How to Host Your Own ‘Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library’ Party

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My Big Helper has been talking about this month’s Chris Grabenstein book club event for weeks.  She’s been counting down the days, then the hours, all while bouncing off the walls and carrying her invitation around with her endlessly.

Chris Grabenstein

We love his book

She immediately began planning how we could turn our house into the Alexandriaville Public Library and begged to have an escape game similar the one that Mr. Lemoncello hosted.

Chris Grabenstein

So we got to work.  I designed labels for Lemonberry Fizz and created a recipe for the drink that Mr. Lemoncello loves to guzzle.  I also built the Wonder Dome, decorated the house, and filled in many other book details.

Chris Grabenstein

I printed out an anagram game that we could use for a Super Dooper Challenge and planted clues around the house.  One of these bonus clues became the prize for the challenge.

Chris Grabenstein

Of course, we had to eat, too.  Since the main characters attended a fancy gala to celebrate the library’s opening at the beginning of the book, I opted to serve a ‘fancy’ dinner.  I made two kinds of fondue and served it with sautéed chicken, steamed veggies, and bread cubes on a color-coordinated table.  The girls drank their icy water out of glass goblets and giggled every time they stuck out their pinky fingers.

Chris Grabenstein

Dessert had to be fondue, too, since it’s such a fun way to eat – although there are several dessert options in the book.  My Big Helper loved the fruit platters and chocolate fondue; judging from the amount of chocolate on the other faces I saw, they liked it, too.

Chris Grabenstein

Throughout the course of the event, we played as many Lemoncello games as I could create.  I made Indoor-Outdoor Scavenger Hunt cards, and the kids raced around the neighborhood to collect their items first.  I created a label for Mr. Lemoncello’s Anagrams, and the girls raced to see who could make the most words with alphabet cookies.  They also played our version of Hurry to the Top of the Heap with Lemoncello trivia.

Eventually, late that night, one team pieced together enough clues to escape the house – and they did so with lots of whooping and hollering and running around in the dark.

Their prize was to choose their parts in the next-day’s commercial.  I gave them the task of creating a commercial to ‘sell’

I’ve had myriads of technical difficulties in trying to share this.  Their commercial plays well on my computer – I had to video that in order to show it to you.  I apologize for the issues that remain.

Of course, we ended the party with a birthday cake, and since My Big Helper’s big day is close, we sang to her.

I spent hours designing the games, creating labels, and putting the details of the party together – so I’m happy to share them with you.

You can find everything you need to print your own 68-page Lemoncello party pack here.

Happy escaping!

What are your kids reading now?

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Top-Notch Tuesday

Tell It To Me Tuesdays

1 Easy Way to Teach about the American Southwest

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American Southwest

Recently my Little Man asked to read Elise Broach’s book Missing on Superstition Mountain.  I knew he would love it – it’s packed full of adventure, danger, and treasure hunting – but I hesitated.  This book is perfect for teaching about the American Southwest.  There are many, many threads that can be tugged to build deeper learning and critical thinking. 


So we made a deal:  he would wait to read the book until I had created some ‘stuff’ to go along with it, and then I would give him a week off from school to read the book and complete the ‘stuff.’  I’ve been hard at work creating a series of fun extension activities to accompany it ever since, and it’s DONE!  I’ve created a web-linked novel study that incorporates your typical vocabulary quizzes and creative writing assignments, but also has math, science, and history activities, too.  Many include writing or art projects.  All of it can be done individually or cooperatively.

How to Teach your Students about the American Southwest

Since it’s made and finished, I’d like to share it with youMissing on Superstition Mountain is a fantastic book that’s sure to excite any child about treasure hunting and solving mysteries.  Better yet, it’s based on the real history and legends of the Superstition Mountain Range in Arizona (and this study has more about that linked up for your convenience, too!).   It’s also the first book in a trilogy, and since the other two books are just as great as this one, novel studies will be coming soon for the other books in the series.

Missing on Superstition Mountain will make a great book club pick for upper-elementary or middle school book clubs.  Our boys’ club will be reading this story next fall, and I can’t wait to see what they think of it.

So don’t delay – go Missing on Superstition Mountain and catch gold fever yourself.

How do you keep your children excited about learning?

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Tell it to Me Tuesdays

Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “The Lemonade Crime”

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The boys were really excited about this month’s book pick: 

I set up chairs on our carport to resemble – roughly – a courtroom.  When everyone was ready, we moved outside and took our places.  Our Honorable Judge called court to order, listened to the opening statements, and then swore in our first witness.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Lemonade Crime @ A Nest in the Rocks

After listening to the prosecution, the defense attorney stood up and gave a rousing defense on behalf of the Third Pig.  He was quite proud of himself!

Book Club, Boys' Edition: The Lemonade Crime @ A Nest in the Rocks

After closing arguments and some debate, the jury members declared the Third Little Pig to be innocent of murder. 

The mock trial was a lot of fun, and the boys are already asking to do it again.

I call that a success.

Want to put on your own mock trial?  Find everything you need here and here.



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“Blue Ribbon Trail Ride” by Miralee Ferrell

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride

Thirteen-year old Kate and her friends came up with the perfect way to raise money for her autistic younger brother and others to attend summer camp—a horse scavenger hunt! As local businesses donate money and prizes, Kate keeps the entry fees in her mom’s antique jewelry box.

But when the box and the money disappear, Kate and her friends must unravel the clues, hold on to hope, and solve the mystery along the Blue Ribbon Trail Ride

I love when a book shocks me with it’s greatness, and that’s exactly what happened with Blue Ribbon Trail Ride.  It’s a quality mystery story for tween kids.  I love that it contains age-appropriate drama and suspense activity but doesn’t shy away from current events.  The world isn’t perfect, and Ferrell doesn’t portray it that way – but she attacks the plot with sensitivity and tact.  Drug abuse, hoarding, stealing, and lying are all a part of the story, but so are forgiveness, second chances, and true friendship.

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride is the kind of book I want my kids to read.  The kids are flawed but kind.  They work hard and aren’t afraid to try new things.  They mess up and get into trouble but readily confess and try to make things right.  They’re dreamers and planners and believe that the sky is the limit.

That’s what I want for my kids.  I don’t want them to see borders and boundaries on what they can do.  I want them to dream big ideas for ways that they can make the world a better place and help other people.  I want them to see potential friends in everyone, not just those who are very similar to themselves.  I want them to see helping other people as an endeavor that’s worthy of hard work and a big time investment, even when they don’t personally directly benefit.

All of these themes are contained in Blue Ribbon Trail Ride, and they’re carried throughout the entire series.  I was impressed from the very first page of the very first book with the diversity that they contain.  Kate’s little brother is autistic, her best friend is Hispanic, and other friends are former snobs, guys, the elderly, and kiddie nerds.  Unlike many commercials, though, it doesn’t feel forced – it feels real.  Our world is made up of many kinds of people, and that’s exactly who Kate befriends.  She doesn’t always make the kindest friends immediately, which is the next best thing about the book: her consideration of her own actions.

Kate’s not afraid to evaluate her own actions through fresh eyes.  She thinks about how her actions make others feel, how they might line up with scripture, what her parents might have to say about them, and considers them from the perspective of other people.  That might all sound boring and nerdy, and it’s not like she second-guesses every cookie that she eats, but face it:  friends are really important to tween kids, especially ones who are new to the neighborhood and are still settling in.  They read too much into body language and word choice and make mistakes; who doesn’t?  That’s what makes Kate so special, though:  she’s willing to admit to those mistakes and to try to make them right.

If your child hates horses, then s/he might not fall in love with Blue Ribbon Trail Ride as horses are integral to every book in the series; otherwise, s/he should definitely give this book a read.

Click here to read other reviews in this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Miralee Ferrell is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels. She and her husband live along the Columbia River Gorge in southern Washington State, where she enjoys riding the wooded trails and spending time with her grown children. In addition to horses and dogs, Miralee once owned two cougars.

Connect with Miralee: website, Twitter, Facebook

I received a free copy of this book from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

NEW! Mock Trial Materials from A Nest in the Rocks

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I plan book club events months in advance.

That’s why I was thrown last month when the boys asked to dig into a book in a way I hadn’t planned.  Worse yet, I wasn’t sure exactly how to do what they asked, and I knew that figuring it out would require a lot of time and research.

Still, who wants to say ‘no’ to a bunch of boys asking to learn more?

Research I did, and our book club event ended up being really fun.  The boys all got into it, so much so that the girls’ group did a similar project.

What did they want to do?

They asked to hold a mock trial like the one in the book ,

A FREE Field Trip + Chocolate Unit

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Videri, a fair-trade and locally-owned chocolate factory in downtown Raleigh, NC, makes for a fantastic field trip.  The self-guided tour is a fun way to see the chocolate process in action, but if you’re not close enough to drop by on your own, I have great news!

FREE Field Trip + Unit Study @ A Nest in the Rocks

Gypsy Road is featuring our trip to Videri on their blog today – along with lots of resources for creating your own chocolate unit – and most of them are FREE!  Hop on over and check it out!

Of course, if you want more information about Videri, you can go here to read more about our trip.  The resources below are also some of our chocolate-y favorites.


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Stealing Magic”

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This week the girls took their turn at Stealing Magic, the second book in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone.

While the boys read this book last week, the girls took a very different approach to it.

Book Club Girls Edition Stealing Magic

After discussing the story, we moved right into painting.  Jack and Ruthie traveled to Paris in 1837 during one of their visits to the Sixty-Eight Rooms, and so we focused on Parisian culture during this meeting. 

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

Each girl brought a canvas to the party.  We covered our kitchen table with a bright purple tablecloth and got to work.  We painted Eiffel Tower backlit with a sunset.  I loved listening to the girls compliment each other’s work throughout this process.  They also all chose to put their own unique spin on it.  Some went for heavy texture while others worked for smooth, realistic colors.  Their paintings turned out great!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

By the time we finished painting, everyone was hungry.  We broke out the crepe supplies and mixed up a batch of Creative Crepes.  Everyone chose to make two, and they all made their own.  These girls have skills – they flipped wonderful, thin, round crepes!

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the Rocks

It’s hard to top strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream – and so that’s how we topped our crepes.

Book Club, Girls' Edition: "Stealing Magic" @ A Nest in the RocksAfterwards, we headed outside since the weather was pretty warm.  I showed the girls how to roll newspaper into short, medium, and long tubes, then asked them to build a kid-sized Eiffel Tower.  Although they rolled lots of tubes, they ran out of time before they were able to finish.  Judging from the huge amount of rolled newspaper still in my house, however, this project was a hit – and My Big Helper continues to plan new structures.

There are many opportunities for learning within the pages of Stealing Magic.    We tapped only one avenue of this – there’s so much more to explore.  Give Stealing Magic a try – it’s definitely worth the read.

What are your kids reading this month?

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Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “Stealing Magic”



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I was really excited about this month’s book pick.  I love when the kids love a particular book enough to request the next in the series, and that’s how we ended up reading Stealing MagicThe second in The Sixty-Eight Rooms series by Marianne Malone, this story continues Ruthie and Jack’s adventures in this famous museum exhibit.

We started out by summarizing and discussing the story, and this one is ripe for great discussion.  We talked about heroes, idols, and what happens when those people fall off pedestals.  We talked about what trustworthy means and how we can tell who is.  Lastly, we talked about what the Bible has to say about the goodness of people and who He finds to be trustworthy.

Deep stuff, right?

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

 Then we got our hands dirty.  We headed to the kitchen and made crepes since one of the places Ruthie and Jack visited through the Rooms was Paris in 1837.  We mixed up the crepe batter together and the boys cleaned and capped strawberries.  Each kid made his own crepe and topped it with his choice of fresh strawberries, chocolate ganache, and whipped cream.

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

The boys made small crepes, but apparently they had big flavor – every boy had seconds (also made himself).

Book Club, Boys' Edition: "Stealing Magic"

Sticking with the Parisian theme, I challenged the boys to build the Eiffel Tower – out of mini marshmallows and spaghetti noodles.  They were pretty excited about this, and each team tackled the challenge a different way.  Some tried to stay very true to the shape of the Tower, while others just attempted to build structures.  It was fun to watch the excitement on the boys’ faces, and I love seeing how their spatial skills came into play with this activity.

Stealing Magic is a great book, and in the end the boys requested the third one in in the series, so we’ll be tackling that one soon.  In the meantime, come back next week to find out how the girls interacted with this same book!


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?

Great Science Stories for Elementary Readers

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My kids love science, but they love to read, too.   They get especially excited when those two subjects collide.  These are some of our very favorite science-based adventure books.

Great Science Stories for Elementary Readers @ A Nest in the Rocks

Currently, there are only a few books/series on this list – because I have very high standards.  While science can be pulled into many, many books, the ones on this list are focused on hard science.  They’re the best that I’ve found so far.


Edison’s Gold is a fantastic book about the fictional great-great-grandson of Thomas Edison and his efforts to uncover secrets buried by his ancestor and a secret society.  Tom uses his scientific knowledge to unravel secret codes and dig his way out of trouble spots, much like McGuyver on the old TV show.

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself is a part of the Nick and Tesla series.  Written by a pair of scientists, each book in the series contains several sets of experiment plans.  They’re written simply but are very engaging to kids.  The books themselves are exciting but written simply; however, they’re easy to read and convey fun scientific information – definitely worth a read.  New books continue to be written in the series:

Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself

Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular: A Mystery with Animatronics, Alien Makeup, Camera Gear, and Other Movie Magic You Can Make Yourself!

Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle

Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself

Copernicus Legacy (3 Book Series) is an exciting, Indiana-Jones style set of books.  The Kaplan family stumbles upon a centuries-old mystery involving a machine built by Copernicus and hidden by other scientists of the era.  There are great pieces of historical and scientific information between each action-packed scene.

The Copernicus Archives #1: Wade and the Scorpion’s Claw is a novella connected with the Copernicus Legacy.  There is a Copernicus Archive book, which is much shorter in length than the Legacy books, that was written between each Legacy one.  These are just as good as the longer books and also feature historical scientists.


What would you add to this list?