Chantel's Quest by Oliver Neubert - Book Review

Chantel's Quest: The Golden Sword has all the right pieces in place for a frolicking fantasy ride. The story begins as Chantel awakens on her twelfth birthday quickly to be told that she is the Princess of Freedom. It seems Chantel must vanquish an evil spirit bent on destruction. She will have to unearth four ancient relics, the first being a golden sword. She’ll have lots of help along the way as readers uncover a new fantastical world.

Although all the pieces seem to be in place, I felt something was missing with Chantel's Quest: The Golden Sword. It’s always hard for me, not well versed in writing technique, to put my finger on exactly what it is that leaves me with that missing feeling. This time, I think it was a combination of two things: character investment and didactic tone.

We jump immediately into Chantel’s quest without having time to invest in her personality. Further in, her character still seems a bit flat and the creatures she meets seem too uncomplicated. The tone is direct, with little use of the stylistic elements of figurative language. This caused the tale to be a bit didactic or prescribed for this reader.

However, with all that being said, I do think some fantasy readers will enjoy Chantel's Quest: The Golden Sword and see implications for reluctant readers with short chapters and thinned details. There is a good action-packed story with opportunities for sequels and fantasy world development that so many fantasy readers crave.

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Genre: Fantasy. Age: 9-12. Pages: 224.

Themes: Hero Quest, Coming of Age, Courage.
Thank you to The Picnic Basket. Publisher: Simply Read Books. Date: May 2008. ISBN-10: 1894965817 / ISBN-13: 978-1894965811

Buy Chantel's Quest: The Golden Sword Here

Author Oliver Neubert is working on the sequel to Chantel's Quest. He is available for school visits. You can contact him through his website. ____________________________________________________________
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins - Book Review

I’m going to warn you: I cried at the end of Secret Keeper. Don’t worry; I won’t give away too many secrets. Just one: I didn’t cry because of the sad ending. I cried because author Mitali Perkins resisted the urge to "go Disney," and I instantly loved her for it.

A quick, basic synopsis: Asha & Reet are sisters forced to leave school behind and move, along with their depressed mother, into their paternal grandmother’s strict home while their father searches for work in America. While waiting for their father to send for them, sixteen-year-old Asha confides her secrets to a diary, the secret keeper, and befriends an odd boy next door. In the meantime, the whole family is trying to marry Reet off as Asha tries to save her sister from this unwanted, though not uncommon, fate

The trick with historical or cultural fiction (and Secret Keeper is both) is to create a story where the reader forgets that they are in another time or place. Though Secret Keeper takes place in 1970’s India, the themes are universal. Especially engaging is protagonist Asha, a strong and selfless young woman in a culture and time when such traits are more burden than complement. Not only does Secret Keeper have a great story to tell, it also offers even-handed insight into Indian culture and leaves the reader both heartbroken and uplifted.

I loved Secret Keeper and highly recommend it for secondary libraries and classrooms as well as for book clubs and anyone with a love of historical fiction.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Janet Halfmann - giveaway & teaching activities

I wrote a review of Janet Halfmann's wonderful story, Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea HERE and I promised both a Giveaway (scroll down to the bottom) and a few Teaching Activities....

Gooney Bird Is So Absurd by Lois Lowry - Review

I consider myself a Lois Lowry uber-fan. I subscribe to her blog. I’ve written her. I’ve used her novels repeatedly in the classroom. Yet, I am ashamed to admit never having read her Gooney Bird series. I always thought it was a silly, primary level (not my thing) series. I should have never doubted Lowry. She is a master, even when writing silly, primary level stories.

Lowry’s child-like eyes are shining in Gooney Bird Is So Absurd. Gooney Bird is a second-grader, a unique second-grader. She wears odd clothing (like brain-warming ruffled under-panties on her head) and is prone to precociousness (to say the least). Her teacher, Mrs. Pidgeon, is teaching the class poetry when a tragedy strikes. Leave it to Lois Lowry to deftly navigate deep waters with a quirky and absurd protagonist.

Gooney Bird Is So Absurd is a MUST for first through fourth grade classrooms (of course, I say that about so many Lowry books). It covers themes of tolerance, uniqueness, death & aging, respect, kindness, and teamwork with a light hand that makes approaching the subjects much easier. The story is quickly engaging and would make a wonderful read aloud. Gooney Bird Is So Absurd also works as a stand alone, even though it is part of a series. It's also a fantastic addition or introduction to poetry units.

Highly recommended for independent readers, as a read aloud for K-4 and for all school libraries.

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Genre: Realistic Fiction. Age: Independent Elementary Readers. Pages: 112.

Themes: Strength of Character, Loss, Humor
Thanks to The Picnic Basket.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Date: March 2009
ISBN-10: 0547119674 / ISBN-13: 978-0547119670

Buy Gooney Bird Is So Absurd Here

Gooney Bird's Page

Lois Lowry has lived all over the world. She had four children in four and half years and now has four grandchildren. She lives in Massachusetts and believes, ..."that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another." You can read much more about her and see some wonderful family photos here. She has won The Newbery Medal twice.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Janet Halfmann with illustrations by Steven James Petruccio - Book Review

Janet Halfmann once again gives young readers nonfiction information at a fiction-like interest level with Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea. As I'd previously written about Ms. Halfmann's ability to mix imagination and science with Little Skink's Tail, I was eager to read Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea.

This is the sort of picture book young children really enjoy. It has some suspense, some character investment and lots of science information thrown in for good measure! Not only is Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea imaginative and interesting, it also has the backing of the Smithsonian Institution. The watercolor sea-hued illustrations, by Stephen James Petruccio, further enhance the telling. The end page contains information on Narwhal whales and a glossary. This is a beautiful addition to classrooms and libraries. Though geared toward 4-8 year old students, I feel older students would enjoy learning about these elusive creatures also.

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Genre: Picture Book. Age: 4-8. Pages: 32.
Themes: Ocean, Whales, Family
Publisher: Soundprints. Date: November 2008.
ISBN-10: 1592498698 / ISBN-13: 978-1592498697

Buy Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea Here

Stay tuned for Teacher Activities related to the book and a contest to win your own copy! UPDATE: Here are the activities, as promised :-)

Learn more bout the elusive Narwhal on Smithsonian's wesite.

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea is published by Soundprints Publishing. They have several Smithsonian books that look very interesting.

Janet Halfmann was rasied on a farm in Michigan. She has four children and fourgrandchildren and lives in Wisconsin. You can read more about her here and here. Thank you to Janet Halfmann for sending me this lovely book (along with another for a future giveaway on Reading Rumpus)!

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Happy Earth Day!

How did we start celebrating our planet? When?
Earth Day was a holiday when I was a child, yet no one ever told me then. And many people will go about today without a single thought of it. But, the future generation is always smarter (lets hope) and they're rightfully in love with our big green, blue marble.

Here's a link explaining the origin of Earth Day.

Here's Earth, the Disney movie, trailer. Looks good! Hope some of you get time to see it today.

And here are a few links (if you still need them ;-)

Earth Day Network

Lesson Plans & More Lesson Plans & Still Even More Lesson Plans

Government Site & Kids Government Link Site
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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A Wild Rumpus Movie & The Wild Thing President

It is no secret that I named Reading Rumpus after Where the Wild Things Are. I have adored the book for as long as I can remember. During Fuse #8's roundup of the best in children's picture books, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would choose it as my number one pick. Though the results aren't completely in, I can confidently predict that Where the Wild Things Are will be the #1 pick!

So, I was really excited the night I watched Monsters Vs. Aliens when the first official Where the Wild Things Are movie trailer showed:

I'm not certain what to make of it....
I like that it's not Disneyed up and I like the artsy feel, but there have long been rumors of problems on the, Spike Jonze directed & Tom Hanks produced, set. I wrote about the early leaks HERE and author Lori Calabrese chronicled some difficulties for HERE.

There is a website for the movie with a few still pictures HERE.

Most of you have seen our new president reading Where the Wild Things Are during the White House Easter Egg Roll. But if you somehow missed it, head over and watch HERE. He does a good job, handles a few rambunctious tykes and even gets the secret service guy to perk up a bit!

I also have to do some name dropping. My cousin is an actress who starred in a Spike Jonze advertisement for the Gap. I'm embedding it here because when else might I get a chance to? (she's the screamer)

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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