Thursday, October 13, 2011

Planet Explorers Ebooks: #Review and #Giveaway (Closed)

When I was a child and young teenager, my family did our fair share of vacationing throughout Canada and the United States. We hit up numerous hotspots, with family-friendly beach destinations and coaster-heavy amusement parks tops on the list. I remember getting super-pumped before each trip, pouring over wrinkled pamphlets and AAA tourbooks, and dreaming up potential itineraries in my head. (Yup, even back then I was a little Type A. ;) But there were always some big holes in my planning materials - they only covered the highlights and included a lot of stuff I didn't care so much about as a kid (driving directions, adult-centric attractions, costs, etc.) How awesome would it have been to have entire guidebooks devoted to our vacation destinations, focused on only the cool stuff of interest to people my age?

Well, luckily, kids these days do have such an advantage! Enter Planet Explorers, a new series of ebook travel guides geared toward "tweens", ages 8-12! The series was founded by Laura Schaefer, author of The Teashop Girls and The Secret Ingredient. Here is a blurb from the Planet Explorers website on how Laura was inspired to begin writing these guides and her goals for the series:

"The Planet Explorers adventure began when a library director in Wisconsin told young adult author Laura Schaefer about several requests from parents for kids' travel guides. Laura founded Planet Explorers to fulfill this need and to indulge her own love of travel and of digging up fun facts. Her goal is to make each ebook a rich source of information about its destination. 

Laura wants each book to act as a springboard to further learning about geography, history, and science. To do this, links are provided throughout each guide to give readers more information about everything under the sun."
Laura has written the following six Planet Exporers ebooks so far: Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Disney Cruise Line. She also offers a Planet Explorers Disney Mega Guide containing all three Disney books - perfect for the mega Disney fan! The books can all be read on many different devices, from Kindle to iPad to PC.

For review purposes, I selected Planet Explorers Walt Disney World, as this was one of the theme parks I visited as an older child (11 years old if I remember correctly.) I downloaded it in PDF format to read on my laptop. (Admittedly, I'm technologically behind, lacking one of the shiny new devices best suited to this sort of thing!)

The book is 65 pages long, well-illustrated and chock-full of information. It includes an introductory page, a brief history of WDW, chapters on each "sub-park" (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach and Downtown Disney), Disney-isms (terminology kids might hear while at the park), a "Test Your Knowledge" quiz, general information (on hotels, restaurants and entertainment) and other goodies. The sub-park chapters are broken down further into themed areas (for example, Epcot has segments on Future World, Innoventions and World Showcase) and each of these is divided into the following sections:
  • What's cool about it? - Highlights top attractions in the area, including tips (for example, whether or not it's important to grab a "FastPass" for the attraction) and symbols which denote key characteristics of the attraction: S for Scary, D for Dark, T for Thrilling, W for Wet and A for just plain Awesome! :)
  • Fun Facts - Includes neat little tidbits about the area, such as pop culture references, measurements/statistics and historical facts. For example, did you know that the Spaceship Earth structure in Future world has 11,324 triangles on its surface? (I wonder - did Laura count them all while waiting in a particularly long line-up? ;)
  • Food - Ahhh, food. This section lists key eateries in the area, describing the types of grub available and indicating quick-service vs. sit-down for each one.

Each sub-park chapters also includes two great sections to close things off:
  • Characters - A run-down of where (and when) to find all those fun Disney characters within each park
  • Tips - A suggested itinerary for optimizing a day at the park  (i.e., maximizing the number of attractions you're able to visit). This is gold - you definitely won't find this in a run-of-the-mill guidebook!

And if that's not enough, the book also includes DID YOU KNOW? trivia bits scattered throughout. These are basically general "Fun Facts" about Walt Disney World and its main parks as a whole. For example, apparently there are at least 600 "Hidden Mickeys" to find in WDW! That's so cool - I had no idea! I would have had a field day trying to locate all these as a kid. ;)

True to her goal of encouraging further learning, Laura has incorporated dozens of links into the guide. Kids can quickly jump over to read about the real Hollywood Boulevard, Mark Twain (the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) the French chateau which inspired Cinderella's Castle, all the flicks featured in the Great Movie Ride and many other people, places and things! Certainly beats staring at the guy in the "I'm in no shape to exercise" tee four rows over. *nods*

All in all, I found Planet Explorers Walt Disney World to be a comprehensive, fun and interesting read, and I can see it being a very helpful guide for kids as well as adults who are planning (or currently enjoying) a WDW vacation. The book certainly triggered some fond memories, though also made me realize just how much the park has expanded & improved in the 20+ years since I've been there (whoa, I just revealed my age, huh? :) I found the language and flow to be pretty much ideal for the target age range, and I also appreciated the genuine enthusiasm and fondness conveyed in the writing. It is quite clear that Laura has a special place in her heart for Walt Disney World and that this guide was truly a labour of love. (Understandable, given her family has been visiting WDW for decades!)

During my read through, I did find a number of potential improvement areas in terms of organization, layout and other (generally superficial) factors. I sent my feedback directly to Laura and she was super appreciative and responsive, eager to implement some of the suggested changes and/or consider them further. She said that one of the best things about being a self published ebook author is that changes can be carried out very quickly. In general, she plans to release new editions of the Planet Explorer books each year, as applicable. This is a series she is passionate about and committed to, and I'm happy that I got the opportunity to check out its leading installment! I will definitely be recommending the series to family and friends with older children.

Buy It:

Planet Explorers ebooks are available for download on Amazon (Kindle / smart phones) and Smashwords (Nook, iPad, Sony Reader and PC). All of the individual books are $2.99 each, and the Disney Mega Guide is $6.99, a savings of $2 vs. purchasing the three books separately.

Win It:

Laura has generously offered to give away a free download of one of her books to two lucky Manager to Mom readers! Winner chooses book (Disney Mega Guide excluded.)

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!

Disclosure:  The prize is being provided to the winners by Laura Schaefer, author of the Planet Explorer ebook series.  I received no financial compensation for writing my review or offering this giveaway, although I did receive two ebook downloads free of charge.  This is my completely honest opinion above and may be different from yours. 


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