Intrepid reader Sally pointed me in the direction of a new series for kids in the the 10-and-up range. Tales from Lovecraft Middle School follows the adventures of seventh-grader Robert Arthur as he discovers that his new school is somewhat…unusual.
The series kicks off with Professor Gargoyle, where Robert learns that his science teacher may be a monster in disguise. The second book, Slither Sisters, picks up where the first one leaves off:
Robert has discovered that two of his classmates are actually sinister snake-women in disguise. Even worse, his new middle school is full of “gates” to a terrifying alternate dimension – a haunted mansion full of strange spirits and monstrous beasts.
Other books released so far are Teacher’s Pest (student council president is actually a bug-monster) and Substitute Creature (a mysterious substitute teacher may have “a sinister secret”).
The overall plotline sounds as though it was ripped directly from the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but these look like spooky fun for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps but aren’t quite ready for Clive Barker. The books also each have a lenticular cover so the image morphs from “normal” to “monster” and back, which is kind of a neat touch.
The series has an amusing promotional Website, and there’s also a short book trailer for Professor Gargoyle:
Now here’s a cause we can get behind: 600 Monsters Strong is an organization whose stated goal is “Bringing friendly handcrafted monsters to children in need worldwide.” It was formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, and they focus on kids whose lives have been marred by gun violence.
They create their monsters from “approved” patterns on Ravelry (I guess to prevent confusion over what an appropriately friendly monster might look like), and ship them off to kids in need. Some of the group’s completed monsters can be seen on their Instagram page. Those are some mighty huggable monsters.
Giving away monsters to needy kids sounds like a worthy goal to me. If you don’t want to get involved with the group at large, a local children’s hospital or homeless shelter would be very grateful for such a gift.
Over at BuzzFeed, there’s an intriguing roundup of DIY themes for a baby’s nursery. They’re listed as “pop culture,” but they skew pretty much exclusively toward the geek/goth end of that spectrum.
They all seem to be aimed more at a parent’s interests, since a number of them (Game of Thrones, Twilight, Doctor Who) really aren’t baby-friendly even if you squint, and a couple (I’m thinking particularly of the Walking Dead one with the zombie-hand wall stencil) should only be considered for a nursery if you’re planning to redecorate before the kid’s old enough to start having nightmares. However, there’s no rule that says you can’t decorate to your own taste until your children are old enough to have their own opinions. There’s also no rule that says you can’t use some of these ideas to decorate your own bedroom: I’m quite taken with both the Tree of Gondor wall stencil and the NMBC Sally dresser.
There are only a few elements for each theme, but some of them are quite clever and it’s a great way to kick-start your inspiration. There are links for each featured piece, which is also helpful.
Over on DesignSponge, blogger Kate Benbow relates a conversation with her small son about the source of mysterious noises in their house: Instead of mice, her son was convinced it was the Tooth Fairy.
Later that week, I found two inexpensive dollhouse doors and did a spot of secret crafting. Harry came down to breakfast the other morning and was astonished to discover the actual front door used by the tooth fairy, Santa’s elves and…well, who knows who else lives behind the door? We know for sure that someone lives there because they get mail and milk deliveries and are fond of leaving their boots outside the door when it rains.
She includes a simple tutorial for making doors of one’s own, plus suggestions for miniature accessories like mail and tiny flowerpots.
The “Santa’s elves” bit made me realize that with the holidays approaching this is a perfect time to surprise a child with the installation of a temporary “elf door” to let Santa’s helpers come and go as they please. Last weekend such an elf door appeared in Shadowboy’s bedroom. It was easy: Dollhouse accessories are widely available; I ordered the door, doorknob, knocker, and welcome mat online, and used some leftover housepaint to paint the door white. I had intended to further embellish the door with acrylic paint: Maybe candy-stripe it or hand-paint some holly or paint the inset panels red and green. After several false starts I realized I suck at painting and went back to white. These are Minimalist Elves.
Once the paint was dry, I used superglue to attach the doorknob and knocker. I put double-stick tape on the back of the frame (be sure to use tape rather than the thicker mounting foam, since the latter will leave a slight gap) and stuck it to the wall after Shadowboy went to sleep. The stepladder was a last-minute addition: Since there’s baseboard on all of the walls* I had intended to stick the door to the side of a bookcase–the tape is furniture-safe–but decided that it looked odd. I finally stuck it above the baseboard and filched a ladder from a set of Shadowboy’s Lincoln Logs. (Incidentally, the doorknob came with a ridiculously teensy little key; it’s hidden under the mat.) A bit closer to Christmas I may add a wreath to simulate elfin activity.
This kind of door could also be a longer-term decorative element, and could even be accessorized differently as the seasons change. And, of course, children aren’t the only ones who might enjoy a fairy door; I’m tempted to install one in my office to let the computer bugs come and go.
*It probably says something about my usual level of gung-hoedness, project-wise, that when my husband found me building the door he asked warily if I was planning to cut a piece out of the baseboard to let it sit flush with the wall. I honestly have no idea what he’d have done if I’d said yes.
The fabulous Sisifo sent this my way, noting that it’s a fun, family-friendly movie. It’s a French movie which has been dubbed into English (and was posted by somebody in Vietnam, so nobody can say we’re not geographically diverse). The animation style is rather reminiscent of Pixar.
I’m a mere six years late to the party on this–the series originally aired in 2006–but Shadowboy just discovered it whilst channel-surfing. Blame my eight-year-old for not being more timely.
Ruby Gloom is a little girl who always sees “the bright side of the dark side.” She’s got a pet cat named Doom Kitty and is friends with a huge-eyed cyclops named Iris (whose name makes me very happy), a skeleton named Skull Boy, and a walking disaster area named Misery. Minor characters include the raven trio Edgar, Allan, and Poe, and a ghost named Boo Boo. They all have sitcom-esque adventures which are perfect for baby bats. It’s cute.
Minico has a tutorial (which is almost too easy to deserve the name) for weaving paper strips into pixellated “Space Invaders.” They’re cute and certainly simple–and cheap!–to make.
Something else that translates well into pixels are cross-stitch patterns, with the single caveat being that this paper-weaving method only allows one color per line. Simple designs like skulls and spiders are readily adaptable, and you could either weave with a single color of paper or alternate colors on each line for an interesting striped effect.
These would add a decorative touch to all kinds of things; they’d be nice as a gift topper or homemade greeting card, or just frame a bunch for a quick and interesting accent. You could also use ribbon instead of paper strips, carefully iron the result onto a bit of fusible webbing, and use it for everything from decorating clothing to covering the lid on a jar of preserves. Varying the width of the strips will change the size of the finished piece, so you can make something as large or small as desired: You could, for example, use wide fabric strips to decorate the side of a tote bag and then do the same design with much narrower strips to make a matching wallet.
Making these would be a fun group activity, especially for kids, since the only real skill required is the ability to count.
Auto-Tune is a piece of software that was originally designed to “disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, allowing vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned despite originally being slightly off-key.” One of its first major uses was on Cher’s song “Believe,” but for every evil use there’s a good one. It can also be used to turn the spoken word into song, and John Boswell uses it to set the words of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and many others to music. His first effort was A Glorious Dawn, and his latest is this marvelous remix of Mr. Rogers.
You can also check out the Symphony of Science website, where you can view the videos, download the MP3s, and read the lyrics. Similar projects are forthcoming, so keep an eye on the site for future updates.
I know I gripe about the ubiquity of zombies in pop culture right now, but this is actually pretty cool. Middle-school teacher David Hunter is engaging his students in geography by teaching it in the context of surviving a zombie outbreak. He’s put up a Kickstarter project to help fund his curriculum design.
The narrative is what leads the learner through scenarios in the zombie apocalypse where geographic skills will need to be applied. This narrative has 5 different scenes:
Planning for the Outbreak
News of a zombie-like outbreak has reached your community. You are helping to plan in case the outbreak reaches your area.
Post Outbreak Survival
The outbreak has reached your area and chaos has followed. You use your skills to just try and survive and find other survivors.
Finding a Place to Settle
Through surviving you have met with other survivors, now you are trying to decide upon a safe place
Building a Community
With your group of survivors, you make decisions to build a safe and sustainable community.
Planning for the Future
Based on what you know about Geography, and based on a knowledge of the past, your community makes long term plans for survival and rebuilding a life.
I think this is a marvelous learning tool. One of the best ways to teach a subject is to help the students understand why it matters (even if the application to everyday life is somewhat…tenuous). Dry facts and figures are boring; information that’ll keep your face from being eaten off by zombies is something you’ll probably pay attention to.
This technique could be expanded to many other subjects and a wide variety of monstrous threats, from studying disease vectors in the context of vampirism to using Oceanography for finding R’lyeh. If you’ve got a kid who’s reluctant to study, this might be a useful way to engage their interest.
BoingBoing recently featured a “mad science” display illustrating the “Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus,” and commenters helped identify it as the work of Allison Lonsdale, done for a display at the 2010 ConDor convention in San Francisco. There are photos of the whole exhibit here (first three images), plus a transcript of the signage text.
In particular I was amused by the first item under Protocols, “A sample of Pure Evil was obtained from the ruins of an exploded toaster in the south of England,” as a sly reference to the ending of Time Bandits. I also liked the dryly bland note about the fate of the experimental subject receiving a 1000ppm dosage; after developing dental hypertrophy, ocular luminescence, and extreme behavioral changes, “Subject was then euthanized with a sustained burst of automatic weapons fire.”
I love everything about this idea. Not only would this kind of science-fair display be a dynamite art project (a collection of stuffed-and-mounted monsters labeled with species names, for instance, or a survey of the relative efficacy of various vampire repellants), those of us with grade-school kids also have the opportunity to subvert an actual science fair project. I don’t believe there’s anything in the rules against investigating the feasibility of the reanimation of dead tissue via lightning bolt. The heck with baking-soda volcanoes; if Shadowboy’s first science fair doesn’t get the rules amended to specifically preclude me from suggesting future experiments, I’m doing it wrong.