Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Genre: Historical Fiction
Grade Level: 6-9
Interest Level: 6-10
Themes: family, estranged parents, new places, Black Panthers, coming of age, new perspectives
Awards: Newberry Honor Winner, National Book Award Finalist, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Coretta Scott King Award Finalist

Summer is coming and this is one of my favorite summer reads! Delphine, and her sisters Vonetta and Fern, board a plane from New York to Oakland to spend the summer with their estranged mother, Cecile and it makes for an entertaining trip.

Delphine and her sisters Vonetta and Fern are funny, vulnerable and authentic, as young black girls reaching towards adolescence. I can see the exasperation, rolling eyes, hands on hips and sucking of  teeth in this poignant, historical fiction novel,  as sister’s work at “being sisters” and daughters and adolescents.  Please don’t see this as a stereotype, even though you easily could. It is not that. It is one snapshot of an urban, black girls rite of passage. It is not wrong, or “ratchet”, too grown, or flip. It is young, black girls finding their way, making sense of their circumstance, history and how they are perceived and treated in the world as well as, how they will make peace, and a difference in the world. 

Rita Williams-Garcia’s Newberry honor winner is culturally authentic and engaging! It  is the first book in a series that follows the lives and growing up of the adolescent Delphine and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern.

In One Crazy Summer we meet Delphine, as she and her sisters are shuffled onto a plane from New York to Oakland to spend time with their absent, and estranged mother Cecile. Very rarely do we have an “absent mother” situation, so this novel presents an interesting twist in the black family dynamic. We are usually faced with an  absent father in the black community. That we get to question and reflect on “roles’ of motherhood and womanhood in the process is a bonus.

What awaits them in Oakland is a different way of life, new people, new experiences and a whole lot of growing up. This book dives below the surface of the Iceberg of Culture. In this story we see the subtle layers underneath the surface of the Iceberg concerning rules of conduct, concepts of food, notions of child rearing, concept of "self" , tone of voice, attitudes towards dependence, attitudes towards elders, problem solving in relation to age and more.   

Delphine, and her sisters,  however, keep it “100”(real, true to self), which means keeping it honest, sassy, curious and fun-loving.  Check your bias here folks, because these smart and vivacious little girls( and their momma) might have you going to your “first thought”, but do them the favor of letting it move to your “responsive” thought.

Instructional Possibilities are many.  An in depth study of the Black Panthers in their vision, work, and the  controversy surrounding them are obvious choices as well as , the relationship between the police and the black community. Less obvious instructional possibilities are the  study of the roles of women, the importance of extended family, the statistics/roles of single fathers, the below the surface cultural realities,  and of course, the historical study of race, class, &  gender during a tumultuous time in our country’s history.

Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are waiting. Don't leave them hanging!

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