Hannah the Homeschooling Horse (and Her Human Friend) Learn About Pi

December brought a LOT of changes for the Bkwurm family, one of the biggest of which is that our youngest daughter (9) is now going to be homeschooling! Or perhaps I should say that Hannah the horse will be homeschooling, and Hannah’s human friend will be homeschooling with her. As the first “official” week of homeschooling, we took things a bit slow, doing research and review, getting the advice of teacher friends and fellow homeschoolers, and laying our plans for a fun and fruitful rest of the year.

Hannah did dive into math this week, however, and learned about circles, circumference, diameter, and Pi. (Hannah was a bit disappointed when she learned this was not the pie she thought it was, until I relented and agreed that we could learn about Pi, and then make pie.)

Apple Pie

Hannah and her human friend.

We started with Cindy Neuschwander’s fantastic series of math adventure storybooks about Sir Cumference. The first seven of these great books can be found in the Reading Rainbow App, so our first step was to grab the iPad and read the first two books: Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi. The first of these books introduces students to a number of different shapes as King Arthur, his faithful knight Sir Cumference, and the carpenter Geo of Metry search for the perfect shape for a table for the King and his knights.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander in the Reading Rainbow App.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander in the Reading Rainbow App.

In the second book, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Sir Cumference swallows a mysterious potion which turns him into a dragon. His son Radius and wife Lady Di of Ameter must find the correct dose for Sir Cumference’s cure: a magic number that is the same for all circles, regardless of their size.

Pie Diameter

Measuring diameter

Measuring circumference

Measuring circumference

After reading this book Hannah and her human friend had to go around the house and yard measuring the circumference and diameter of all the circles they could find (including a pie crust) then dividing the first number by the second to find if that magic number (3.14) was really the same for ALL circles. Guess what? It was!

Working the sums

Working the sums

So now Hannah knows the formula: Circumference ÷ Diameter = 3.14 = π (Pi)

Hannah also learned that if you can find either the circumference or the diameter, then you can use Pi to find the missing measurement.

Now if you’ll excuse us, it’s time for some pie.

Time for Pie!

Time for Pie!

Best Books of 2013 for Parents AND Kids

Vintage old books on wooden table over grunge background

Reblogged from Reading Rainbow

If you don’t already follow me as the Reading Rainbow Mom on the Reading Rainbow Blog then you won’t have seen today’s post about my choices for the Best Books of 2013, including my 5 favorite Children’s Books of the year. I’m partial to it, so I thought I’d share. Enjoy!


There were so many great books that came out this year, especially in the children’s/picture book genre, it’s been very difficult to choose just five. But after much agonizing and reflecting, here are my choices for the five best children’s books of 2013. You may disagree with me—and all the better if you do! Please let me know in the comments below which books YOU liked best! I’m always looking for the next book to read, and I’d love to have as many recommendations from fellow book lovers as possible!

The Reading Rainbow Mom’s Top Five Children’s Books of 2013

Let’s Go for a Drive! by Mo Willems – Gerald and Piggie are back! And this time they have a new scheme— to go for a drive. But wait! First they need… I love just about anything by Mo Willems, and this is the next in a  long line of satisfying books that are a joy to read and look at.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket – My first exposure to this book was hearing Mr. Snicket himself read it aloud at the LA Times Festival of books, and it was instant love. Parents sometimes think that kids need cheerful, happy books all the time; but there is darkness in the world and even the youngest, most sheltered kids know this on some level. In this book the master of dark tales takes young readers right to where darkness lives, and shows them that it can be overcome. Every time I read it I hear his voice taking me closer and closer to the dark.

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen – Another somewhat dark tale, this book is a follow-up to the wonderful I Want My Hat Back, and Klassen once again hits the bulls-eye with this story narrated by a thieving fish, set in the murky blackness of the ocean, and filled with lots of wonderful characters, laughs, and lessons along the way.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Ivan is an easygoing gorilla who rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead he thinks about art, and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo – Another beautiful book by Kate DiCamillo, where magic is the norm and anything can happen. DiCamillo’s always finds new and touching ways to show readers the importance of friendship and being true to yourself, this story is no exception. Plus, who can resist a flying, poetry-writing squirrel?

To read the rest of the post, including my 5 best book picks for parents, click here.

Happy Reading!

What to Read With What You Eat: Holiday Cookie and Book Pairings

Books n Cookies

The holidays are a time for baking and eating, of course, but if you’re a bookworm the holidays are also a time for reading. (Let’s face it, if you’re a bookworm EVERY time is a time for reading!) And what could be better than putting great food together with great books! This Yuletide season my two daughters and I decided to pair cookies with some of our favorite books. (Although the kids made the cookies, the Stephen King and non-fiction pairings are mine. They haven’t had the disturbing pleasure of reading either of those books yet.)


Let’s start with the classics. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Scottish shortbread. A book and cookie that are absolutely essential to the holiday season:

Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

DividerMy youngest loves Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and don’t these cookies make you think of falling down the rabbit hole?

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from...

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from…

DividerA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (and when you have a creative 13 year old around, a tree grows in our kitchen as well).

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith's classic coming-of-age novel.

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith’s classic coming-of-age novel.

DividerChocolate peanut butter bars with Gregory Maguire’s Wicked—I think this pairing speaks for itself.

These homemade chocolate peanut butter cups really are Wicked!

These homemade chocolate peanut butter bars really are Wicked!

DividerSomething about these adorable melting snowmen made me think of Stephen King’s Different Seasons… horrifying, but irresistible!

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

DividerAnd for the adult readers… Peppermint bark brownies with Pamela Druckerman’s Lust In Translation.

Peppermint Bark

Sinfully delicious

To see where many of these (and more!) tantalizing holiday treats came from, visit my boards on Pinterest.

May your holidays be filled with sweet treats and tasty books!

Best Books of 2013 and Books to Read in 2014

Best of 2013

Listen carefully… Do you hear that…? It’s the sound of pages turning.

I have a love/hate relationship with the “Best Of” Books lists that come out this time of year. I love that I get to see the literary year in review, but I hate that there are so many books I somehow missed during the course of the year. I love it when one or two of my personal favorites ends up on the lists, but I hate that so many of the “Best” authors are the same names we see every year… Often men, often writing about middle-aged male concerns. This year I was very pleased to see a bit of a shift away from that trend. This year I saw a lot of new authors on the “Best Of” lists, and a lot of women authors. Hooray!

Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and share my own lists. So if you will indulge me (and please keep in mind that one or two on these lists are from 2012, but because I read them in 2013 I’m including them here)…

My “Best Of” List

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Other Notables

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

You can see where my head was for much of the year–ALL of my “Best Of” list are written by women, and more than half of my “Notables” list. Was there not much great fiction by men this year, or was I simply in a place in my life where I was more attracted to the writing of women? I’m not sure. But as you can see from the paragraphs below, I intend to do some research into the matter…

A side-effect of the “Best Books Lists” time of year is that they serve to remind me of all the great books I haven‘t gotten around to reading. Inevitably (and purposefully, I’m sure) a large portion of the “Best Books of 2013” lists become the beginning of my “TBR in 2014” list.

Bkwurm’s To Be Read in 2014 (in no particular order)*

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
  • Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker
  • Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • Drinking With Men: A Memoir by Rosie Schaap
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I’m sure there are plenty of other GREAT books from 2013 that I’ve missed. Please comment and let me know what other books I should add to my list. What were YOUR favorites of 2013? Let’s all get reading!


*If you need some ideas for your own TBR list, my list above was influenced by:

The 10 Book Facebook Challenge


The challenge (first found on Facebook): To list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.

These are my 10, including the reason why they have stuck with me for so long. What are one or two of your significant life-books? Please share in the comments below.

1. The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs – This was the first chapter book I remember borrowing from the public library. I quickly read ALL the John Bellairs books I could find after this first one.


2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Anne was the first character I absolutely fell in love with. I still read “the Anne books” every few years and fall in love with her all over again.

Anne of Green Gables

3. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood – This is a book every female over the age of 16 should read. Powerful, frightening, a cautionary tale. You will never be the same.


4. School Girls by Peggy Orenstein – I first read this when I was 19, long before I had daughters, but even then it made an impact. This is a book every parent and teacher should read–every adolescent girl and boy too, actually!


5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – It was these books that have had perhaps the most influence on my spiritual path… Although I’m Pagan, so perhaps not what C.S. Lewis had in mind.


6. Bullfinch’s Mythology – The only book I would need if ever stranded on a desert island.

Bullfinchs Mythology

7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – The first book I remember having read TO me when I was a kid. It’s still the end-all be-all of read-aloud adventure stories for me.

The Hobbit

8. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, second edition – 95% of my favorite poetry all in one place. This book is my tattered, falling apart security blanket. I take it with me everywhere.

Norton Poetry

9. Possession by A.S. Byatt – Proof positive that a book can be academic and intelligent and still suck you in completely.


10. Persuasion by Jane Austen – I’ve never been able to choose which Jane Austen novel is my favorite, but this one contains one of the very best paragraphs ever written by human hand:

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it… Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. For you alone, I think and plan.”


Birthday Indulgences: Books and Cupcakes!

Today is my birthday, which means I get to spend the day doing the things I love most!

Tree Grows In BrooklynThe first, of course, is read, and I plan to treat myself with a nice two or three hours at the library with Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the very best coming-of-age books ever. It’s no surprise that I love this story about a girl who falls hard for books, who uses her love of words to rise above her heartbreaking (although not altogether unloving) circumstances and make something of herself. It’s a beautiful story that is beautifully written… And it’s no coincidence that I assigned it to my Rediscovering the Classics book class during my birthday month!

The second thing I get to spend hours doing today is a newly discovered love of mine: Elaborate Food. My birthday choice this year was Teacup Cupcakes, made in the beautiful china teacups inherited from my grandmother. I know this is a bkwurm blog, and cupcakes have nothing to do with books except as a tasty treat to keep up your energy for reading, but scroll down for a feast for the eyes (and the all-too-easy directions for making it)!

Teacup Cupcakes

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.


I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.

I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.


Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn't burn.

Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn’t burn.


The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious--fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!

The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious–fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!


Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to...

Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to…


...Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.

…Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.


Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.

Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.


Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!

Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!


These were beautiful, delicious, and so much fun to make! Plus, something about being made IN the teacup makes it seem like a very literary dessert.

Follow me on Pinterest for more book AND food related content!






Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

In a Nutshell

I am neither Golem nor Jinni, but reading this made me a slave to the masterful (and magical) story and prose of Helene Wecker. I’d gladly be imprisoned in a lamp if I could take this book with me.

The Whole Enchilada

Helene Wecker chose wisely when she decided to tell a story of immigration–after all, who can resist a tale of leaving everything that is known to make a new life in a strange land? It’s the quintessential American story. But to tell that story from the POV of two culturally specific mythological creatures, both adrift in an unknown world, with no knowledge of even their own beginnings, was a stroke of brilliance!

Chava is a Golem, a creature from Jewish mythology who is made of clay and lives only to serve her master; but when her master dies before she’s even 24 hours old Chava faces something no Golem has ever faced before… Freedom.

Ahmad is a Jinni, a restless fire spirit of the Syrian desert, feared by nomadic tribesman, coveted by ruthless power-seekers. When Ahmad emerges from a copper lamp (a customer’s family heirloom) in a tinsmith’s shop in 1899 Manhattan he has no knowledge of how he got there… or the past few hundred years! Trapped in human form, Ahmad must learn to master his restless nature to fit into the immigrant culture around him.

These two unique and lonely creatures don’t meet until halfway through the novel, when we as readers have already fallen in love with their individual characters, as well as the city and people who provide the backdrop and rich detail of their stories. You might think that’s a long time to wait for our two title characters to come across each other, but somehow it isn’t at all. Wecker does such a wonderful job of weaving their parallel stories–almost mirror images of each other–that the fact that they don’t meet doesn’t feel odd at all. Instead it gives them the necessary space to develop on their own, like twin siblings placed in different classrooms to prevent them from exerting too much influence on each other.

Once Chava and Ahmad do meet the story explodes, building speed like a freight train to the end. I kept wanting to tell myself to slow down and take my time with the last chapters, but I couldn’t stop myself from tripping over words and impatiently turning pages in my NEED to get to the end; to find out What. Happens. Next!

I envy Helene Wecker the fun she must have had researching this book. With two such rich cultures to delve into I’m only amazed that she was able to stop with just one book. Perhaps she hasn’t stopped though. Perhaps we will be blessed with more of Helene Wecker’s writing. I hope so. I would read a hundred such books.

Exploring Genre Literature with 10 Great Women Authors

We are in for a fast, furious and FUN year in the Rediscovering the Classics group this year! Last year the theme was “An Exploration of Genre”, and when I realized that the syllabus I was putting together was 90% male authors I decided to go all-out with all-male authors in each genre. What this means is that this year we get a syllabus full of wonderful WOMEN authors in every genre!

This year’s syllabus is unique not only because it’s all women, but also because each book was written comparatively recently. (All of the books on the list were published after 1900.) While I could have chosen the very ancient and revered The Tale of Genji or the poetry of Sappho to put on the list, I felt that, for the most part, the female experience–and especially the female experience in the world of publishing–was more accurately represented by the more modern novels listed below. (Yes, there are plenty of women writing before 1900 whose work accurately represent the female experience, but we’ve read many of them in previous years, and also, at the end of the day I had to choose. This is what you get.)

I hope this will be a dynamic and fun year, with brisk opinions and warm conversation! And I especially hope that the books below will inspire you to read more from these (and other) authors in each genre!

Let me know in the comments what books or authors YOU think represent the essence of the female experience in each of these genres. And if you’d like to read along with us and join in the discussion, check out Rediscovering the Classics on Facebook.

 An Exploration of Genre Part 2: Female Authors 
Rediscovering the Classics 2013-2014 Syllabus 

October 11th: MysticalAn Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, (p. 1922, Australian)
October 25th: HorrorThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (p. 1959, American)
November 8th and 22nd: BiographyMy Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud’homme) (p. 2006, American)
December 6th and 20th: Bildungsroman (Coming of Age) – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (p. 1943, American)
January 10th: EpicOrlando by Virginia Woolf (p. 1928, British)
January 24th: AdventureThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy (p. 1903, Hungarian)
February 7th and 21st: RomanceThe Buccaneers by Edith Wharton (p. 1938, American)
March 14th and 28th: Science FictionKindred by Octavia Butler (p. 1979, African American)
April 11th: PostmodernWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (p. 1966, Dominican-European)
May 9th and 23rd: Children’s LiteratureThe Secret Garden by Fraces Hodgson Burnett (p. 1910, serial format, Britsh-American)

How To Spot A Book Lover

Book Lovers are dangerous people. Avid readers are like rabid creatures—we can’t see straight (usually because we have a book in front of our faces), we can’t walk straight (same reason), and we often drool or foam at the mouth (when a Really Good Part overpowers our swallow reflex). Luckily, keeping away from the book-toting-crazy-eyes should be easy… as long as you know what to look for.

It’s not difficult to spot a book lover, we avid readers give ourselves away in so many ways:

You can find us at parties perusing the bookshelves instead of hanging with the crowd.

Our go-to conversation starter is “So, what are you reading?” 

We bring books with us to the bank and supermarket (anywhere we might have to wait in line).

We don’t think of trees as beautiful things to photograph, draw, or even climb… they’re merely another place to sit and read for a spell. 

We don’t just walk, we biblioambulate.

We NEVER have enough bookshelves.

We wear T-shirts that say things like “Call me Ishmael”.

Keep in mind that Book Lovers are VERY DANGEROUS CREATURES. Be warned! Should you spot a Book Lover, generally the safest thing to do is to put as much distance between them and yourself as possible.


For today, and for today only, because it is National Book Lovers Day, should you come across a Book Lover, you should go up to them, ask them what they’re reading, ask if they can recommend any books for you to read, and watch their faces light up with joy. You will have made their day.

Happy Book Lovers Day!!