Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The 100-Year-Old Secret”

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I love book club days, and this group of girls is always fun.  This month was no exception as we delved into Edison’s Gold""“>Edison’s Gold, which we had a blast working with last summer, but while that book focused heavily on the exciting aspects of history and science, this one centered around art and relationships.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

There is lots of meat for discussion with this book.  What is theft?  Who owns art?  Can missing art be recovered after a long period of time?  To what lengths is it okay to go to find stolen goods?

After hashing out the answers to those questions, we headed into the kitchen to make a British treat.  The book does take place in London, after all, and Zena and Zander often mention their confusion at the differences between American and British food names.  We chose to make cinnamon scones, and the girls worked together to prepare the dough and get them oven ready.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

While they were baking, we moved on to our next project.  Knowing that picture frames were, at some points in history, nearly as much of a work of art as the painting or drawing they contained, we decided to build our own gilded frames, like the ones holding the infamous “Girl with the Purple Hat.”  I pre-cut large cardboard frames, leaving wide edges so they could hold lots of texture.  I put ditalini, spaghetti noodles, and old yarn on the table, as well as dishes of Elmer’s glue.  The kids dipped these objects into the glue and then positioned them on the frames in patterns to create different textures.  When they were finished, I spray-painted them to achieve a solid color frame with a ‘carved’ look.

Book Club Plans @ A Nest in the Rocks

When their frames were gilded, the girls moved onto portrait work.  We talked about proportion and scale in faces and body figures, and then the girls chose a friend to paint.  We set up easels with big paper and palettes of paint, and after sketching out their people with some light-colored chalk, they set to work.

After creating some super colorful portraits, we headed back into the kitchen to eat our scones.  They were a hit – just like this book.

What are your kids reading now?

Why My Kids Read Books About Liars

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A few weeks ago, as I was discussing a book with a group of kids at book club, one older child pointed out something with concern.  The kids in the book were liars – and they lied not once, but repeatedly throughout the book.  Although the story was fun and exciting, why did I choose a book where the main character was such a poor role model?

Why My Kids Read Books About Liars @ A Nest in the Rocks

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question, and I doubt it will be the last.  And, yes – I am very picky about what my kids read.  We shoot for a variety of literature styles, and we prefer to read books of quality, but I recommended this book to my children, and I would do it again. 


Several reasons:

  • We are not perfect.  Nobody is.  Reading books about characters who are perfect and have no character flaws can create harmful comparisons in our children’s minds.  I don’t want them to assume that they need to be perfect like Suzy from the last book that they read.  On the other hand, neither do I want them to read about people who carelessly and selfishly live only for themselves.  We search for books in which the reader will learn something:  culture from the setting, spiritual or emotional lessons from the character’s growth.  If the character’s major flaw is the problem in the story, we discuss why it is a problem.  We discuss how that person grew from the experiences in the book and which choices s/he could have made differently and why.    If the main character is a liar, as in this book, then we talk about why that person lied and what the better decision would have been, as well as what the Bible has to say about honesty and truth.
  • The lie fit the book.  The book in question was a modern fantasy.  The plot is a bit outlandish because it’s meant to teach, not to be a realistic, contemporary emotional work.  Because it was fantasy, the children found themselves in a completely un-realistic situation.  They distance-traveled magically to another place.  They lied to avoid detection and to blend in to their surroundings, which allows the plot to advance and the reader to continue to learn about the culture of that city.  If the children had not lied, the police would have been called, the children discredited, and the story would’ve been over.  The author had to allow the children to lie about their situation for the magical fantasy to continue.  Will our children begin to lie because this character did?  Since their pizza dinner won’t magically circumvent the space-time continuum and transport them to Italy, I don’t think so.  In our club meeting, we discussed this, and so this lie not only moved the story along, but helped to teach our children about plot structure and writing strategies.  Win-win.
  • The lie was not central to the story.  In many chapter books for very young readers, they assume things.  Like that people can fly or that putting on a cape makes you invisible.  They assume that it’s normal for a moose to come to school or for dogs to grow bigger than houses.  Small children don’t question these things, but see them only as fun.  In the book in question, the same scenario was happening:  the lie was only a small detail in a story that assumed that certain foods allowed you to travel the world magically.  The lie confirmed the assumption that the scenario was magical and allowed the plot to continue. 
  • Flawed characters teach us to evaluate people.  From reading about these problematic people, we learn about how to look below the surface in the actions of the people around us.  We learn look for their motives, for ways that we can be compassionate, for ways that we can help or ways to stay out of danger.  We learn to discern between the good and the bad.
  • It stretches our imagination.  If we only read books about people who were exactly like us, we wouldn’t know much about the world around us – or other people.  Jesus didn’t socialize only with believers, but with all kinds of people.  Children are still children, and we do need to protect them from negative influences, but I don’t think a lie in a story should automatically move it to the ‘don’t read’ list. 
  • The world isn’t only black and white.  Truth is black and white.  God is black and white.  How we follow those aren’t.  My children can read about a lie and then discuss and evaluate it with me.  It works for us.  Maybe it doesn’t for you.  We don’t all have to make the same choices when it comes to books and characters.  The world would be pretty boring if we all read only the same few stories.

This book is fantastic.  It made our children excited to cook and explore the world.  They grew interested in trying new foods and experiment with flavor combinations.  They wanted to learn about travel and European landmarks.  They haven’t taken up lying.

The following books are all ones with lying characters – and great lessons to teach about survival, family relationships, and world culture.  Do you allow your children to read any of these?


“The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues” by Cindy Vincent

Buckley and Bogey, Cat Detectives, find their next big case with the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Agency to be their most complicated ever! It all starts when someone hides a mysterious package in their Mom’s antique store — in the middle of the night! Of course, the boys find it, and put it in a nice, safe place, until they can open it . . . and, find the rightful owner. But that’s when a whole bunch of suspicious people show up in St. Gertrude, and every single one of them seems to be after that package! Holy Catnip! Plus, everything happens just when a priceless, jeweled statue collection goes on display at the St. Gertrude Museum. Missing from that collection are two jewel covered cat statues that disappeared almost a hundred and fifty years ago.

But soon Buckley and Bogey wonder how long those statues will stay missing. Because this is one case that really keeps them on their paws! From a trip to the Museum, and to an old church for the Blessing of the Animals; and from dinosaurs to diamonds, they end up dodging shady suspects the whole time. It sure helps to have their friends with them, especially when the bad guys make a beeline for boys. That’s because it becomes very clear, very quick — the priceless cat statues aren’t the only cats those crooks are after! Holy Mackerel!

Your child will love Bogey and Buckley. They’re funny, smart, and into everything.  You’ll love them, too – because they star in the perfect mystery books for young readers. 

Bogey’s character is modeled after – you guessed it! – Humphrey Bogart.  He’s full of cliches and style, but he’s kind and a good mentor to Buckley, too.  Buckley is a bit more dramatic.  He’s a younger cat who’s still growing into his paws and is full of enthusiasm – but still gets scared in the face of danger.  His timidity and newness to the world of detective work makes him the perfect character to bridge the gap between classic gumshoe slang and the abilities of young readers.

This story is marketed as being suitable for tweens, but my kids could’ve read it long before then – and it’s certainly clean and wholesome enough for any reader.  Buckley even learns several life lessons throughout the story, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it.  If my kids are going to read about crime and drama, I want the characters to learn from their mistakes.  In this case, it wasn’t that Buckley or Bogart caused the problems, but the dangerous scenarios were serious.  They were caused by people with major criminal intent, and having Buckley learn from their mistakes is the perfect way to balance this suspenseful plot with the spiritual needs of a young child.

The crime drama was not the least bit scary, though.  Even though Buckley trembles and needs the reassurance of frequent cat treats, his tendency to yell, “Holy catnip!” and frequent saluting mishaps made the whole story funny.

I must admit that in the beginning Buckley’s never-ending dialogue made it difficult for me to adapt to the flow of the story, but My Big Helper had no such problem.  She dove right in and loved it from the first page – and after finding my literary balance, I enjoyed it, too.  

The Case of the Jeweled Cat Statues would make a great family read-aloud or fun story for beginning readers through tweens.  It’s clean, wholesome, and fun all the way through. We can’t wait to check out more books by Cindy Vincent.  Don’t take my word for it, though – read on to find out what My Big Helper thought:

I like The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues because of the adventure, mystery, lesson, and the perspective.  In the suspenseful parts, I felt just like Buckley the cat. I laughed every time Buckley messed up at saluting Bogey and my heart stopped in exciting parts.  I love how the author combined a mystery and a lesson in friendship together.  This book is cat-astic and once you read it, you’ll want to get your paws on another one!

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

Cindy Vincent was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has lived all around the US and Canada. She holds an M.A.Ed, and is the creator of the Mysteries by Vincent murder mystery party games and the Daisy Diamond Detective Series games for girls. She is also the award-winning author of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper books, the Daisy Diamond Detective book series, and the Cats are Part of His Kingdom, Too: 33 Daily Devotions to Understanding God’s Love. She lives with her husband and the real, live Buckley and Bogey, who run surveillance on her house each and every night.

Find Cindy, Buckley, and Bogey online: website
I received a free copy of The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Paris” by Giada de Laurentiis

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I always look forward to book club events.  I have a blast planning them and watching the kids learn and interact – but it’s been a long time since I anticipated a book event as much as this one.  Why?  Because Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "Paris" @ A Nest in the Rocks

We read DSCN0974

After talking about the book, we started to prepare.  We made chef’s hats out of poster board and tissue paper to get into the spirit of things.  They came out really well!


 I asked each child to bring a French bread and a French cheese to this event, so the next thing we did was to taste it all.  I put small selections of each on platters on the table and asked each child to sample everything.  (I forgot to take a picture before they sampled, but as you can see, they liked their choices and didn’t leave much behind.)  We tried some wonderful new things:  Smoked Gruyere, French sticks, boule, and more.

After that we teamed up for a Jeopardy-style game.  The questions centered around the information found about France and French food from DSCN0991

When the girls were ready, they brought their creations over to the griddle I had preheated for them.  I watched closely as they grilled their sandwiches.  They worked together really well! 

I sliced each sandwich into three pieces and distributed one to each girl.  I passed out the rubrics, and we sampled them one at a time and then shared our opinion via rubric.

In the end, the girls were so excited about creating foods that they wanted to make more, so while they played around with a new French foodie creation, I added up all the points on the rubrics to determine the highest-scoring team.  After sampling their latest creations – which were surprisingly yummy – I announced the winner (the open-faced sandwich team) and passed out their certificates.

We had a lot of fun cooking competitively.  My Big Helper is already dreaming up her next creation.  I can’t wait to sample it!

Paris Girls 2

Don’t they look great in their hats?

Do you let your kids experiment in the kitchen?


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

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This month our girls read Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "Isabel's Secret" @ A Nest in the Rocks

I was very excited for the girls to dig in to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each girl could take home two different items.  We discussed the various heath benefits to coconut oil, beeswax, and essential oils, and then the girls whipped up a simple body butter.  This pair went to town on one scent, while the other group chose a different one.


Next they each made their own variety of sugar scrub.  They chose their ingredients and how rough they wanted it to be, and when they finished, we put their products in large baby food jars. 


Afterwards, they designed labels for each jar and decorated them to give as a gift for Christmas.  They ate some fudge we had prepared while they worked, because that was one of Holly and Isabel’s favorite treats! We wanted to make our own, but we knew there wouldn’t be time for that.

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

Lastly, the girls made fun placemats out of scrapbooking paper, stamps, and old Christmas cards.  They had such a blast that My Little Man got in on the action after the girls went home.  I love that we’ll have these personalized keepsakes for years to come.

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Masterpiece” by Elise Broach

This month’s book is true genius.

Book Club, Girls' Edition:  "Masterpiece" by Elise Broach

We read Masterpiece by Elise Broach.  It’s the story of Marvin, a stag beetle, who lives in an apartment with James’ family.  James is not appreciated by most members of his family, and so he decides to draw a picture for James’ birthday.  Following that they have lots of at and friendship related adventures together.

Masterpiece is a very quoteable book!  There are deep thoughts all through the story, and the characters make tough decisions that are great conversation starters.  The girls discussed these choices for a long time before heading into the kitchen….

Makin' Pinch-Me Cake

Makin’ Pinch-Me Cake

where they made a Pinch-Me Cake.  I heard lots of giggling while they rolled the balls of dough in cinnamon and sugar.

Brainstorming traits of a good friend

Brainstorming traits of a good friend

Next the girls moved to the table, where they brainstormed the traits of a good friend.  They decided that they each needed five ideas – and when they had those, then they wrote up their ideas as a friendship contract, which they all signed.  I was quite impressed with their ideas.

Friendship Contract

Friendship Contract

Aren’t these great?

Making Club T-shirts

Making Club T-shirts

We decided that friendship t-shirts would be a fun thing to make.  These girls are great – they get along super well and do all of my crazy projects peacefully, which is really saying something!  They jumped on the t-shirt idea (because then they’re showing off their friendship and drawing, too, which totally fits the Masterpiece theme) and worked together to make one design.  Then each girl drew the design on the shirt with chalk, and when they were ready, they used a Chlorox Bleach Pen on top.  Since their shirts were a turquoise color, their lines turned white overnight, and they now have fancy club shirts.

Eating Pinch-Me Cake

Eating Pinch-Me Cake

After making their shirts, the girls gathered around the table for a snack of Pinch-Me Cake.  They ate almost all of it, much to my husband’s dismay, and seemed to enjoy it. 

Masterpiece is an excellent choice for a middle-elementary through middle school reader.  With strong themes of friendship and art, your activity choices are endless – and you’ll love the story, too.

What are your kids reading this month?




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

Callie's Contest of Courage

This month the girls read a really wonderful book:  Callie’s Contest of Courage by Jan May.  I appreciate this book for many reasons, not the least of these is the way that it encourages girls to be strong and faithful.

But it does something else, too:  it provides many ways for kids to be like Callie in real life, and we had fun trying them out at our October Book Club party.


First, a photographer friend came over, and she shared some simple tips and tricks to taking great photographs.  The girls asked good questions, and afterwards we headed out in search of interesting subjects.



These magnolia seeds fascinated several of the girls.


They got really into their photography and tried out lots of different perspectives for each shot.

Callie 7

After that we went inside to talk about editing photographs.  I’m no expert, but I’ve played around with PicMonkey a bit, and so each girl chose one photo to edit with that program.  This one was a magnolia seed pod …

Callie 6

while these were the seeds that they were studying so intently.

Callie 8

Another girl was fascinated with the American flag that we found up the street.  Personally, I enjoyed seeing how creative they could be – both with their initial photographs and with their editing!


We decided, though, that no book club about Callie would be complete without a pie eating contest – and the girls really got into that!  We made basic plastic bibs to keep the pie off their clothes, and I asked the girls to come with their hair pulled back.  Then, after making simple banana cream pies, they stuck their faces in and got to town!  Giggling was rampant during this part of book club, and they grinned from ear to ear – with whipped cream decorating everything in between – while they licked their pie tins clean. 

We all loved Callie – even My Little Man, who’s determined that his book club needs to read Callie, too.  With such a strong and interesting character and lots of adventures, Callie’s Contest of Courage is a great choice for your next book club.

Photography Contest Now Live

The girls were so fascinated with photography that we’ve kicked off our Nature Photography Contest for Kids – which is now live!  Click here to learn more and enter your child’s photos.  You could even win your own copy of Callie!

For some information about how to take good photographs, read Photography Tips for Kids: Perspective here.

What makes you pull out your camera?

Book Club, Boys’ Edition: “The Mystery of Blackbeard the Pirate”

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Blackbeard the Pirate


We’re studying pirates right now, so The Mystery of Blackbeard the Pirate (Real Kids, Real Places) (Real Kids! Real Places! (Paperback))‘>Blackbeard book club ended – but we’re looking forward to more piratical adventures in the weeks to come.

Would you enjoy a pirate-themed book club event?

On the hunt for some other great pirate resources?  Check these out:



Write Your Own Thanksgiving Psalm

One thing that I love about homeschooling is the flexibility to go with the flow when inspiration strikes, and sometimes that springs from the scripture I read during my own early morning quiet time.

Write Your Own Thanksgiving Psalm

A few months ago, when I was reading the Psalms, I was struck by the repetition in Psalm 103.  I liked the detail, the way that David listed what he was thankful for, and it reminded me of parts of the New Testament and how we are to give thanks always.  I decided that this would be a great way for us to recognize just how many blessings God showers upon us, and so the Psalm 103-Bradsher-style began.

We started with a roll of easel paper and our favorite smelly markers.  We chose to keep the first and last stanza of the psalm but to make our own list in between.  We also kept the sentence “May we never forget the good things He does for us.”  I acted as scribe so that the kids could think creatively and not worry about spelling or grammar.

They soon were shouting out things they were grateful for, and as their list grew longer, their sentences became more poetic.  After writing a full door-length worth of blessings, we ended our psalm as David did.  

Then the kids took the smelly markers and drew small pictures near the nouns in their psalm.  They made it colorful, and by the time they were done, it was a great visual reminder of God’s provision.

We’re definitely going to do this again.

Want to see the real Psalm 103?  Here it is – the parts in bold are what we kept in ours.


Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.

He forgives all my sins

    and heals all my diseases.

He redeems me from death

    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

He fills my life with good things.

    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

The Lord gives righteousness

    and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

He revealed his character to Moses

    and his deeds to the people of Israel.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

He will not constantly accuse us,

    nor remain angry forever.

10 He does not punish us for all our sins;

    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our sins as far from us

    as the east is from the west.

13 The Lord is like a father to his children,

    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

14 For he knows how weak we are;

    he remembers we are only dust.

15 Our days on earth are like grass;

    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

16 The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.

17 But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.

His salvation extends to the children’s children

18     of those who are faithful to his covenant,

    of those who obey his commandments!

19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;

    from there he rules over everything.

20 Praise the Lord, you angels,

    you mighty ones who carry out his plans,

    listening for each of his commands.

21 Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels

    who serve him and do his will!

22 Praise the Lord, everything he has created,

    everything in all his kingdom.

Let all that I am praise the Lord.


Have you ever written your own psalm?


‘T’ is for Truck

This week we’ve been working with the letter ‘t,’ and since My Little Man adores trucks, we had to focus our attention on these vehicles.

He has several non-fiction books about trucks and has read every one in the children’s section of our local library, so we didn’t spend too much time learning about their purposes or parts (if I tried that, he would be teaching me).  Instead, we worked on fine motor skills, sensory perception, and just using creativity.

My Little Man knows his letters and their sounds – we’re using the letters to drive our theme and do pre-reading activities this year – so first he drove a tractor through some paint and onto his letter ‘T.’  When it dried, he cut it out and glued it to black paper.  He made a list of things that start with ‘t’ and I wrote it down.

He liked this activity so much that he wanted to make some more tracks, so we got out the big paper and let him play for a bit.

Of course, then the cars needed a run through the car wash.

It’s been cold, so we decided to see how these trucks would fare in the snow I sprayed some regular men’s shaving cream on our linoleum floor and let My Little Man go to town.

He’s not usually too fond of being messy, so I wasn’t sure how he’d react to this activity – but he loved it!  He raced his trucks until they were covered.  Of course, then they needed another car wash.

First, however, we rubbed the shaving cream into the floor.  The linoleum ‘ate’ most of it, and then while My Little Man stood at the sink and washed his cars, I scrubbed down the floor.  The Swiffer wet mop didn’t quite cut it – there was still a bit of residue left – so I scrubbed it quick and we moved on.  Well worth a bit of necessary-anyway cleaning to see my man getting dirty!

My Little Man has his own city rug, but he never uses it – instead, he makes up racetracks all over the house.   With that in mind, I decided that we should make our own.  I got a large piece of wrapping paper left over from Christmas (it was too pretty to throw away and only a bit rumpled) and turned it over.  We broke out the crayons and took turns drawing different parts of a town – signs, buildings, roads, parking lots – and then he raced his trucks all over town.  Simple, but he loved it!

During our writing time, My Little Man practiced writing his ‘t’s and a few simple words beginning with that letter.

Throw in his large truck collection of books, and this is our ‘T’ unit.

How do you teach your kids about letters?