Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York: Harper Collins.
If you haven't heard of One Crazy Summer, you will. Rita Williams-Garcia's latest middle grade fiction is getting a lot of buzz, and justifiably so.
One Crazy Summer is set in a poor neighborhood of Oakland, California, 1968. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern (three African-American girls, aged 11, 9 and 7) travel on their own from Brooklyn to Oakland. Their father, against the judgment of the girls' grandmother and caretaker, Big Mama, has decided that it's time for the girls to meet Cecile, the mother that deserted them. With visions of Disneyland, movie stars, and Tinkerbell dancing in their heads, they set off on the plane determined not to make, as Big Mama says, "Negro spectacles" of themselves. This is advice that Delphine, the oldest, has heard often. She is smart and savvy with a good head on her shoulders, and she knows how to keep her sisters in line. Not much can throw her for a loop, but then, she hasn't met crazy Cecile yet. Cecile, or Nzila, as she is known among the Black Panthers, is consumed by her passion - poetry. She writes powerful and moving poems for "the people" - important work, and she is not about to be disturbed by three young girls and their constant needs for food and attention. She operates a one-woman printing press in her kitchen - no children allowed. Instead of Disneyland and the beach, she shoos the girls off daily to the local center run by the Black Panthers. There, in the midst of an impoverished, minority neighborhood, the girls receive free breakfast, kind words, and an education the likes of which they would never have gotten in Brooklyn. Slowly, they begin to understand the plight of "the people" - the Blacks, the poor, the immigrants, even Cecile.
Although this book has several great themes (Civil Rights, sisterhood, community) and well-rounded strong-willed characters, you can read about them in any number of reviews. As for me, with my teenage daughter preparing to take a trip to Europe next month with the Girl Scouts, one thing from One Crazy Summer jumped out at me - the mind-opening, positive power of travel. Had Delphine, Vonetta and Fern stayed in their quiet, stable Brooklyn home, they would have been safe and well-cared for, however, they would have missed many experiences (both good and bad) that would likely shape their lives, their attitudes, their opinions, forever. Visiting new places and seeing the world through the eyes of people different from ourselves is a powerful experience. Delphine's wise father recognized that. So do I.
A heavy topic made light by the hearts of three winning sisters, smart and practical Delphine, carefree and adaptable Vonetta, and Fern, small, but determined Highly recommended.