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Gaither Sisters #1

One Crazy Summer

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In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published January 26, 2010

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About the author

Rita Williams-Garcia

37 books705 followers
"I was born in Queens, N.Y, on April 13, 1957. My mother, Miss Essie, named me 'NoMo' immediately after my birth. Although I was her last child, I took my time making my appearance. I like to believe I was dreaming up a good story and wouldn’t budge until I was finished. Even now, my daughters call me 'Pokey Mom', because I slow poke around when they want to go-go-go.

"I learned to read early, and was aware of events going on as I grew up in the 60s. In the midst of real events, I daydreamed and wrote stories. Writing stories for young people is my passion and my mission. Teens will read. They hunger for stories that engage them and reflect their images and experiences."

Author of four award winning novels, Rita Williams-Garcia continues to break new ground in young people's literature. Known for their realistic portrayal of teens of color, Williams-Garcia's works have been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, PEN Norma Klein, American Library Association, and Parents' Choice, among others. She recently served on the National Book Award Committee for Young People's Literature and is on faculty at Vermont College MFA Writing for Children and Young People.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,452 reviews
Profile Image for Wilhelmina Jenkins.
242 reviews203 followers
January 15, 2011
I do not ordinarily read middle-grade books unless I am sharing them with my grandson, but I was drawn to this beautiful book initially because of its subject matter - children in Oakland during the early days of the Black Panther Party. But this book is so much more than its historical setting. I fell head-over-heels in love with the narrator of this book, Delphine, and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. With a group here on Goodreads, I recently reread the wonderful short story collection Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara. We all loved Bambara's strong, resilient African American girls, and Delphine is certainly a full-fledged member of that sisterhood. Smart, brave, and responsible far beyond her age of 11-going-on-12, Delphine has looked after her younger sisters along with her father and Big Ma since her mother abandoned the family seven years earlier. When Pa decides that the girls need to get to know their mother, they travel to Oakland where they encounter a very different mother than the one they pictured. Their experiences in Oakland with their mother, Cecile/Nzila, are perfectly related through through Delphine's eyes. Part of Williams-Garcia's brilliance is that she keeps Delphine's point of view, but through Delphine, we come to know her sisters, the political climate of the time, and the other characters in the book, including Cecile/Nzila. Although no one would argue that Cecile/Nzila is anything but a truly terrible mother, Williams-Garcia, through Delphine, gives us a glimpse of the reasons behind her actions and we are able to feel compassion for her - no small achievement!

There is no neat, happy conclusion to this story, and it would not be believable if there were. But there is growth on everybody's part and there is greater understanding. And, above all, there are Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern - beautiful, wonderful girls that I will never forget. Yes, this is a middle-grade novel, but it is so richly layered and beautifully written that I suspect that many readers of all ages will treasure this book. Many thanks to Rita Williams-Garcia for Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern and this dazzlingly beautiful book.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,750 followers
February 2, 2010
When I heard that teen author Rita Williams-Garcia had written a middle grade novel for kids I wasn't moved one way or another. I don't read teen books. Couldn't say I knew much of the woman's work. When I heard that her book was about the Black Panthers, however, my interest was piqued. Black Panthers, eh? The one political group so difficult to write about that you can't find them in a single children's book (aside from The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, of course). So what was her take? How was she going to do it? But the thing is, One Crazy Summer is more than merely a historical tale. It's a story about family and friendships and self-sacrifice. There are so many ideas floating about this little novel that you'd think it would end up some kind of unholy mess. Instead, it's funny and painful and just a little bit brilliant. One Crazy Summer is a book that's going to earn itself a lot of fans. And a lot of them are going to be kids.

Eleven going on twelve Delphine has always kept a sharp eye on her little nine and seven-year-old sisters Vonetta and Fern. That's because their mother left them seven years ago and never came back again. "Cecile Johnson - mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner - is our mother. A statement of fact." So when their father packs them on a plane and sends them to Oakland, California to see Cecile, their mom, the girls have no idea what to expect. Certainly they didn't think she'd just leave them in a kind of daycare over the summer run by members of the Black Panthers. And they probably didn't expect that their mother would want near to nothing to do with them, save the occasional meal and admonishment to keep out of her kitchen. Only Delphine knew what might happen, and she makes it her mission to not only take care of her siblings, no matter how crazy they make her, but also to negotiate the tricky waters that surround the woman who gave her up so long ago.

The whole reason this novel works is because author Rita Williams-Garcia has a fantastic story that also happens to meld seamlessly into the summer of 1968. I've been complaining for years that when it comes to the Black Panthers, there wasn't so much as a page of literature out there for kids on the topic (except the aforementioned The Rock and the River and even that's almost teen fare). Now One Crazy Summer is here. Certainly I don't know how Ms. Williams-Garcia set about writing the darn thing, but if she had stridently set about to teach without taking into consideration the essentials of good storytelling, this book would have sank like a stone. Instead, she infuses this tale with danger, characters you want to take a turn about the block with, and the heat of an Oakland sun.

I mean, take the people in this book! Someone once sold this story to me as "The Penderwicks meets the Black Panthers" and for the longest time I couldn't figure out why they`d said it. Then I started thinking back to the sisters. Ms. Wiliams-Garcia must have sisters. She must. How else to explain the dynamic between Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern? So it all became clear. If you love the family dynamics of The Penderwicks, you'll probably find yourself loving the same thing here. Of course, when your heroine is an upright citizen like Delphine there is a danger of making her too goody goody to like. But this girl isn't like that. She has a duty that she believes in (taking care of her sisters) and she'll do it, even when they fight each other. Even when they team up against HER! The sheer unfairness of what Delphine has to handle, and the cheery lack of complaining (aside from the occasional and very understandable grumble) makes you care for her. Her interactions with her mother are what make you love her.

Because this mother is a pip. Cecile throws a wrench (and a couple of other metal objects besides, I'd wager) into the good guy/bad guy way of looking at things. For kids, she's a pretty clear-cut villain from page one onward. And adults who have enough historical understand to be clear on why she does some of the things she does still won't like her. I wouldn't even be surprised if some parents referred to her as the world's worst mother. She isn't really, but many a parent's ire will be raised when they see how she refuses to call her daughter Fern by her name out of spite, or refuses to so much as look her own daughters for a while. Heck, this may be the only book where the phrase, "Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance," comes from the lips of a parental unit (not that any kid in the world would decipher what it means). Under normal circumstances, when you get a kid talking about the selfishness of their parent at the beginning of a book they turn out to be wrong in the end. So naturally I was waiting on tenterhooks for much of this book to see if Cecile would be perfectly redeemed by the story's end. Williams-Garcia never wraps anything up with a cute little bow, but she gives you closure with Cecile and maybe a drop of understanding. It's a far better solution.

Williams-Garcia will even use character development to place the story within the context of its time. The opinionated Big Ma who raised the three girls gives her thoughts on any matter rain or shine. Delphine then lists them, and kids are treated to a quickie encapsulation of life in '68. Pretty sneaky. Teaches `em when they're not looking. And one of those very topics is the Black Panther party. I was very pleased with how Williams-Garcia sought to define that group. She dispels misconceptions and rumors. Delphine herself often has to come to grips with her initial perceptions and the actual truths. As for the rest of the time period itself, little details spotted throughout the book make 1968 feel real. For example, the girls play a game where they count the number of black characters on television shows and commercials. Or the one time Delphine had felt truly scared, when a police officer in Alabama pulled her father over.

And, I'm sorry. You can make amazing, believable characters all day if you want to, but there's more to writing than just that. This writer doesn't just conjure up people. She has a way with a turn of a phrase. Three Black Panthers talking with Cecile are, "Telling it like it is, like talking was their weapon." Later Cecile tells her eldest daughter, "It wouldn't kill you to be selfish, Delphine." This book is a pleasure to cast your eyes over.

There is a moment near the end of the book when Fern recites a poem that is just so good that I couldn't seriously believe that a seven-year-old would be able to pull it off. So I mentioned this fact to a teacher and a librarian and found myself swiftly corrected. "Oh no," said the librarian. "Seven is when kids are at their most shockingly creative. It's only later that they start worrying about whether or not it's any good." So I'm willing to believe that Fern's poem could have happened. Otherwise, I certainly would have appreciated an Author's Note at the end with information about the Black Panthers for kids who wanted to learn more. And I was also left wondering where Delphine got her name. She spends a bit of time agonizing over that question, why her mother named her that, and never really finds out. Some kind of explanation there would have been nice.

It was teacher Monica Edinger who pointed out that One Crazy Summer pairs strangely well with Cosmic if you look at them in terms of fathers (on the Cosmic side) and mothers (One Crazy Summer's focus). That's one theme for the book, but you could pluck out so many more if you wanted to. Race and family and forgiveness and growth. Everyone grows in this book. Everyone learns. But you'll have so much fun reading it you might not even notice. You might just find yourself happily ensconced in the world of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern without ever wishing to leave it. If this is how Ms. Williams-Garcia writes books for kids, then she better stop writing all that teen fare and crank a couple more like this one. Kids are gonna dig it.

Ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Calista.
3,881 reviews31.2k followers
November 13, 2020
I started this story in June. I spent April, May and the beginning of June reading about 20-25 books a month or so and naturally, I burned myself out. All this to say, the reason I stopped reading this marvelous book has nothing to do with the book. It was just where I was at.

This little gem is amazing. I love Rita's prose and the way she tells the story. I don't know a whole lot about Black Panther history to be honest, accept the movies that show it from the white perspective and they always seem to make it look intense and scary.

Rita sets her story in Oakland, CA during the 60s in a community of the Black Panthers. In the author's note, Rita does tell us that some places in the country, the Panthers were different, but she shares her experiences with the Panthers.

Delphine, an 11 year old girl is the eyes of this story and her 2 other sisters, Vonetta and Fern. They are flying from NY where they live with their father to San Fran to spend a month with their mother who left after Fern was born.

Immediately, life is jarring and different from the love filled home they are used to. Cecile is not a normal mother figure. She doesn't cook or allow them in her kitchen where she works writing her poetry. The girls have to go out into this new city and get take out from mean Lady Ming for dinner and in the morning Cecile tells them to go to the center for breakfast and don't come back until dinner.

The center is the heart of the neighborhood and there are Black Panthers with guns patrolling the area along with policemen. The girls meet people at breakfast and then they attend the summer camp where they learn about rights and standing up for freedom. It makes for an interesting summer.

The girls have to learn to fit in and it's a different world for them. There is one day they take the bus from Oakland to San Francisco and see the town.

This is a story about community and having to depend on your neighbors for survival. The girls do have some good times and some not so good times. At the end of the summer there is a rally that everyone attends and the girls read some poetry. Delphine and her mother grow up that summer and they begin to understand each other.

It's a beautiful story, beautifully told. It opened my eyes to the past and wow, so much of the injustice people are standing up to now is the same issues they were dealing with back in the 60s.

Its fair to say that each community had their own idea of what the Black Panthers were about, but ultimately, they were trying to bring safety to the minority community. They were trying to stand up for their rights and their needs and make their world better. This community did a free breakfast each morning to help feed the people. They were building community and trying to uplift their community out of poverty.

It's so easy to forget or ignore that every time in our history when black people have tried to better themselves, people came in and ripped their community apart, places like Rosewood and many others. We are told to just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but black people have tried and they have been intentionally put down in our history. Things have been changing over the past 20 years, but its still a slow change.

This book is a fantastic and it is a great way to step into this community and experience life for these girls in the late 60s. It was a troubled time, but there were still some good times to be had in all that.

This book is fantastic and everyone should read it in school.
Profile Image for Christy.
3,815 reviews32.4k followers
June 14, 2021
3.5 stars

One Crazy Summer was a middle grade that took place in the 1960’s. This story follows three sisters who travel cross country to spend a month of the summer with the mother who abandoned them. What I loved: the sisterhood between the three girls, some of the side characters, I learned a lot about that time period. What I didn’t love: I never forgave their mom and I thought she was awful. Especially when telling her story, she told her eleven year old how ‘good she had it’ compared to her at that age. And while that may be true, her eleven year old was pretty much raising her younger sisters, the mother was doing nothing for them. It put such a sour taste in my mouth. I’m looking forward to continuing on with this series and going on more adventures with the Gaither sisters. Especially now that I see in the next book they’ll be spending it not with their mom.

Audio book source: Hoopla
Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: Sisi Aisha Johnson
Narration Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Middle Grade (historical)
Length: 5h 7m

Profile Image for Afton Nelson.
914 reviews21 followers
October 9, 2010
Important topic? Yes
Writing? Fabulous
Characters? Engaging
Newbery material? Well, I suppose since adults are the ones to vote, then yes. Probably. But if kids were voting, I'm not sure this book would make the Newbery radar. I started reading it to my kids and ended up finishing it myself. Normally when kids have an awful, self-centered mother or parent figure in children's literature, there is a candy house or 7 little men to make up for it. Not so in this book. Cecile never seemed to come around to her own flesh and blood. I kept thinking there'd be a point where she would wake up and develop a shred of human decency, but she didn't. And maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was an oldest child who was given responsibility for my younger siblings I didn't always want, but poor 11 year Delphine being forced to take over the roll of mother to her two little sisters really boiled my blood. Not fair! Her responsible nature was exploited at the expense of her childhood.

I realize I'm missing the point the story was trying to make; about the unfair struggles that went on in the black community in Oakland in the 70's. Maybe the idea was for the reader to draw the parallel between the unfairness of Delphine having the world's suckiest mom and the unfairness of the African American person's daily struggle to be treated civilly and with human decency. Both situations were maddening and made no sense.

How could Pa and Big Ma send their three little girls across the country to spend an unsupervised summer with a woman they knew full well had not one ounce of motherly love?

The story definitely had it's moments of triumph, like when Delphine was finally allowed in the kitchen to cook a regular meal for her sisters, the day trip into San Francisco, or when Fern ratted out Crazy Kelvin with her poem. I was just so overwhelmed with dislike for Cecile and anger at Delphine's lot to enjoy this story as I should have. Could it be that that was the point?

At any rate, I don't think Cecile deserved that hug at the end. Surely not.
Profile Image for Nnedi.
Author 151 books15.1k followers
July 14, 2011
loved it. fun read and perfect for young girls and boys. i wish i had this kind of book when i was a kid. but i'm content knowing that my daughter does. by the end, as an adult reader, i had the warm fuzzies.
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,750 followers
March 6, 2021
I love when I stumble upon young adult fiction that I, an adult, can not put down. This is historical fiction, set in the tumultuous times of racial disharmony, 1968. This book was particulary interesting for me, just having read Roots. It was painful to be reminded of what little progress our nation had made toward racial equality in the 100 years that had passed since the Civil War.
This is a gem of a book, with rich, developed characters and a great use of dialogue and voice to move the story. What a particular treasure for girls, grades 4-7, and for young adults who are or ever have been a minority or have dealt with abandonment issues.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,797 reviews2,342 followers
August 13, 2020

"We didn't come here for the revolution."

In turbulent 1968, three little girls fly to Oakland to reunite with the mother who abandoned them years before. Instead of being greeted at the airport with tears and hugs, they are met by an indifferent woman who sees their presence not as a chance to get reacquainted, but as an interruption to her life.

"I didn't send for you. Didn't want you in the first place. Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance."

She orders them to stay out of her kitchen, and banishes them from the house during the daytime so that she can continue with her mysterious work. At her suggestion, they spend much of the day at a local community center, which turns out to be the "Black Panther's summer camp."

What would Papa have said if he knew I was bringing Vonetta and Fern to a summer school where police cars drove by to see what we were doing?

While their education in the current political climate is underway, they also learn how to make new friends and get along with others. Then just when Delphine, the oldest girl, thinks she's got everything under control, the "camp" organizers announce that everyone will be taking part in an upcoming rally.

I knew "rally" meant "protest" and that "protest" could mean "riot."

This is another instance of me falling for a cute cover. I mean, look at those adorable little girls:


But, sometimes . . . a cute cover also has some pretty terrific pages inside.

Williams-Garcia's story is told with warmth and humor. I loved these kids, particularly the serious, and bookish Delphine. I was thrilled to learn that this is part of a trilogy. I'm very much looking forward to spending more time with the Gaither sisters.
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,900 reviews198 followers
July 4, 2016
It’s 1968, and 11-year-old Delphine Gaither has her hands full playing mother to her two little sisters, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern. She lives in Brooklyn with her father and his prim, old-fashioned mother, called Big Ma. Where’s the girls’ mother? Cecile Johnson abandoned the family before Delphine turned 5. Now Pa thinks the three Gaither girls should spend a month this summer with their long-lost mother in Oakland, California. And it will be one crazy summer.

You see, Cecile, now going by the more revolutionary name of Nzila, is much more devoted to her poetry and the Black Panther-led revolution than she is to her own family, in which she literally has no interest. She shuffles the girls, used to a pretty staid existence in Brooklyn, off to a Black Panther summer camp to keep them out of her way. Serious, self-sacrificing Delphine, already too grown up for her age, finds herself having to take care of her sisters pretty much on her own. Although already resentful of the mother who preferred a life without children to hamper her art and her freedom, Delphine never expected the cold reception she and her sisters received.

One Crazy Summer is one part the tale of a family torn apart, but it’s also a glimpse into the early days of the Black Panther movement and a reminder of what life was life for African-Americans no so very long ago. In addition, the novel serves as a glimpse into the mind of a perceptive, moral and very intelligent young girl who is wise beyond her years — and who knows it’s because she has to be.

And as for Cecile? I have to agree with Delphine’s sentiment on the first day of meeting her mother in Oakland: “I didn’t want to say Big Ma was right. Cecile was no kind of mother. Cecile didn’t want us. Cecile was crazy. I didn’t have to.” I find that other reviews find it in their hearts to — well, if not to forgive, to understand. Me? I’m in Big Ma’s corner, who couldn’t forgive Cecile’s selfishness, indifference, and irresponsibility.

One Crazy Summer recaptures the excitement and the changes of the 1960s, while also exploring the resilience of children in a less than perfect world crafted by adults. This is a children’s book that’s perfect for adults.
Profile Image for Beth Knight.
303 reviews5 followers
November 15, 2014
This is one of those "one more chapter and then I'l...(clean the kitchen, throw some clothes in the washer, take a shower, etc...)" kind of books. I loved it. I think Rita Williams-Garcia is a fantastic writer and she derserves all the awards and honors she got for this book. This is the first book of hers book I've read but it won't be the last. The story is fascinating (3 girls travel to California during the summer of 1968 to stay with the mother who abandoned them years before) and the setting is atmospheric. I loved reading about the Black Panthers, and even hearing the names of TV shows brought back memories of my childhood (I had just turned 4 during the summer of 1968). All three girls are delightful but the oldest, Delphine, is especially strong, smart, sassy and funny. Her maturity and her relationship with her younger sisters is inspiring. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,802 followers
March 5, 2017
Update! Here's my full review: http://www.bookishrealmreviews.com/20...

This book was phenomenal. I really enjoyed it. It definitely weaves in some interesting aspects of history! I had no idea how involved children were in the Black Panther Party. I knew about it's origins and it's most prominent members; however, I had no idea that children played such a significant role in doing small things for the party such as coloring in protest signs, organizing party newspapers, and protesting and performing at protests.

What I really loved about this book was the incorporation of family ties and what it was like for these three young girls who grew up without a mother. It was heartbreaking at first, but I really do think that it all comes together in the end. It illustrates how Delphine takes on a hoard of responsibility since her mom isn't there to take care of her or her sisters. The relationship between the sisters is even interesting. They look to each other for love, courage, and inspiration. It really is a wonderful thing to watch.

The only thing that I wished was that there was more Black Panther incorporation into the story. There was quite a bit information; however, it did leave me wanting more. I think that this is an important part of American that doesn't get written about as much in fiction especially children's fiction.

Overall this was a book and I can't wait to read the next one in the series! : )
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
November 30, 2010
Wow, what a trip, as we used to say back in ’68. Did this ever bring me back to the summer of 1968! I was not an African-American eleven year old girl visiting Oakland, but I was a fourteen year old white Jewish girl across the bay living in San Francisco. There was a chapter that takes place in San Francisco.

So, the author got one thing wrong about Oakland (no, there are no hills at all in that part of town) and maybe one thing about San Francisco wrong: I don’t think there were palm trees in that location, but I could have just forgotten, I suppose. Otherwise, much of the locale and time period seemed authentic.

This story definitely fits on my orphaned-and-quasi-orphaned kids shelf.

I really liked Delphine the narrator, at 11 going on 12 and the oldest of 3 sisters who live in Brooklyn, New York with their father and paternal grandmother, and who go to visit their birth mother in Oakland, a woman who abandoned them when they were very young.

I thought most of the story rang true. It was a bit on the edge of seeming realistic at times, yet so was my life at a certain point in time, so I bought it. The ending seemed not quite right but I can think of many other endings that would have worked even less well. I am glad that Delphine got some answers, very glad, and knowing what Delphine learns does give more credence and depth to what happened with this family, and why Cecile did what she did and why she was the person she became.

I love the sisters’ relationships with one another, especially how the oldest is most irritated by her middle sister but feels as though she knows her well, compared to how she loves her little sister even though she’s a bit of a mystery to her, and then how the two youngest fight with one another ; it all seemed very genuine.

The narrator really got across what it felt like to be a minority. She “counts” other African-American (then going by black or colored) people in various locations; I’ve been a “minority” only a few times, including two school experiences, but during those I definitely noted who else was “like me” and was highly aware of my minority status.

This is a fine book for kids who enjoy historical fiction novels with a bit of adventure and novels with a believable child narrator. The story is sad in many ways, but it isn’t depressing.

I read this now because I think the Children's Books group
is going to read this book as one of their January selections. It’s got quite a long hold list at the library so I read it as soon as I was able to get a copy.

Edited to add: Oh, and this book is very funny!
Profile Image for Robin.
1,505 reviews41 followers
October 19, 2013
I have mixed feelings about this book. It does several things successfully: Sister relationships, kids who have to take on extra responsibility at a young age, homeless teens, and political action in America in the 1960s. And all within a palatable mid-elementary storyline. I worry, though, that kids far removed from that time and place will somehow get the picture that the black panthers condoned abandoning your children. The panther characters in this book seem angry, dogmatic, and tone-deaf to the needs of the actual people in front of them (other than food). The reasons for their political movement and the history behind them are only briefly touched upon. The ending also implies that everything is now okay. Delphine's mother may have told the story of her hard life; it explains, but does not erase, the hardness she has shown her girls. While reading, I kept making connections to the memoir by Alice Walker's daughter http://www.rebeccawalker.com/work/bla... who wrote about living between two worlds, coasts, and parents. I also have to admit that I can't help reading stories like this through my own experience of airline shuttling with siblings to parents whose attention was elsewhere, riding buses to pools and stores and other parts of the city alone at 8 and 11 -- It sounds free and adventurous and full of potential glamour but, for kids under certain age, it just feels unmoored.
Profile Image for Phil J.
701 reviews54 followers
June 15, 2016
I am reviewing the author instead of the book.

Rita Williams-Garcia is deeply committed to her work and her readers. I offered this book to my students because it had strong reviews and my students seemed interested in it. When we started reading it, my 6th grade students raised some questions about the words "colored," "black," and "Negro" that appear in the book. I answered the questions as best I could, but then I thought, hey, what does the author think these words mean?

I searched for Williams-Garcia's contact info, and eventually came up with an aol address that was prefaced by a warning not to trouble her with your book reports. I wrote her an email about the situation, but my hopes were not high, given my previous failure to contact my childhood hero Daniel Pinkwater through his website and having Kate DiCamillo ignore my question about the Despair Squid from the British SF show Red Dwarf.

Williams-Garcia is passionate about the issues in her books, and she wrote a thorough, heartfelt response to my class' question. I can't overstate how empowering it is for 6th graders that an author treated their question seriously and sincerely. They received the message that they should read critically, understand history, and advocate for themselves. They also learned that they were ready to start talking about grown up issues.

As far as the book itself, I have some discomfort with it. Specifically, I think the Black Panthers are portrayed too positively, and the police are portrayed too negatively. However, I am encouraged by Williams-Garcia's affirmation that students should challenge the books they read. My students have enjoyed this book, and they are discussing topics and ideas that I've never seen 6th graders handle before.
Profile Image for BookNightOwl.
977 reviews175 followers
September 15, 2018
I enjoy books 📚 when a child is the protagonist. Taken place during the 1960’s. This book was different I’ve never read anything about black panthers and how much adults and children where involved secretly. I love the girls personality they were so funny and sassy and all so different. Want to read more from this author.
95 reviews
March 22, 2012
Maybe 2 1/2 stars because I really liked the relationship between the three sisters. The book takes place in 1968 and three sisters are sent from Brooklyn, NY to Oakland, CA to stay with their mother, who left when they were babies. Their mother doesn't want them there, so I can't imagine why their father thought this was a good idea. She's a bad mother. That's it. No redeeming qualities at all (unless you count that she's a poet who cares more about her poetry than anyone around her... and tell me, how can you be a good poet when you care so little about anything but yourself?). There's no "in the end, she turned out to just be misunderstood." Nope. She's just a selfish, bad mother. Which is OK, I understand not all people are awesome. But the book kind of leads you to believe that she's going to turn out to be an OK person. Only she's not. Then there's the Black Panthers. The girls go to a summer camp run by the Panthers because their mother couldn't care less what they do. Turns out the Panthers are OK people, and despite hearing bad things about them from their father and grandmother, they end up liking them. There's no real background in the book about who the Panthers are, so all you really get is "Pa doesn't like them" or "Huey is in jail." I feel like I know very little more about the Black Panthers now than when I started reading, other than that they attended rallies and weren't as militant as Pa thought they were. Because I didn't live through the time and have no clue how militant they actually were, I can't even make an guess as to who is right, Pa or the girls or both.

I'm really surprised this has been suggested as a Newbery contender. Maybe because there isn't anything else out there on the Black Panthers? There were even a few sentences I had to read several times and then read aloud to understand what the author was saying. Blegh.
Profile Image for Karina.
822 reviews
March 7, 2021
This was a fun YA quick read. (Ages 9ish-12ish)

The story starts out in Brooklyn, New York (USA) and is then ends up in Oakland, CA (USA) for the summer of 1968. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern spend the summer with their mother, Cecile, to get to know her after abandoning them when Fern was just a little baby, seven years ago. The father has promised them a trip to Disneyland and such great fun BUT....

Cecile takes their money and uses it for takeout. She is not motherly or kind towards them which leaves the three girls with so many unresolved questions. As the summer continues the girls meet men with Afros and black berets known as the Black Panthers and Cecile's involvement with the group becomes questionable but all she does is ignore the girls and their curiosities.

This is a great intro to the Black Panthers and California during that time in a way a young kid will understand. It is light and funny and has sad parts as the mom abandoned them and the girls want to be loved. Overall a good read. I like how the author writes about many difficult topics in a way that will get a child interested in history or a topic they probably never thought of.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,599 reviews192 followers
March 17, 2017
This book was terrific! I've never read anything by this author, and decided to check it out based on its cover. The girls looked so strong and I had to know where they were going.
I found myself pulled immediately into the narrative. Delphine, the eldest of three sisters, has such a mature voice for an 11-year old, and her sense of responsibility and integrity shine through her words. I liked how she managed her two younger sisters' moods and behaviours, and functioned as their mother, essentially, while the girls were in Oakland.
Regarding the girls' actual mother, wow! She's not the picture of a good mother, but when she explained to Delphine some of her background, I certainly could see why she was so reluctant at first to take on the girls for a month, and really enjoyed the way the author subtly showed her very gradual thawing and reaching out to the girls.
I really felt like the author took me to Oakland in 1968, and want to now track down the other books about the Gaither sisters.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,632 followers
June 23, 2015
Simply wonderful. A truly beautiful book, and sadly, the issues of racism, poverty, and inequality are still current. An important book that I will be having my 10yo read next so that we can discuss it.
Profile Image for Amy | Foxy Blogs.
1,412 reviews971 followers
June 15, 2021
One Crazy Summer caught my attention because it won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2011. And it also was given the Newbery Honor title.

The story centers around 3 sisters whose mother left them years prior with their dad. They are being raised by their dad and grandma. In the summer of 1968, the girls flew across the country to spend a month with their mom.

Unfortunately, their mother doesn't want anything to do with them. Their mom is involved in the Black Panther movement and has the girls attend their camp to get them out of her hair.

The summer isn't going the way the girls had hope. They were hoping to see movie stars in the grocery store and spend their days at Disneyland. But instead, they are learning they don't like California very much ... the people they've met aren't friendly and there aren't any movie stars grabbing groceries in the stores.

There are 2 more books in this series. I look forward to see what these sisters will do in their next adventure.

Audio book source: Hoopla
Narrator: Sisi Aisha Johnson
Length: 5H 7M
Profile Image for Raina.
1,596 reviews125 followers
March 4, 2013
Delphine is growing up under tough circumstances. She is the de facto leader of her little family. Her sisters look up to her. Her mom left the family years ago, but now Delphine and her sisters are going to stay with her for the summer.

I kind of loved the depiction of this very nontraditional mother. Delphine's mom is politically active, professional, creative, stylish, and not particularly interested in her children. The neglect is awful, of course, but I think it's healthy to see moms who do not fit the ever-giving stereotype. It's closer to reality. At least for some families.

I'm particularly interested in 60s social movements, and know pitifully little about the Black Panthers. This is a very specific view, just a tiny part of everything going on. It's fascinating to hear about the way that they teach and induct the children into the political lifestyle. It made me think about propaganda, brainwashing, healthy teaching, and building a societal paradigm. It's thought-provoking - especially for an adult who can see a larger context to the story.

I'd be interested to hear what an actual kid thought of the story, though. Would they enjoy it? Would they have any clue what's going on?

Good talking book, read on a road trip down to San Francisco and back.
Profile Image for Laura.
96 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2016
Delphine(11), Vonetta(9), and Fern(7) are sent to spend a month in the summer with their mother, Cecile, who abandoned them when Fern was just an infant. Delphine is in charge of herding the girls across country from Brooklyn to Oakland and making sure the younger sisters behave and don’t act like a “big Negro spectacle”. Upon arrival Cecile immediately lets the girls know that she doesn’t want them there and that they better not bother her peace and quiet. Instead of spending time with them, she sends them out to get their own food from the Chinese restaurant and to spend their days at the local community center run by the Blank Panthers. The girls get educated in black power and revolution while their mother stays at home writing poetry for the Blank Panthers. Delphine narrates this story with a strong, no nonsense voice that shows the grittiness of racial adversities during this time period, as well as the issue of the difficult search for a mother’s love. Great for grades 4-7 as a culturally specific book that can help readers more closely examine a highly sensitive and volatile time period in African American history. The characters are well developed and the events in the story will lend themselves to rousing discussion among students.
Profile Image for Marjorie Ingall.
Author 6 books123 followers
April 28, 2010
This didn't just blow my socks off; it blew them through space and time. This book was a TOTAL SOCK-OBLITERATING EXPERIENCE.

11-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters are sent to Oakland from Brooklyn for a month during the summer of 1968 to meet their mother, Cecile, who walked out when the youngest was a newborn. Turns out Cecile, who now goes by Nzila, wants nothing to do with her daughters (who live with their dad and grandmother) -- she's now a poet and an associate of the Black Panthers who seems to be seething at the girls' very presence in her house; every day she sends them off to the local community center's summer program run by the Panthers.

Am I making this sound like a Worthy Book, an Important Social History Lesson? It's COMPULSIVELY readable, with such well-drawn characters, lots of dialogue, humor, suspense, even a boy crush. Yes, it offers an absolutely immersive experience of a particular time and place...but he plot unfolds in ways I guarantee you do NOT expect. And I can't recall another character like Cecile in children's lit -- at first she seems like this 60s radical natural-haired terrifying version of an evil queen from a fairy tale...and then, slowly and not cheesily, there's a little nuance. Whenever you say a book is "brave" it sounds too noble for words, but I think the portrayal of Cecile is absolutely brave. BUT HEY! THIS BOOK IS AWESOMELY READABLE! REMEMBER THE READABLE!

Oh, and Delphine is SO endearing. If the world can be divided into the kind of girl readers who identify with Beezus and the kind who identify with Ramona, well, Delphine is for Beezuses like me. LOVE HUH.

One Crazy Summer is totally worth all the starred reviews and Newbury buzz -- but kids will like it as much as all those Guardians of Literature.
Profile Image for Mary Ronan Drew.
872 reviews101 followers
January 7, 2011
This book is a dramatic revisionist history of the Black Panther Party. The book is not particularly well written and most of the "facts" are incorrect. There is a sudden, sentimental, and entirely unbelievable character change at the end. Serious, hard-working and loving characters are disparaged. A mother who abandoned her husband and three children to become a poet and find herself is presented positively.

I read this children's book as a potential Newbery winner. I think, unfortunately, it may be a contender.

2011 No 6

Profile Image for Teresa.
662 reviews
February 18, 2016
Read this on my daughter's recommendation when I was home sick and was not disappointed! Author has a wonderful style of writing drawing characterizations of the sisters through their dialogue and age appropriate reactions to the setting and situations throughout their "crazy summer." I especially liked how the main character's first impression of her mother slowly evolves through the summer and the experiences she has while in San Francisco. The book left a lasting impression. Topics that were introduced in this story should be discussed with middle grade students.
29 reviews
January 9, 2014
This book has one of the rarest characters in literature, especially among children's stories: Cecile, self-named Nzilla, is a poet, an artist, a printer, a Black Panther, and a "crazy" mother who abandoned her three children.

I personally loved this book. Delphine is easy to empathize with, through her confusions and her pride. Nzilla is a beautiful artist that refuses to play by the rules called out for her, and instead transforms herself to become who she wills herself to be. The writing is rich and playful with words.

My only criticism is with the ending.
In the very end, Delphine finally gets a chance to talk to her mother and ask why she left. Cecile/Nzilla basically says Delphine wouldn't understand because she's too young. As an adult I can conjecture generalities of her life, but I felt the ending didn't give anything close to a satisfying answer or a piece to ponder for the child reader. Who knows, maybe a kid could understand the complexities of why a mother would leave her own children in pursuit for a new life based on her art. Nzilla is a gem of a character and I'm afraid her answer doesn't break open enough of the mystery that shrouds her past. And I also think Delphine and the reader deserve a more clear piece of her puzzle to ponder upon.

A note on teaching this book:

I was worried my second and third grader in the ell510 class wouldn't understand the historical references and would fail to see the significance of their search for identity from their mother and their skin color.

In the beginning, my students said Cecile is just crazy and a bad mom. They didn't even believe she was their mom!

In the second and third class, to my surprise, our discussions were able to lead to Islam, free (freedom) vs. free (cost), segregation in the 1960's, and protests. We even had a great discussion on the way Fern treats her white doll Miss Patty Cake (badly or with love?).

I found myself talking more about outside things with this book, which they were actually willing to hear, and it's been working out. I definitely have to resist overtalking and lecturing.

I don't think these kids could've gotten this in depth if they had read this book on their own. The magic of discussion and critical exploration shows itself again!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 3 books186 followers
March 13, 2010
When Rita Williams-Garcia visited the Tween Media Literacy class I co-taught this past fall as a guest speaker, she dubbed her latest effort "The Penderwicks meets The Black Panthers," and I can't think of a more apt description than that!

The world of 1960's activism and the Black Power movement is seen through the eyes of eleven-year-old Delphine, who, along with her two younger sisters, are visiting their mother for the first time in the summer of 1968. Cecile abandoned the family when the girls were just toddlers, and their father thinks it's high time they got to know each other, so he sends the sibs on a plane from New York City to Oakland, California. Delphine has a hard time reading the sullen, angry woman who writes poetry, is marginally involved with The Black Panthers, and openly admits that "I didn't send for you. Didn't want you in the first place." For four long weeks, the girls struggle to understand the messages of activism they are being taught at the local Black Panther summer camp, while trying to decipher the puzzle that is their mother. By summer's end, after taking part in a peaceful protest, they still don't have all the answers, but they have caught a glimpse into their mother's life and begun to understand the subtle difference between public, personal and family politics.

I have been a RWG fan since her first novel, Blue Tights, but she has outdone herself here. The unusual topic, the rich, warm lyricism of the writing, and the perfectly executed portrayal of a child's eye view of a controversial political movement just scream "Newbery!" to me. If this title doesn't garner a load of awards come next January, I'll eat my hat. Outstanding.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews124 followers
April 20, 2015
This was so great - it's going on to the (virtual) shelf of MG books that present difficult, even painful family dynamics with a light and humorous touch. Delphine is wonderful, and the time and place beautifully depicted. It was also great to learn about the type of summer camp the Black Panthers ran in many communities. I especially loved the way we see Delphine finally able to voice her anger at her mother for leaving, and know that's not the end of it. Just one small quote:
I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I was born knowing what to do when I sat with Cecile: Don't cry. Stay quiet. Want nothing. I could talk, but I'd learned that, as long as I was quiet, I was allowed to stay with her while she tapped against the wall with her pencil, wrote and wrote and said her rhymes over and over. Don't cry. Stay quiet. Want nothing.

Amazingly I ended up understanding Cecile a lot better than I expected to for most of the book, and that's another thing that's really well done. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the correspondence between Delphine and her mother in the next book.
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