Do Not Open by John Farndon - Mini Book Review

DK Publishing, the king of vivid photography and tantalizing trivia, has done it once again with Do Not Open: An encyclopedia of the world's best kept secrets. The large chrome safe-like box houses a hardback book filled with brightly engaging graphics that pull the reader's eyes to the page. The text is just enough to quench a hungry investigator's thirst.

I own several DK Publishing books, both for children and adults, and have NEVER been disappointed. I could see using this book in a secondary classroom by assigning the various secrets to groups, having them research the facts further, and then present the underlying facts about the secret. Elementary students could do much the same just by using the information contained within this volume.

A fantastic addition to any 5th - 12th grade classroom, but the adults might steal a peek too!

Genre: Nonfiction. Age: All. Pages 192.

Themes: Secrets, Random Facts, Fun Observations
Publisher: DK Children. Date: November 2007
ISBN-10: 0756632056 / ISBN-13: 978-0756632052

Buy Do Not Open: An encyclopedia of the world's best kept secrets Here

John Farndon has written over 300 nonfiction books, many of which have been sited for excellence. He is based in London. You can read more on his author website here. By clicking on the read more reviews tab, you'll see many accolades for Do Not Open, including part of this one :-)

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
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The UnValentine by Sam Beeson - Mini Book Review

Lily doesn’t believe in love. Within her journal she chronicles her intolerance of cutesy Valentines and mocks the idiots who send them. Yes, Lily doesn’t believe in love UNTIL… you’ll have to pick up this Gothic inspired tale, as I’ll not give away its wonderful secrets.

So much can be said for this little book: imaginative, expressive and heartening. The artwork, by Jesse Draper, is fantastic. I can’t wait to send out the Valentines included in the back!

This book may be marketed to the general public, but as a former secondary educator, I can promise this story will be a huge hit with the teen crowd. Guys, if you want to score points with your girl, skip the flower shop and head over to the bookstore.

Finally, a classic for this sorely unrepresented holiday.

Genre: Holiday. Age: All. Pages 32.

Themes: Friendship, Romance, Humor

Publisher: Shadow Mountain. Date: January 2008
ISBN-10: 1590388437 / ISBN-13: 978-1590388433

Buy The UnValentine Here
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - Book Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Early last week, during a television interview, J.K. Rowling appeared to joke that the final novel was a “bloodbath.” Turns out, she wasn’t really kidding. To say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins with a bang is an understatement. There’s death in chapter one and four deaths by chapter eight. One understands quickly that no character is safe from Rowling’s thrashing pen-knife. She’s brutal. One asks, "Is this really a children’s book?"

However, the trademark Rowling devices are present; the little understated moments tug at our heartstrings: Dudley tells his cousin goodbye, Harry leaves the Dursley’s as he came – with Hagrid on Sirius’s motorbike-, and the final battle occurs at Hogwarts where all the characters do what they do. We see Trelawney assault with crystal balls. Neville and Professor Sprout send in the attack plants. McGonagall transfigures an army of desks to lead the charge. Grawp fights giants as Hagrid rescues spiders. Luna spreads happiness to assist her three friends past the dememtors. The woman understands, lives with and breathes alongside her characters.

Rowling's themes are there: love can conquer all and kindness and friendship matter. However, we also see more blatant political statements: news-media and the government are corrupt and not to be trusted. She throws a take-that jab at her religious critics simply by having Harry say, “Thank God.” Traditional Christian resurrection themes dominate the book with Harry as Christ-like as ANY fantasy character, rising from the dead to save them all. The Christian references are way too many to mention in a short review, but we are led to understand death as the next step, the next great adventure and that humans are flawed creatures, so multidimensional one can never predict their actions. We can be bad guys and good guys at the same time, the lines are not easily drawn. It seems Rowling hasn’t missed a beat.

As the past mentions, side stories and unanswered questions are tied up in a neat little bow, Rowling's Austenesque use of the will they or won’t they technique is at peak. We think Ron will finally get that kiss... then Hermione punches him! When it comes – well, who could have timed it better? That sort of humor is significant in this one, perhaps because we all know the inside jokes, easily causing fans to laugh aloud. However, Rowling turns the humor table with more adult-like jokes and phrases. There’s even a hint of rape in Dumbledore’s back-story. Again, is this children’s story?

That old trick, the overheard conversation, crops up again and again, but Rowling also relies heavily on traditional children’s literature devices. There’s the tale of the Hallows, so similar to a Grimm’s tale: scary and moralizing. Who can miss her Knights Templar/Grail quest analogies? Did she write with Biblical quotations at her side? Rowling knows classical literature and borrows from it with ease.

And that masterful characterization Rowling so perfectly executes? She uses it at no greater time in all seven books than when we FINALLY get Severus Snape’s sad tale. We know Snape, know he would never beg to see Harry Potter. Heck, he’d never beg - period. Readers instantly know there’s more to the final Snape scene than what’s being stated. Then Harry gets that pain in his scar, the pain right before Voldemort kills, and we know Snape’s a goner. The entire story of Snape is so poignant, so desperate, one has to get up and walk away. While Harry may end up the hero that vanquishes the Dark Lord, Snape is the sacrificial lamb, the unspoken behind the scenes hero that made it all possible.

I could point out some minor flaws, times when my suspension of disbelief popped for a second, but what’s the use? The tale is 4, 224 pages. It’s been ten years since we met them. Say what you will about writing’s superstar, but place her in a fellowship alongside Tolkien; throw her in the wardrobe with C.S. Lewis. Rowling will live on past the populace mass hysteria. Her aptitude, which should be studied by the most scholarly of writing instructors, lies in her understanding of the human heart. Her magical powers lie in the creation of characters so vivid, we hate to part with them. This is why we’ll re-read her work over and over. We know the plot; we've now seen how it all ends. But, we'll keep reading because to be away from our beloved friends is just too abandoned a place to inhabit. And while we may move on to other fantasy, or never become a fantasy reader at all, we'll always believe that there is a world flanking our own where Harry & Co. dwell.

Genre: Fantasy. Age: All. Pages 784.

 Themes: Coming of Age, Friendship, Strength of Character, Perseverance, Hero Quest

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine. Date: July 2007
ISBN-10: 0545010225 / ISBN-13: 978-0545010221

Buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Here

Visit the definitive sites for all things Potter: MuggleNet, The Harry Potter Lexicon and The Leaky Cauldron

Scholastic's Harry Potter Site

Official Warner Bros Movies Site

Universal Studios The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Joanne Murray is far better known as J. K. Rowling. If you have to read a bio about her here, you must be living under a rock. She is the literary god of children's literature. There's much more to see on her website.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
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Commentary on Harry Potter (first SIX books- reread prior to #7)

I’ve been rereading the entire Harry Potter series for the past four months in anticipation of Deathly Hallows. I’ve tried to read more critically, from a writer’s viewpoint, but it’s hard to be dispassionate. As I read, I sought to answer the intoxicatingly addictive Harry Potter phenomenon. A million writers, scholarly ones too, must be trying to replicate the magic. What I really wanted to work out was J.K. Rowling’s style and verve. Here goes:

Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks - Book Review

Martyn Pig is an engaging suspense story well suited to the 6th -9th grade crowd. Mr. Brooks does a fine job mixing typical adolescent topics, crushes and self-absorption, with more serious themes of death and the definition of a bad person. The suspenseful edge and twist ending will make for a pleasant read for most young adolescents.

There are a couple of passages that stand out: Martyn describing the noisiness of life and a scene where he wonders where he goes during sleep. Mr. Brooks channels both Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger is the incarnation of Martyn Pig. Martyn’s relationship with his Aunty Jean is a modernized version of Huck Finn and the Widow Douglas and Martyn’s sarcastic tone is similar to that of Holden Caulfield. The author uses morbid humor masterfully, never venturing too far on neither side of satire nor the macabre.

A solid adolescent title for the suspense-minded teen. Recommended for both secondary classrooms & libraries.

About Me & Review Policy for Reading Rumpus

If you are here to learn about me: Welcome.

I have a doctorate degree in Curriculum, Teaching & Teacher Education, a master's degree in Reading Education and a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. But mostly, I simply have an all-encompassing love of books. I hold teaching certifications in reading K-12, English 6-12, media specialist PK-12, and elementary K-6 as well as an ESOL endorsement. I have been a teacher in grades 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10, a reading specialist and instructional coach in both middle and elementary schools, and a media specialist in a middle school. I am currently an adjunct professor, teaching preservice educators.

I live in Florida with my husband. He is a pilot and loves to make artistic things out of wood. We have been together since we met in high school band, which is way too long ago to disclose. Our three children are now grown. I am proud to say that they are all readers.

If you are here to send me a book: 
I love you.

I post children’s reviews here and on Library Thing, Twitter, GoodReads , FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

This site is a labor of love. I make no money from these reviews and have grown more selective in the titles I read. Most days, due to a lack of time, I begin by just quoting the publisher's synopsis and then give my two cents on how a book best fits into a classroom, library or school setting. I try to add resources and teaching ideas when I can. I don't do contests or giveaways or any of that promotional stuff. I just talk about books with teachers and parents in mind. Those are my peeps.

Disclosure: I receive no monetary compensation for this site, but some links are part of the Amazon Associates program. Buying from them earns me money to buy more books! If I receive a book for possible review, I disclose that within the review post.
Disclaimer #1: It's important to note that the opinions & commentary published here have nothing to do with my employer. They are my own :-)
Disclaimer #2:  I have created the little buttons on this site using various photos/illustrations from children's literature. I do not claim to own these photos/illustrations, but seek to share them with fellow children's literature aficionados. If there is a copyright issue, please contact me and I will remove the offender. 
© 2007-2022 Dr. Cheryl S. Vanatti for