Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “George Washington’s Socks”

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I have been so excited about this month’s book club event, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! 

We’re studying the American Revolution right now, and so the boys read Book Club, Boys' Edition: "George Washington's Socks" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They set up camp first.  There were three dads, six book club boys, and one little brother.  They pitched four tents and gathered firewood, and then we settled down to discuss the story.  The boys had lots to say about who the villains were in the story.  Woodruff does an excellent job of portraying the humanity of the soldiers in each army, and the boys caught that information.  They chose sticks to whittle for roasting their hot dogs for dinner and went on a long hike.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "George Washington's Socks" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They spent a lot of time at the water – throwing in sticks, rocks, and whatever else they could find.  One mom rented a canoe and a kayak, and the boys took turns paddling around this part of the lake.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "George Washington's Socks" @ A Nest in the RocksThere was a lot of running around and yelling and playing-with-sticks and general boyish craziness, too.  It all resulted in lots of fun. 

I think this is one book club event that will be remembered for a very long time.

What are your kids reading right now?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Toliver’s Secret”

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We’re studying the Revolutionary War era right now, and so this month our girls read

After reading the story, we jumped right into it.  I taught the girls a new code, and they used their books to write out their own messages.  The girls got really into it and spent a long time writing out detailed messages.  Then I divided two big batches of bread dough between all of the kids, and they formed their own loaves of bread around the messages, just like Ellen’s grandfather did in the story.

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the RocksAfter the bread came out of the oven, we headed out into the yard to experience Ellen’s rough spy journey.  First, we played “Keep Away” with a few loaves of bread to simulate Ellen’s fight with and subsequent flight from the bullies who stole her bread.  The girls laughed really hard during this game and tried hard to hold their bread tightly – they were all so excited about eating their bread that they didn’t want to risk dirtying it!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

After taking the boat across the bay, Ellen had to dodge many obstacles in her effort to deliver the secret message.  We simulated that with an obstacle course and races.  The girls ran through the yard, circling trees, climbing play equipment, and heading up and down hills in an effort to cross the finish line first. 

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Toliver's Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

DSCN4772Weren’t they cute?

The girls really enjoyed Toliver’s Secret.  I liked the fact that they were so excited to dive into the 1770s – and they had fun learning, too.

What are your kids reading right now?

Book Club: “The Sign of the Beaver”

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We kicked off our new year of book club events with a fantastic story:  ,

10 Adventure Stories for Elementary Readers

Disclosure Pic   10 Adventure Stories for Elementary Readers @ A Nest in the Rocks   My kids love to read adventure stories, and I love how enthused they get about reading when they find a good one.  There are also great lessons to be learned from adventure stories – lessons about being brave in the face of danger, of trusting God when the path is unknown, and of embracing new things, among others.   There are the character-building lessons and literature ideas you learn from these books, too. So for the past month I’ve read lots and lots of kids’ books to find the perfect ones for our book club meetings and school plans.  these yet, they should be added to your TBR pile immediately. 1.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein  This story features middle-school characters but is I’ve tested out many more books than I’ve chosen, too, because I’m a picky reader, and I have high expectations for what my kids read.  The following list includes my most favorite adventure stories for upper elementary readers, though, and if you haven’t read clean and fun.  The characters are involved in a Survivor-like contest in a high-tech new library and must figure out an escape from a series of well-formulated clues to win an enormous price.  2.  Capture the Flag by Kate Messner  This is the first book in a trilogy about a secret society of people descended from the world’s greatest artists and whose mission it is to protect their ancestors’ work from  those who seek to steal or destroy it.  The main characters are  three unlikely kids, all with different skills and talents, who work together to bring down some serious art thieves.  3.  The Secret Island by Enid Blyton  This is another first-in-a-series, this time about kids who are living in poor foster situations and decide to run away together to live on an island in the middle of a nearby lake.  They build shelters, cook for themselves, store food for the winter, and otherwise survive on their own for months.  It’s a great story of survival skills and working together. 4. The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein  This Grabenstein book also features older characters and touts great literature.  How real are the things we imagine?  Can our imaginations fuel real change to our world?  These themes are explored when the main character writes himself into many classic stories and barely escapes with his life over and over again.  5.  The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone  This first book, and the three that follow it, follow two kids through adventures through time, righting wrongs and learning about history.  Their time travels are centered around the Sixty-Eight Rooms, a real exhibit in a Chicago museum.  Find out how to turn this story into a real learning adventure here.  6.  George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff  I’ve always had a thing for time travel, as evidenced by several of these choices, but that’s because it’s a great vehicle for bringing the excitement of history alive.  Woodruff does that in this story by sending a group of friends back in time to the night that Washington crossed the Delaware.  In the melee, they are helped by Native Americans, run into Redcoats, are captured by Hessians, and rescued by Patriots.  How much more excitement could you handle in one night??   7.  Honus and Me by Dan Gutman  While time travel is my thing, sports are not – and yet I love this series.  The main character, a tween boy, has the ability to travel through time with old baseball cards, and in each book of the series he travels to a different time and place, meeting the old greats and trying to correct wrongs – all while learning about the history of baseball.  Of course, things never go as planned, and he’s captured by mobsters, lost without money, chased by angry managers, and much more.   Find out how to turn this story into a real-life learning adventure here.  8.  Edison’s Gold by Geoff Watson  This is one of my son’s favorite books.  When Thomas Edison’s a-bunch-of-greats-grandson learns of his ancestor’s secret discovery, he and his friends race to find and save it – before the competition destroys his family.  With explosions, chase scenes, and neat science tricks, it’s a super fun story – and you’ll learn something, too. Find out how to turn this story into a real-life adventure here.

 9.  Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach  This story, and the rest of the trilogy, explore the mysterious past of a real mountain range in Arizona.  With legends abounding, as well as a race to find a lost gold mine, you won’t be able to put this series down.

 10.  Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett  This story will make you think, as the author combines history, art, and philosophy – but she does so amidst the biggest art heist in history, and when some kids discover the trail to the thief, adventures fly.  Find out more about how to turn this book into a learning adventure here.    


Do your kids like adventure stories?  Which are their favorites?  

Book Club: “Mystery of Biltmore House”

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Book club took an interesting turn this month – a really BIG turn.  A Biltmore-sized turn.

We read

The story is about a group of kids trying to solve a crime inside the famous Biltmore mansion.  Several other locations around Asheville were also mentioned in the book, making this a great way to learn about the mountain region of North Carolina.

We started out by summarizing the story and discussing the characters’ actions, and there was a lot to talk about!  Since gargoyles were described in detail by the author, we talked about the history of these stone carvings – about how true gargoyles have water shooting out of their mouths, and about how other statues are called grotesques

Of course, after all of that talk about ugly, scary statues, we had to make our own.

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

I made a few batches of salt dough and gave each kid a ball of it.  Some asked for drinking straws so that they could make them spit water.


Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

The kids got really into their sculpting.

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Didn’t they come out well?

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Next the kids split into their book club teams – boys versus girls – to go on a nature scavenger hunt.  They searched for all of the plants mentioned in the book, as well as some local wildflowers.  My Big Helper was happy to find tulip poplars …

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

and all of the kids searched hard to find more plants than the other group.  Each one was able to find several plants that were new to them!

Book Club:  "The Mystery of Biltmore House" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Finally, we talked about the wide variety of rooms that can be found in Biltmore House and about some of the ways that it was ahead of its time technologically.  Then the kids paired up to design their own dream homes.  Some of them tried to make simple, large houses.  The duo above, though, got all into it.  They drew a house on wheels with a pool, vending machines that spit out their favorite foods, and staircases to the moon and the sun.  They got really creative!

Book Club: “The Lemonade War” Boys vs. Girls

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This month we broke all the book club rules and declared war:  The Lemonade War (The Lemonade War Series)""“>The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, in which a brother and sister make a bet about who can earn the most money by holding lemonade stands during a five-day period.  We took up the challenge.


The girls went first.  They met in the morning to plan the details of their stand, including choosing a charity to which they could donate their profits.  The girls chose St. Jude’s Research Hospital.  They made posters, detailed plans for added value, good customer service, and how to make change.  After that they ate a picnic lunch and packed up their gear.


We set up their stand at the local Tractor Supply store, where the generous manager had given permission for us to work outside.  The girls stored their money in a toy cash register and traded jobs to experience all aspects of lemonade stand business.


The boys met this week.  They followed the same routine as the girls, choosing Samaritan’s Purse/Nepal Earthquake Victims as their charity.  The boys determined to raise more money than the girls – and just like in the book, the girls refused to divulge how much money they had.


The biggest difference between the two stands was the way that they handled themselves onsite.  The girls were fairly reserved, while the boys were outgoing. 


They even made posterboards and danced down the sidewalk with them. 

In the end, the groups made more than $160 total for their charities – and I think they’ve learned a little bit about business and marketing, too.

Has your child ever run a lemonade stand?

For more business ideas, check out these great resources:


Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “The Sixty-Eight Rooms”

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When we first started this boys’ book club, I wondered if it would be hard to to get them to discuss a book in depth.

Now I know: it’s not – as long as you’re talking about a good book.

Book Club:  "The Sixty-Eight Rooms" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Apparently, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone is a great book.  The boys talked about it for nearly an hour.  They had lots of questions and wanted to talk about many of the historical people and issues visited in this book (I’ve linked resources for these  below.)  A book doesn’t have to be non-fiction to introduce lots of factual information, and that is evident by this one.  The kids wanted to know more about life in Plimoth Plantation, the settlement of New England, the Salem Witch Trials, and King Henry VIII, although the French Revolution was bandied about, too.

After a lot of historical discussion, we watched this video featuring images of rooms from this famous display in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Then we headed outdoors to build rooms out of shoeboxes.

Here the boys surprised me again.  After seeing so many fancy European rooms in the video, we talked about the types of rooms we hadn’t seen – garages, barns, dens, stables, workshops, or anything very masculine, really.  We talked about the many natural elements that they could find outdoors to use in their rooms, like sticks, stones, leaves, etc.  We brought out scrapbooking paper, magazines, scissors, and glue, and gave the boys free rein.

Book Club:  "The Sixty-Eight Rooms" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Usually these kids can’t wait to go tearing around the yard looking for the perfect stick or stone – but today each of them worked strictly with paper.

Book Club:  "The Sixty-Eight Rooms" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They each chose a different perspective on the room and designed a different type of room – a pantry, a bedroom, etc – but in the end they all had interesting rooms to show.

Book Club:  "The Sixty-Eight Rooms" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Isn’t this chandelier and 3-D style bedroom cool?

Don’t underestimate your boys.  Tug on the threads of history wherever you find them. 

And be sure to read The Sixty-Eight Rooms with your kids.  It’s well worth the read.

What are your kids reading right now?

Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “Callie’s Contest of Courage”

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You know a kid likes something when he asks for more of it.

That’s how this month’s book club came about.  My Little Man watched the girls have fun with Callie’s Contest of Courage (2)""“>Callie’s Contest of Courage works well for boys.  Callie may be a girl, but with a brother, boy cousins, and a good male friend in the picture, there are lots of male influences.  With a dad serving in the military and a love of animals and adventure, Callie is a great character for any child to read.

Since My Little Man was so determined to do the same activities as the girls, we did – but with some important boy-friendly modifications.  You can read about the girls’ event here and see which set might work best for you!

After summarizing and discussing the book, we talked about some basic photography techniques, like the Rule of Thirds and Perspective.

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Callie's Contest of Courage" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Then we set out to take some photos.  The boys brought digital cameras along, and they were eager to find and capture their assignment:  signs of spring.  Since it was a warm and beautiful, sunny day, I thought they’d find many things to take pictures of, and they sure did! 

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Callie's Contest of Courage" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Isn’t this cardinal feather beautiful?

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Callie's Contest of Courage" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They were especially fascinated by these frogs in the pond.  There were at least three frogs, and maybe a snake.  Whatever else it was, something had the frogs all worked up, and there was a lot of writhing and thrashing in the water.  We stopped, watched, and took pictures for a long time!

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Callie's Contest of Courage" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Next we returned home for our pie-eating contest!  The boys were all wound up about this and couldn’t wait to dig in.  Although the girls chowed down in the kitchen, we decided to move this potential mess outside -and I was glad that I did!

Book Club, Boys' Edition:  "Callie's Contest of Courage" @ A Nest in the Rocks

I think My Little Man enjoyed wearing his pie more than eating it.

Callie's Contest of Courage - Boys

I think Check out these resources to get in the Callie mood!


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Wright 3”

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Our book this month is a super exciting one, and it’s full of lesson possibilities, too!  We read Chasing Vermeer""“>Chasing Vermeer.  This book continues the story of Calder and Petra as they try to stop the destruction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.

We started out by summarizing and discussing the story.  There are lots of threads to pull in this one – issues about art, murder, friendship, honesty, and architecture – and we pulled them all.

Then we moved into the kitchen to bake one of Calder and Petra’s favorite snacks.  They seem to eat a lot of cookies, often at the neighbor’s house while having tea, so the girls mixed up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I baked them while they worked on the next project.

I wanted the girls to get a good feel for how different Wright’s architecture is and how special and custom he made it.  Having visited Falling Waters years ago, I knew the great lengths to which Wright went to make his buildings visionary.  We watched this YouTube video and tried to identify the locations in the book that happened in the house.  The girls were really good at this!

Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "The Wright 3" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Then we moved into the kitchen.  The girls paired up and chose special locations.  They tried to blend their unique places with a livable space, and they found that it wasn’t easy!

Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "The Wright 3" @ A Nest in the Rocks

They had fun doing it, though, and I heard lots of giggles through the process.  (Incidentally, my Big Helper hasn’t stopped drawing blueprints since!)

The Robie House was extremely unique for it’s time period, but it’s not the building that stands out the most to me.  I think that Falling Waters does an even better job of merging the environment with the building (how much closer can you get than to be built overtop of a waterfall?) and so we also watched a video tour of that.  Much of this video is computer-generated, but it does share the location extremely well.

Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "The Wright 3" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Next we talked about the art glass windows that Wright designed specifically for the Robie House.  I gave the girls some pattern blocks and asked them to think only about the shapes, not the colors, and to design a window quickly.  The girls made some great designs on the fly!

Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "The Wright 3" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Then it was time for the real thing.  Using wooden sticks, plastic beads, and their own imaginations, the girls created their own faux art glass windows.  Sorting the beads took a long time, as they were very small, but each girl successfully designed and made her own window – and the light shines through beautifully!

What are your kids reading right now?

Want more information about Wright and his work?  Check out these books:


Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “The 100 Year-Old Secret” by Tracy Barrett

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This month our boys’ book club read the same one as the girls:  The 100 Year-Old Secret” by Tracy Barrett.  That doesn’t mean that this club meeting was a duplicate of the other, though.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "The 100 Year-Old Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks


In fact, this is about as close as we’ve ever come to doing the same thing, and yet the way that we did it was quite different.

We started out by discussing the book – by summarizing it and comparing the characters’ actions to how we thought we might handle the situation.

Then I sent the boys outside to find things in nature with texture – that were dead.

They totally loved that assignment.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "The 100 Year-Old Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

The boys couldn’t focus on their texture assignment until they darted off some energy, and they did that speedily – all over my yard.  They ran everywhere.  I’m sure that nobody would ever have guessed that it had rained for several days prior!

Eventually they got back to it, and then they found all sorts of things – dried grasses, sweet gum balls, dead leaves, stems, sticks, etc., and happily carried them into my house.


There I added to their collections with dried pasta and string.  We gave them plates of glue and wide picture frames and told them to create textured, sculpted, artistic frames like the one that the famous painting was hung in in Barrett’s story.  They got really into it.

As they finished, I took their frames outside and spray-painted them metallic gold.  The boys loved that paint – and the fact that it turned my grass gold, too.

Then we talked about facial proportion – about how the tops of your eyes line up with the tops of your ears, etc., and I sent them off to make portraits of each other.  The boys did surprisingly well – they got really into it and did some great work.  I was very impressed!  They drew with pencils and shaded and sketched for quite a while.

When they were finished, they snacked on ‘biscuits,’ English-style, before dashing back outside.

The boys moved at the speed of light, but they had some great thoughts about this story, and I couldn’t believe how detailed and careful their artwork was.  They really took their time and put some effort into it.  Maybe one of their portraits will be in a fancy frame someday!

What are your kids reading now?

Xena and Xander Holmes have just discovered they’re related to Sherlock Holmes and have inherited his unsolved casebook! The siblings set out to solve the cases their famous ancestor couldn’t, starting with the mystery of a prized painting that vanished more than a hundred years ago. Can two smart twenty-first-century kids succeed where Sherlock Holmes could not?

Modern technology meets the classic detective story in this terrific new mystery series that will intrigue young sleuths everywhere!