A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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The writing is poetic and simple, the characters are unforgettable, the social-historical references delicate, and the overall story a pleasure to read.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?
- Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
- Genre: Family Life
- Topics: Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great girl role models, History, Misfits and underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Amistad
- Publication date: January 29, 2010
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
Themes & Topics
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