NEW! Nature/Literature Scavenger Hunt Printable Pack

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You know I’m a super big fan of great books.  I love it even more when those books lead to more educational investigation, and that’s exactly what Julie Andrews Edwards’ book Mandy does.

Scavenger Hunt

Mandy, a ten-year-old orphan, dreams of a place to call her own. Escaping over the orphanage wall to explore the outside world, Mandy discovers a tiny deserted cottage in the woods. All through the spring, summer, and fall, Mandy works to make it truly hers. Sometimes she “borrows” things she needs from the orphanage. Sometimes, to guard her secret, she even lies. Then, one stormy night at the cottage, Mandy gets sick, and no one knows how to find her—except a special friend she didn’t know she had.

This is the perfect book for ten-year-old girls who love tiny houses and stories filled with hope.

Mandy is a classicly-styled story of a little girl dreaming for a home while trying to create her own in an abandoned garden.  The story lends itself perfectly to investigating more about the plants and animals that Mandy in her garden at the Shell Cottage, and that’s exactly what the Nature Scavenger Hunt to accompany Julie Andrews Edwards’ ‘Mandy’ will help your students do.  Perfect to be done as a family, book club, co-op, or class, this packet includes everything you need to study the flora and fauna in the book.

Mandy Cover

Inside, you’ll find:
– a listing of all plants and animals found within the book
– hyperlinks for all plants and animals for further research
– printable scavenger hunt boards for both the plants and the animals
– links to additional materials to make investigating nature fun
– a certificate of completion

Want to know more?  Come back later this week to find out how one of our book clubs used this packet.

What are your kids reading right now?

 

“Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom” by David Neilsen

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When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. But as the ever-changing play space becomes bigger and more elaborate, the children and their parents fall deeper under the doctor’s spell.
 
Only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail are immune to the lure of his extravagant wonderland. And they alone notice that when the injuries begin to pile up on the jungle gym, somehow Dr. Fell is able to heal each one with miraculous speed. Now the three children must find a way to uncover the doctor’s secret power without being captivated by his trickery.

David Neilsen

Neilsen’s Playground of Doom is an afternoon of creepy fun for any middle-grade student!  Full of foreshadowing and subtle context clues, you’ll know that something’s up – but not exactly what.  Dr. Fell’s story is as full of twists and turns as his illustrious playground.

Dr. Fella nd the Playground of Doom is a good-versus-evil story on steroids.  It’s not exactly scary, but it will definitely make a tender reader shiver with the knowing that something bad is on the way.  With unidentified monsters and danger around every turn, pages will fly as readers impatiently fly toward the ending.  Nielsen sprinkles in enough whimsy and fantasy, however, to keep his younger readers from being truly scared. 

While the story is pure fun, there are definitely good talking points within.  Dr. Fell’s Playground causes readers to ask questions like:

  • What should you do if you see someone get hurt?
  • Should you ever enter a stranger’s house?
  • What do you do if an adult makes you uncomfortable?
  • Name calling:  What can you do about it?

These are, unfortunately, issues that children need answers to in this day and age, and Dr. Fell’s Playground provides a fun, fantastical way to introduce – or continue – your conversation about these topics. 

Fans of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle might find that Dr. Fell is her evil counterpart, and they’ll delight in comparing both stories.   Kids will revel in the fantastical people, creative solutions, and unusual dwellings of both books.

If your child is ready for a different kind of fantasy, challenge them to play on Dr. Fell’s Playground of Doom.  If s/he dares.

I received a free copy of this book from the author.  All opinions are my own.

Interviewing Author Chris Grabenstein

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It started with the happiest of emails.  Not the fake “you’ve-won-a-million-dollars” type, but the a real from-the-personal-assistant “Congratulations!  You’ve won!” type.  In this instance, though, the prize was a thirty-minute interview with Chris Grabenstein for my students.

It would be exciting to interview any children’s author.  We love books and love reading, so being able to ‘get inside their heads’ is awesome in and of itself.  We’ve met Chris Grabenstein, however, and know that he’s not only a gifted and creative author, but also an incredibly kind man.  We knew this would be a fantastic opportunity.

Chris Grabenstein

We invited all of our book club kids, took interview questions from far-away friends, and planned our room set-up.  This was a big deal, since we don’t have access to projectors, big screens, or serious microphone power.   Because the interview would happen via Skype, I wanted everyone to be able to see the laptop screen as much as possible.  To personalize the interview and keep questions clear and easy to hear, Mr. Grabenstein requested that the question-asker sit directly in front of the laptop – so we needed to be able to move around, too.

Chris Grabenstein

We figured it out, and on the day of the interview, the kids showed up with papers full of questions and nervous giggles erupting frequently.  We talked about the time delay that happens when talking with Skype, about the importance of being polite, about listening to other people’s questions so we don’t repeat a lot, etc., and then it was time.

Skype didn’t connect at first, and then my phone rang:  it was Mr. Grabenstein, checking in for the interview!  We were soon able to make the Skype connection – but how wonderful is it that he would go that extra mile?

Mr. Grabenstein talked with us for a moment, and then let us jump right in with questions.  He continued that for the full half hour.  Several of the questions asked could have been answered with very short answers, but he told funny stories for each, sharing his history, giving lots of information, and making the asker feel important with each one.

Chris Grabenstein

I’m sure that many of the questions we asked are the same questions that he fields all the time, but what impressed me most about his answers was that he formatted them just like his books:  to be funny stories with great themes and truths in each one. 

When a student asked about his writing inspiration, he didn’t get just an answer, but a mini writing lesson in comic form.  When a student asked whether he always wanted to write, we heard about his professional journey, including his motivation, the hard work he put in, and the education he has that played a role.

I especially loved his writing-inspiration answer, and it made an impression on  my kids, too.  In fact, as we walked through the NC Museum of Art yesterday, I heard one of them muttering, “What if …. we were here, alone, at night, and ….”

Chris Grabenstein’s enthusiasm for writing has been a boost for my kids’ confidence in themselves as writers and as creative people.  We’re seeing story possibilities everywhere now, and I love how much happier they are to write.

Chalk up another win for Chris Grabenstein.

We’re big Grabenstein fans around here.  To read more about our other interactions, check out these posts:

These are our favorite Grabenstein books:

To find Grabenstein curriculum, including unit studies, party printables, recipes, and STEM activities, visit my TpT store here.

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.

 

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:

 

 

“Cold Case Christianity for Kids” by J. Warner Wallace & Susie Wallace

J. Warner Wallace

Summary:

Between the ages of 8 and 12, kids often start to wonder if Christianity is true. In Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, detective J. Warner Wallace draws readers into the thrill of high-stakes investigation by showing them how to think rather than telling them what to think. In this children’s companion to the bestselling Cold-Case Christianity, detective Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity. Includes author illustrations and links to a website (coldcasechristianityforkids.com) where kids can download activities, fill in case notes, and earn a certificate of merit.

Detective Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity.

 
My thoughts:
 
Cold Case Christianity for Kids is a fantastic way to help kids find their own faith in logical, realistic ways.  The book’s step-by-step analysis is the perfect way to help young ones evaluate the Gospels and understand details for themselves.  Written by a real-life detective, the book teaches how detectives evaluate evidence and look for clues so that children can approach the Bible the same way. 
 
I was most impressed with this approach.  The book takes an unusual perspective:  that of a fictional detective teaching a detective academy for kids, in which the reader participates.  With an inquisitive kid in the group, opportunities abound for discussion about evidence and investigative techniques. 
 
Cold Case Christianity for Kids isn’t just a fictional story, though.  The techniques taught are real and  are excellent ways to analyze information.  The authors extended the learning with a website featuring videos for each chapter, printables, notebooking pages, and a leader’s guide.  There are pictures scattered throughout the book to add visual interest to each chapter, and the comic-book style will appeal to boys and girls alike.
 
These extras will make it easy for any parent or ministry leader to implement this book as an ongoing study for their kids’ club or youth group.  It’s the simple writing style and solid steps, however, that I admire most.  The book is perfect for helping kids make the transition from learning about the faith of others to understanding it well enough to make it their own.  The authors also help kids understand why there are discrepancies in the Gospel stories and how to explain faith to others.
 
I can’t wait to work through this study with my kids.  I hope you’ll investigate it for use with yours, too!
 
Read other reviews on this bloggy hop here or purchase your own copy now.
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity.  All opinions in this review are my own.

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!