Friday, February 09, 2018

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

As I said on Tuesday, the Youth Media Awards are being announced later than usual this year. Back in 2011, the honors piled up for One Crazy Summer: National Book Award finalist, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  It feels a bit odd when events I remember are labeled historical, but the setting is Oakland, California, in the summer of 1968.  That was the summer that Langston Hughes seemed to foresee in his poem Harlem, better known by its first line, "What happens to a dream deferred?" 

Delphine, aged eleven, tells us about the trip she and her sisters Vonetta, nine, and Fern, seven, took to visit their mother Cecile who left them six years earlier.  Delphine's perceptions have been shaped by her grandmother from segregated Alabama, who judges by white standards and expects Delphine as the oldest to make sure the sisters are a credit to their race. 

Wrapped up in creating poetry, Cecile sends the girls down the street to the People’s Center where there is a day camp operated by the Black Panthers. There Delphine discovers new ways to think about herself and her race. She also learns more than is comfortable about the hard life her mother has endured. For her, as for the nation, that summer of 1968 is a watershed with startling parallels to current events. 

Like many award winning books for children, One Crazy Summer has plenty of depth to reward an adult reader. Family love and obligations, the drive for self expression, and an inside view of being black in America, are framed by the often funny, everyday life of children. One Crazy Summer has two sequels: P. S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama

For another look at our recent past through the eyes of a young black girl, try After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. And if you are wondering, the 2018 Coretta Scott King Awards and Newbery Award and Honor books will be announced beginning at 10am on Monday, February 12th.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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