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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Prater

A Historical Fiction You Can't Miss: One Crazy Summer


Williams-Garcia, R. 2010. One crazy summer. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books. ISBN 9780060760892


From Brooklyn to Oakland California – In the 1960’s after the Kennedy’s have both been shot and killed – 3 sisters are travelling to see their mother for the first time since she abandoned them when they were small. Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent to spend a whole month with the mother they barely know. However, Celeste is not at all what they had hoped for or dreamed of back home. In fact, she doesn’t even want them there and sends them away every day to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.


This story begins with 3 sisters being sent away for the summer to visit a mother they don’t even know. It appears that she abandoned them after the youngest sister, Fern, was born and her husband “refused” to let her name the child. The girls are unsettled by this request, but Delphine puts on a brave face for her sisters in order to please her father. She has been forced to mature at an early age which is typical for children of divorce who find different ways to cope when dealing with uncertainty. The setting is in Oakland, California which is developed as the girls are forced to explore the neighborhood when their mother wants nothing to do with them.

Delphine narrates the story, but the sisters play a major role in the story development and they each have their own distinct personality. Sisi Aisha Johnson was the perfect narrator for this book. She gave each character their own distinct voice and really brought them to life. This was my first time listening to this narrator and I was captivated the entire time. She narrates the other 2 books in the series, which was a smart choice. For audiobooks, a good narrator can make or break this format.

The girls are frequently and unwittingly used as pawns by their mother who sends them to the People’s Center run by the Black Panthers to keep them out of her way. The girls are faced with the reality of social events when they befriend a boy named Hirohito. They learned that his father had been taken away by the police, but are grateful he’s only imprisoned when compared to incidents happening in Oakland. There they learn about the Vietnam War, race riots, protest marches, canvassing, and handing out pamphlets for the cause. The depiction off the time is well done and depicted through all of the interesting characters they meet while they’re out. At first glance, the book seems humorous as the girls navigate their adventure throughout the city, but the plot is anything but comical.


Over the course of the next four weeks, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, spend a lot of time learning about revolution and staying out of their mother's way. Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. – School Library Journal

Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. 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.

– Booklist Starred Review

· Coretta Scott King Honor Author, 2011

· Newbery Honor Book, 2011

· Scott O’Dell Award, 2011

· National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2010


Student Lesson Connections

o Lesson – Judging the Book by its Cover: Pre-Reading Exercise

o Lesson – Six Important Objects:

  • Pre-Reading & Post-Reading Activities: Objects connected to characters and plot. Picture Chart handout

o Lesson – Getting to Know Rita Williams-Garcia:

  • Team Activity: Reading Rockets videos & team quiz

o Lesson – Mother vs Cecile: Expectations vs Reality:

  • Compare & Contrast Chart

  • Extension – Character Map

o Lesson – Literary Genres Crossover:

  • Facts connected to story elements

o Lesson – Poetry Connection:

  • “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

o Other Activities

  • Novel Study Trifolds – Daily Flip Books – Cut/Paste Comprehension prompts for interactive journals

Related Novels by Rita Williams-Garcia

o Garcia, R.W., P.S. Be Eleven. ISBN 9780061938641

o Garcia, R.W., Gone Crazy in Alabama. ISBN 9780062215895

Similar Books

o Johnson, V., The Parker Inheritance. ISBN 9780545952781

o Birdsall, J., The Penderwicks. ISBN 9780440420477

o Behar, R., Lucky Broken Girl. ISBN 9780399546457

Other Historical Fiction books from the 60s

o Owens, D., Where the Crawdads Sing. ISBN 9780735219106

o Kidd, S.M., The Secret Life of Bees. ISBN 9780142001745

o Whitehead, C., The Nickel Boys. ISBN 9780345804341

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