Great Book Blog!

By , September 30, 2008 10:20 pm

I have 50 (yes 50!) drafts underway, but all I have ready for tonight is a wonderful link for those of you who are interested in children’s books.  Please head on over to this great blog – Children’s Books: What, When & How to Read Them.  Tanya is a book-loving mother PLUS she works in a book store.  What more could one want?

Thankfully she somehow discovered Unplug Your Kids and left a comment on my first Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers post.  That’s how I found her blog.

Here is Tanya’s blog tagline:

As a lover of children’s literature, mother and bookseller of 13 years, I want to put good books into kid’s hands. I share my philosophy on what makes a book good as well as book reviews and lists of great books for every reading taste and ability with a focus on new readers. I also highlight to some wonderful books that are not always on the shelf at bookstores, but might be at your library and can definitely be ordered. All books mentioned are available in paperback unless noted.

Book reviews are searchable alphabetically, or by type (for ex. Books for Boys, Book Lists-Advanced Readers, Beginning Readers, Book Lists-2nd and 3rd Grades, etc.).

I look forward to exploring Tanya’s Children’s Books blog further!

PS.  I really hope to have another chapter book post of my own up tomorrow night.

Fruit – Polishing Pennies (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 29, 2008 3:53 am

This week’s Unplugged Project theme was fruit.  We tried a really cool fruit project that was less than successful.  I would have posted about our failure, except that I KNOW it can succeed since I did it successfully as a child.  It needs a bit more fiddling (so we’ll keep working and post when it is perfected).

Instead I’ll post about a fruit science project from our book 730 Easy Science Experiments: With Everyday Materials.  My oldest daughter found this in the book last week and for some reason was desperate to do it: polishing pennies. (I reviewed this book here if you want to know more.)

The idea is to show how lemon juice (very acidic) can clean the oxidization off a grungy old penny. If you live outside the US, any copper coin will work for this.

We ratcheted this one up.  I had always heard that Coca Cola was acidic enough to strip enamel off teeth and polish stainless steel sinks, so a comparison test seemed in order.  I had a Coke in the fridge from leftover guests so we gave it a go.

I was hoping that the Coke might perform up to the standard of the lemon juice and prove once and for all that it is BAD for your teeth.

Here are the ingredients:

Squeeze the lemon (pretty fun):

Put some lemon juice (and some Coke-if you choose to try the comparison experiment) into separate bowls and drop pennies into each bowl:

Leave them for 15 or 20 minutes then remove and compare:

We probably should have kept a “control penny” for comparison (actually, you can see the originals in the “ingredients” photo) but trust me, the lemon juice pennies were like new!  The Coke pennies only slightly shinier.  So much for my anti-Coke campaign.


What did you do this week for fruit? If you joined in this week’s fruit project, then please leave a link to your project in Mr. Linky below. If you want to learn how to join in the Unplugged Project, then please read more here.


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:



Molecules in Motion (“730 Easy Science Experiments” – Book Review)

By , September 22, 2008 10:45 pm

I must admit, my heart sank when my sister gave my kids the book 730 Easy Science Experiments: With Everyday Materials by E. Richard Churchill, Louis V. Loesching, and Muriel Mandell.

This confession will certainly earn me yet another “Mom of the Year Award,” but here it is:

Was my first thought:  “730?? Oh hooray! Think of all the wonderful projects and what we will learn together!!”  Noooo…. My first thought was:  “730?? Who is going to have to do those 730 science experiments with them?? Oh no!”

My childless sister seemed to pick up on my silent consternation and left with a sadistic smile (or so I thought) and the parting words of: “Have fun!”

Well actually, we are having fun.  The book sat on a shelf for a while until my 8 year-old daughter recently rediscovered it.

On Sunday, when I was planning a “Fun With Mom Day,” she showed me some experiments that she wanted to do.  Since we were going to have Fun With Mom no matter what, I was willing to assist in any and all experiments.  We did several.  The one I will share with you today involved the motion of molecules.

This sounds fancy, but actually, like most of the experiments in this very thorough (did I tell you already that there are 730 experiments?) volume, this experiment involved only items we had on hand here in the house.

You need food coloring, two clear glasses, and hot and cold water.  Put hot water in one glass (I used very hot tap water) and cold water in the other (I used super-cooled water from our refrigerator water dispenser).

Put just one drop of food coloring in each glass and watch what happens.  The molecules are moving faster in hot water so the food coloring blends with the water very, very quickly.  In the slower-moving cold water glass, the food coloring barely moves at all.  In fact it makes some beautiful slow-motion droplet shapes that reminded me of a lava lamp.

This glass was the hot water:

And this one was cold (see the “lava lamp?”):

This was just one of 730 experiments.  That means I have another 729 to inflict on you all!!

Seriously, I do like this book.  As I mentioned earlier, the ingredients are mostly household items, or are easily obtainable: no enriched uranium needed here.

The experiments vary in complexity from ridiculously simple yet not boring for young ones (Straw Wheels – moving a heavy book more easily using drinking straws as rollers – p.23) to more complicated yet still easily doable (Seeing Sound Waves p.110 or Balloon Barometer p.249).

The chapters are interesting and fun:  Clutching at Straws; Paper Capers; More Than Lemonade; Dairy Dozen; Adventures With a String; Soap Suds; Slow Start-Fast Finish; Keeping Your Balance; How to Have All the Moves; The Sound of Science; Feeling Stressed? Try Some Surface Tension; Science Can Give You a Warm Feeling; Blown Away; Being Earth Conscious; World Travellers; Leafy Lessons; Dirty Words: Soil, Sand, Humus, and Mud; Gravity and Magnetism: Attractive Forces; Don’t Fiddle With Old Fossils; Weather; Whirling Winds and Gentle Breezes; Water, Water, Everywhere; Building a Weather Station; Air, H2O, and Other Things; Here’s Superman, But Where’s Clark?; Salty Solutions and Sweet Success

Each experiment has a “What to do,” a “What Happens,” and most importantly, a “Why” section.

You’ll be seeing more experiments from us I am sure.  Remember, we still have 729 of them to show you!

Hard – Permanent Sand Sculptures (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 21, 2008 8:57 pm

Last week for our sand Unplugged Project, I had an idea for making permanent sand castles which I had seen as a proofreading exercise in my daughter’s spelling workbook! (Spelling Workout, Level D, Modern Curriculum Press, p. 12)

Hey, you never know where you might find inspiration, right?  My kids vetoed me last week for this particular sand project, and chose to do something else instead, but I figured we’d get to try it for this week’s theme of hard.  Plus, since it was recently my sister’s birthday and she loves Hawaii, we made sand sculptures for her.

We followed the instructions in the spelling book.  We needed sand, cornstarch, and water.  The recipe called for 2 cups sand, and 1 cup each of cornstarch and water.  We doubled it.

Sand was easy.  We went out to our big sand pile and scooped up 4 cups of sand and put it in a big cooking pot. We then poured in 2 cups of cornstarch:

And 2 cups of water:

And stirred over low heat.

We stirred for a while.  It was very runny, but looked yummy, like melted chocolate ice cream.

After about 10 minutes we got bored and left it alone for another 5 minutes or so.  When we rechecked it, it had transformed into a solid, stiff lump!  I had to trade in my plastic spoon for a sturdy metal one or it would have snapped in two! It was so stiff that in this photo, the spoon is standing up on its own:

I had prepared the kitchen table with our craft tablecloth as well as a plastic garbage bag for easier clean-up.  We dumped the mixture out on the garbage bag to cool.

It cooled quickly and soon we were all playing with the warm, squishy, sand playdough.  It felt really nice.

Eventually, it started to dry and get a bit crumbly so I put out a bowl of water to sprinkle on it.  A spray bottle of water turned out to be even better, and more entertaining.

We shaped it and poked it with sharp pencils, toothpicks, even a funnel.

Afterwards we put our creations on plates to dry.  Here are the results:

The next day, we unfortunately discovered that my 2 year-old’s hand print and the starfish were breaking apart. The two sand castles however, were fine. I would recommend this project only for larger, 3-D sculptures, but the thinner, flat ones were disappointing.  But…in case you were wondering, the pot cleaned up fine!

PS: In reviewing last week’s projects, I saw that Meg had made something similar as part of her sand project, but used sand and glue instead of cornstarch.  She used molds to make starfish and they turned out really well!  Consider experimenting with molds for extra fun if you try this. Karen B. also made “sand clay” similar to our recipe and added salt to hers to slow spoiling.


Did you join in this week’s Unplugged Project themed hard?  If so, then please add a link to your project in Mr. Linky below.  If you didn’t join us this week, then feel free to browse the links below and read about how to join in for next week!


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:



Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers (Book Review – Part 2)

By , September 17, 2008 9:58 pm

With 10 comments and 135 page views so far, it seems that people really liked the first post in my new Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers series!  Perhaps I shall have to make this a regular weekly feature at Unplug Your Kids rather than simply stop at the three posts that I had in mind. I’ll certainly run out of ideas eventually, but I do have quite a few to share.

If you are interested in this subject, then I urge you to read all the wonderful comments I received last week on Part 1.  Many of you left suggestions of “nice” chapter books that you or your children have enjoyed, and I am so grateful for the helpful input!  You even reminded me of a few that I had enjoyed as a child and forgotten about.  Thank you!

My plan for this week was to mention another book (again, part of a great series) that I was lucky enough to discover at the thrift store:

Happy Little Family (Fairchild Family Story)by Rebecca Caudill

My children fondly refer to this series as “The Bonnie Books.” When we are reading one of these at bedtime, they shout “Let’s read about Bonnie!!!”

The books are about a family of five children and their poor but happy life in the mountains of Kentucky at an indeterminate era (early 1900’s judging by the autobiographical aspect and the fact that author Rebecca Caudill – real name: Mrs. James S. Ayars – was born in 1899).

The series is about the whole family, although it does focus mostly on 4 year-old Bonnie, the youngest of the five Fairchild children. My two oldest children are endlessly amused by the similarity between Bonnie and their own little two and half year old sister.

Happy Little Family is the first book of this series of four Fairchild family stories.  The books are very reminiscent of the Little House series:  horse-drawn wagons, the excitement of a pair of shoes or a trip to town, a one room school house, adventures in the woods… but no prairie since this is Kentucky.

Plus, while the Little House books do have a few suspenseful episodes that might be difficult for particularly young and sensitive types to enjoy, we have read two of the Fairchild series so far, and I cannot recall anything remotely frightening taking place in either of them.

Book 1 is Happy Little Family . It consists of various amusing, sweet, and simple adventures of the Fairchild children.

Book 2, Schoolhouse in the Woods, has a more specific theme: a Fairchild family school year in their one room school house, and most importantly – little Bonnie’s very first year of school. (By the way, the school “year” only went from August through Christmas. In January and February the weather was too snowy to make the long walk to school, in March and April it was too rainy, and May through July were busy times on the farm and the children had to stay home and help.)

By popular demand, I am on my way to order Book 3: Up And Down The River

Each of these books is around 120 pages long. Type-face is medium, and there are 5 chapters in Happy Little Family, and 7 in Schoolhouse in the Woods . This series is definitely for more advanced readers than Cynthia Rylant’s Cobble Street Cousins series that I reviewed last week, however I think it might be a small step below the Little House books.

These are also an excellent choice for a sweet read-aloud and my 6 year-old son enjoys them as much as my 8 year-old daughter.

Here are the books in order, but they needn’t be read in order:

Book 1: Happy Little Family
Book 2: Schoolhouse in the Woods
Book 3: Up And Down The River
Book 4: Schoolroom in the Parlor

If you prefer a visual, here are the covers!

Please come back next week for Part 3 of this series!

AN AFTERTHOUGHT: Rebecca Caudill also wrote one of my favorite childhood easy chapter books (I loved it so much that I kept it and it now resides on my daughter’s bookshelf!): The Best-Loved Doll. This is a shorter and much easier chapter book, more like Cobblestreet Cousins in difficulty. It deserves it’s own post one day, but I thought I should also mention it here.

UPDATE: Here is the link to Part 3

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