Scott O’Dell Award Winning Book


Williams-Garcia, Rita. One Crazy Summer. New York: Amistad, 2010. ISBN 9780060760885


Delphine knows that her mother is nothing but crazy. So when her Pa decides it’s time to fly Delphine and her two younger sisters to California to meet the mom that abandoned them seven years ago, Delphine isn’t all that excited. At least Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern will be able to go to Disneyland. But when the girls touch down in Oakland, they learn that their summer will be no amusement park. Cecile, their mother, is about as motherly as a cactus and she definitely did not ask to have her three girls shipped over. While Cecile busily prints off posters and poems for the radical Black Panthers in her kitchen, she sends her daughters off to a Black Panthers-sponsored summer camp each morning to get free breakfast and to get out of her hair. In the crazy summer of 1968, the girls learn more about Black power, revolution, and—slowly but surely—more about their outwardly prickly mother.


In this short but powerful novel, eleven-year-old Delphine take center stage. Delphine, the narrator of One Crazy Summer, has a voice that rivets readers from the very beginning. She muses that she’s a “plain” kind of person, steady and straightforward, but Delphine is anything but plain. Her sisterly devotion makes her both extraordinary and lovable. When Cecile only gets Chinese takeout every night, leaving Fern with nasty stomachaches, Delphine determines to shop for ingredients and cook dinner herself. When Cecile takes Delphine’s money, leaving the children without the California trip they’d hoped for, Delphine makes their own vacation, taking her sisters to explore San Francisco through her own eleven-year-old ingenuity. When summer camp classmates tease seven-year-old Fern for carrying around a doll, Delphine is quick to defend her sister. Readers can’t help but root for this no-nonsense main character.

The setting of the story is vivid and alive, firmly entrenched in Oakland, California during the summer of 1968. Delphine begins the story with a nod to Muhammad Ali as the plane’s turbulence is compared to a “Cassius Clay-left-and-a-right-jab.” The book is also peppered with other historical references: Delphine’s sisters talk about then-popular TV shows like Captain Kangaroo and Mighty Mouse, singers like The Monkeesand Brenda and the Tabulations, and the Vietnam War. Most integral to the novel is the Black Panthers, a radical group that recruits the girls’ mother for help making prints and poetry for their cause. While Cecile is printing and writing, she sends her daughters off to a Black Panthers-sponsored summer camp for kids where they’re taught about words like “revolution” and “Black power” and participate in a rally to remember the murdered Black Panther, Bobby Hutton.

Thanks to William-Garcia’s talent, the revolution and its members are written with incredible nuance. Sister Mukumbu, a Black Panther summer camp teacher, is compassionate and kind, while another Black Panther, “Crazy Kelvin,” is—well—crazy.. Delphine notices both the foreboding rifle-bearing leader, Huey Newton, and the hospitable, kind summer camp workers working together with locals, both Black and white. While Cecile never turns into the mom the girls have hoped she would be and Delphine never receives the motherly praise she craves, this bittersweet mother-daughter relationship is offset by Delphine’s loving and unbreakable sisterly bond with Vonetta and Fern. A memorable main character, a vivid setting, and a nuanced perspective of a radical historical group make this book a standout. Libraries need this book on their shelves.


Winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2011

John Newbery Medal Honor Book, 2011

National Book Award Finalist, 2010

Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 2011

From Kirkus: “The depiction of the time is well done, and while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page.”

From Booklist: “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.”


  • Create a small book display with middle-grade and young adult novels about the Black Panthers. Along with One Crazy Summer, include books such as the following:
    • Magoon, Kekla. The Rock and the River. ISBN 9781416975823
    • Spotswood, Jessica (editor). A Tyranny of Petticoats. ISBN 9780763678487
    • Shih, Bryan, and Yohuru Williams (editors). The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution. ISBN 9781568585567
  • In One Crazy Summer, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern recite poetry in front of a crowd. Host your own poetry recitation/slam night and invite middle-graders and young adults to recite poetry they’ve written or that they enjoy.
  • Read a short bio about Rita Williams-Garcia, the author of One Crazy Summer. Then set out a display of other middle-grade and young adult books by Williams-Garcia.
    • Williams-Garcia, Rita. P.S. Be Eleven. ISBN 9780061938627
    • Zoboi, Ibi (editor). Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America.ISBN 9780062698742
    • Williams-Garcia, Rita. Like Sisters on the Homefront. ISBN 9780140385618
  • Put out a display of all the 2011 Newbery Award finalists including One Crazy Summer. Then allow middle-graders to vote on their favorite title and hold an awards ceremony for the favorite pick.
    • Vanderpool, Clare. Moon Over Manifest. ISBN 9780385907507
    • Holm, Jennifer L. Turtle in Paradise. ISBN 9780375836886
    • Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai. ISBN 9780810989818
    • Sidman, Joyce, and Rick Allen (illustrator). Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. ISBN 9780547152288

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.