- Get abducted by the spaceship (run to the upper level of the yard)
- Fly in the floaty-ball-person-carrier (run around the basketball court while holding a pillowcase above your head, but don't drop the milk!)
- Escape from the wumpires (dodge the chairs set across the lawn)
- Return the eye of splod to the top of the volcano (climb up the ladder or climbing wall with a paper emerald we'd folded from this template, then slide down the slide)
- Return home with the milk, where hopefully your next teammate has already answered their question so they can take off as soon as you hand them the milk.
For a fun, fast book club pick, it would be hard to beat Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. Even our littlest members were able to finish this one, and there was plenty for the big kids to enjoy too. (Click here for the book spotlight with online resources and other ideas.
As usual, we started with a brief book discussion. It was so fun to watch the kids finish each other's sentences and build on each other's thoughts and giggle at the same silly things. Then we were on to our trivia challenge, which we paired with an obstacle course. (Click here for a printable list of discussion and trivia questions.)
We divided up into two teams and used empty milk jugs for our batons. The whole obstacle course had to be completed without dropping the milk!
Next, it was time for a little science. We learned a little bit about the hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties of milk and watched them in action with our colorful milk science activity.
Our last structured activity was art time! The kids each got their own milk carton to design their own brand of milk, then lots of Play-Doh, glitter, pom poms, and other supplies to make a tasty and fantastical treat to go with it. We had some really cool creations!
We wrapped up with a snack of cookies and milk (of course!) while we read The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague. (Okay, most of the kids were drifting off to play on their own when the cookies were gone, but this book really is a cute tie-in about maybe-made-up journeys that make characters late. :)
About the Book: One girl. One sketchbook. One week with the world's most annoying relatives.
When Ellie McDougal's parents go out of town, she's forced to go on a camping trip with her aunt, uncle, cousins, and baby brother, Ben-Ben. Ellie can handle mosquitos and poison ivy, but sharing a cabin with her crazy relatives? No way! From her aunt's many rules to her cousin Eric's constant teasing, Ellie needs her sketchbook to survive this family vacation.
My Two Cents: My kids and I loved Ellie McDoodle! They laughed out loud and begged for more every night. The text and illustrations work perfectly together, and Ellie is such a realistic and relatable character. My kids were crazy about her, even when she was being naughty, and the book gave us lots of opportunities to talk about sibling and family dynamics and having empathy for each other. We'll definitely be reading the rest of the series!
Grade Level: 1-4
More to Read:
Our Backyard Book Club read The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: Have Pen, Will Travel...so of course we had to learn how to start our own sketch journals!
The first thing we tried was drawing Ellie from the step-by-step instructions in the book. (If you look closely at the photo above, the Ellie on the whiteboard was drawn by my 6-year-old!) The kids concentrated really hard on this! Then we talked about different ways to show emotions when drawing faces with the help of this great guide.
We read How to Keep a Sketch Journal (from the bonus material of the book) and talked about what the kids would want to include in their own sketch journals as well as some really basic drawing techniques (don't start with super-dark lines, look at the shapes in an object, etc.)
Then we handed out tiny notebooks and pencils and let the kids loose! I'm excited to see what they record in their sketch journals.
Check out some of Ruth McNally Barshaw's own sketch journals here. What a great way to keep a record of all your cool experiences! And learn more about how Ruth's sketches turn into the actual illustrations in Ellie books here.
About the Book: A few things to know about Dylan:
He is the only boy in his entire town—so forget about playing soccer.
His best friends are two pet chickens.
His family owns the world's only gas station/coffee house—their pies are to die for, but profits are in the hole.
Criminal instincts run in his family—his sister is a mastermind-in-training, and the tax men are after his father for questioning.
And one more small thing about nine-year-old Dylan—the crime of the century has just fallen into his lap.
With the same easy mix of wit, warmth, and wonder that made his debut novel, "Millions," an award-winning international bestseller, Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the story of a boy who reminds an entire town of the power of art.
My Two Cents: Like all of Boyce's books, Framed is heartfelt and hilarious. There's a great deal of art in this distinctly British book, but it will absolutely appeal to boys because of all the humor, hijinks, and adventure. Such a clever, distinctive, memorable book.
Grade Level: 3-7
More to Read:
This week's art activity was created by another one of my super-talented friends, Erin Shakespear. Erin is a writer and a craft expert and one of the funny, most warm people I know. Take it away, Erin!
With a cool book like Framed being featured on Elaine's awesome blog, it seemed fitting for this week's art project to be a frame!
This is a super easy craft that lets kids put a bright and colorful spotlight on their artwork.
So, let's get to it...
Step #1: Gather up your supplies
~ cereal box
~ exacto knife
Step #2: Start cutting.
This first part is a parent's job. Cut up the cereal box leaving the front and the back intact. Now decide how wide you want your frame and using your ruler, measure and mark where you need to cut. Cut the frame out with the exacto knife. I made mine 1 1/4 inches wide.
Next cut a back for your frame the same size. And also cut a chunk out of the bottom of the back to make sliding in a picture easier. With the middle scrap piece of your frame cut a long piece of cardboard to prop the frame up.
Step #3: Pick a color
Choose your yarn and make a small ball of it. Since you'll be wrapping the frame around and around, it's much easier to deal with a small ball of yarn than a whole skein of it.
Step #4: Get gluing
Put your glue on the colorful or wrong side of your frame and begin wrapping. The solid brown side should be the front or right side of your frame just in case any of the cardboard shows through.
Step #5: Dealing with corners
The corners can be tricky. Luckily one of my sons came up with a great solution. If you trim a small triangle from each corner, it makes them easier to wrap. Also, it's best to wrap the corner on one side and then the other, alternating back and forth and filling in the gaps as you go in order to distribute the yarn evenly.
Step #6: More gluing
Once you've covered your frame in yarn, it's time to put the back on. Put a bead of glue along the wrong side of the back of your frame (the colorful side) and glue to your frame. Make sure you put the glue on the very edge so you leave more room for your picture. Stack some heavy books on the frame to get the front and back to stick together really well.
Step #7: Stand it up
Take the skinny piece of cardboard you cut out earlier and fold a small piece at the top of it. Now glue this piece to the back of your frame.
Step #8: Get drawing
Whip up a dandy self-portrait of yourself or another piece of lovely artwork, slip it into your frame and admire your handiwork!
Thanks, Elaine, for letting me add to your fun blog!
Thank you, Erin! Now I'm off to the store to get yarn and start this project with my own kids! :)
About the Book: Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can’t go through with the plan without Marvin’s help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!). This fast-paced mystery will have young readers on the edge of their seats as they root for boy and beetle.
My Two Cents: I loved all the characters, both beetle and human, in this E.B. White Read Aloud Award Winner. Broach always does an excellent job of weaving history through her books, and Masterpiece is no exception. There's humor, heart, and a good dose of suspense and adventure here that will keep kids turning pages in spite of the above-average word count.
Grade Level: 3-6
More to Read:
I'm so excited for this week's art activity! This activity was created by a very good friend of mine, Rosalyn Eves. Rosalyn is a talented writer whom you can on the web here or follow on Twitter here. She's one of the smartest people I know, and she's also an artist! Without further ado, here's the great activity she created to go along with this week's book:
Albrecht Dürer, the famous artist at the heart of Elise Broach's Masterpiece (featured on Monday's post), was known for his intricate, detailed pen and ink drawings as well as his detailed wood-block prints.
Like James and Marvin, you, too can create fantastic pen and ink sketches--if you're willing to take your time and pay attention to detail.
1. First, pick your subject and assemble your supplies.
You'll need paper, a pencil (with eraser!) and a pen (I used a regular ballpoint pen). For this exercise, I used one of my son's dinosaurs. (It kind of looks like the rhinoceros shown above, doesn't it?)
2. Look carefully at your subject. Using your pencil, lightly sketch the basic shapes that you see. (If you press too hard with the pencil, it will be hard to erase later.)
3. Once you have the basic shapes in place, go back and add the details in, still using your pencil.
4. Go over your sketch with the pen. When you've finished tracing the whole thing, erase the pencil lines. (You may want to wait a minute for the ink to dry, or you'll get smudged ink lines like I did on the tail!)
5. Use tiny lines to create the shadows on your picture.
6. You can use cross-hatching (make lines first one direction, then another direction) to make the darkest shadows darker.
7. Observe your subject carefully and add any final details that you see--here, I added the lines that make up the dinosaur's hide. Frame your finished masterpiece! (Or hang it up on the fridge). You've now mastered a Dürer-esque style of drawing.
8. Anyone can use observation to create an ink drawing--this last image was done by my preschool-aged daughter.
Thank you so, so much Rosalyn! And everybody else--send me your drawings if you try this activity out! I'd love to see them and (with your permission) post them!
About the Book: As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.” In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.
My Two Cents: Memorable characters, beautiful writing, amazing book. Here's the bottom line: This is probably my favorite middle grade book. Yes, #1 favorite of all time. All I have to do is see that bag-face cover and I want to laugh and cry and read the whole thing again.
Grade Level: 4-8
More to Read:
Today's guest post is from artist, author, and all-around lovely person Kate Birch. Visit her blog here and look for some of her own original artwork! Kate took a page out of this week's book, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, and gives us this great activity so we can learn to draw from Audubon's work just like Doug did. Take it away, Kate!
John James Audubon was known for his amazingly realist illustrations of birds compiled in his best-known work, The Birds of America. One of the things that made Audubon’s work so interesting is that the birds actually looked like they were drawn straight out of nature. Audubon did his best to make his birds look as life-like as possible. Because it would be impossible to draw a live bird in its natural setting, Audubon staged dead birds with wires in elaborate sets that he spent days preparing. Audubon knew that to create the most life-like bird on the page he would have to observe the most life-like bird in real life.
As artists, we have to learn to see the world differently. Many people will look at a bird, or a tree, or a plant without truly seeing it. Our brains are used to making generalizations about objects—a bird has wings and a beak, a tree has a trunk and branches—but this doesn’t mean that all birds have the same shaped wings or beaks. Artists have to learn to see each little detail in the world. Artists can’t make assumptions.
One of the best ways to really start seeing the world without letting our brains generalize is to draw upside down. Today, you’ll learn how to take one of Audubon’s birds and learn to see it a new way.
Step One: Print off your favorite of Audubon’s birds. I’ll be using part of the Blue Yellow-Backed Wood Warbler.
If you’d like to make it a little bit easier on yourself you can use this black and white version of the same illustration:
Step Two: After your picture is printed off. Set it in front of you upside down on the table. Now it will look like this when you begin to draw:
Step Three: As you draw, try to concentrate on the lines and shapes that you see. Instead of thinking about drawing the bird’s eye, or beak, or wing, simply think about the lines themselves. Are they short or long? Are they close together? Do they curve?
Step Four: After you are done, you can flip your drawing around. Did you draw the bird differently than if you had been looking at it right side up?
Thanks so much, Kate! Can't wait to try this with my kids!
About the Book: A puzzling art theft is solved by two sixth-grade sleuths in a first-rate first novel by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Series of Unfortunate Events artist Brett Helquist. Cut from similar cloth to The Da Vinci Code while harkening back to E. L. Konigsburg and Agatha Christie, Balliett's book follows young Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay as they piece together separate, seemingly disconnected events to locate The Lady Writing, a Vermeer painting that gets stolen en route to Chicago's Art Institute. Going on the theory that there are no coincidences, the two wonder about the link between their teacher's statements, Petra's dreams, a book Petra finds in the library, and other clues that set the reader guessing as to their significance as well. But after they learn of the culprit's aim to correct untruths about Vermeer's life and art -- which spurs them into full-throttle detective work -- the pieces all come together in a brilliant ending sure to make readers cheer, "Ah ha!" Infused with intrigue and Helquist's clever illustrations that include coded messages, Balliett's novel is a dynamic can't-miss that will get those brain cells firing as it satiates your appetite for intelligent, modern-day mystery.
My Two Cents: I am a big fan of middle grade with "bonus features" like art, math, or science woven into the story. Chasing Vermeer is a fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep kids fascinated and teach them plenty about Vermeer (and pentominos!) in the process. Helquist's illustrations add a great deal to the book, and not just because they're infused with secret pentomino messages. A great choice for boys and girls alike.
Grade Level: 4-8
More to Read: