Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Witches by Roald Dahl

 From Goodreads: This Roald Dahl classic tells the scary, funny and imaginative tale of a seven-year-old boy who has a run-in with some real-life witches! "In fairy tales witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs. That is why they are so hard to catch." Witches, as our hero learns, hate children. With the help of a friend and his somewhat-magical grandmother, our hero tries to expose the witches before they dispose of him.

My Two Cents: I remember being delightfully scared when my teacher read this to the class in elementary school, and I had much the same reaction as an adult. (Okay, not quite as scared, but definitely delighted.) Like all of Dahl's books, this one is funny and a little naughty and unbelievably imaginative.

Grade Level: 2-6

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Roald Dahl's official website. You might be surprised how many books he wrote!
  • Try one of these fun witch crafts (not to be confused with "Try witchcraft!")
  • Some of this story takes place in Norway--learn more about this cool country from National Geographic Kids. Does it seem like a good place for witches to you?
  • There are some...unusual mice in this book. Learn more about regular mice in this animal encyclopedia.
  • Check out this trailer for the movie based on this book.
More to Read:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homemade Gears

In this week's book, some of the characters had body parts made of tiny, intricate gears. Today we'll make our own gears and learn a little about how they work!

Gears are wheels that turn each other. To start out, make some wheels by cutting different size circles in cardstock. (We traced ours from the bottom of cups, but a compass would be even better because you'd know the exact center of the circle.)

Most gears have teeth to help them spin each other. Take another piece of cardstock and fold it into a fan. Make the folds as even as possible so your teeth will be as even as possible.

Next, cut the fan into strips. These will be the teeth of your gears. Cut a small notch down the center of each strip of teeth, then slide this notch over the edge of your circle. You will probably need multiple strips of teeth to go around even your small circles. Try to space out the teeth as evenly as possible.

When your gears are finished, put a pin through the center and stick them to a corkboard. Now you can make a gear train--a series of gears that turn each other! Watch your gears as they turn. The one you're pushing is the driver gear, and the others are follower gears. Do they all turn the same direction? Can you predict what direction they'll all turn if you change the direction you're turning the driver gear? Is it easier to turn a small gear or a larger gear? Which one goes around the fastest?

For more great info on gears, check out this video or this website. Have fun!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

 From Goodreads: In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.

Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.

This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced adventure that is sure to satisfy.

My Two Cents: This National Book Award winner is magical, inventive, and very creepy. Rownie himself is immensely likeable and endearing, and even the creepiest characters are fleshed-out and fascinating. This book would spark interesting discussions and ideas about good guys and bad guys and impossibly amazing inventions. A great pick for kids in the mood for something strange and a little dark.

Grade Level: 5-7

Additional Resources:
  • Visit William Alexander's website.
  • Watch this video of the author reading a section from this book. (He even wears a fox mask for a minute!)
  • Read this fun summary of ten goblin legends from around the world. Which one reminds you most of this book?
  • One of the creatures Rownie encounters is a fish that swims in dust. Watch this video about mudskippers, a real fish that hangs out on dry land.
  • Some of the characters in this story get around on gearwork legs. Watch this great introduction to gears from the Children's Museum of Houston.
  • There are lots of birds doing strange things in this book. Watch the birds around you by going on a bird behavior scavenger hunt.
More to Read:
  • Another magical, fantastical tale of a transient group of misfits: Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
  • Another story with amazing gearwork and a lost, lonely boy: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • A less creepy tale of "magic, mystery, and a very strange adventure": Horton's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
  • Another boy who is surrounded by magical creatures and up against almost-impossible obstacles: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Monday, October 7, 2013

October: Spooky Stories

October is here! A new month means a new theme, and this month, I'll be featuring some spooky (but still kid-friendly) stories on the blog! This month's books feature goblins, ghosts, witches, and...creepy fairies! We'll also have an author interview, and, of course, some fun science activities.

And while I was taking a break last week, I missed my one year blog anniversary! Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and caring about books and kids and science! It's been a great year. :)