Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

Couldn’t Put it Down! January 6, 2012

It was unfortunate that both my children were sick today. It was not unfortunate for my reading life though. I finished Jefferson’s Sons, which despite my initial hesitation, completely grabbed me today. I’ve never been to Monticello and have added to the places I would love to go some time. The author did an amazing job with her research with this historical fiction. When part two (of three) of the book started and it became clear to me that each section was going to be narrated by a different character, I was a little annoyed. I can’t really put my finger on why, but I think it’s because the change from Beverly to Maddy was more abrupt than I would have cared for. The change from character two to three occurred without me hardly noticing.

I can see why it is on potential Newbery lists. A story about an American icon, slavery, family and a part of history not known to many all make a great story.

I then picked up The Apothecary, which I read in two long sittings today! LOVE THAT BOOK! The characters are so well developed and felt like real people you’d like to know. A great blend of historical fiction/adventure/fantasy that I can’t really compare to anything else. The preface had me wanting to know about Benjamin. The first chapter had me ready to read a whole book set during the 1950’s when Hollywood movie writers were suspect and often accused of Communism. I then could have read a whole book about an American girl transplanted to a British prep school. If this makes the book sound choppy, it is not at all! It moves seamlessly, weaving in murder, magic, mean girls, espionage, all in a way that I could not put down! I’m having to reevaluate my list after this one.


#BookaDay #6 One Crazy Summer January 2, 2011

Filed under: #bookaday,Newbery — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:54 pm
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Here’s the 60 second synopsis which is so unfair to such a great book, but…

One Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia


Definitely a Newbery possibility

Historical Fiction-set in 1960’s Oakland California

I learned interesting things about the Black Panthers that I did not know (and realized I know hardly anything about that part of American history). Was talking with my daughter about the contrast between California during that times and the south like Watsons Go to Birmingham.

Three daughters-Delphine, Vonetta and Fern. Their mother had left them upon birth of third child, supposedly because their mother hadn’t been allowed to name her daughter what she wanted. Mom is definitely not motherly, is a member of the Black Panthers, and a poet.

I agree that the cover does not draw a middle grade reader in. My daughter’s comment was, “I wouldn’t have read it because of the cover looking so unappealing, but did because you thought it might win the Newbery. It’s great and I’m going to tell my teacher about it!”


I’m headed over to Amazon to buy the hardbacks at bargain price of $6.40 !

Are they CRAZY!!! Don’t they know it’s getting ready to win the Newbery???!!!!


The first review is by Betsy Bird and I certainly can’t beat that!

This review is from: One Crazy Summer (Hardcover)

When I heard that teen author Rita Williams-Garcia had written a middle grade novel for kids I wasn’t moved one way or another. I don’t read teen books. Couldn’t say I knew much of the woman’s work. When I heard that her book was about the Black Panthers, however, my interest was piqued. Black Panthers, eh? The one political group so difficult to write about that you can’t find them in a single children’s book (aside from “The Rock and the River” by Kekla Magoon, of course). So what was her take? How was she going to do it? But the thing is, “One Crazy Summer” is more than merely a historical tale. It’s a story about family and friendships and self-sacrifice. There are so many ideas floating about this little novel that you’d think it would end up some kind of unholy mess. Instead, it’s funny and painful and just a little bit brilliant. “One Crazy Summer” is a book that’s going to earn itself a lot of fans. And a lot of them are going to be kids.

Eleven going on twelve Delphine has always kept a sharp eye on her little nine and seven-year-old sisters Vonetta and Fern. That’s because their mother left them seven years ago and never came back again. “Cecile Johnson – mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner – is our mother. A statement of fact.” So when their father packs them on a plane and sends them to Oakland, California to see Cecile, their mom, the girls have no idea what to expect. Certainly they didn’t think she’d just leave them in a kind of daycare over the summer run by members of the Black Panthers. And they probably didn’t expect that their mother would want near to nothing to do with them, save the occasional meal and admonishment to keep out of her kitchen. Only Delphine knew what might happen, and she makes it her mission to not only take care of her siblings, no matter how crazy they make her, but also to negotiate the tricky waters that surround the woman who gave her up so long ago.

The whole reason this novel works is because author Rita Williams-Garcia has a fantastic story that also happens to meld seamlessly into the summer of 1968. I’ve been complaining for years that when it comes to the Black Panthers, there wasn’t so much as a page of literature out there for kids on the topic (except the aforementioned “The Rock and the River” and even that’s almost teen fare). Now “One Crazy Summer” is here. Certainly I don’t know how Ms. Williams-Garcia set about writing the darn thing, but if she had stridently set about to teach without taking into consideration the essentials of good storytelling, this book would have sank like a stone. Instead, she infuses this tale with danger, characters you want to take a turn about the block with, and the heat of an Oakland sun.

I mean, take the people in this book! Someone once sold this story to me as “The Penderwicks meets the Black Panthers” and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why they`d said it. Then I started thinking back to the sisters. Ms. Wiliams-Garcia must have sisters. She must. How else to explain the dynamic between Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern? So it all became clear. If you love the family dynamics of “The Penderwicks”, you’ll probably find yourself loving the same thing here. Of course, when your heroine is an upright citizen like Delphine there is a danger of making her too goody goody to like. But this girl isn’t like that. She has a duty that she believes in (taking care of her sisters) and she’ll do it, even when they fight each other. Even when they team up against HER! The sheer unfairness of what Delphine has to handle, and the cheery lack of complaining (aside from the occasional and very understandable grumble) makes you care for her. Her interactions with her mother are what make you love her.

Because this mother is a pip. Cecile throws a wrench (and a couple of other metal objects besides, I’d wager) into the good guy/bad guy way of looking at things. For kids, she’s a pretty clear-cut villain from page one onward. And adults who have enough historical understand to be clear on why she does some of the things she does still won’t like her. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some parents referred to her as the world’s worst mother. She isn’t really, but many a parent’s ire will be raised when they see how she refuses to call her daughter Fern by her name out of spite, or refuses to so much as look her own daughters for a while. Heck, this may be the only book where the phrase, “Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance,” comes from the lips of a parental unit (not that any kid in the world would decipher what it means). Under normal circumstances, when you get a kid talking about the selfishness of their parent at the beginning of a book they turn out to be wrong in the end. So naturally I was waiting on tenterhooks for much of this book to see if Cecile would be perfectly redeemed by the story’s end. Williams-Garcia never wraps anything up with a cute little bow, but she gives you closure with Cecile and maybe a drop of understanding. It’s a far better solution.

Williams-Garcia will even use character development to place the story within the context of its time. The opinionated Big Ma who raised the three girls gives her thoughts on any matter rain or shine. Delphine then lists them, and kids are treated to a quickie encapsulation of life in ’68. Pretty sneaky. Teaches `em when they’re not looking. And one of those very topics is the Black Panther party. I was very pleased with how Williams-Garcia sought to define that group. She dispels misconceptions and rumors. Delphine herself often has to come to grips with her initial perceptions and the actual truths. As for the rest of the time period itself, little details spotted throughout the book make 1968 feel real. For example, the girls play a game where they count the number of black characters on television shows and commercials. Or the one time Delphine had felt truly scared, when a police officer in Alabama pulled her father over.

And, I’m sorry. You can make amazing, believable characters all day if you want to, but there’s more to writing than just that. This writer doesn’t just conjure up people. She has a way with a turn of a phrase. Three Black Panthers talking with Cecile are, “Telling it like it is, like talking was their weapon.” Later Cecile tells her eldest daughter, “It wouldn’t kill you to be selfish, Delphine.” This book is a pleasure to cast your eyes over.

There is a moment near the end of the book when Fern recites a poem that is just so good that I couldn’t seriously believe that a seven-year-old would be able to pull it off. So I mentioned this fact to a teacher and a librarian and found myself swiftly corrected. “Oh no,” said the librarian. “Seven is when kids are at their most shockingly creative. It’s only later that they start worrying about whether or not it’s any good.” So I’m willing to believe that Fern’s poem could have happened. Otherwise, I certainly would have appreciated an Author’s Note at the end with information about the Black Panthers for kids who wanted to learn more. And I was also left wondering where Delphine got her name. She spends a bit of time agonizing over that question, why her mother named her that, and never really finds out. Some kind of explanation there would have been nice.

It was teacher Monica Edinger who pointed out that “One Crazy Summer” pairs strangely well with “Cosmic” if you look at them in terms of fathers (on the “Cosmic” side) and mothers (“One Crazy Summer”‘s focus). That’s one theme for the book, but you could pluck out so many more if you wanted to. Race and family and forgiveness and growth. Everyone grows in this book. Everyone learns. But you’ll have so much fun reading it you might not even notice. You might just find yourself happily ensconced in the world of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern without ever wishing to leave it. If this is how Ms. Williams-Garcia writes books for kids, then she better stop writing all that teen fare and crank a couple more like this one. Kids are gonna dig it.

Ages 9-12.


ALA excitement June 24, 2010

Filed under: book turned into movie,Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 8:45 am
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My daughter and I are heading out in the morning for ALA 2010 in Washington D.C. We aren’t planning to attend any sessions, but are going to the convention center to meet authors, collect autographs, and see the newest books.
On dear daughter’s to- do list:
meet Rebecca Stead
meet Laurie Halse Anderson
see the Ace of Cakes 100th birhday celebration cake
go to at least one museum and see Lincoln Memorial
find new books!

it’s going to be a great time!

Speaking of Rebecca Stead, I saw on Twitter this morning, that her award winning book, When You Reach Me, has been optioned for a movie…


When the Whistle Blows–Possible Newbery Contender?? October 20, 2009

Filed under: book reviews — bestbookihavenotread @ 7:08 am
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When the Whistle BlowsWhen the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton is what I would describe as a “Sleeper Hit” of a book. It’s sat in my pile of TBR since last November when I received an ARC at NCTE.  There was nothing about the title , the cover , or the back blurb that grabbed me. I was thinking it was the kind of book that would appeal to my husband, but it hadn’t made it’s way to the top of his pile yet either.

I can’t remember where I saw a little write-up about the book, but the cover looked familiar to me in a, “I am sitting on your shelf waiting to be read,” kind of way. Sure enough, there it was in my study with the other TBR books that don’t fit on my bedside stand.

I LOVED When the Whistle Blows. My husband woke this morning to find me crying over the book (again) while drinking my morning cup of coffee.

I can’t explain why the back blurb didn’t originally pull me in, since it is most of the first page of the book. When I started it this time, the first page grabbed me and would not let go.

The book has a unique format. Each chapter takes place one year after the previous chapter/story. Each story takes place on All Hallows’ Eve between 1943 and 1949.  The setting in Rowlesburg, West Virginia is at a time when the steam engine was still king, but in danger of being tipped from its pedestal by the new diesel locomotive.

The story is narrated in the voice of the main character, Jimmy.

A favorite uncle’s wake, a state championship football game, the new school principal’s refusal for students to take the day off for the start of hunting season, his father’s prediction of the demise of the steam engine train. None of these are stories that someone would be able to convince me under any circumstance that I would want to read about…yet…I couldn’t stop reading. I hung on every word. I was transported to Rowlesburg and felt as if Jimmy was my brother and his family, mine.

Perhaps it is the background I bring to the book:

My aunt’s home in Rocky River, Ohio had a railroad that went through the back yard less than 100 yards away. You can still hear the train when it comes through the country each week (less frequently each passing year).

The only song I remember my father singing to me as a child has the words, “when the whistle blows” in the chorus (Remarkable-I did not remember that little tidbit until I sat down to start writing this review! Now I need to find out what the rest of those words were!)

Just last week I was trying to explain to a parent new to town from the East Coast why some schools south of us are closed (for county fairs or first days of hunting season).

No matter the reason, I found this book a magical read. I hope it is strongly considered for a Newbery (and a Cybil). It haunts me like last year’s book The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

Buy It!

Read It!

Write it up for Mock Newbery Contention!





Central Ohio KidLit Bloggers get together to celebrate Award Winning Books January 26, 2009

Filed under: award winners,bloggers,blogs,Newbery — bestbookihavenotread @ 10:07 pm
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img_1706Central Ohio KidLit Bloggers just can’t get enough of Cover to Cover or books! To celebrate the annoucements of the award winners, we met at our favorite book store and then had dinner at Northstar Cafe. It can’t get much better than that!

Me (Bestbookihavenotread), Karen (half of Literate Lives ), Sally Oddi (bookstore owner extraordinaire!), Katie (Creative Literacy),  Authentic Learner authors,  Franki Sibberson (half of A Year of Reading), author Amjed Qamar (Beneath My Mother’s Feet), and Mary Lee (other half of A Year of Reading).

I’m sure you’ve read the Newbery announcements, but here you go:

The Graveyard Book-Neil Gaiman (posted MouseCircus link last week, but just bought tonight)-Franki wins since she and Sally are the only two who have already read it!


The Underneath-Kathi Appelt (reviewed here-so glad it is recognized for the amazing book it is!)

Savvy by Ingrid Law (started, but loaned to a student and haven’t finished)

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson 

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

Caldecott:  The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson (Love her Tweets and her book To Be Like the Sun! Will need to purchase this asap!)


Along Came Spider by James Preller & The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron January 22, 2009

Filed under: books,KidLit,kidlitosphere,read alouds — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:10 pm
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Along Came Spider by James Preller (not to be confused with Along Came A Spider) and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron are both great books for intermediate readers. I’m guessing this might be the first post that compares and sees similarities between the two titles, but it so happened that I was listening to Lucky and reading Spider at the same time, so I couldn’t really overlook the similarities even if I wanted. 


Along Came Spider is the story of two fifth grade boys who have been both neighbors and friends for a long time. Now that it is fifth grade, Trey faces a great deal of peer pressure to ditch his friend Spider who the other students find “weird”.  It never comes out and says that Spider has Aspberger’s or is on the autism spectrum, but from years of classroom experience working with students with both, it seemed to me that Spider would fall somewhere on that spectrum.

 I found the books to be a quick and pleasant read that would appeal to many different students. I think the fifth grade teachers are going to really enjoy sharing this boo. Having this book as a shared reading experience will open windows to conversations about peer pressure and differences.  I wish that the book had been around those first couple years I had a student similar to Spider, and struggled to find words to help nine year-olds accept/understand the differences in some of their classmates. Having a character in a book that can be discussed can really open conversation in an amazing way!

Even though the characters are fifth graders, I think the content and readability will appeal to a wide range of intermediate readers, both as a read-aloud and as an independent reading book. I’m adding Six Innings to my read list since I enjoyed this James Preller so much.  

I also enjoyed The Higher Power of Lucky. Lucky who also struggles with acceptance is on a quest to find her own “higher power”.  Too many overheard 12 step meetings have led her to the decision that she needs to find hers.  Lucky has two “friends”. One who makes knots nonstop (a little overfocused like Spider, but maybe that implies OCD) and one who lives with his grandmother and is overfocused on the book Are You My Mother?

I find it interesting that three Newbery titles easily come to mind that deal with foster children. I wonder if there are others I don’t know about. I wonder how the percentage of Newbery/Newbery honor books about foster children compare to the percentage of books about foster children? 


The little section that mentions a dog’s scrotum is not really worth all the fuss it’s gotten. It’s certainly not a good reason to ban a book-it is a real body part for goodness sakes. If I was reading it aloud, I would have probably just changed a few words if I was worried. 

This is a great book and I think Lucky is a character that many intermediate readers can relate to.  Add these two to your library. 🙂


Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog September 29, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 8:49 pm
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A friend of mine from my adult book club sent me a post about a new blog on School Library Journal. It is called Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog and it is for people (like me, as well as my friend) who like to try to predict the Newbery ahead of time.  If you like to read KidLit and want to try to pick the Newbery ahead of time or talk over award worthy books with other people who like KidLit-give this blog a try!