Set in1968 in Oakland, California during a time of civil rights unrest, One Crazy Summer tells the story of an almost 12-year old girl, Delphine, and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. Originally from Brooklyn, and now growing up with their father and grandmother, these girls travel to Oakland, California to spend a summer with their mother, who abandoned them at a very early age to pursue her poetry. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern quickly learn that their mother, Cecile, has no interest in being the kind of nurturing mother they so often longed for as children. In fact, Cecile has no interest in even calling them by their own names. During the girl’s first morning in Oakland, Cecile says, “If you want breakfast, go’n down to the ‘people’s center’” (Williams-Garcia 2010, 56). After initially being confused about where they were going, the girls soon realize that they are being shooed off to the local Black Panthers operation, a group focused on the rights of black citizens and one that provides for a needy community. In addition to eating cold eggs every morning, the girls attend a revolutionary day camp where they learn more about their own cultural and ethnic identity as well as the many historical events happening around them. In the end, Delphine gets a glimpse into the tumultuous life her mother had starting at age eleven and ultimately learns to understand her mother’s actions much better. Although the relationship is not entirely mended, Delphine travels back to Brooklyn with a happy heart after being able to hug her mom for the first time. For those interested in reading the sequel, P.S. Be Eleven is now available.
The reader does not have to have firsthand experience growing up in Oakland, California in the 1960’s to understand that the events and voices in this book are very real and reflective of the time. Rita Williams-Garcia does a stellar job of developing a fictional plot and characters around an authentic setting. In the Acknowledgments portion of her book, the author writes, “I could not have written this work of fiction without having read books, articles, and interviews that cover this period. I specifically could not have felt the climate of the times from Black Panther accounts and perspectives without David Hilliard’s The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service (Williams-Garcia 2010, 217-218). Although specific sources are not cited, this acknowledgment explains to the reader that careful thought and research was put into the historical details threaded throughout the book, giving it a high level of authenticity.
One such historical encounter occurs when the protagonist, Delphine, is visited by men dressed in black jackets and black berets, the reader’s first introduction to The Black Panthers. Additionally, on page sixty-nine, Delphine describes her surroundings at the People’s Center, “Instead of pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and President Johnson, there was a picture of Huey Newton sitting in a big wicker chair with a rifle at his side. There were other pictures of mostly black men and a few black women hung up around the room.” There, Delphine also acquaints herself with the famous Fannie Lou Hamer quote, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” All of these details intertwine very naturally throughout the plot and are told through the innocent voices of three girls encountering this history for the first time. As the Voice of the Youth Advocates accurately explains, “The historical details sprinkled throughout the book do not seem forced; rather, they lend authenticity to the setting, and the portrayal of the Black Panthers breaks with the harsher stereotypes.”
Although the protagonist, Delphine, is specifically an African American pre-adolescent growing up in a difficult prejudicial time, many of her personal experiences and struggles transcend any age or race. Throughout the course of the book, Delphine struggles to remain young despite having very adult-like responsibilities, contemplates a love-hate relationship with a parent, and is often the center of attention (negative or positive) for being different. These examples are real hardships that children all over the world struggle with on an everyday basis, making the events in this book very relatable.
Events and names referenced in One Crazy Summer could encourage and inspire children to do further research on topics such as The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Bobby Hutton, and COINTELPRO. Having further information handy, whether in book or electronic resource form, would be a great way to promote library usage. Additionally, including primary sources and inviting guest speakers to a library program would enhance children’s knowledge of the events depicted in One Crazy Summer. 1968 is a year not too far in the past. Contacting local African American Organizations could be a great way to find a speaker who grew up in that time and experienced some of what Delphine and her sisters did in the book. Several great videos depicting Huey Newton’s life in pictures and speeches are available on Youtube and could be easily incorporated into a library program. One great example can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oIWjbhZI-A. Blackpanther.org is also a great site for rare vintage audio clips and interviews never heard or seen by the public.
One Crazy Summer has been nominated for a plethora of awards including the National Book Awards in 2010, a Newbery Medal in 2011, the Judy Lopez Memorial Award in 2011, the Georgia Children’s Book Award in 2011, the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award in 2011, the West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award in 2011, the Young Hoosier Book Award in 2012, the Maryland Children’s Book Award in 2011, the Great Lakes’ Great Books Award in 2011, The Rhode Island Children’s Book Award in 2012, the North Carolina Children’s Book Award in 2012, the Volunteer State Book Award in 2012, The California Young Reader Medal in 2013, and the Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award in 2012.
Additionally, One Crazy Summer has won numerous awarding including the American Library Association Notable Books for Children Award in 2011, the Coretta Scott King Award in 2011, the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award in 2011, and School Library Journal Best Books of the year in 2010.
Blackpanther.org. n.d. blackpanther.org. Accessed November 3, 2014
Books in Print. Texas Woman’s Univeristy. Accessed November 2, 2013.
Praylu Productions. 2006. “Huey P. Newton Interview.” YouTube video. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=5oIWjbhZI-A. Accessed November 3, 2013.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0060760908