Sunday, August 1, 2010

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

Written by: Rita Williams-Garcia
Recommended Ages: 9-12

One Crazy Summer takes place in the summer of 1968, a year of tumultuous change in the United States. Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are on their first airplane ride to Oakland to visit their mother who abandoned them seven years ago. They are filled with both trepidation and excitement, as they leave the safety of their dad and grandma to reacquaint themselves with a mother who didn't want them.

Delphine tells their story and her voice rings loud and clear. She is the oldest and takes her responsibilities seriously. She is in charge of her sisters, and makes sure that they (and everyone else) understand that. The other sisters are beautifully drawn also. Vonetta is all "ham and show," always itching to be the center of attention. And Fern is the baby of the family, a tad needy and always clutching her baby doll.

When the girls meet their mother, Cecile, their worst fears are realized. She's late to pick them up at the airport, no hugs, clipped sentences and no home cooked meals. She's not exactly vying for mother of the year. She's a poet, and her kitchen is mysteriously off limits to the kids. She hands them money for take-out Chinese food, and forces them to attend a Black Panther-sponsored summer day camp.

As readers we learn so much about what was going on at the time, and we see it through the eyes of these three young sisters. We watch as they come to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, Huey Lewis and the true meaning of Revolution. When Delphine learns that they are supposed to participate in a rally, her fear is palpable. She's worried about the danger and tells one of the counselors that she doesn't want to participate, that she has to take care of her sisters. Sister Mukumbu tells her:

"We look out for each other. The rally is one way of looking out for all of our sisters. All of our brothers. Unity, Sister Delphine. We have to stand united."

Williams-Garcia does a beautiful job depicting the charged atmosphere that was such a part of the summer of 1968. And while there's danger in the air, there's also an incredible feeling of community amongst the people involved at the "summer camp." The rally is a pivotal point for each of the girls. For in their own ways, each one of them changes and matures during their month in Oakland. Their initial perceptions of many things are challenged, and by the end of the month they see things very differently.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the book for me is Delphine's journey. She discovers so much about herself, and about the mother that left her. For although Cecile never emerges as any sort of mother role model, you get a better sense of who she is, and why she did what she did.

One Crazy Summer
is one of those rare middle-grade books that I didn't want to end. Williams-Garcia does a masterful job writing about a time period I think kids will find fascinating and educational. There's no better way to learn about about history than by viewing it through the eyes of a child. Delphine is the perfect narrator for one of the most fascinating, turbulent periods of American history. I highly recommend One Crazy Summer.

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