Sunday, April 22, 2012

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer Cover. Jacket art by Sally Wern Comport. Jacket design by Joel Tippie. From Image: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-crazy-summer-rita-williams-garcia/1100247530?ean=9781449838348&format=audiobook

  1. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. ONE CRAZY SUMMER. Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson. ISBN 9781449821968

  1. PLOT SUMMARY
It is the summer of 1968 and Delphine and her younger sisters, Fern and Vonetta, are on their way to visit their mother in Oakland, California. They can’t wait to arrive, to visit Disneyland and meet movie stars. But their mother, who left the girls with their father after Fern was born to fulfill her dream of becoming a poet and a printer, doesn’t have time to spend on sightseeing. Instead, she sends the girls to spend their days at the People’s Center, run by the Black Panthers. Cecile is too busy to be a mother to the girls and as the oldest Delphine feels responsible for keeping her sisters in line, so as not to create a “grand negro spectacle.” As the sisters and the other children at the People’s Center work to do their part for the revolution, distributing flyers and working on pieces to perform for the big rally for Bobby Hutton, Delphine struggles to reconcile her need to protect her sisters with her desire to be her own person and to gain the love and respect of her gruff and reluctant mother. What will happen at the rally and how will Delphine and her sisters feel about leaving Oakland at the end of the summer?

  1. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
For this review I listened to the unabridged five CD audio book read by Sisi Aisha Johnson and produced by Recorded Books, LLC. Delphine’s world is created by Johnson alone without the aid of music or sound effects. Johnson’s voice makes each character come alive with a distinct voice and vocal mannerisms, from innocent and playful Fern to showy, crowy Vonetta to the strong and yet vulnerable Delphine. Johnson ably embodies the supporting characters as well. For instance, Hirohito, the adolescent boy who both annoys and intrigues Delphine, comes alive as both gruff and eager. The book includes several poems, which Johnson handles deftly and even the prose of the book sounds like poetry when spoken by Johnson.
I found the listening experience emphasized the poetic quality of the book. In addition to bringing out the rhythm and lyrical qualities of the prose, Johnson’s performances of the poems in the book made me stop and listen. After I listened to the audio book, I read the chapters in the book that contained poems to see how the poems were arranged on the page and how that affected the experience. I found that I not only enjoyed the poems more when I heard them read aloud, they also made a stronger impression. The audiobook, like the print version, does not include an introduction, afterward, or author’s note. 
ONE CRAZY SUMMER provides a child’s perspective of social change and the Black Panther movement, making this historical time period accessible to young readers. Important events, such as Bobby Hutton’s death, and historical figures, such as the Black Panthers and Huey Newton, are explained as part of the plot. Delphine is learning about the world around her as readers learn about Oakland in 1968. References to popular music, books, and events of the time serve to include the reader rather than distancing them by time.

In addition to themes of sisterhood and family, Williams-Garcia focuses on Delphine’s struggle to fulfill her responsibilities to her sisters, Pa, and Big Ma, but not give up her dreams. As Delphine grows to understand the complexities of the world around her, she learns that the reasons her mother left were equally complex. By the end of the book, Delphine accepts that she will never have the mother-daughter relationship that she desires, but she has gained greater understanding into the reasons for Cecile’s choices.

Although Delphine and her sisters sing along with Brenda and the Tabulations and cheer Bill Cobsy on “I-Spy,” their relationship as sisters is timeless. As is Delphine’s struggle to protect her sisters and be true to her own desires. Eldest siblings will be especially attracted and empathetic to the character of Delphine, as she struggles to be responsible for her sisters, while at the same time growing up and exploring the world on her own.
The book is split up into short, episodic chapters that are the perfect length for reading aloud. The wonderful dialogue and distinct characters make this book a great reader’s theater candidate as well. 
  1. AWARDS/REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner
Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award Winner
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
Newbery Medal Honor Book
Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature Honor Book
National Book Award Finalist
Parents’ Choice Award Gold Fiction
Audie Award Finalist

Review from SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Sisi Aisha Johnson infuses each character with a distinct personality and the tone is upbeat and even humorous. She perfectly captures each character's voice, and her delivery is silky smooth and perfectly paced. Seeing the historic summer of '68 through the eyes of sensitive, intuitive Delphine is a treat. Featuring flawless writing and narration, this is storytelling at its finest.”

Review from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Delphine's growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers.”

Starred review from BOOKLIST: “Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent's love.”

Review from VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES: “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.”

  1. CONNECTIONS
*Questions to ask kids after they read the book:
-Do you think the girls got an education in Oakland they otherwise would not have gotten in Brooklyn? Why or why not?
-How do you think each sister changed during their four weeks in Oakland?
-Of the three sisters, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, whom did you most relate to? Why?

*The book is set in 1968, a year full of social change. Ask students to research 3 other events that happened this year and to share them as a presentation or as a paper. The 1968 Exhibit is a great resource: http://www.the1968exhibit.org/

*Read the poem, WE REAL COOL by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s a short poem and can easily be split up to be spoken line by line in groups or individuals. Listen to Brooks read the poem aloud here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15433

*Read the poems, WHAT HAPPENED TO A DREAM DEFERRED?, DREAMS, and CHILDREN’S RHYMES by Langston Hughes. What would Cecile think of these poems? How about Delphine?

*Read I BIRTHED A BLACK NATION, the poem that Cecile writes in the book. Split up the lines into three parts and read it aloud as the sisters do in the book. You can also play a clip of the audiobook to hear Johnson read the poem.

*Read another fiction book set in the 1960's. How do the events of the 1960’s affect the characters in these books as compared to Delphine and her sisters?
Curtis, Christopher Paul. 2000. THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963. ISBN 978-0440228004
Magoon, Kekla. 2009. THE ROCK AND THE RIVER. ISBN 978-1416975823
Schmidt, Gary D. 2009. THE WEDNESDAY WARS. ISBN 978-0547237602
Wiles, Deborah. 2010. COUNTDOWN. ISBN 978-0545106054

*Non-Fiction Books about the Civil Rights Movement:
Finlayson, Reggie. 2002. WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. ISBN 978-0822506478
Levine, Ellen S. 2000. FREEDOM’S CHILDREN: YOUNG CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS TELL THEIR OWN STORIES. ISBN 978-0698118706
Rochelle, Belinda. 1997. WITNESSES TO FREEDOM: YOUNG PEOPLE WHO FOUGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS. ISBN 978-0140384321

*Other Books by Williams-Garcia:
1996. BLUE TIGHTS. ISBN 978-0140380453
1998. FAST TALK ON A SLOW TRACK. ISBN 978-0141302317
1998. LIKE SISTERS ON THE HOMEFRONT. ISBN 978-0140385618
2002. EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES. ISBN 978-0064473033
2003. NO LAUGHTER HERE. ISBN 978-0688162474

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