One Crazy Summer

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
One Crazy Summer Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
A gem, with strong girl characters, '60s black history.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 16 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author seamlessly weaves information about life in 1968 Oakland into the story.  Readers learn about the changing social times, how people in California verses New York experienced racism, the Black Panther movement, and the general climate of freedom fighting.  Details about change are subtle:  Idlewild Airport becomes JFK, "negro" becomes "black," Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali, "ma'am" becomes "sister or "brother." 

Positive Messages

A multitude of positive mesages in this book, including responsibility, loyalty, overcoming one's past, moving through stereotypes, being open to change, making one's own decisions, making good decisions, respect, and both personal and societal freedom. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Delphine, the main character, is a good role model.  She is responsible for her sisters, makes difficult and quick decisions, knows how to read prickly situations and people very well, she is kind and smart, and open to growing beyond her own understanding.  Big Ma and Pa are strong role models for their devotion to the kids and their values of respect and responsibility. Cecile is not a good role model, as she abandoned her kids to pursue her life of poetry and to be free, but she does represent behavior which contributed to changing roles for women. Many good kid and adult characters exist in this story.


A minor character's father was arrested for his political beliefs, and the police knocked down his door at dinner time in front of the kids. Cecile was arrested but there was no violence about it.


"Jesus," "Negro," "China boy," and "shut up."


The author mentions products and TV shows as a way to place the story into a time period, including Get Smart, Captain Kangaroo, Flipper, Mike Douglas Show, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Timex, Ajax, Pine-Sol, Safeway, Candy Land, Disneyland, and Magic Markers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cecile smokes cigarettes. Papa smokes Viceroys.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Newbery Honor Book is a gem. Without violence, bad language, or sex, this story honestly explores the journey -- both physical and emotional -- made by three girls to visit their estranged mother. Delphine and her sisters are thoughtful, delightful characters. Cecile (the mother) abandoned her three daughters when they were infants and makes no apology for it -- she doesn't want them to visit her and she barely cares for them.  But there is more to Cecile's character than just being a deadbeat mom, as she represents changing times in America. The story is set in 1968 Oakland, California, and as such, civil action and unrest are part of the story, but are subtle and informational rather than direct and preachy. There's an audiobook version narrated by actor Sisi Aisha Johnson.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byhannah1991 July 8, 2020
In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to spend a month with the mother they barely knew, eleven-year-old Delphine and her... Continue reading
Adult Written byQuazelle202 July 21, 2019

Rita Williams-Garcia tells a vibrant story that was lots of fun

I read this one before I read the two that preceded it and it was fine on its own. However, the series has great historical information presented in a interesti... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byteen63 January 20, 2018

Amazing book

This book is one of my all time favorite books. I love the bond between the three sisters. And how they teach about the civil rights movement. And I love the ma... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old February 25, 2021

Vibrant and Beautiful

This is an amazing story of 3 kids as they meet their long lost mother. You should really read it!

What's the story?

Delphine and her sisters are put on a plane from Brooklyn to Oakland, where they are to stay with their estranged mother, Cecile, for a month. Their dreams of a warm reception are quickly shattered when Cecile says, "I didn't send for you. Didn't want you in the first place. Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance." It's 1968 when society is changing and men in berets carrying guns are shouting about black power. But it's also a personal time when the girls desperately want to know who their mother is and why she abandoned them. For meals, Cecile sends the girls for Chinese food, and to keep them out of her way, she sends them to the local Black Panther day camp. Over the course of the next four weeks, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern spend time learning about revolution even though what they want is a home-cooked meal and a real mother. Slowly, they become part of a larger community and the mysterious story of their mom's flight is untangled.



Is it any good?

ONE CRAZY SUMMER is worth reading more than once. It's a gem of a story, subtly offering details about 1968 Oakland yet staying true to the story of three girls hoping to reclaim their mysterious mother's love. Delphine narrates as a responsible, thoughtful, observant girl, wiser than her 11 years.  Her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, add humor and delightful age-appropriate tension. The juxtaposition of 1968 Oakland civil rights movement with the journey of the three sisters is seamless. 

The writing is poetic and simple, the characters are unforgettable, the social-historical references delicate, and the overall story a pleasure to read. The book doesn't finish with a perfectly happy ending, but it is a perfect ending. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Cecile was bothered by words like "negro" and "ma'am," and, when referring to her doll, why Crazy Kelvin asked Fern, "why are you carrying that self-hatred around in your arms?" Do you use different words than your parents? 

  • What do you know about the Black Panther movement?  What did you learn about it from this book? If you researched articles written in 1968 about the Black Panthers, what kind of information would you find? Do you think you'd find information about their breakfast programs for hungry kids and free day camps?

  • Cecile doesn't say much about herself, but we do come to know that she was a homeless teenager. Did learning that fact change how you felt about Cecile?  Do you know anything about teenage homelessness in your city or town?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love family and African-American stories

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