“Dragon Seed” by Marty Machowski

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An angry teen, a desperate mother, a missing father, and a shadow lurking in the background. Things were going from bad to worse for Nick and his family. Tempted to run away after yet another argument with his mom, Nick receives a handwritten, leather-bound copy of an old book a family legend passed down to him from his great grandfather. The book, called Dragon Seed, leads Nick deep into his family s history and introduces him to another angry young man who lived in the shadows (the shadows of the tombs). Like Nick, you’ll be shocked to discover where he fits in this story of epic proportions! This page-turning, young adult fiction story invites older children and teens into the real-life struggles of Nick. But it also ushers them into an imaginative exploration of the life of the young man Jesus saved as he wandered through the tombs. Best-selling author Marty Machowski uses both stories to introduce the reality of spiritual warfare and how its shadows affect and change us. Machowski, a trusted teacher for children of all ages, presents a thoroughly biblical view of spiritual warfare that emphasizes the importance of humility and dangers of pride. Teens will be drawn to the story of Nick and his struggles and will learn, as they read, to also identify the shadows in their own life and turn from them. While the biblical teaching is evident throughout the narrative of Dragon Seed, Machowski also includes a twelve-lesson Bible study at the end of the book to help teens ground their understanding of spiritual warfare on biblical principles. Youth pastors, leaders, and parents will also want to explore with teens the small group study at the end of the book with its unique take on spiritual warfare that emphasizes the biblical theme of humility. This is a perfect book to read with a group and discuss together the implications of Nick s struggles for their lives.

Machowski

Dragon Seed is the parallel story of teenage Nick and God’s great love for mankind colliding in an action-packed, concrete way.  Machowski turns sin into dragons and makes the spiritual realm visual in a way that reminds me of Ted Dekker’s Circle trilogy. 

Dragon Seed is billed as a modern-day parable, and I don’t think that label quite fits.  While part of the story is based on scripture straight from the Bible, but with the gaps we don’t know filled in fictionally, much of the story is straight from scripture.  So much is based on Biblical account that I don’t think it can be called a parable; I think ‘allegory’ is a better fit, although, again, so much is Biblical that I’m not sure that’s a great moniker, either.

When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure the label is really all that important.  What is important is that the Biblical references are true and real.  The story is compelling and well written.  The characters are real and life-like and reachable.  The story itself is one that everyone can relate to.

I love the way that Machowski took the idea of the dragon from Revelation and used the concept of sin throughout the Bible to show how easily that sin can infect us all; how none of us are immune to it, and how nobody is too far gone to be saved from it.  The concrete imagery is easy to picture and something that, again, we can all relate to.

Amazon bills this book as for older children and teens, but I disagree.  With children of varying ages, and several adults all in the story, I think it’s one that almost everyone can relate to. 

As I finished reading the book, I found myself wishing for discussion questions, as my children were already clamoring to read it for themselves.    While those are not available, the book does contain twelve devotions at the end, which do include questions – and some even reference projects or activities you could do to make them more hands-on and inclusive.

Dragon Seed would be a great book for a youth group, church study, or family read aloud. It’s versatile, exciting, and relates truth, but best of all, it points to Jesus’s love while encouraging discussion.  Dragon Seed deserves a place on your bookshelf.

I received a copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity.  All opinions are my own.

“Hello Stars” by Alena and Wynter Pitts

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Lena Daniels never thought she’d get the chance star in a movie. Headstrong and determined, she has her life planned out to the minute. But when her best friends, Savannah and Emma, tell her about an audition, she knows there’s nothing else in the world she’d rather do. And now that she’s gotten her wish, Lena finds that being in the spotlight is harder than it sounds. She got everything she never wanted! Her face turns up everywhere she goes, and everything in her life is flipped upside down. Lena wonders if this is a dream come true or a horrible nightmare. Even a visit from her best friends during filming turns into a disaster.

With her little sisters—Ansley, Ashton, and Amber—and her mischievous pup, Austin, constantly at her side, Lena must face the challenges of everyday life while chasing her dreams of being a model and actress on the big screen. Lena tackles tough choices, learns the value of perseverance, and keeps her hopes high. She knows her faith and family will keep her feet on the ground and her eyes on the stars.

Hello Stars

Lights … camera … action!  for a fabulous new book!  Alena Pitts has written an exciting story, full of drama, spiritual lessons, and movie lights. 

It’s those lights that create such inner turmoil for Lena, the main character of the story.  I love the way that the author has her parents, friends, and even a singer-celebrity helping her to learn big lessons when she faces hard times.  Those lessons incorporate scripture, giving readers a steadfast foundation upon which to lean.

The troubles that Lena faces are realistic, even if much of the story is not.  Most tweens won’t have the opportunity to star in a movie, or even meet their favorite celebrity face-to-face, but the author puts the character, despite those amazing situations, in places of realistic, everyday-people kind of stress, and she learns how to cope with that stress in real ways.  That was definitely my favorite aspect of this book.

Hello Stars is a fairly short, fun read.  It’s the first in a trilogy, and I expect great things in the subsequent books.

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

 

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: