One Crazy Summer Book Poster Image

One Crazy Summer

A gem, with strong girl characters, '60s black history.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable

"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.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this 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 Oakland 1968, 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 contextual 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-historic 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. 

Families can talk 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? Does the media make up words or phrases that you use?

  • 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

Author:Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre:Family Life
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great girl role models, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 29, 2010
Number of pages:224
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Award:Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors

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Kid, 11 years old March 15, 2011
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 11 years old November 20, 2012

delephine and her sisters go find their real mother in oakland.

this is really good book for your kids. it teaches then to be grateful for what they have and to also be grateful for there family.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing