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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 10 months ago

24 November 2009 ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia, Harper Amistad, January 2010, 224p., ISBN: 978-0-06-076088-5; Libr. ISBN: 978-0-06-076089-2

"I'd gone over this with Vonetta and Fern many, many times.  I told them long before Papa said we were going to meet her.  I told them while we packed our suitcases.  'Her name is Cecile.  That's what you call her.  When people ask who she is, you say, 'She is our mother.'
"Mother is a statement of fact,  Cecile Johnson gave birth to us.  We came out of Cecile Johnson.  In the animal kingdom that makes her our mother.  Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive.  Ran off or stayed put.  Cecile Johnson -- mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner -- is our mother.  A statement of fact."
In the summer of 1968, against the better judgement of their paternal grandmother (Big Ma), eleven-year-old Delphine, nine-year-old Vonetta, and seven-year-old Fern are sent off by their father on a plane.  Leaving behind the comfortable familiarity of their home and friends in Brooklyn, they fly to San Francisco to spend a month in Oakland visiting the mother whom only Delphine is old enough to remember.
"Mommy gets up to give you a glass of water in the middle of the night.  Mom invites your friends inside when it's raining.  Mama burns your ears with the hot comb to make your hair look pretty for class picture day.  Ma is sore and worn out from wringing your wet clothes and hanging them to dry; Ma needs peace and quiet at the end of the day.
"We don't have one of those.  We have a statement of fact."
When the three sisters arrive on the west coast, there is no warm welcome.  It immediately becomes clear that this will be no trip to Disneyland.  Their no-nonsense statement of fact, who now calls herself Nzila, is a poet and the high priestess of a table top printing press, and she is involved in the Black Panther Party movement.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER is the story, told by Delphine, of the three sisters' month in Oakland coming to know their mother, and living amidst the community social structure that is being organized and administered by the Black Panthers.  It is a great complement to this year's standout book THE ROCK AND THE RIVER which also explores the Black Panther Movement through the eyes of siblings.  (I will be booktalking ONE CRAZY SUMMER to readers from fourth grade up through middle school and recommending THE ROCK AND THE RIVER to middle schoolers on up.) 
"'Do too.'
"'Do not.'
"'I do too.'
Like when?'"
What, above all, makes ONE CRAZY SUMMER such an accessible piece of historical fiction are the constantly-unfolding sibling dynamics which are so real-to-life, and so engaging.  We quickly come to know each of the three sisters as individuals.  (I, of course, relate to the serious, oldest sibling, Delphine.)
ONE CRAZY SUMMER is also a story about getting to really know somebody -- about walking a mile in their shoes -- before passing judgement on them.  (And even then, you are not them and can merely say what you would do, coming from who you are.) 
"It wasn't at all the way the television showed militants -- that's what they called the Black Panthers.  Militants, who from the newspapers were angry fist wavers with their mouths wide-open and their rifles ready for shooting.  They never showed anyone like Sister Mukumbu or Sister Pat, passing out toast and teaching in classrooms."
Recent National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia has written a fun and important story with a lot of shades and complexities.  You might want to encourage middle schoolers who read it to then go on to learn about and think about the work of psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, whose groundbreaking studies played a role in the Brown v. Board of Education case.     
Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/


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