Saturday, January 8, 2011

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia (ages 9 - 12)

I am continually amazed by kids' resiliency and inner strength. Our family is going through a hard time (my husband has just had back surgery), and our three children have really risen to the occasion. They have taken care of themselves and each other, holding down the fort while I've been focused on helping their dad. One of the best books I read this year, One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia, also looks at three sisters and how strong and resilient they are. It's a beautifully written book, set in Oakland, California in 1968, and has just won the 2011 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and was 2010 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.
One Crazy SummerOne Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garcia
NY: HarperCollins, 2010
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Delphine, the oldest of three sisters, is responsible for making sure that her sisters Vonetta and Fern behave as they travel from Brooklyn all the way to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile. Cecile left shortly after Fern was born, seven years ago.  Delphine, eleven, has brief memories of Cecile writing poetry. But the girls have been raised by their father and Big Ma, his mother.

Rita Williams-Garcia has developed a story with three very distinct sisters: Delphine, the oldest who always keeps things tightly under control and who is struggling to stay detached from the mother who walked away from her family; Vonetta, the middle sister who loves to show off and draw attention to herself, but who finds herself in this new place where things are so different than back home; and Fern, the baby of the family, who fiercely clings to her baby doll, the way she'd like to cling to the mother she never knew.

Children reading this story will be drawn into learning about how these three sisters cope and care for each other in these new surroundings. Their mother barely acknowledges their arrival, sending them down to the local Chinese take-out store to buy dinner by themselves the night they arrived. But children will also be fascinated to learn about the culture of the late 1960s and the Black Panther movement. Rita Williams-Garcia explains part of her reason for writing this story:
"If you say “Black Panther Movement,” I can guarantee, the first thought or image will never be of children whose parents and family members were involved, or of the children who were served by the Movement in schools and programs. We don’t first think of the leaders, ministers, rank and file members as parents, teachers, or older siblings. But in every community served by the Black Panthers, there were children. I wanted One Crazy Summer to introduce and show The Movement through the eyes of a child."
Read more about Williams-Garcia's thoughts in the interview she gave with Elsa Ulen at the National Book Award site.

You can read some of the first few chapters on the HarperCollins website (see below), to get a sense of the voice Williams-Garcia has created in the story. It's a book that I've really grown to appreciate reading a second time. The first time I read the book, I struggled a bit, because of the emotional distance that Cecile creates from her daughters. She's a tough cookie and hard to understand. But Williams-Garcia's writing is beautiful, with wonderful language and imagery, a great sense of time and place, and a rhythm and feel to it that would make it perfect to read aloud.

The awards for One Crazy Summer are piling up:
2010 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature
2010 Horn Book Fanfare
Texas Library Association Best Books for 2010

There are many reviews available, in blogs and in print journals and newspapers. One that I particularly enjoyed was by Liz B at the Tea Cozy.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, and I purchased an additional copy to keep for my own collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this page, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book as well and am happy to see it garner so much award attention.