Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Pizza Mystery”

This week I want to share with you not about some place that we went, but about something we did – that I happen to think was pretty neat.
My Big Helper started a book club.
We read books in preparation, choosing a book that we felt we could do a lot with.  We discussed activities, thought of questions, and sent invitations.
The day finally arrived.
Four of her friends arrived, aprons and favorite pizza toppings in hand, ready to interact with Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Pizza Mystery.  This Boxcar Children book tells the tale of the time when the children move in with elderly friends to help them run their failing pizza shop – and while they’re at it, they solve the mystery of who’s been sabotaging their business.
After summarizing the story, the girls got to work on their dough.  They took turns measuring out their flour and other ingredients, mixing it all up in my Kitchen-Aid.  They rolled out their own dough and created their own flavor profiles with the toppings that they brought, pooling their resources.  Some ventured away from their norm, and some stayed with traditional toppings, but all seemed pretty pleased with their creations.
Soon it was time to eat.  The girls were big fans of their pizzas.  It was fun to see them so impressed with their own handiwork!  They ate fruit, carrots, and lemonade alongside their pizza for a simple meal.  After waiting as I served drinks and put pizzas on plates, we talked about whether or not they would be willing to serve as a waiter, just like Benny did in the book.


Two of the girls got really excited about the different varieties of pizzas available.  After hearing about dessert pizzas, they chose to make this Gimme S’More Pizza.  We’ll definitely be making this again.  YUM!

After that, the girls looked at menus from a few different pizza shops to get ideas for more creative types of pizza.  We talked about breakfast pizzas, dessert pizzas, and fruit pizzas, and then they each created their own.

We had a lot of fun learning about pizza!  Can’t wait for the next book club event.


What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition – Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking
After a short summer break, our book club girls are back at it – and this month, we had a blast!  We read “Pippi Longstocking” and found a million things to do with this book.
After summarizing and talking about the story, we moved into the kitchen to make pancakes –not Pippi style.  I was hoping to keep the batter in the pan and off the walls, and as always, the girls did a great job.
Each brought her favorite pancake extra, so the girls made their own creations.  Most added chocolate chips, sprinkles, and whipped cream.  Nobody chose raspberries!  
When their creations were complete, they moved to the playroom to watch the movie while they ate.  This one is particularly cute with several songs, and being able to see quirky Pippi on the big screen really makes these traits come to life.


We discovered one scene that was in the movie and not the book – and so we decided to re-enact this one.  In the movie Pippi buys ice cream for the residents of a local orphanage, and then they get into a huge ice cream fight in the middle of the town square.  Since ice cream would be super sticky – and expensive! – we decided to use shaving cream instead.  Although still quite messy, the girls had a blast smearing and squirting the stuff everywhere.  

My yard smelled great for days.

What about you?  Are you Pippalotta fans?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: The Nutcracker

This past weekend we took our book club skills on the road for our fanciest book club event so far – by far.
THe Nutcracker
We traveled to Durham to see a performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
It was a wonderful evening.
To get us started, we bought our tickets and planned several months’ in advance.  Then each family chose a version of The Nutcracker story that would most suit them.  Some read long versions, some much shorter, but all the girls knew the basic gist of the story before the evening began.
We met early for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse near the theater.  Despite long lines and a crazy rain storm that just wouldn’t let up, the hostesses were able to seat us at tables right next to us, back in a corner where it was (relatively) quiet.  The girls all sat at one table and were wild with excitement.  They (pretended?) to talk about the storyline and sang Christmas carols alternately.


Then we headed off to The Carolina Theatre for the show.  This performance was done by the Triangle Youth Ballet and was a community venture.  Because we planned so far ahead, we had seats just a few rows back from the orchestra pit – yes, there was a live orchestra!  As this was such big and more expensive venture than we usually take, we had other female siblings and grandmas along for the ride.  It was a fun girly outing.  🙂


I never could quite get everyone’s attention at one time.  They were all too excited – to be together, to see the show, to sit in velvet-covered seats and listen to the music and watch the people and the wonder of the events onstage.
I was excited to watch them.  To see them enthralled with the beauty of the performance and happy with each other’s company was wonderful.  
It was definitely a unique – and magical – evening.
Have you seen a performance of The Nutcracker?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition – “A New Home for Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher

New Home for Lily

It’s that time again – Book Club time!  The girls read A New Home for Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Maryann Kinsinger, and the general consensus was fantastic.  The girls discussed this book more than they had any other and all agreed that they’re looking forward to the next book in the series.

After our book discussion, it was time to get to work.  The girls grabbed aprons and lined up to tie them.  It was so cute to see them working together this way!
We loved the chapter where Lily and her brother are supposed to take a pumpkin pie to school to share but have other plans for the pie instead, and so we decided to make our own pies using my family recipes.  The girls worked together very well for this project.   
During the crust preparation, I rolled and the girls fit it into the pan.  At one point I turned around to see all five girls clustered on chairs around two pie pans, piecing together the edges, stabbing the crust diligently with forks, and each crimping the edges in their own style.  I tell ya, there was NO WAY an air bubble was going to form under this crust.  
As a side note, I think we should stop buying our children fancy toys and just give them a ball of pie crust and a cup of water.  It will amuse them for hours.  🙂

Lily also enjoys playing with paper dolls, so while our pies were baking, the girls chose and colored doll dresses.  We used a coloring book of paper dolls that I purchased for my classroom years ago, with dolls portraying strong women throughout history.  Queen Victoria was an overwhelming favorite.  I think the two enormous and ornate dresses had something to do with it.


The pies finished baking just before book club was over, and the girls were eager to sample them.  I chilled them by placing them in the sink in an inch of cold water and ice for a few minutes.   I’ve never seen anyone so happy to eat a pumpkin pie in April as these girls were.  I think Meme’s recipe is a hit.  A New Home for Lily definitely was.

What are your kids reading these days?

*Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Life with Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Life with Lily
This month the girls read Life with Lily by Suzanne Woods Fisher and Mary Ann Kinsinger.  This book was a huge hit!  The second in the series comes out in a few weeks, and they’ve already voted to add it to their reading list.

After talking about the book, everyone headed into the kitchen to make Pumpkin Cake like Lily’s mom did – only we didn’t roll ours up.  After looking at pictures of pumpkin rolls online, the girls decided that it looked like a cinnamon roll  – but they said they didn’t mind eating it in simple, unrolled fashion.  We used this recipe.  They used our e-reader to read the recipe off the ‘Net and worked together to assemble the bars for baking.
Next we talked about sewing and quilting.  The girls have been wanting to learn to sew, so we combined this desire with Lily’s creative efforts to make gifts for her family.  While she sewed potholders, we decided to quilt pillows in a semi-homemade fashion.
We began this project by examining my great-grandmother’s Singer sewing machine, purchased in 1933.  After moving the treadle and the wheel, tracing the path of the thread from spool to needle, and having seen a similar machine on a Lancaster-County website yesterday, we decided that Lily might use a machine much like this one.
Then we moved back into our Englisch mindset and set about making pillows.  Using pillow materials I had prepped in advance, the girls threaded needles and began stitching their way around special shapes on the front of their pillows.  As they finished, then, I taught them the basics of how to use my electric sewing machine (namely, put your foot on the pedal, stay away from the needle, and go) and we sewed the outside seam.  In about 9 years, we’re going to have some speedy drivers in this town!  😉
By now our cake had baked and chilled, so we took a sewing break and returned to the kitchen to make the icing.  The girls (plus brother) took turns measuring the ingredients …
but then few could resist the lure of the icing, and so nearly everyone grabbed a knife and began to spread.

Our Pumpkin Cake – and Life with Lily – was a hit!  We’re all looking forward to A New Home for Lily.

You can find more information about Life with Lily at my review here: “Life with Lily” by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Book Club, Girls’ Edition: Flat Stanley’s African Safari Discovery

Flat Stanley African Safari

Yesterday we went on a a safari.

A safari in the backyard, that is.  A group of friends ages 7 through 9 came over, ready to have fun with the book Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures:  The Great African Discovery.

We love the Flat Stanley books.  They’re great for guiding a study of another country in a fun way, and this book was particularly conducive to fun safari adventures.

After summarizing the story, the girls found our home state and Kenya on the globe.  We talked about how long it might take to travel there and what that kind of journey might be like.

Then it was time to meet Stanley.  Oblong Stanley, that is.  Like in the book, Stanley was preparing to jump out of a helicopter without a parachute – and it was their job to create a way to prevent any cracking.  The girls had lots of fun with this.  When the construction was complete, they took their project outside and dropped it off the side of the new deck.  Although the basket landed pretty hard, Stanley survived.

Next they prepared for the safari themselves.  Armed with party favor cameras and their very best safari outfits, they headed to the backyard to “photograph” plastic animals I had hidden earlier.  This reminded me of a giant Easter egg hunt, and the kids were just as excited about finding plastic elephants and rubber snakes as they were about candy bars and quarters.

After finding and playing with the animals, we collected them and returned inside.  We had a wide variety of animals, and we hid most of them – even the ones not native to Africa, and so this became the group’s next task:  to identify which animals are native to Africa, and which ones are not.  After much discussion, they correctly sorted each animal and were even able to identify where the not-from-African animals originated.

By this time everyone was hungry, so we stopped for a packed picnic lunch.  After that, the girls “excavated”  an assortment of candies from the dirt cakes that my Big Helper had made the night before.  While not everyone was a pudding fan, we all had fun finding the hidden candy!

Books can be a lot of fun – the imagining, the pretending, yes; but also actually carrying out the activities happening in the book provide great learning experiences.

If you were to see an activity plan like this for a book and then go use it, what kind of book would you prefer?

** Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Door to Time”

The Door to Time Gils

The girls read a book full of fast-paced adventure this month:  The Door to Time, a Ulysses Moore mystery.  This is the first in a twelve-book series that involves magic, time travel, secret codes, lots of intrigue, and quite a bit of  independence.  The main characters are three pre-teens who work together well and acknowledge their strengths and differences, but are also rather deceitful and keep things from their parents.  If you talk that through, you have a wonderful adventure story with lots of learning the world over.

Because secret codes are rampant in this story – and one involves a code written in an ancient Phoenician language on a clay tablet – we decided to write our own favorite quotes on clay tablets.  We mixed up a batch of clay, shaped it, and etched our sayings into it.  Later we painted and antiqued them to complete the ‘aging’ process.

While the clay was drying, the girls stumbled upon a secret code lying on the table.  It took some work, but they were able to decode it by working together and then to track down the treasure.  

Of course, said treasure needed to be divided, so they did that immediately – and then ate it!

What are your kids reading this month?

To find out more about our book club selections, click here.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Chasing Vermeer” by Blue Balliet

Chasing Vermeer
This month the girls tackled their hardest book to date:  Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet.  Chasing Vermeer is a philosophical mystery involving an international community, a centuries-old painting, and a criminal mastermind.

Inherent to the story, at least to us, were Calder’s pentominoes.  These puzzle shapes can be put together to make rectangles, and the more you use, the greater the challenge.  My Big Helper was fascinated with these, so I was excited to find a printable set on that we could print out.  I thought we’d spend just a short time on this, but the girls happily cut for a very long time.

After cutting out their pieces, they colored them and then glued each one onto cardstock and cut it out again.  (Had my printer been working, we would’ve printed directly onto cardstock, but this worked, too – and the girls chose colorful pieces of heavy scrapbook paper for their backing.)

After all of that work, we moved on to tea time.  I made these ‘tea cakes’ from my favorite goofy cake recipe and slathered chocolate ganache over the top.  Yum!

Next we looked at the painting on which the book is loosely based, Vermeer’s A Lady, Writing.  We talked about Vermeer, his life, and how artists lived during his time – and then headed outside to create a large version of this famous painting.

The girls didn’t have long to mix colors and paint, as moms were coming steadily to pick them up, but they seemed to enjoy the Lady.

What are your kids reading right now?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: ” A Crazy Christmas Angel Mystery”

Crazy Christmas Angel

This month the girls’ read A Crazy Christmas Angel Mystery by Beverly Lewis.  It’s a fun story in which a new neighbor moves in, and he has mysterious angels that fly around his head at night.  The Cul-de-Sac kids can’t wait to figure out what sort of angels these are, and they go caroling to investigate.

We decided to go caroling, too.  The girls spent some time with us decorating a birthday cake for Jesus,  talking about the book, and then practicing the songs they wanted to sing.  After that, their families returned and we headed out to sing to the neighbors.  (We didn’t do any spying, though – just singing.)


Upon returning, we feasted on birthday cake, pretzels, and homemade hot chocolate.  The girls’ enjoyed showing off their decorating skills during the party portion of the event.

This book sparked some good discussion about the Christmas story and the ways we share it with others.  The main character in this story didn’t seem to be familiar with the Nativity story, and his friends shared well with him.  That prompted a discussion of the ways that people have shared this story throughout history and fun ways that we can do so now.  We also talked about the legend of the candy cane and the ease of sharing the story by sharing these candies.

The Crazy Christmas Angel Mystery was a great choice for a December read.  Easy to read, fun, and with great themes, I’m glad we chose this one!

What are you reading with your kids right now?

Shared at I Can Teach My Child.

Book Club: “The Castle Mystery”

The Castle Mystery - Girls
We hosted another fun book club event this week.  This time the girls read “The Castle Mystery” which is part of the Boxcar Children series.  In this story, the Aldens travel to a friend’s former home, which just happens to be a small castle that’s nestled on a cliff above a lake. They plan to help prepare for a museum to be opened inside the former home.  Instead, they arrive to find that a famous violin has gone missing and the other workers mysterious act mysterious.  Can they find out who has taken the Stradt and get the castle ready in time for the museum’s opening?
After summarizing the book and sharing our thoughts, we listened to a violin and headed into the kitchen.  We turned on some classical music to see if we could pick out the violin parts while we made stained glass window cookies.  
The kids were really fabulous about this, and they were so much fun to work with.  They had obviously baked before!  They took turns reading the recipe and doing each task.  First, they unwrapped the hard candy that would act as the ‘stained glass,’ then we went outside to use hammers and rolling pins to crush it.


After mixing up the dough, the kids carefully cut the middle out of each cookie and then filled it with crushed candy.


They ended up looking like this.


We baked them just until the centers melted, then removed them from the oven and let them finish cooling on the tray.


After that we headed to the playroom to make crayon resist stained glass windows.  Each child shaped her paper the way she wanted, then colored shapes on it with light and bright colors.  After that, she painted the whole paper with black water paint, which really makes the light colors stand out.
After finishing our paper windows, we headed outside to design our own castle.  We used the exact same system that we used for our English castles last summer, and the kids had just as much fun with it as they did then.  For the rest of the afternoon, they designed and re-designed the layout of the walls over and over.  I love that they can be so fascinated with something as simple as cardboard!
We have some really exciting plans for next month.  I can’t wait to share them with you!  
What are your kids reading right now?