Book Club, Boys’ Edition: Gary Paulsen’s “Lawn Boy”

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Last month the boys read Gary Paulsen’s Lawn Boy for book club.  Maybe this seems like a strange choice for January, because it’s really about just what it sounds: a boy who creates a summer job mowing for lawns, but for our purposes, the winter weather suited us just fine.

In the book, the main character stumbles into a super successful lawn care service.  One of his customers turns out to be a stock broker, who invests his payment for the boy, and he has the golden touch:  soon the boy is rolling in money, more than he knows how to manage, and hilarity ensues.  It’s unrealistic, sure; but Paulsen does a fantastic job explaining some basic concepts in really fun ways.

Book Club

After discussing the book, we headed to the kitchen for a stock market analogy.  Money and numbers aren’t my thing, so I like when we can add visuals to the mix.  Each boy brought a soda, and we compared a large, empty pitcher to the company that I had been building.  Now ready to go public, I was ready for investors, and so the boys took turns pouring some soda into my pitcher.  After I had stirred it and worked it, I was ready to pay out to my investors, who then got some of the contents as dividends.  We worked the analogy a bit more through conversation, and the boys really got into it.  They seemed to understand how the basic process worked, and so the research began.

stock market

We sat down with research sheets I created as part of the Stock Market Challenge project, and each boy chose a publicly traded company and evaluated it’s basic info to see if it was a company in which he’d like to invest.  I have each kid a virtual $100, and they all checked stock prices, business headlines, and the like to make their choices.

By the time book club was over, each boy had done company research and ‘purchased’ his stock.  He’d filled out a purchase sheet that helped him make his money decisions and went home with a graph so that he could plot his purchases’ share value over the following month.

When the boys returned, 5 of the 6 had followed through on this project.  They were surprisingly excited to see how their stock prices compared to the purchase price, and while they knew their individual earnings, they couldn’t wait to see how their friends did.

In the end, one company tanked dismally; a few boys actually lost money, and a few earned, though very little.  Their findings followed traditional market patterns, however, as if they were to continue to follow their shares, they would have made a much more significant profit over time.

After lots of math, one boy was finally crowned the “Stock Market Master,” and he excitedly took home the free drink coupon that our local Sheetz store had donated as a prize.  I hear he thoroughly enjoyed his frozen lemonade after baseball practice that night.  Thanks, Sheetz!

Lawn Boy is a really funny book with some great educational lessons buried inside.  It’s definitely worth a read and venturing out, perhaps beyond your comfort zone, into the world of share prices and the stock market.

What are your kids reading right now?

If you’d like to do a similar stock market simulation, you can find all of the materials we used for this project here.

 

A Roarin’ ’20s Book Club: “Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter”

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Some books just scream out for a special event, and that’s exactly what happened when I read Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter.  I knew it would make a fantastic book club pick – not only because it offers myriads of possibilities for a special event, but because Fantaskey did an amazing job writing a book that highlights the danger and turmoil of the 1920s while keeping it kid-friendly and fun.

Yes.  It’s about murder and mayhem, but it’s kid friendly and fun.

Yes, those things are complete opposites.  No, the danger and depth of the topic is not downplayed, and no, I don’t know how she did it, either.  She’s that good of a writer.

So what’s Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter all about?  Check it out:

It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles into a real-life murder scene and her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case makes for a winning middle grade mystery.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
With the 1920s as our theme for the evening and murder and mayhem the idea, I set out to create an unforgettable book club experience, and, as soon as My Big Helper started to read the book, she joined in the fun.
 Isabel Feeney
 
Isabel Feeney
 
The girls arrived mid-afternoon with lots of gear in tow, prepared for an all-night book club event (because it just seemed wrong to talk about Isabel’s adventures in broad daylight when so many of them occurred at night).  They immediately changed into dresses and strands of pearls, then were made over by local high school students did their hair and make-up in perfect ’20s style.  With old showtunes playing in the background, they giggled and styled their way through updo’s and mascara until they rivaled Maude Collier for fashion flair.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
Then, with glass goblets of Kool-Aid clutched tightly in their hands (because Kool-Aid was invented in the 1920s, didn’t you know?), we talked about the book, focusing on the plot, the fate of Isabel, the role of friendship throughout the story, and how the girls felt about the events of the era.  All the while, they munched on the snacks researched as time-period friendly by My Big Helper:  salted nuts, carrots and celery, and cheese.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
Next, the girls broke into teams for a rousing game of Pictionary.  I prepared the materials ahead, with all of the items to be drawn chosen from the book and written on slips of paper.  I tucked these into a Mason jar, and, armed, with white boards and markers. the girls tried to draw each one. 
 
They really got into this game.  They played for a long time, until they had drawn out every slip of paper, sometimes asking me for more information about the buildings or terms from the story.  Some laughed until they fell over, and the competition of the game fell by the wayside as they giggled their way through drawing things like ‘crutches’ and ‘the Chicago-Tribune Tower.’
 
Isabel Feeney
 
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After a short break, they moved to the kitchen for dinner.  Again, my Big Helper had planned the menu after researching popular foods of the era, and while this meal wasn’t something eaten by Isabel in the story, we think she would have enjoyed it.  The fancy dinner she planned required similar decoration, and so, with the incredible help of good friends, the girls ate under black and gold streamers, with gold lame curtains in the doorways, foil confetti on the tables, candles everywhere, and jazz playing softly in the background.  We served baked ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, Jell-O salad, and bread with peach butter.  The giggles continued as the girls pretended to be Maude’s counterparts but couldn’t look at each other without bursting out into laughter.  Dinner wasn’t over quickly, but it was a most enjoyable meal.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
Afterwards the girls got down to business.  With full tummies and the fall of night, it was time to be like Isabel and solve a murder mystery.  After so much time researching, planning, and prepping, my brain was exhausted by this point – and so I purchased a for-kids mystery online.  The girls broke into two teams and scoured fact sheets to find clues.  They answered questions, made charts, and came up empty – so they shared their information, and, as they talked it out, they solved the mystery.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
That success deserved a treat, so we served dessert next – ice cream sundaes with warm chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles – because, you guessed it, they were popular in the 1920s!  Having a kid who loves research is a beautiful thing.  The giggling continued as they downed the ice cream and moved to the living room, where they settled in to watch the original Cheaper by the Dozen.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
After a much-too-short night, we served bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast.  We cleaned up quickly, because Isabel author Beth Fantaskey was available to Skype!  This was a real treat.  I love when authors not only choose to write quality books for kids, but they’re also willing to invest some time in connecting in a real-world way with them.  The girls were nervous heading into this experience, but they had prepped questions in advance and were eager to ask them.  The time delay caused by the technology threw them for a loop at times, but they persevered and asked every question.  They wanted to know about writing history, story experience, personal experiences, and more.  The best part – to me – was when Fantaskey shared that there might be another Isabel story in the future.  As Isabel is smart, brave, and has big dreams for the future, I’d like to see another story featuring her.
 
Isabel Feeney
 
Our last activity was to attempt the Charleston.  While Isabel only got a glimpse into a speakeasy and didn’t live the glitzy life of the ’20s, she knew it existed and wanted parts of it for herself.  Armed with a YouTube tutorial and more giggles, the girls attempted to nail the steps while understanding the gist of the whole thing.  Nobody got very far, but it was fun!
 
Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter is the perfect book for someone teaching about American life in the 1920s.  It made a great book club pick and introduction to our history unit of that time.  Because Fantaskey sets the scene so well, I wrote a unit study to accompany this book.  My Big Helper worked her way through that as she read Isabel, and she was well prepared for both book club and our historical studies.  If you’d like more information about this unit study, can find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.  There’s much to be learned from this book, but it’s great fun, too, and includes many deep questions about culture, gender roles, and friendship.  It’s suitable for tweens, but I can see people much older reading and falling in love with Isabel.  Give it a try!
 
What are your kids reading right now?       
 
Check out these resources to get your Isabel Feeney party started!
 


 

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Tuesdays at the Castle”

 

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We read an exciting fantasy book this month called Tuesdays at the Castle.  It’s about a castle with feelings that grows and shifts on its own and the potential takeover of the kingdom from other lands when the king and queen go missing.  Heirs Rolf, Lilah, and Celie work to find their parents, learn about the castle, and stop the takeover before life as they know it is ruined.

Every Tuesday Castle Glower takes on a life of its own-magically inventing, moving, and even completely getting rid of some of its rooms. Good thing Princess Celie takes the time to map out these never-ending changes. Because when the castle is ambushed and Celie’s parents and oldest brother go missing, it’s up to Celie to protect their home and save their kingdom. A great new series that readers will devour! 

We started our time by summarizing and discussing the story.  The girls seemed most interested in what kind of castle they would have, or what kind of rooms they would want a castle to make for them, if they had a magical castle like Castle Glower.

We moved from there to talk about the Glower coat of arms and the flag. 

Book Club

After we looked at pictures of real, medieval heraldic symbols, I asked the girls to design their own flag – not necessarily using the strict 14th-century code, but a combination of symbols and colors that were representative of their family.  I love how my Big Helper thought her flag needed a bee!

Book Club

Next, we moved on to designing castles.  Since Castle Glower adds and subtracts rooms at will, as well as making life decisions and interacting with the royal family, I asked the girls to think about what special features they might want in their own living castle.  They worked together in pairs to come up with a design …

Book Club

and then they began to build.  Because icing can take so long to dry – and because I don’t know how to make the real, official kind of gingerbread icing – we used a combination of hot glue and icing to construct our castles.  Each girl brought supplies, and we had enough for each team to have a full box of graham crackers and their own tub of icing.

Book Club

This was a bigger-than-usual project, and it required a lot of time, so we didn’t cook or bake anything.  Instead, because there were graham crackers everywhere, I made a simple chocolate ganache and poured some into dipping cups for each girl.  They dipped and licked and snacked (and then washed their hands, because it is flu season, after all) while they were working.

Book Club

After construction was finished, the girls decorated with an assortment of candy.

In the end, each team designed a completely unique graham-cracker castle.  They were interesting sizes, shapes, and made use of different candies.  I loved seeing what they came up with!

There was a lot of learning happening here, too – think creative candy uses, structural engineering, and more – so you’ll see another post soon about some of these objectives and how this team carried them out.

Book Club

I asked the girls to dress like Princess Celie, because Celie is an especially fun princess, and so I had to get a group shot of the royalty.

So that’s how we partied with Tuesdays at the Castle.  What are your kids reading this month?

Looking for more?  Check out these resources:

 

Girls’ Book Club: “The Last Holiday Concert”

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The girls’ book club met this week, and it was all about Christmas as we talked about Andrew Clements’ The Last Holiday Concert
It’s a great story about a boy who ends up in charge of his middle school’s holiday concert just as the music teacher is laid off.  We had a great discussion about the teacher’s reaction to the news, the way that the teacher motivates his students and is ultimately inspired by them, and then about ways to bring hope and joy to others, since that ended up being the message chosen by the students for their program.

The girls each made brainstormed ideas for things to spread those particular messages around town, and then we chose a few common themes to put into action right away.

Book Club

We started off with a foam kit for making snowmen.  We decided to turn them into Christmas cards, and the girls wrote messages of hope on them.  Some were handwritten on the back, while others had foam-sticker messages right on the snowmen’s tummies.

Book Club

 

My Big Helper and My Little Man are passing out these cards to people as we’re out and about this month.  Grocery store clerks, restaurant wait staff, fellow shoppers – anybody might get a ‘Merry Christmas!” and be handed a snowman.  Most people seem pleasantly surprised, and some quite happy, to be handed a card.

Book Club

The girls also rolled out some gingerbread I had made ahead.  They took turns cutting out cookies and ornaments both.

Book Club

Then they wrapped the bottoms of a few pizza boxes with Christmas paper, a project that turned out to be much harder than expected.

Book Club

After baking the cookies, they painted them with happy messages in a white icing and filled the trays.  We delivered one tray to our local fire department and the other to the library we visit.  Both were met with happy smiles.

The gingerbread ornaments were decorated with simple white paint and red ribbons.  These, like the snowmen ornaments, we’re passing out to people we meet.

While time didn’t allow for putting together their own concert or Christmas performance, the girls did a great job of choosing activities that would spread hope to the people we meet this season.  I wish that we could have passed out their creations together, but time didn’t allow for that, either.  Instead, I heard lots of giggles as they learned to roll out the gingerbread, attempted to paint icing only where they wanted it, and tried to get snowman arms to stick only to snowman bodies. 

Book Club

They are many activities that you could do with Andrew Clements’ The Last Holiday Concert, and these are only a few.  If you’re a fan of Clements’ and his creative takes on school activities, you’ll love The Last Holiday Concert.

Cast Your Vote for A Kid President!

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This month’s the boy’s book club read Dan Gutman’s The Kid Who Ran for President.  It’s a hilarious take on what might happen if a kid ran for president.  Throughout the story, the main character, Judson Moon, learns the ins and outs of being a part of a national election.  His campaign manager, a fellow student, handles his publicity and teaches Moon about propaganda.

 

That’s the angle we decided to take for this month’s book choice.  After the usual book discussion, we talked about a few advertisement propaganda techniques commonly used by the media.  We talked about how things like bandwagon, testimonials, and glittering generalities affect the choices we make each day.

And then things got real.  The kids split into groups and nominated candidates.  They chose names, so as to remain anonymous online, and began using the propaganda techniques we’d learned to create campaign posters.  They also designed their own platforms and a short commercial.

Vote for President

They want to hold their own election – and that’s where you come in.  I’m sharing their campaign poster pictures and videos below.  We’d be honored if you’d check out their work and comment on the person you’d vote for below. Please consider the names that they chose, their platform, and their enthusiasm when you make your choice.

These are kids, though, so if you comment beyond the name of your choice, please keep it kind.

Choice A:  Victor

Vote for President

This is Victor with his campaign manager.  You can watch his campaign video here.

Choice B:  Ray Price

Vote for President

This is Ray Price with one of his opponents.  You can watch his campaign video here.

Choice C:  Justin Jay

Vote for President

This is Justin Jay.  You can watch his campaign video here.

So who has your vote?  Remember to comment with the name of your favorite candidate below by December 15th.  Thanks for helping to teach our kids about the election process!

 

Book Clubbing in the Wild West: Climbing Mountains

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I love being able to make hands-on plans for book club.  I love that we’re not only about books and discussion but about really getting into the books with all of our senses.  That’s why I was so excited for the kids to read Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach this month, and just like Henry and his friends, we climbed a mountain.

Hanging Rock

On a warm Saturday morning, we met at Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury, North Carolina for a mountain adventure.  After quickly discussing the role of the dangerous Superstition Mountain to Henry, we set off.

Although our group set a brisk pace at the beginning, it wasn’t long before we slowed down considerably.  While the park service ranks the main Hanging Rock trail as a moderate one, the first half is very steep, and the second half requires climbing up rough, rustic rock steps. 

Hanging Rock

We paused for a picture before heading up those steps.  Where were we going, exactly?

Hanging Rock

We were going to the top of this! 

Hanging Rock

We stopped along the way to play in some neat rock formations.  The kids loved climbing into fissures, small craggy areas, and mini caves, then posing for pictures everywhere they went.  It was fun to see them enjoying it so much.

Hanging Rock

After lots more climbing, we made it to the top!  We stopped for a picture before scattering to the far corners of the large rock on top of the mountain.

Hanging Rock

So where were we, really?  My husband and My Big Helper ventured out onto Hanging Rock itself, but it was so crowded that they didn’t stay long.  They said that it felt too much as if a random elbow-bump could knock one off.  Given that, they didn’t hang around.  There were other places that were just as pretty ….

Hanging Rock

Like these huge boulders just around the corner from Hanging Rock itself.  Even though we were far away from the edge, this made My Little Man nervous, and he went back to the mountain as soon as we were done.  We all enjoyed snacking on the rock and enjoying the views, though.

Hanging Rock

Though the cliff side of the rocks were not his favorite thing, My Little Man loved the underside of the upper rocks.  How strong would one have to be to hold this one up?

Hanging Rock

Climbing the mountain was a major adventure.  It was difficult and exhausting, with a few banged knees and racing pulses.  We were tempted to quit and worried about the danger from the uneven ground, 2500-foot drop, and the crowds at the top.  We realized, though, like Henry, that blazing a new trail was fun.  It made us feel strong.  That conquering the mountain made us more observant of the nature around us and the strength within our muscles. 

If you’ve never pitted yourself against a mountain, give it a try.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

For more mountain-climbing resources, check out these:

 

 

Book Clubbing on the Orphan Train: “A Family Apart”

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This month’s girls’ book club selection was one I’ve had for years:  about twenty years, in fact.  We read A Family Apart by Joan Lowry Nixon, the first in the Orphan Train Adventure series.

The story opens in New York City with an Irish family whose father has died.  Ma is trying hard to keep everyone fed and clothed, but when one of the boys makes a poor choice, she gives them all to Reverend Brace-Loring, who sends them west on the Orphan Train for new homes and better lives.  A Family Apart is about the adventures of Frances, the oldest sister in the family, as she struggles to adjust to life on a Midwestern farm.

Book Club

Frances encounters an abundance of food not found in her New York tenement, and so we baked one of those dishes:  an apple pie.  We used Grandma’s recipe and made it just as she taught me – which is how her grandma taught her.  Counting back all those years, that puts this recipe originating at about the same time as when Frances enjoyed it!

None of the girls had ever peeled an apple before, so that was our first adventure.  It took some practice to get it right, but they soon conquered the piles of apples we needed.

After mixing up the crust, they took turns rolling it out and assembling the pies.

Book Club

Doesn’t it look yummy?

Book Club

Next we went outside to write letters to Frances’ Ma.  Throughout the book, Frances is angry with her mother for ending her west, and the theme of sacrifice is discussed from many angles.  The girls pretended to be Frances at the end of the story, when she has gained some understanding of this difficult concept, and wrote to Ma to explain.

Book Club

Frances had a lot going on in the story, though, and missing her mother didn’t top the list.  She had to learn how to live on the frontier, and for a city girl, that was difficult.  One of her new chores was to milk the family cow. 

Book Club

The girls practiced on these gloves.  They raced to see who could milk their ‘gloves’ fastest.

Book Club

Then, since one of the early chores was to then carry the milk, the girls grabbed the handles of their ‘pails’ and ran it around the yard, trying not to spill any of their milk.

Book Club

We also talked about the Pony Express and how it worked.  To simulate that, the girls donned messenger bags, straddled bamboo poles, and formed teams to compete in a relay race, Pony Express style.

Book Club

By the time they had done all of that, the pies were out of the oven and ready to eat. 

Book Club

It didn’t last long, though – the girls devoured that pie!

Book Club

We had lots of fun celebrating A Family Apart.  There are many more threads to tug if you choose to read this book.  I’d love to hear what you choose to do!

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.

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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.

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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! 

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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.

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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!

 

 

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.

Win.

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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