me. But in this house there’s no escaping kaiju movies (for the uninitiated, that’s Godzilla and friends). My husband has loved them since he was a kid and he has loved sharing them with our kids. As scary movies go, they’re not too terrifying. I mean, how scary can a guy in a rubber suit really be, especially when you’re sitting in Daddy’s lap?

Movies today are a different story. CGI effects allow moviemakers to make truly frightening creatures that actually look like they could be real. There aren’t many kaiju books, and really, with kaiju, the moving picture is worth a thousand words. And movies today have a lot more foul language, sexual content, and graphic violence. With Daddy desperate to see Pacific Rim, the brand new kaiju movie, on opening weekend, the question became, with two kaiju loving kids who also dart from the room anytime they sense potential violence onscreen, should we take them to see Pacific Rim? The reviewer at Dread Central said, “This is a movie for everyone! Bring your kids”! (see the entire review here) Geek parents on Facebook told me it was a great movie for geek kids, depending on the kid. Movie Mom loved it but brought up that there was intense violence and mild profanity (see her review here). Common Sense Media also mentioned the intense violence and suggested it for ages 12 and older (review here). And it is a movie rated PG-13. My kids are 6 and 7. Would the “intense violence” overwhelm their excitement about seeing a brand-new kaiju movie with their dad? We decided to risk it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. They were swept away by the battles between the giant robots and giant monsters. In fact, on reflection, my daughter(who kept her eyes tightly closed during the bear scene in Brave) said she loved the “cool” glowing monster tongues. Frankly, I was more concerned about what they saw in the trailers that preceded the movie than what was in the movie itself.

I loved it too, and that’s really saying something. While I deeply admire the original Godzilla movie, I have a big problem with the representation of women as mainly love interests or passive victims in most of the early science fiction and horror movies. But while this movie failed the Bechdel test. it did have one of the most awesome female characters I have seen in a long time. It is true that I don’t get out to the movies much, but Mako Mori is my new favorite character in monster movies. In spite of an overprotective father figure and her own traumatic memories, Mako Mori is one of a very few pilots, the best in the world, who save humanity from extinction by giant monster. And she does it without ever getting romantically involved with her opposite-sex partner. While it’s implied at the end of the movie that a romance may devleop, she and her partner make it through the entire movie, working together and sharing memories and feelings, without even a kiss. I’m in love with Mako Mori, and my daughter saw a hero, a capable woman, who helped to save the world.

When you are considering taking your kids out to a movie that has monsters or extreme violence, I think it’s really important to consult multiple sources (I wouldn’t have used any of the three reviews I cited above on its own to make the decision), and to know your kids well enough to make the decision about whether to take them. You can’t depend on movie ratings for much, anymore. Had this movie had extreme gore or “adult situations” we would never have considered taking the kids. But it is worth the time to research it, if you have a monster-loving family.