Book Clubbing and STEMing with Mr. Lemoncello

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Our book club year has started off with a bang – with Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics!  We combined the boys’ and girls’ clubs to interact with this fun Chris Grabenstein bestseller.

Chris Grabenstein

We started out by summarizing the book and then discussing the choices made by the characters.  After that, we split up into teams of four like in the book.  Each team worked together to choose a name and logo, which we then pinned to the back of each teammate’s shirt like the tag on a marathon runner.


Next, the teams worked together to solve the first STEM challenge.  I asked them to build something to solve a problem similar to what Mr. Lemoncello tasks the teams with in the book.


The teams were really creative with this project.

The challenges continued after that.  We played several games, including the First Lines game, just like in the story.  The worked together in teams to complete more STEM challenges and a few other literary ones, too.

The final set of challenges involve water balloons, and the kids loved these! 


The challenges don’t have to be done with water balloons, but with temperatures soaring into the ’90s and 12 bouncy kids, we all enjoyed the opportunity to learn with cool water.


These six challenges are based on literary skill and STEM challenges, and you can challenge your students in these same ways.  These challenges are for sale in one packet in my Teachers Pay Teachers store for only $4.    The packet includes printable medals for the winners, a sample schedule, directions for each challenge, and the materials for the First Lines game.

Who will be your Library Lover winner?

Do you still need a copy of the book?  Get yours here!



NEW! Literacy & STEM Challenges for “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics”

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You might have noticed that we’re big fans of Chris Grabenstein’s Lemoncello books around here.  That’s because they’re chalk-ful of learning opportunities.  There are so many ways that you can learn with these books – and that’s why I’ve written another series of lesson plans for Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.

Chris Grabenstein 

These lessons are different from any of the others I’ve written: instead of being a series of multidisciplinary research projects, these are all literacy- and STEM-related.  Each project can be carried out multiple ways to best fit the learning style of your students the and space available. 

These projects will test your students creativity and ability to work together.  They will be challenged to solve puzzles, name books, and build contraptions to solve problems.  Each project is directly related to one of Lemoncello’s Olympic tests for his heroes, and the packet includes printable medals that you can copy to distribute to your students.

These projects are perfect for public-schoolers and homeschoolers alike.  They would work beautifully for a book club or for literature circles.  They provide a way to celebrate the book and check for learning while having fun.

Isn’t that the most engaging and memorable kind of lesson?

You can find this and other learning activities here.

If you haven’t read Chris Grabenstein’s books yet, start with these:


Running a Festival Booth

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My Big Helper has been a beekeeper for two years now, and she’s always learning new things.  This past weekend, she learned how to run a festival booth at Ag Day at the Green Valley Book Fair.


Manning a booth at a festival was a huge learning experience for my eleven-year-old.  She’s a social butterfly but shy when meeting new people, and because she requires think time, it’s sometimes difficult to be able to respond appropriately to off-the-cuff comments (she’s SO like me in this regard!)

When she chose to do this, I knew she had the beekeeping knowledge to make this work.  I knew we could pull together enough supplies and hands-on materials to interest passersby.  I wasn’t so sure that My Big Helper would be willing to speak openly to strangers for several hours straight.

She didn’t seem worried, and she worked really hard to prepare.  We spent lots of time discussing plans for her booth and making lists of materials to pack.  My Big Helper chose 20 pictures from her work with the bees to print as 8x10s and then wrote clear, extensive descriptions about what was happening in each one.  She assembled both into a new, white binder and designed a cover in PicMonkey.  She hoped that people would look at her pictures and study her captions, which would teach them a lot about bees.

My Big Helper designed a multiple choice, ten-question quiz that she could pass out.  She also printed a coloring sheet and copied that on the back so that her handout could appeal both to little ones and older people.

The Book Fair advertised the various booths in advance with trivia related to each one, and My Big Helper shared about how it takes twelve honeybees to pollinate a single cucumber.  With that fact floating around, she sliced cucumbers and passed them out to people passing her booth.  This gave her a piece of information that she was ready to share with everyone who walked by, and after accepting a cuke, most people stuck around for more.  My Big Helper flipped pages in her binder to illustrate information that she was sharing and helped kids try on her veil.


She spoke from people of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly.  She answered all sorts of questions off the cuff and did a fabulous job at interacting.  She helped several people who want to become beekeepers and answered questions with barely a break for hours.

By the time she was finished, her only complaint was that her “cheeks hurt” from smiling so much.

I think that a few things helped to make My Big Helper’s booth a success:  having food to pass out enticed people to come over; having pictures and gear to touch and interact with kept people engaged; and having business cards and printables to take away kept information in their hands even after they left.  My Big Helper’s enthusiasm and newfound ability to converse with all sorts of people was also a big bonues.  That’s not to say there weren’t moments when it was obvious that she’s a kid, but this Mommy is super happy with how she handled herself that day.

As a homeschool teacher, I watched my student learn many things through this experience:  she worked on her writing, public speaking, and beekeeping knowledge.  She considered other points of view and had to be able to summarize information.  She needed to put information in terms that non-beekeepers could understand.

Manning a booth might seem like an adult thing to do, but with proper supervision, kids can do big things.  This Big Helper manned her first real festival booth this weekend – and it couldn’t have been a better experience.

What big thing do your kids want to try? 

For more information about kids doing big things, check out these resources:

Meeting “Lemoncello” Author Chris Grabenstein

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Recently My Little Man and I traveled to a nearby city to meet New York Times’ Best-selling author Chris Grabenstein.  It was everything I ever thought meeting a famous author could be.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer.  I used to sit at my desk with stacks of paper and all the office supplies I could find gathered around me, trying to be the next Carolyn Keene.  I’d still like to write an exciting book someday, but for now, lately, I’ve really wanted to meet my favorite authors.

Chris Grabenstein

We live near Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte, and big names often come to those areas – but somehow it’s never worked for us, so I was super excited to head out to meet the author of the “Mr. Lemoncello” series and “The Island of Dr. Libris,” Chris Grabenstein.

The signing was held at Barnes and Noble, and while I knew that they were experts in this sort of thing, we weren’t.  We didn’t want to miss out, so we headed over there several hours before it was slated to begin.

Chris Grabenstein

We found the signing spot and hunkered down to wait, hoping we would end up with good seats.

Chris Grabenstein

Since we were there for so long before hand, we took turns wandering the store and admiring the fun displays set up for the event.

Chris Grabenstein

Grabenstein has a series out for middle-grade readers that I really want to read, but alas, B & N didn’t have any copies that night.  🙁

One might worry that such a popular author would be stuck-up or snobby, but we found the exact opposite to be true with Chris Grabenstein.  He arrived quite early and talked through set-up with the B & N employees, and promptly came over to greet My Little Man, talking with him even though it was hours before he was ‘on.’  While the B & N crew were obviously trying to make sure they had met his every need, escorting him around the store and offering him refreshments from their Starbucks Café, Grabenstein gravitated right back to the event scene and continued to talk with his readers.  He repeatedly asked if it was time to start, continually engaging with fans, when he could have stayed out of sight and done his own thing.  I was most impressed with his kindness and attention to the kids.

Chris Grabenstein

Finally it was time to begin.  Grabenstein shared some exciting news about upcoming stories, recent releases, and awards that some of his books have gotten.

Chris Grabenstein

Then he read a selection from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.  He is an amazing actor!  His voice, inflections, and eyebrow wiggles totally put new spins on the story – even though I’ve read it over and over again.  He chose a hilarious scene to read and had everyone in stitches.

After playing a quiz game, passing out prizes, and answering myriads of questions about the life of a writer, upcoming projects, and Fred (his dog), his stage time ended.

Chris Grabenstein

We quickly lined up for autographs and pictures.  Grabenstein was kind and talked to each person, posing for pictures when asked and generally making each person feel important.

Chris Grabenstein

Even My Little Man, who loves Mr. Grabenstein’s books but is extremely shy when meeting new adults, warmed up quickly.  He hopped right up for this picture and talked more than he typically does about the whole encounter.

Chris Grabenstein’s books are hilarious and exciting for kids, but they’re also well-written and chock-full of opportunities for learning.  I love when we can have a blast learning about something new.  Because we think his books are so wonderful – and with Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library ranking on the NYT’s bestseller’s list for 88+ weeks, I’m not the only one – I’m writing unit studies to accompany each one.  Two are currently available, and your kids will love designing their own car, making Mr. Lemoncello’s birthday cake, and much more.  Click on the pictures below to purchase the books or my accompanying unit studies.

Have you ever met a big-name author?  Who?

Lemoncello Cover


Writing History at Epic Patriot Camp

Living History

Last week my kids experienced the most amazing camp ever.  It was Epic Patriot Camp, sponsored by the National Park Service, held at the Abingdon Muster Grounds, and taught, in part, by the wonderful author Jenny L. Cote.

Living History

For six hours each day, the lived the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain.  Over the course of the week, they were given a real person who participated in some way at the Battle.  They researched this person and wrote his/her story – while wearing period clothing and receiving technical writing lessons from Cote herself.

It wasn’t just costumes and quills, though – the National Park Service went all out.  The week was full of hands-on lessons about colonial life.  The kids did weapons drills with wooden muskets and watched a reenactor shoot a real one, and then they made musket balls and powder cartridges.  They hiked around the Grounds and examined the native plants, learning about herbal remedies and properties of many of them.  They learned how to write with a quill pen and ink and used wax and seals to mark their journals.  Each day, they continued to research their historical people, add to their stories, and conference with Cote herself.

Living History

The final day was huge, though.  The campers stayed the night at the grounds and slept in colonial-style canvas tents!  They helped to cook their dinner over the campfire, washed dishes, played graces, and spent time around the fire.  The Little Man in the picture above?  The picture doesn’t do him justice.  He was incredibly mud-spattered and stinky when I picked him up – but he couldn’t stop smiling.

The next morning we were treated to a special tea and ceremony.  The kids had the chance to show off what they had learned by sharing parts of their stories.

Living History

They also performed a reenactment of the Battle of King’s Mountain for us.  They really got into it!

Living History

I was impressed each day with the tight, well-planned lessons planned by Cote and the leaders from the NPS.  I loved the hands-on activities and the enthusiasm which I saw pouring out of my kids – but there was one aspect I didn’t expect:  homework.

As homeschoolers, we don’t encounter homework very often.  We’re typically done with our schoolwork long before dinnertime – and so we had planned some fun outings for our evenings away.

Those didn’t go quite as expected, partly because there was homework.  Extra credit assignments, really, that weren’t required, but the kids were adamant that they do them.  They wanted to know more than what they were learning at camp.  They wanted to do their very best for Jenny L. Cote – and they wanted to win her prize.

The kids excitedly shared after their first day at camp that Cote would be watching for the most epic story to be written that week and that the writer of that very story would make an appearance as an animal character in her next book.

As big fans of Cote’s work, that’s all it took: we adjusted our evening outings to accommodate (several hours of) extra credit work each night.  As crazy as it sounds – because who gets excited about homework in the summertime? – the kids couldn’t wait to settle in at the kitchen table and get started each night.

At the final tea, however, we all found ourselves nervous.  There were 18 campers in attendance and many were older than my kids.  Knowing how badly they wanted to win, I was crossing my fingers for them both, but realistically speaking, I knew that the camp was full of smart, talented writers. 

The campers turned out to be so smart and talented that Cote created many more awards than just her original one.  I loved hearing the descriptions of what the campers had done throughout the week to earn these honors.

In the end, however, Cote announced that My Big Helper had won the chance to be an animal in her next book – and we were so shocked that neither of us were certain whose name she called!  (Turns out we each asked other people when the ceremony was over.)

My Big Helper is looking forward to that future day when she’s found in the pages of a Cote book, but she didn’t learn only about writing.  Writing was a big part of it – she came home with pages of notes and techniques, her mind full of stories and examples Cote told during the lessons.

Both kids came home with so much more, though.  They’re more confident writers.  They’re more enthusiastic about writing than ever before, but they’ve also fallen deeper in love with history.  They’re able to put themselves into the story and see the events from multiple perspectives.  They’re able to see each scene with all their senses, describing in detail how it might smell and feel and taste to be there.  They’re full of stories of Patriots and Loyalists of whom I had never heard and know how they’re interconnected.  They know how they changed history and know how to do the research to find out more.  Better yet, they know how to analyze it to see what it all means.  They even met other kids from Tennessee, New Jersey, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Missouri – because that’s how far other people traveled to attend.

When I discovered this camp on Cote’s website, I never imagined anything this amazing – and that’s saying something; I know I’m a pretty tough critic of lesson plans and teaching.  I expected some writing excitement and fun history projects, but Epic Patriot Camp truly lived up to its name.  With tight lessons, generous supplies, kind and enthusiastic teachers, and the encouragement to take their projects as far and as hard as they wanted, Epic Patriot Camp is the best experience we’ve had in years.

The NPS’s Camp Leader, Katherine Lynne, is sure that Epic Patriot Camp will return next year, possibly to some new locations.  I’d encourage you to watch for the announcement that registration is open and to sign your kids up if it’s at all possible for you to get there.  It’s well worth the effort.

*I shared only pictures that I personally took, but there are many more fabulous pictures available on Jenny L. Cote’s Facebook page.  Scroll down to find her Epic Patriot Camp 2016 posts and check them out.

Touring the National Civil War Museum

Did you know that there’s a National Civil War Museum?  I didn’t – or that it was located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, oddly enough – at least, I didn’t until my grandmother told me.

Civil War

She’s always pointing us toward fantastic field trip sites, and so we knew this would be a great one.

Civil War

I was impressed right off by the building.  After getting off the highway, MapQuest directed me through several older neighborhoods, so I was surprised to reach the summit of a hill and find this beautiful brick building awaiting us.  The museum looked official, yet inviting, and we couldn’t wait to get inside.

Civil War

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the National Civil War Museum was a surprise from the very beginning.  You begin at the very top, where videos explain how the war’s start affected people in all parts of American society.  There are artifacts and slave posters and vignettes set up to show how slaves were treated.

My Little Man was enthralled when he first saw this battlefield diorama.  He circled it over and over, examining the troop positions from all sides.

Civil War

One aspect of this museum that really stood out was its non-bias.  There were both Southern and Northern points-of-view, and both were equally represented.  That was clear throughout the museum, and my kids were excited to see it true at this musical display, as well.  They stood and listened for a long time, until they had heard every single song at least once.  There were songs popular with politicians, battle songs, slave songs, dancing songs, etc. – three in each category.  Many I’d never heard of before, and both kids were thrilled to hear the wide range of music.

Civil War

Another unexpected plus to the museum is the authenticity of the historical displays.  I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting to see so many real artifacts on display throughout the museum.  There were clothing worn in battle by famous generals, like the glove above, as well as bullets, slave collars, uniforms, medical instruments, and much more.

There were two aspects of the war that we had hoped to see in exhibits that were missing:  the role of women in the war and something about the Monitor and the Merrimac.  We had studied both, but while there was a simple, small display about women, no specific names were even mentioned.  Given that there were several famous spies, in addition to the role that women played in keeping the home fires burning while their men were at war, as well as new places in nursing and volunteer positions, we had hoped to learn new information here.  Also, the iron-clad ships were mentioned in another display but not these two famous ones, and we thought they warranted a larger mention somewhere.

Civil War

When we left the museum, we headed outside to the porch.  The museum overlooks the original site of Camp Curtain, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were trained during the Civil War, and now the museum looks out over the city of Harrisburg (although you see little of the actual downtown area here).  The views are pretty, but the National Civil War Museum itself is a treasure trove of interactive historical information just waiting to be discovered.

It’s well worth the trip.

How will you bring life to war studies?

Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

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We’ve been studying the Civil War, and no study would be complete without learning about the Lincolns.  We found that Mrs. Lincoln held parties with elaborate food, and that she served a certain cake to Abraham when they were courting.

Of course, my dessert-loving Big Helper decided to make that cake. She chose to use this recipe to recreate a vanilla-almond pound cake with a simple glaze.

Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

This history lesson was fun but not easy.  It took my Big Helper two full hours to mix it up, and she’s not new to baking.  There were several techniques that were new to her, and she took her time, determined to get it all right.

By the time the cake was complete, she had learned how to separate eggs, how to whip egg whites and fold them into a batter, how to make a glaze, how to butter and glaze a baking dish, and about the proper proportions for a cake.

Mary Todd Lincoln

The finished cake is delicious, but it’s not just cake to the one who made it.  To her, it’s the realization that baking is harder than she thought.  It’s knowing that Abraham Lincoln ate a cake that tasted just like the one that she herself has eaten.  It’s putting her hand into history and blending it with the present.

We’ll definitely be combining more home ec with history.

How do you bring history alive for your kids?

Check out these resources for more information:


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Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Love, Ruby Lavender”

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When I first read Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles, I knew it would make a great book club pick.

About  a young girl dealing with the loss of her father, a busy mother, and her best-friend Grandma who’s away for the summer, it’s full of chickens, zucchini, and adventures with the new girl next door.  It’s the most realistic modern story we’ve read in a while, but recreating some of Ruby Lavender’s adventures guaranteed to be fun.

Girls' Book Club

Whenever Ruby Lavender started really missing her grandmother, she’d visit her house and slip into one of her bright pink Hawaiian muu-muus.  I decided that we couldn’t really celebrate this story without attempting to make our own.

Girls' Book Club

We started with plain white twin bedsheets cut in half.  The girls each ironed theirs and then pinned it in half again to make a basic sheath.  We folded raw edges under and sewed them and cut out necklines and stitched those.

Girls' Book Club

While I helped the girls iron, pin, and stitch in turn, the other girls decorated notebooks to use with someone special.  In the story, Ruby Lavender hid letters to her grandmother in a knot in a special tree just outside of town, and her grandmother would find the notes and reply.  We decided to do the same thing in a special notebook, so the girls collaged, glued, and stickered away to make something unique.


A few of the girls had never used a sewing machine before, and for others it had been a long time.  My Big Helper and one other young seamstress did a great job about answering questions and helping their friends get ready to sew while I was busy elsewhere. 

Girls' Book Club

After finishing their notebooks, the girls who were waiting for help with their muu-muus moved on to a cooking project.  Ruby Lavender’s mother works as a home economist and was challenged with creating new zucchini recipes, so I gave the same project to the girls.  One girl decided to chop hers and scramble it with some eggs.

Girls' Book Club

These girls paired up to marinate and grill their zucchini.  They made a great team!

Girls' Book Club

My Big Helper decided to saute hers and make her own sauce.  She really enjoyed experimenting with ingredients and flavor combinations.

After the muu-muus were completely stitched, the girls painted flower outlines on them with Elmer’s glue.  We hung them on a makeshift clothesline in the sun to dry, and then dipped the whole thing into fuschia fabric dye.

The glue acted as a batik and repelled the dye, creating beautiful white flowers on the muu-muus sewn out of t-shirt fabric.  The other, slipperier fabric didn’t hold the glue as well, and their muu-muus are more solid in color, but still a pretty pink.

There was a lot happening in this book club event, and it lasted all day!  Still, the girls did a great job sewing their muu-muus and creating new recipes.  They were careful and responsible, and I heard them discussing the story while they worked.

I love that – when a book makes such an impression that it pulls your attention away from the art project or craft at hand.


What are your kids reading this week?

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NEW! “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics” Linked Novel Study

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You might remember that we love Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  We loved it so much that we made it a book club pick for both the boys and the girls and we’ve read it over and over.

That’s why we were over the moon excited to find out that Grabenstein wrote a sequel – Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics!

Chris Grabenstein

This book is just as exciting as the first one.  Grabenstein again layered in history and science among library science and codes and painted the whole thing fun.

There are so many threads to pull, in fact, that I wrote curriculum and extension activities to go with it!  You’ll find everything from the typical vocabulary and essay assignments to more creative science, history, and art projects.  Also included are printables, cooking projects, and a recipe for Mr. Lemoncello’s favorite drink, Lemonberry Fizz.

The activities in this packet are great for upper elementary and middle school kids, as well as homeschoolers and book clubbers.  With nearly 80 pages of projects and a wide range of responses, you’ll find something to suit every learning style here.

You can find out more and download your own copy in my TpT store here.  I’d love to know what you think!

What are your kids reading?

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Homeschooling: The Civil War in Action

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We’ve been working our way through American history this year, and we’ve reached a major milestone:  the Civil War.

Civil War

A group of us have formed our own living history co-op, and so this semester we spent the day living the time of the Civil War. 

We started out taking lots of pictures, because the kids look way too cute to pass that up.


Then an older homeschool student visited us to serenade us with ‘Taps’ on his bugle.  The haunting notes were beautiful and echoed through the air.  We could imagine them floating through the camps.

Civil War

Then many of the kids opted to give their reports.  Each one had studied a person alive at the time of the Civil War and had come dressed as their character.  Many had prepped info to share.  My Big Helper chose to study Elizabeth van Lew, a spy for the Union based in Richmond, and My Little Man studied Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, leader of the 54th Massachusetts, the first all-black regiment.

Civil War

Later we dug into our activities.  Each family had planned one.  The kids worked together to build tents, Union-camp style, so they could see how the soldiers lived during the war.

Civil War

Another family built a telegraph from scratch and demonstrated how to use it.  The kids split themselves into two groups and practiced using Morse code to send messages back and forth.

Civil War

One family brought small blocks of balsam wood, and the kids carved out letters to block print them.  Journalists covering the battles would have printed their newspapers this way during the war.

Civil War

My Big Helper is now one of the biggest kids in the group.  She’s had the opportunity to practice planning and giving presentations over the past year, and this event was perfect for her to do another.  She prepared her own activity to teach to the other kids, and she did a great job.  Speaking as van Lew, her character, she shared several codes and the ways that she moved them to her handlers.  Then she gave the kids the way to crack the codes and asked them to translate the messages.

There were several other activities, as well – the kids built games, played games, and learned about the Underground Railroad.  They played in a field hospital lean-to and waved flags and banners.Each family also brought an authentic dish to share, and so we feasted on molasses cookies, hominy, fried potatoes, orangeades, and many other delicious foods for lunch.

While the Civil War was anything but fun, it was important.  This day gave our kids the opportunity to smell some of the smells, to taste the foods, to know the dangers and the skills that people staked their lives upon.

The Civil War means more to my kids than it did a week ago, and they have new skills to go with that new appreciation.

How do you bring history to life for your kids?

These resources will help!

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