Thursday, August 29, 2013

Coming Up in September: Back to School Stories

It's back-to-school time again! We had so much fun with the Backyard Book Club this summer, but it feels great to be getting back into the regular routine of middle grade spotlights on Mondays and science activities on Thursdays.

I've spent the summer reading a LOT of middle grade and chapter books (over 60 so far in 2013) and I've found such great ones! Here's what's on the schedule for September: A boy who's allergic to school, a girl who has to give it another try after years of homeschooling, a runner whose science project might mess up her cross country season, and an honors student who gets in big trouble for bringing a "weapon" to school.

I can't wait! Check back next week to see who's up first...

This was a hard one for me to narrow down to four! What are your favorite middle grade or chapter book school stories?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Backyard Book Club: Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms Overview

Our August Backyard Book Club meeting may have been the best of all! Once again, here's an overview of everything we did. (Click the links below for detailed instructions and more information.)

For this month's meeting, the kids read Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms. It was a little longer than our previous picks, so we made sure everybody knew they could still come even if they hadn't finished. (Click here for the book spotlight with online resources and other ideas.)

Our book trivia challenge took the form of Beech Road Bingo (click for printable) where the kids each filled out their own bingo card with significant numbers and letters from the book.

Next, we took a page from April, May, and June's book and tried to make our own edition of the Beech Road Guardian. We divided the kids up into teams and gave them an assignment for our newspaper. We had news, weather, a fabulous feature article, and several movie reviewers. Click here for the PowerPoint template I used to put the newspaper together after the meeting was over. (I emailed the finished project to the parents so the kids could print their own copies of the paper.)

If we'd had more time (and hadn't been quite so noisy) we would have done the Bird Behavior Scavenger Hunt. But since we were running a little late, we went straight to the main event...

The magic show! The kids watched with great attention while I performed the tricks and couldn't wait to learn how to do them themselves. And hopefully their careers as magicians are just beginning thanks to their take-home magic kits. :)

We finished up the meeting by eating brownies and cupcakes (just like Stuart and the triplets). We had so much fun this summer and the wheels are already turning for next summer's meetings...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Backyard Book Club: Magic Show

The most popular activity at our August Backyard Book Club meeting was definitely the magic show and lesson. The kids were impressed with my meager magic skills and loved learning all the tricks themselves!

There are tons of great resources for learning magic tricks online, but we started with the very basics. We learned classic tricks like The Jumping Rubber Band, The Necklace, The Jumping Paper Clips, The Rubber Pencil, The Magnetic Pencil, and a couple of card tricks from my youth (similar to the ones found here.)

After the magic show, I passed out a magic kit to each book clubber. The kits contained a deck of cards, paper clips, pencil, string, beads, and a dollar bill--everything they'd need to do all the tricks from the magic show! I demonstrated each trick for the kids in super-slow motion with detailed instructions. Then we had practice time and the kids helped each other work on the tricks.

I had many reports from parents afterward about kids enthusiastically performing magic shows for their families, which totally made my day. :)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms (Backyard Book Club)

by Lissa Evans

From Goodreads:

As if being small for his age and also having "S. Horten" as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop.  Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.

My Two Cents: This is a lovely little British book that has so many elements that appeal to kids--humor, puzzles, mysteries, magic, and even a very fun set of triplets. It's exciting and adventurous without being scary or threatening. My kids loved Stuart and his family and it certainly introduced them to fun new words and concepts. There's a bit of set-up in the first third (as there needs to be), but once the mystery got going, they were always begging for one more chapter.

Grade Level: 2-5

Additional Resources:
  • Be like Stuart's dad and create your own crossword puzzle.
  • Learn a little more about what life was like for people like Great Uncle Tony during the Battle of Britain.
  • Stuart thinks "GRAVEST FLATE" must be an anagram. What words can you make by rearranging the letters in your name? (Try it on your own first, then plug the letters in here for a big list!)
  • Go on a bird behavior scavenger hunt like the birdwatchers in the book.

More to Read:
  • Another boy who is excellent at getting to the bottom things: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin
  • Another book about a boy in Britain who has to solve a very big mystery: Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Another (more sentimental) book about unlocking family secrets: Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
  • Another book of miraculous mechanisms and a boy unlocking the secrets of his past: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik
Check back in the coming weeks to see what we did for our Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms meeting of the Backyard Book Club!