I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Book Club Unit: The Duchess Bakes a Cake

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

What do you get when you combine a delightful children's classic about a baking project gone awry, a marshmallow catapult, and four adorable little boys?

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My favorite book club meeting of the entire year!

This past month, it was my turn to lead the Littles in their bi-weekly book club.
I was given the task of designing a unit around the Virginia Kahl classic, The Duchess Bakes a Cake, and to be honest, I wasn't all that thrilled to be assigned to a book about baking...knowing that I'd be teaching a pack of boys.

The book is so funny and filled with lots of action! And what boy doesn't love a story involving catapults and knights in shining armor?! (I'm actually not sure which was more funny...the story, or my mediocre attempt to read with several different European accents.)

After reading the book together, we talked a little bit about the hierarchy of the European monarchy. (Since the author does not clearly show which European country is the setting for the story, we chose to enjoy it along with the Geography Club which was "touring" Germany for the morning.) We discussed how a Duke and Duchess would have been land-owning royalty, in line for the throne just after the prince and princesses.

With the help of youtube, we toured a medieval castle.


Then, we explored the baking power of the leaven.

Having never baked anything in her life, the adventurous Duchess attempts to bake a cake one day. She soon learns the dangers of adding too much leaven to her recipe and finds herself overtaken by an out-of-control cake.

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

I had the boys hold hands in a tight circle and then spread out to demonstrate what leaven does in a cake.  

Next, we discussed the three main kinds of baking leaven: baking soda, baking powder, and yeast. We conducted a little experiment to determine which of the three would produce the most gas and rising power.  

Leaven experiment

 What you'll need:

  • three empty bottles (They should all be the same size and have a narrow neck.)
  • three balloons
  • 1 T. of each of the following: baking soda, baking powder, yeast
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. of sugar
  • 1/2 c. of vinegar
  • 1/2 c. hot water
  • funnel
  • large jelly roll pan (optional)


Using the funnel, pour the following into each empty bottle:
  • BOTTLE 1: one tablespoon of baking soda
  • BOTTLE 2: one tablespoon of baking powder
  • BOTTLE 3: one tablespoon and 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Pour the liquid into each bottle and IMMEDIATELY cap each bottle with a balloon.

BOTTLE 1: 1/4 c. vinegar
BOTTLE 2: 1/4 c. vinegar
BOTTLE 3: 1/2 c. hot water (After you cap this bottle with a balloon, you will need to shake the bottle a bit in order to stir the yeast and sugar together.)
The gas created by combining the solids and the liquids will be INSTANT causing the balloons to fill and rise.

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

I wish I had taken an "after" picture when our experiment was completed. The balloon from the yeast bottle ended up growing so large that I was afraid it might pop and send a gooey mess all over the room.


At the king's request, the cavalry, dressed in their regalia, comes to the aid of the Duchess who is stuck on top of an ever-growing mound of cake. They unsuccessfully attempt to hurl objects at her in order to knock her down off her lofty perch.

The boys were excited to replicate some knightly attire by making cardboard shields. The Hubs was gracious enough to cut out shield shapes from scrap cardboard and attach duct tape handles to the back.

After looking at the crests painted on medieval shields, the boys created their own one-of-a-kind shields.

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Marshmallow Catapults

At one point, the cavalry uses catapults and large rocks to try and shoot the Duchess off the cake.

In an attempt to recreate the scene, we used popsicle stick catapults and large marshmallows to destroy a tower of cups.

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Rhyming Game

The author used rhyme to give the book a poetic feel.

After reminding the bots of some of the royal hierarchy and official positions in a medieval community, I had them each choose a medieval title to be their team name during the rhyming game. We had a knight, a prince, a king, and a duke (I think?!)

The rules of the game were simple. I would call out a word and the boys had to shout out words that rhymed with my word. Each boy could call out as many words as they could think of and as long as it rhymed with my word, he earned a point. (Since our meeting room just happened to have a chalkboard, I could easily keep score.) The medieval character who earned the most points at the end of the game was declared the winner.

For simplicity, I chose one-syllable words such as:
  • man
  • fish
  • sun
  • ball
  • top

Book Club Unit:  Hands on science projects and craft for The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Naturally, baking a cake would have made for a great addition to our morning of fun, but our space was not conducive to an extensive baking project. Instead, we enjoyed snacking on some homemade pretzels that the Geography Club made on their tour of Germany.

Book Club Unit:  The Duchess Bakes a Cake {The Unlikely Homeschool}

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  1. This is such a funny book. I always thought that it was more mainland Europe than English but my children just had it read with my usual English accent!
    The raising agent experiment looks fun: one of my boys would love this.
    It is worth looking up Bodiam Castle for some pictures of a beautiful castle to add to the "feel" of the book. If you are ever in England, Bodiam is a particularly beautiful castle to visit-I've got no vested interest beyond liking the place!

    1. We actually read it in tandem with the big kids' Geography Club "trip" to Germany.
      I'll have to check that castle out. Thanks for the suggestion!!

  2. Wonderful book and ideas here, Jamie! My kids are a bit older but I can see them having a lot of fun with this, and using the same activities but adjusting them up for their ages. This will add a little fun to our spring (which I THINK is finally arriving in Maine)!

  3. What fun ideas. Love the marshmallow catapult! We're starting an American Girl book club at the end of this month. My daughter is really looking forward to it. It'll be her first book club. I've done other book clubs using books and resources from homeschoolliterature.com. And she enjoyed the things we did with those book clubs.

    Thanks for sharing all this. :)

    1. Be sure to check out my series on American Girl Unit Studies!