If you're looking for quality reading choices for yourself or your kiddo, checking out awards lists is a great place to start. Last semester I took a children's lit class and one of the assignments was reading one title from each of ten different awards lists. For those of you who think it begins and ends with Caldecott and Newbery, guess again. There are a TON of fantastic awards programs in kidlit, recognizing everything from novels to nonfiction to picture books and lots more in between. (A great comprehensive source for kidlit awards is the list maintained by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, found here.)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Williams-Garcia is herself the recipient of numerous awards, including the PEN/Norma Klein Award, and One Crazy Summer has been honored multiple times: Newbery Honor book, Coretta Scott King Winner, Scott O'Dell Award Winner, ALA Notable Recording for 2010. But as we all know, award-winning books can be critically acclaimed and still fall curiously flat in the real world.
Luckily, that's not the case for One Crazy Summer. This is a novel that delivers.
Premise: It's the summer of 1968. Delphine and her sisters Vonetta and Fern are on their way to Oakland, California to spend the summer with their mother Cecile, who ran out on the girls when Fern was just a baby. At eleven, Delphine remembers enough of their mother to be afraid about what they are in for. And when they first head home with Cecile, nothing is as she thought it would be. Now transformed as the poet Nzila, Cecile seems more interested in social change and protests than in reacquanting herself with her girls. And the Black Panther Day Camp where she parks her daughters is not at all what Delphine had in mind. Revolution? No thanks. As Vonetta puts it, "We didn't come for the revolution. We came for breakfast."
And that in a nutshell embodies all there is to love about Summer. Williams-Garcia manages to paint a story about very personal relationships on the grand stage of civil rights, social protest and upheaval that characterized Oakland in the 1960's. Even as we watch Delphine, Vonetta and little Fern try to navigate this strange new world, and their stranger mother, we see the shifting racial climate and the tensions that were produced. The girls come from a world where assimilation is the goal, and their grandmother cautions against making themselves a "grand Negro spectacle". Oakland, though, is all about standing up and speaking out, fighting for your rights and being proud of yourself. And the struggle being played out on the larger scale is personified in the girls' own struggle to reconcile the two ideologies within themselves.