One Crazy Summer is an incredible book – not only because much of the book takes place just blocks from my school library in North Oakland, CA – but because the main character, Delphine, is a strong and capable 11 year old girl who really knows how to make the best of a bad situation. I love her strength and her determination. This book ran like wildfire around my school.
Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are three girls, 11, 9 and 7, who live with their father and Big Ma, their grandmother, in Brooklyn, NY. Their mother, Cecile abandoned them when Fern was just a baby. One summer, the girl’s father says the girls need to know their mother and sends them across the country to stay with their mother in Oakland, CA. The girls, who don’t know their mother at all, are greeted by Cecile at the airport. Cecile not only doesn’t hug them, when she takes them home, she doesn’t cook for them or care for them in any way. Cecile sends them off every day to get their breakfast from the Black Panthers kitchen in the neighborhood and tells the girls to spend the day in the Black Panthers’ summer camp. The girls learn all about revolution but also that the Black Panthers feed hungry people. They also discover that their mother, a poet with a printing press, has been asked to print the Black Panther newsletter.
Delphine rises to the occasion. She rejects her mother’s call to eat Chinese food every night and goes to the store so she can cook meals for her sisters. She even plans an excursion into San Francisco so that the girls can actually see something of California, not just “poor people in Oakland”. Delphine is smart. You just can’t help routing her on and hoping that her mother can see all the good that we see in her.
This book is a window into the world of the 1960s and those who believed in the work of the Black Panthers and those in the black community who saw things differently. Delphine is forced to view both worlds, that of her father and grandma and that of her mother Cecile. What a great book. But, don’t just believe me. This book won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Honor. Don’t miss it.
I’m excited to read Rita Williams-Garcia’s new book, P.S. Be Eleven.