4-6th Grade Book Discussion: Masterminds

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Eli Frieden has never even stepped outside of his hometown Serenity, New Mexico… but when you live in a town that is perfect in every way, why would you want to. At least that is what he’s been raised to believe, until one day he bikes to the edge of town and everything changes.

Now Eli is questioning everything that make Serenity what it is, even his own father might be in on it… but in on what? Together he and his friends work together to uncover what secrets a town without secrets is really hiding. And what they found out, will shift the way they think about their world forever.

Once the truth is out, will anything ever be the same?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. Eli and his friends live in the “perfect” town. What makes Serenity perfect?
  3. In the beginning of the novel, Hector says that he knows his parents care for him, even if they don’t show it, because he heard them say that he was “valuable.” Think about the difference between value and love. Is to be valued enough?
  4. As Eli and his friends start to realize something is wrong in Serenity, the first thing they discover is that their internet, books and basic information is being censored. What is censorship and how would you feel if your internet was censored?
  5. Once the kids realize that they are test subjects and that the town was build for them, the realize that they are being put under “tests of character.” What is this and how would this make you feel?
  6. The big reveal is that the kids find out they are actually clones of criminal masterminds. How would you feel about being a clone and a clone of a criminal at that?
  7. Each of the kids show strengths in an area that might be connected to their criminal genes? What are some examples of this?
  8. One theme in this book is nature vs nurture—is it our genes that tell us who we will be or is it the way we are raised. Let’s discuss this. What do you think?
  9. Each of the kids feel differently when they find out that their parents are in on Serenity’s secret. Can you understand each of their reactions? How would you feel?
  10. Where do you think the story is heading? Will the kids run or will they seek revenge or to out the whole experiment?

STEM Activity: Erupting Lemon

Supplies:  Lemons (grab a few!); Baking Soda; Food Coloring; Dawn Dish Soap; Plate, Tray, or Bowl;

Craft Sticks

How To:

  1. Cut one of your lemons in half and place it in a bowl or on a plate with a lip to catch any juices.
  2. Juice the other half of the lemon and put the juice to the side.
  3. Take your craft stick and poke holes in the various sections of the lemon half. This will help spur the reaction along.
  4. If you want to have fun visualizing the reaction, put a few drops of different color food coloring on the sections.
  5. Pour a small amount of dawn dish soap over the lemon to add a fun bubble effect. Have a spare lemon? Try the experiment without the soap and see what the difference is.
  6. Now sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto the top of the lemon. To help get the reaction going, you can use your craft stick to push the baking soda down into the sections of the lemon. You can also add some of your lemon juice if you want.
  7. Watch what happens. Be patient, the reaction is a slow one.
  8. What other citrus fruit can you use? Do you think the reactions would be the same? Bigger or smaller?

The Science:

Why did the lemon erupt? Because of a chemical reaction between the critic acid from the lemon juice is reacting to the base of the baking soda creating a gas called carbon dioxide. The dawn dish soap is reacting to the fizz of the carbon dioxide to create bubbles and make the reaction a bit more visible.



How’d it go:
I’m actually on maternity leave now, so one of my colleagues is running the book club for me for the next few months. So I am just going to leave this here. I am sure it went great!

That’s all for now!


Keeping Busy with a Toddler: Part VII

As it is getting hotter and hotter outside–hello summer–it is time to start thinking about anything fun that can keep us cool outside. This is especially true for everyone who isn’t quite keen on the crowds yet and the uncertainty with public pools opening.

We’re making due at my house with our baby pool and, surprisingly, Tupperware.

Bubble Pool:


My little one loves bubble baths! We can’t do them all the time because they aren’t very good for the lady bits but we added some to our baby pool and gave her a sponge and a bunch of toys. This was a hit at my house and now every time I fill up the pool, she wants to know where the bubbles are!

Ice Tupperware:


I was putting ice in the dog’s water bowl one randomly hot day and my little one just kept trying to play with it. So I made her her own ice container on the back deck and this kept her busy for an hour. I honestly don’t know what the appeal was but I’ve filled that container with water on multiple occasions now instead of breaking out the blow up pool. Who needs a water table when you can plastic containers!

Feet Painting:


We have a long roll of brown paper that we invested in when the pandemic started a few months ago and it has been a life saver. One particularly messy morning, I dropped a bunch of paint splotches on down and just let her make some feet art.

Alphabet Rocks & Window Drawing:

I’ve also invested in some alphabet rocks, which I did not make but a crafty person could easily do so. My little one is advanced in a lot of ways but letters are something she shows absolutely no interest in. So I am hoping her love of rocks will help.

And dry erase markers on a rainy day are also a ton of fun!

That’s all for now!


4-6th Grade Book Club: Orphan Island

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder is a juvenile fiction novel, probably best for 5-7th graders.


There can only ever be nine children on the island or else the sky will fall–but other than that everything is perfect. The sun always shines, snakes don’t bite, and the children never go to sleep hungry. Only one thing ever changes: every year the boat comes and one young child arrives and the oldest child must depart.

This year’s Changing is no different. The boat comes and Jinny loses her best friend, Deen, becoming the new island Elder with a Care of her own to mind. Jinny knows that it is her responsibility, now, to teach Ess, the new arrival, the ways of the island. But her heart isn’t in it. Why would anyone willing step into the boat and leave the island?

Will Jinny be ready when the time comes to leave the island herself? Time is running short and she will soon find out.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. The kids are brought up passing down this rhyme: “Nine on an island, orphans all/Any more, the sky might fall.” What do you think this rhyme means and how might it help to “keep” the children from asking questions?
  3. “The island has rules for a reason” (p. 11) and “I might be ready . . . for something else” (p. 12). What do you think Deen means when he says this?
  4. What are some of the signs that they island isn’t just a normal island?
  5. What are the three skills that each Elder must teach to the youngest child and why are they so important?
  6. What is the significance of the pile of shoes?
  7. Who is Abigail? Why do you think she agreed to come to the island? Why do you think the island was created/founded?
  8. What was the turning point of this novel? What changes did you notice when Jinny decides not to leave?
  9. After things started falling apart for Jinny, she becomes conflicted about leaving. Why? Do you think things would get better if she left?
  10. We are left with a lot of questions and a huge cliffhanger. What do you think happens after Jinny leaves the island?

Bonus: If you were stuck on an island, what book would you want to have with you?

STEM Activity: DIY Lava Lamp 


Empty bottle or glass; Vegetable Oil; Water; Food Coloring; Alka-Seltzer Tablets.

How to:

  • Fill your glass or bottle 2/3 of the way with Vegetable Oil.
  • Fill the rest with water, leaving some room at the top. The water will sink to the bottom of the container because water is heavier (more dense) than Vegetable Oil.
  • Now add in drops of food coloring. Be generous. No need to shake or stir. You will see that the food coloring only mixes with the water.
  • Once you are ready, drop in your Alka-Seltzer tablet. You can break it into a few pieces if you want to.
  • Ta-da! Lava Lamp.

“When you drop in the alka seltzer, it sinks to the bottom and starts dissolving.  As it dissolves, it forms a gas which rises to the top and takes a little of the colored water with it.  The gas bubble breaks on the surface and the colored water sinks back to the bottom.” –No Guilt Mom

Additional Resource:
Reading Guide

How’d it go:

I don’t know where everyone was tonight because we had a small group, but overall things went pretty well. We weren’t thrilled with this book, mostly because there were so many unanswered questions. But the kids really seemed to love our STEM activity. I love it when a STEM activity actually works!

That’s all for now!


Keeping Busy With a Toddler: Part VI

Back with some more random toddler-esq activities. Anyone else starting to run out of ideas, especially ones that last more than five minutes? Anywho… here’s what we’ve been up to:

Rock Scrubbing:


Continuing our work on very slowly creating a fairy garden, we found some cool rocks and got them all cleaned up. A bucket, some soap and a sponge led to at least an hour of cleaning rocks… and re-cleaning rocks, which eventually led to scrubbing the club house and the slide.

Pom Poms & Straws:


A while ago I bought a bag of mixed sized poms for crafting or sensory bins and the other day I grabbed the bag and some straws. I used some painters tape to create a “track” and fully intended on “racing” the buggy to see who could make their pom cross the finish line first. She had other options and dumped them all out. There was a lot of spit involved, lol.

Miscellaneous Happenings:

One thing I tried, after seeing a few posts from other moms, was doing a colorful veggie scavenger hunt, which lasted about five minutes. I “hid” her veggies and asked her to name them and the colors when she found them. We ended up throwing all the fruit when I told her the watermelon was a lemon and she insisted it was a watermelon. Oh well.

We are starting to get the nursery ready for our second baby and one of the awesome ideas my husband had was to use a magnetic primer on one of the skinny walls. The thought is that the buggy can play with magnets when we are stuck in the nursery feeding the baby or something. No dust from chalk; no mess of a white board; I love it!

Finally, we got really desperate one night before bath time and broke out the washable markers and let the bug “paint” her toes. This turned into coloring her feet and eventually coloring our feet too. Desperate times people. But we made it to bath time with a happy toddler.

Stay safe everyone!

That’s all for now!



Virtual 4-6th Grade Book Club

I am running my second virtual 4-6th grade book club via Zoom. I’ve run one other book discussion with this crew but for a book that we had already picked out and read.

One of the things I’ve struggled with, in continuing these book discussions digitally, is getting enough digital copies of the same book. I think I’ve finally worked this out, but for this month I decided to do things a little differently to keep our momentum going. So, for this month, I asked my crew to come prepared with their reading recommendations.

I thought we could each share what we have been reading and talk a little bit about what we enjoyed about the books. This will give everyone a great reading list to go off of and will give me a good feel for what the kids are enjoying over this stay at home period. I, of course, have some recommendations of my own that I will share.

And because we always do a STEM activity after our discussion, we are going to make ice cream in a bag. There are so many different recipes for this but they are all pretty similar. Here is the one I used:


How To:

  1. Combine whole milk, vanilla and sugar in a sandwich bag and seal it, pressing out the air. Double bag it so it doesn’t leak.
  2. Fill the gallon bag halfway with ice and pour in the salt.
  3. Nestle the milk mixture bag inside the gallon bag with the ice and seal the gallon bag.
  4. Wrap it in a towel and start shaking. Shake, shake, shake for ten minutes.
  5. Your milk mixture sure freeze into a slush/ice cream consistency.

If you use regular salt over rock salt, you may have a slightly thinner consistency with your ice cream. Add syrup or other toppings before shaking to give your ice cream some flavor.

The Science:

Why does this work?

“The salt added to the ice lowers the melting point of the ice, just like it does when we add salt to roads in the winter. In order for the ice to melt, however, it has to absorb heat from it’s surroundings like the ice cream in the bag. The ice pulls the heat away from the ice cream to melt which allows the ice cream to freeze.
“Ice cream is also a compound. Once all the ingredients of the ice cream are mixed
together they are bound together. The ingredients are chemically combined and cannot be separated by physical means like a mixture. To separate the ingredients in a compound there would have to be another chemical reaction.”

How’d it go:

Another small group, but still very manageable and engaged. We each shared what we’ve been reading and I made some recommendations of my own. They we discussed what book we would be reading next month and made our ice cream. And FINALLY, I had a STEM program where every successfully made something and it was DELICIOUS! All in all a success.

That’s all for now!