Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Understood Betsy”

Understood Betsy
When I was a little girl my grandmother gave me a copy of “Understood Betsy” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  As winter approached and we began to make plans for our January book club, I knew this was the perfect choice.
Understood Betsy is the story of Elizabeth Ann, a young girl who is being raised by her maiden aunts – at least, she was until one of the aunts takes sick and needs to go to a warmer climate to recover.  Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with other relatives nearby, and when their circumstances change, as well, she is shipped off via train to live with those Putney cousins in Vermont.  On this mountainous Vermont farm, Elizabeth Ann begins to think for herself – and has all sorts of adventures.
Undestood Betsy is a fantastic story – one you’ll want to read again and again.  We had a great time celebrating this book Betsy-style – and we hope you will, too.   
After talking about the book, we built a fire with a flint and steel.  Since there was a polar vortex happening outside our Southern home, this was quite appropriate, and we appreciated the warmth of the fire.  It made our meeting extra special to be cozied up to the fireplace!
 Next we made butter from cream.  None of the other girls had done this before, and they quickly got tired of shaking the jar. 


They appreciated the finished product, though, and enjoyed squeezing out the buttermilk like Betsy did, although they didn’t like the taste of the buttermilk!

Since we weren’t sugaring, and it wasn’t snowing, there wasn’t an easy way to recreate Betsy’s waxing of the maple syrup in the snow.  I did learn a few things about New England and maple syrup from visiting my grandmother as a kid, though, and so we churned our own vanilla ice cream.  While the churn was going, we did a blind taste test of real maple syrup and a fast food restaurant’s syrup.  (The real stuff was identified by nearly every child by appearance alone, and every single one choose it in the taste test.)  After our ice cream was ready, we topped it with maple syrup, New England-style, and headed back to the fire for our snack.

In the book, Betsy and her friends make a new outfit for a little boy in the hopes of helping him get adopted.  While we’ve taking on several simple sewing projects, I opted not to try to make pants.  Instead, we knotted scarves for a scarf mission in Scituate, Massachusetts.

When each girl finished making her scarf, she decorated a simple card to go with it.  They were really creative with these!

We had a great time celebrating Understood Betsy style, and we really packed a lot into the few hours that we had.  This is the perfect winter book – and since it takes place about a hundred years ago, there are many skills to practice throughout the reading.

Have you read Understood Betsy?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Smuggler’s Treasure” An American Girl Mystery

Disclosure Pic

Smuggler's Treasure

 It’s book club time again!  We ate well this month after reading The Smuggler’s Treasure, an American Girl History Mystery set in New Orleans during the War of 1812.

I had the chance to visit New Orleans a few years ago – back before Katrina – and so we talked about the culture and what makes the city unique – the Cajun culture, the heat and humidity, the architecture – and then we talked about the food.  Food is always fun to talk about, but especially when the book you’ve read is set in a bakery!
Our club meeting just happened to be scheduled for Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, and while that wasn’t mentioned in the book, beignets were – and since I come from an area where doughnuts are the traditional way to fry the fat and sugar out of your cupboards before Lent, we decided to do the same.
First we got our dough ready.  Beignets use yeast, so we talked about the science of how yeast makes bread rise as we watched it wake up and act.  The girls seemed to think that was pretty cool.
 When the dough was ready, we rolled it out and used a pizza cutter to shape the squares.  I wasn’t sure we’d have enough at this point, because we really wanted to be able to share outside the club, so we started on another batch.


Then we moved them to a tray so we could roll and slice the second batch …

and while all of the dough was rising, we headed off to talk future careers.  The main characters of our story were torn – one wanted to run the bakery someday, while the other wanted a different life.  After the girls each shared their dreams for their own future, they thought about how they would market their bakery – if they had one.  Each girl came up with a name and logo for her bakery – except for these three.  They decided to work together and did the project jointly.


Next it was time to fry the beignets.  The girls watched from a safe distance, and then after they drained, we dropped three into their bags on top of a small pile of powdered sugar, just as they’re served in Cafe du Monde now.


Then it was time to do the happy beignet dance and shake that sugar all over the hot pastries!  My Little Man couldn’t bear to be left out of this fun, so he grabbed a bag, designed his own logo, and hopped in line.


The girls polished off these beignets and some wanted more, so we tried them in the more traditional Amish style, dusted with regular sugar:

Both were great.  This was definitely a fun way to bring a bit of New Orleans’ culture into book club – and it’s one we’ll be repeating again. 
What are your kids reading now?
Bring the culture of New Orleans to your event with these fun products:

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “A Surprise for Lily”

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We are currently experiencing both the best and worst of times in our book club this month.
The best, because we had a really wonderful time reading and interacting with A Surprise for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher.
The worst because this is the last in the series.  There are no more Lily Lapp adventures to read.
Because Lily had so many outdoor adventures in this book, we decided to make our club meeting a whole-family affair and moved it to a local park.  


My husband manned the grill.  Although Lily usually roasts her hot dogs on a stick over the fire, that wasn’t possible for us in the park.  We enjoyed our freshly roasted hot dogs, anyway.  He makes a great grillmaster!


The girls enjoyed eating together and discussing the book, although they were really anticipating our next adventure …

boating!  We decided to take to the lake the way that Lily and Hannah did in the family rowboat – hopefully, though, without capsizing.  Together our families rented two canoes and two kayaks.  The kids took turns canoeing around the lake with some dads in charge …

while some of the older kids were able to kayak on their own.  They really loved this part!


Afterwards everyone played a spontaneous game of baseball.  The kids get along well together.  We’re happy not to have any rocky Lily-and-Aaron relationships at this point!

We have enjoyed reading this series together.  I’m sad that our time with Lily is ending.  Perhaps Suzanne Woods Fisher will write another great kids’ series.

You can read more about our other Lily Lapp book club adventures here:

β€œA Big Year for Lily”  by Suzanne Woods Fisher

What are your kids’ favorite books?


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Secret of the Prince’s Tomb”

Secret of the Prince's Tomb
We hosted another book club this week, and my Big Helper surprised me by saying that this was one of her very favorites! The girls read The Secret of the Prince’s Tomb, an Imagination Station book about the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt.  Despite it’s seemingly depressing topic, it’s a really great story, and we had fun working with it.
After summarizing and discussing the book, we made gratitude journals.  We made them this way – it’s a very simple but fun project, and the girls seemed to enjoy matching up scrapbook paper patterns to get a pretty notebook.
The main characters in the story, Beth and Patrick, learned that it was important for the Hebrews to remember that God had been faithful to them in the past and would continue to be so.  We discussed the Biblical direction to be “thankful always” and to remember and celebrate what God has done for us.  Journaling about these blessings and gifts is one way to do that – and then we can also look back during hard times to remember His providence.
The girls and their finished gratitude journals!  It was fun to see how excited some of them were to begin writing in their books.


Next the girls sewed dyed ditalini onto gold-painted paper plates cut to resemble the rich, thick necklaces worn by wealthy Egyptians.  We speculated that perhaps Tabitha from the story would’ve worn something like this in the beginning.


By the end of the story, Tabitha is a slave and is forced to carry heavy jugs of water on her head to other slaves.  We practiced carrying books on our heads to see how easy it was – and decided it’s not.


Then the girls graduated to a simple metal vase containing a few water balloons.  They decided that this wasn’t any easier, but that dropping the water balloons was lots more fun than dropping the books!  Either way, much practice is required to be proficient in this skill.
How do your kids interact with their books?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Pizza Mystery”

This week I want to share with you not about some place that we went, but about something we did – that I happen to think was pretty neat.
My Big Helper started a book club.
We read books in preparation, choosing a book that we felt we could do a lot with.  We discussed activities, thought of questions, and sent invitations.
The day finally arrived.
Four of her friends arrived, aprons and favorite pizza toppings in hand, ready to interact with Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Pizza Mystery.  This Boxcar Children book tells the tale of the time when the children move in with elderly friends to help them run their failing pizza shop – and while they’re at it, they solve the mystery of who’s been sabotaging their business.
After summarizing the story, the girls got to work on their dough.  They took turns measuring out their flour and other ingredients, mixing it all up in my Kitchen-Aid.  They rolled out their own dough and created their own flavor profiles with the toppings that they brought, pooling their resources.  Some ventured away from their norm, and some stayed with traditional toppings, but all seemed pretty pleased with their creations.
Soon it was time to eat.  The girls were big fans of their pizzas.  It was fun to see them so impressed with their own handiwork!  They ate fruit, carrots, and lemonade alongside their pizza for a simple meal.  After waiting as I served drinks and put pizzas on plates, we talked about whether or not they would be willing to serve as a waiter, just like Benny did in the book.


Two of the girls got really excited about the different varieties of pizzas available.  After hearing about dessert pizzas, they chose to make this Gimme S’More Pizza.  We’ll definitely be making this again.  YUM!

After that, the girls looked at menus from a few different pizza shops to get ideas for more creative types of pizza.  We talked about breakfast pizzas, dessert pizzas, and fruit pizzas, and then they each created their own.

We had a lot of fun learning about pizza!  Can’t wait for the next book club event.


What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition – Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking
After a short summer break, our book club girls are back at it – and this month, we had a blast!  We read “Pippi Longstocking” and found a million things to do with this book.
After summarizing and talking about the story, we moved into the kitchen to make pancakes –not Pippi style.  I was hoping to keep the batter in the pan and off the walls, and as always, the girls did a great job.
Each brought her favorite pancake extra, so the girls made their own creations.  Most added chocolate chips, sprinkles, and whipped cream.  Nobody chose raspberries!  
When their creations were complete, they moved to the playroom to watch the movie while they ate.  This one is particularly cute with several songs, and being able to see quirky Pippi on the big screen really makes these traits come to life.


We discovered one scene that was in the movie and not the book – and so we decided to re-enact this one.  In the movie Pippi buys ice cream for the residents of a local orphanage, and then they get into a huge ice cream fight in the middle of the town square.  Since ice cream would be super sticky – and expensive! – we decided to use shaving cream instead.  Although still quite messy, the girls had a blast smearing and squirting the stuff everywhere.  

My yard smelled great for days.

What about you?  Are you Pippalotta fans?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: The Nutcracker

This past weekend we took our book club skills on the road for our fanciest book club event so far – by far.
THe Nutcracker
We traveled to Durham to see a performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
It was a wonderful evening.
To get us started, we bought our tickets and planned several months’ in advance.  Then each family chose a version of The Nutcracker story that would most suit them.  Some read long versions, some much shorter, but all the girls knew the basic gist of the story before the evening began.
We met early for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse near the theater.  Despite long lines and a crazy rain storm that just wouldn’t let up, the hostesses were able to seat us at tables right next to us, back in a corner where it was (relatively) quiet.  The girls all sat at one table and were wild with excitement.  They (pretended?) to talk about the storyline and sang Christmas carols alternately.


Then we headed off to The Carolina Theatre for the show.  This performance was done by the Triangle Youth Ballet and was a community venture.  Because we planned so far ahead, we had seats just a few rows back from the orchestra pit – yes, there was a live orchestra!  As this was such big and more expensive venture than we usually take, we had other female siblings and grandmas along for the ride.  It was a fun girly outing.  πŸ™‚


I never could quite get everyone’s attention at one time.  They were all too excited – to be together, to see the show, to sit in velvet-covered seats and listen to the music and watch the people and the wonder of the events onstage.
I was excited to watch them.  To see them enthralled with the beauty of the performance and happy with each other’s company was wonderful.  
It was definitely a unique – and magical – evening.
Have you seen a performance of The Nutcracker?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition – “A New Home for Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher

New Home for Lily

It’s that time again – Book Club time!  The girls read A New Home for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Maryann Kinsinger, and the general consensus was fantastic.  The girls discussed this book more than they had any other and all agreed that they’re looking forward to the next book in the series.

After our book discussion, it was time to get to work.  The girls grabbed aprons and lined up to tie them.  It was so cute to see them working together this way!
We loved the chapter where Lily and her brother are supposed to take a pumpkin pie to school to share but have other plans for the pie instead, and so we decided to make our own pies using my family recipes.  The girls worked together very well for this project.   
During the crust preparation, I rolled and the girls fit it into the pan.  At one point I turned around to see all five girls clustered on chairs around two pie pans, piecing together the edges, stabbing the crust diligently with forks, and each crimping the edges in their own style.  I tell ya, there was NO WAY an air bubble was going to form under this crust.  
As a side note, I think we should stop buying our children fancy toys and just give them a ball of pie crust and a cup of water.  It will amuse them for hours.  πŸ™‚

Lily also enjoys playing with paper dolls, so while our pies were baking, the girls chose and colored doll dresses.  We used a coloring book of paper dolls that I purchased for my classroom years ago, with dolls portraying strong women throughout history.  Queen Victoria was an overwhelming favorite.  I think the two enormous and ornate dresses had something to do with it.


The pies finished baking just before book club was over, and the girls were eager to sample them.  I chilled them by placing them in the sink in an inch of cold water and ice for a few minutes.   I’ve never seen anyone so happy to eat a pumpkin pie in April as these girls were.  I think Meme’s recipe is a hit.  A New Home for Lily definitely was.

What are your kids reading these days?

*Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Life with Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Life with Lily
This month the girls read Life with Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Mary Ann Kinsinger.  This book was a huge hit!  The second in the series comes out in a few weeks, and they’ve already voted to add it to their reading list.

After talking about the book, everyone headed into the kitchen to make Pumpkin Cake like Lily’s mom did – only we didn’t roll ours up.  After looking at pictures of pumpkin rolls online, the girls decided that it looked like a cinnamon roll  – but they said they didn’t mind eating it in simple, unrolled fashion.  We used this recipe.  They used our e-reader to read the recipe off the ‘Net and worked together to assemble the bars for baking.
Next we talked about sewing and quilting.  The girls have been wanting to learn to sew, so we combined this desire with Lily’s creative efforts to make gifts for her family.  While she sewed potholders, we decided to quilt pillows in a semi-homemade fashion.
We began this project by examining my great-grandmother’s Singer sewing machine, purchased in 1933.  After moving the treadle and the wheel, tracing the path of the thread from spool to needle, and having seen a similar machine on a Lancaster-County website yesterday, we decided that Lily might use a machine much like this one.
Then we moved back into our Englisch mindset and set about making pillows.  Using pillow materials I had prepped in advance, the girls threaded needles and began stitching their way around special shapes on the front of their pillows.  As they finished, then, I taught them the basics of how to use my electric sewing machine (namely, put your foot on the pedal, stay away from the needle, and go) and we sewed the outside seam.  In about 9 years, we’re going to have some speedy drivers in this town!  πŸ˜‰
By now our cake had baked and chilled, so we took a sewing break and returned to the kitchen to make the icing.  The girls (plus brother) took turns measuring the ingredients …
but then few could resist the lure of the icing, and so nearly everyone grabbed a knife and began to spread.

Our Pumpkin Cake – and Life with Lily – was a hit!  We’re all looking forward to A New Home for Lily.

You can find more information about Life with Lily at my review here: “Life with Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: Flat Stanley’s African Safari Discovery

Flat Stanley African Safari

Yesterday we went on a a safari.

A safari in the backyard, that is.  A group of friends ages 7 through 9 came over, ready to have fun with the book Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures:  The Great African Discovery.

We love the Flat Stanley books.  They’re great for guiding a study of another country in a fun way, and this book was particularly conducive to fun safari adventures.

After summarizing the story, the girls found our home state and Kenya on the globe.  We talked about how long it might take to travel there and what that kind of journey might be like.

Then it was time to meet Stanley.  Oblong Stanley, that is.  Like in the book, Stanley was preparing to jump out of a helicopter without a parachute – and it was their job to create a way to prevent any cracking.  The girls had lots of fun with this.  When the construction was complete, they took their project outside and dropped it off the side of the new deck.  Although the basket landed pretty hard, Stanley survived.

Next they prepared for the safari themselves.  Armed with party favor cameras and their very best safari outfits, they headed to the backyard to “photograph” plastic animals I had hidden earlier.  This reminded me of a giant Easter egg hunt, and the kids were just as excited about finding plastic elephants and rubber snakes as they were about candy bars and quarters.

After finding and playing with the animals, we collected them and returned inside.  We had a wide variety of animals, and we hid most of them – even the ones not native to Africa, and so this became the group’s next task:  to identify which animals are native to Africa, and which ones are not.  After much discussion, they correctly sorted each animal and were even able to identify where the not-from-African animals originated.

By this time everyone was hungry, so we stopped for a packed picnic lunch.  After that, the girls “excavated”  an assortment of candies from the dirt cakes that my Big Helper had made the night before.  While not everyone was a pudding fan, we all had fun finding the hidden candy!

Books can be a lot of fun – the imagining, the pretending, yes; but also actually carrying out the activities happening in the book provide great learning experiences.

If you were to see an activity plan like this for a book and then go use it, what kind of book would you prefer?

** Shared at I Can Teach My Child.