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The past made present | class #3, spring 2017

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Next Tuesday (February 7), the YA literature class will be discussing several books on the theme “The past made present,” considering both nonfiction and historical fiction. A number of these works address the topic of Civil Rights.

  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steven Sheinkin
  • Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
  • Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Supplemental readings:

Everyone will be reading One Crazy Summer; they will choose to read either No Crystal Stair or Most Dangerous; and they are being asked to explore (but not necessarily read in full) either Claudette Colvin or Marching to Freedom.

We welcome all of you to join the discussion on any of these titles or the topic at large.


 

Historical Fiction and Nonfiction

Historical fiction is a balancing act of storytelling and character development with real-world events. How do these different elements function together? How do the authors engage readers in both the lives of the characters and their time and place in history?

Good nonfiction shares many of the qualities of good fiction; the best writers pay as much attention to narrative, style, and characterization as to careful research of the facts. Design is another important feature of much nonfiction. Which literary elements strike you most in the works for this week?

Respond to any of these questions and/or comment on the relationship and interplay between the two genres.

 

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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  1. I also adored “One Crazy Summer” — I’ll be honest, I had already read it last semester for Lolly’s class, and I loved it so much I put it in my bibliography assignment. Williams-Garcia does a nuanced job of creating a story that it steeped in history, but doesn’t seem didactic in any way whatsoever. The story is always about Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern and their experiences living with their mother that one summer. Their story remains at the forefront. But the background is packed with interesting and fun historical details about the Black Panthers: they provided (revolutionary) summer school; they serve breakfast to children; some Panthers are poets, and teenagers, and teachers, and children. Nzila/Cecile could be a tragic heroine in another YA novel about the Black Panthers — a black woman poet who leaves her family behind for the revolution, but Delphine’s “plain” assessment of her brings her down to earth.

    I’m not sure I ever would have picked up “Most Dangerous” as a young reader — somehow, I didn’t think non-fiction books could be that interested, but I was riveted. I soaked up every single detail. “Most Dangerous” is so different in style from “One Crazy Summer.” Facts are at the forefront, and I can’t imagine how much Sheinken must have toiled to research this book. It’s highly accessible and presented without any sort of obvious political influencing from the narrator. It could be dry, if done less well, but the writing is interesting and very readable, and it retained my interest the whole way through. I had learned these histories in class before (about Watergate, and the Pentagon Papers), but I hadn’t remembered them or thought deeply about them.
    Side thought: Also, we as a country clearly have learned nothing since then…
    Second side thought: Did the book misspell Barack as Barak? Or was that just in my edition?

  2. Stone Dawson says:

    I have never considered myself a fan of nonfiction; however, Steve Sheinkin’s “Most Dangerous” may end up serving as a turning point in my life as a reader. I could not put it down. What Sheinkin does so masterfully is to bring a human element to the history he is telling. Often when reading history, the characters walk around in our minds like stick figures. Some of them are good, while others are bad, but none of them have much substance to them. In “Most Dangerous,” I feel as though I’ve had insight into not only the actions of such figures in history as LBJ or Robert McNamara but also into what they were like as people. I saw them change before my very eyes as they faced new struggles and made decisions. Reading the supplementary articles for this week’s class while still pondering the central readings, I was struck by the simplicity of the truth in Nabokov/Forster’s comments on the difference between narrative and plot. What the readings for this week did so beautifully was to remind me that history is not a plot. It is not merely a sequence of events that led us to our current place, but a sequence of ideas and decisions by people with lives and stories just like our own.

  3. Catherine says:

    In One Crazy Summer, I was intrigued by Delphine’s need to make conscious decisions not only about WHAT she says, but also about HOW she says it. Delphine clearly prides herself on her ability to speak plainly: “I just let my plain face and plain words speak for me. That way, no one every says, ‘Huh?’ to me. They know exactly what I mean.” She also refuses to say “ma’am” to white people. “I said, ‘Thank you,’ but I didn’t add the ‘ma’am,’ for the whole ‘Thank you, ma’am’…That old word was perfectly fine for Big Ma. It just wasn’t perfectly fine for me.” This idea of being respectful without crossing the line into submissiveness was also reminiscent of Brown Girl Dreaming: “Never ma’am—just yes, with eyes / meeting eyes enough / to show respect.”

    It was interesting to see that No Crystal Stair also had much to say about the importance of the manner in which one speaks. Like Delphine, Lewis Michaux prides himself on his plain-spokenness. Regarding his nickname of “The Professor,” he explains: “I am a professor in my own field…I don’t have to pull no punches. I don’t stammer. I don’t talk from no manuscript like a trained Negro has to talk so he’ll be sure not to offend the folks whose shoes he’s shining.” Surely this echoes Delphine and Jackie and their refusal to “ma’am” others. Additionally, the book offers an interesting critique of the manner in which Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and others spoke and how that affected their message and how it was received. About King, for example, Lewis says, “…there’s beauty in his words. But he’s so educated, a common man has to carry a dictionary in his pocket to find out what the hell he’s talking about.” In contrast, Lewis says of Malcolm X, “He makes it plain. He connects with people. He’s got the gift of delivery.” Of course, the ability to talk in a certain way is also integral to Michaux’s success as a salesman (and to his brother Lightfoot’s success attracting a large congregation). In short, I am interested by the value both books place on speaking plainly and on making oneself understood, and would love to hear if others have any insights on this.

  4. Catherine, I’m glad you mentioned the connection between omitting “ma’am” in both Brown Girl Dreaming and One Crazy Summer, because I had been thinking about the overlap, too. And Shaina, I also really appreciated how the historical events in One Crazy Summer were present without burdening or distracting from the fictional elements of the story. Also, I found Rita Garcia’s-Williams’ use of figurative language impressive in its appropriateness for a young audience, such as “boiling pot of trouble cooking” or “balls of flashlight ghosts.”

    Additionally, in relation to last week’s discussions of windows and mirrors, I found myself mostly looking through windows, but I saw my reflection in the relationship of the three sisters. I have two younger sisters (age differences the same as those of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern!), so I found Williams-Garcia’s description of their (positive and negative) interactions very accurate, such as how the girls excitedly talk on top of each other, how conversations end up being two sisters versus the other, or when Delphine narrates, “Just like I know how to lift my sisters up, I also know how to needle them just right.” These genuine descriptions of sisterhood made me appreciate the careful authenticity of Garcia-Williams’ writing.

  5. Like several posts already, I throughly enjoyed One Crazy Summer. Rita Williams-Garcia paints a beautiful picture of what it was like for these three sisters to become a part of a moment much greater than their summer visiting their mother. I loved how Williams-Garcia carefully crafts a complex story of sisterhood and motherhood by enriching the details of the relationship between the mother, Cecile and the three daughters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Cecile leaves behind her three daughters for the revolution and has a talent for writing poetry. Several events toward the end of the book showcase the affection Cecile has for her daughters and how far she will go to protect them. It was truly a book full of history, suspense, and affection that many young adult readers would enjoy.

  6. In addition, I enjoyed looking through the Claudette Colvin nonfiction text. I found the pictures and artifacts enlightening. About a year ago, I helped teach a 5th grade unit on the civil rights movement and created a “journey box” full of primary sources for students to explore and question. As I search through the text, I noticed that there were many primary sources, such as pictures and police reports that I used for the journey box. My students were surprised to know that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to get out of her seat on the bus, but rather it was a young girl about their age. This book would be a great text to bring into the classroom as a resource for students. I know my students enjoyed learning about Claudette.

  7. Bobby Dorigo Jones says:

    While I loved historical books when I was in middle school, I HATED my history textbooks. So often, American history is presented as a tale of linear progress, dotted like a pointillist painting with people, events, and other notable dates. A great deal of the history my classmates and I grew up with was told from a very high altitude – you could almost smell the musky tweed of the armchair historians who wrote the books. My takeaway from the readings this week somewhat follows Shaina’s point on how the ‘plainness’ of Delphine’s descriptions helps to ground Nzila’s character in the story. Both One Crazy Summer and No Crystal Stair present history in a compelling way that rewrite narratives and opens up space for young readers to insert themselves into historical moments.

    The fictional One Crazy Summer offers students a way to really place themselves in a historical event, to feel what things were like on the ground. The narrative of a girl, her sisters, her mother, is so accessible because people – their families, their daily (sometimes monotonous) experiences, are the atoms of history. Historical fiction like One Crazy Summer presents history as it was lived, not as it was recorded after the fact, and when history is imbued with life, kids get interested. A similar thought can be said about No Crystal Stair – its telling the story of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of the Michaux family gives students basic knowledge about the era, but more importantly engages the readers in a dialogue about the different schools of thought within the movement, inviting students to fill in the blank space between each family member’s ‘confessionals’ with their own thoughts. Both books have the same ultimate effect – grounding history in lively, relatable perceptions and characters and keeping a reader engaged far more than a textbook ever could.

  8. Analiese Reigstad says:

    I deeply enjoyed reading “One Crazy Summer” this week. Delphine’s voice was strong, clear, and consistent throughout the novel. As Shaina mentioned, I also appreciated that Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern remained the central focus of the story. One tricky part of reading historical fiction is that if the narrative and history are not effectively integrated, the book can begin to read like more of a history lesson than a novel. Reading historical fiction as a kid, I remember sometimes feeling like adults were trying to trick me into learning by covering history with a thin veneer of storytelling. However, in “One Crazy Summer,” Williams-Garcia succeeds in building an world in which historical fact emerges authentically and imperfectly, as it would in real-time.

    I also appreciated Williams-Garcia’s authentic crafting of familial relationships throughout the book. Through Delphine’s narration, I found myself carried along with the emotional changes she experiences over the course of the story arc. In the beginning, I shared her loyalty to Big Ma and wariness of Cecile. Toward the end, my heart softened toward Cecile and I too began to understand the choices she made. Sometimes I felt that Delphine’s reflections articulated my exact reactions to certain parts of the story. For example, toward the end, when Cecile finally fills in Delphine’s gaps in memory and understanding, I sighed in total agreement with Delphine when she says, “It was too much. I’d have to take it out one piece at a time to look at it” (p. 210). All in all, I think this story would be a powerful source of conversation and self-reflection in the classroom.

  9. Min Hyun Oh says:

    Like Stone, I was surprised to find myself enjoying “Most Dangerous” by Steve Sheinkin. The way Sheinkin unraveled a dense chain of historical events was not only engaging, but effective in a sort of “character development” that I found fascinating. I appreciated how Sheinkin’s depiction of the figures in the book (e.g., LBJ, McNamara) wasn’t dry. The more I got into the story, each character’s motivations and flaws became clearer, and I think the maps, photographs, and direct quotes scattered throughout the book effectively supplemented both Sheinkin’s writing and the events that were developing.

    One thing that stood out to me was the repetition of “perspective is everything” (pp. 31, 32, 35, 294). I think this phrase is an important reminder in how we approach historical fiction and nonfiction texts, especially for young readers who engage in events of convoluted causes and effects. What did you guys think?

  10. Caryn Howell says:

    That’s an interesting point, Min. I was struck by the “Perspective is everything” sentence when the POWs are cheering on the bombers, but I hadn’t actually noticed it repeated elsewhere. That would be the perfect line to anchor lessons around this book in so many ways. It could be a writing prompt, lead to a role play, or a discussion around what perspectives or information we trust or believe and why. I can see this book being the text for a whole unit on the 70s/the Vietnam War and I think that this book would really engage teens in the kind of thinking that you described.

    Sheinkin, like others have said, weaved in the various perspectives so masterfully. I took an entire class on the Vietnam War in undergrad and I still learned something new on every page of this book, while still feeling like I was reading a story. As a history person, I’m most bored by the details of combat and battles and more interested in the social history, but reading about the day-to-day combat and battle strategy via the perspective of pilots who had been gunned down or the conversations between McNamara and Westmoreland brought this alive and gave meaning to what was happening. In a book mostly about Ellsberg, Sheinkin doesn’t gloss over or simplify anything about the context in which Ellsberg made his decision or about the others involved in various ways, and I think that’s just one of the reasons it was such an excellent read.

  11. As for Shaina, this week’s reading brought me into contact with an old friend from my bibliography for Children’s Literature, for which I used a book by Steve Sheinkin. My topic was the Civil War, and that book was on Presidents Lincoln and Davis; wow, what an incredible range he has. Like many of the other commenters, I was struck by how readable and compelling Most Dangerous is–it zips along at a heady pace, but is buttressed by impressively thorough research, interviews, and sources (just look at the fifty pages of notes and index in the back.) I also appreciated his use of supplemental material and really enjoyed the photographs. I thought a lot about pacing–clearly I could have stopped reading to check out Daniel Ellsberg’s Wikipedia page at any time to answer any questions that came up, but that seemed to defeat the purpose of joining Sheinkin for this longer journey.

    Min, I appreciate your question about perspective, and I think that it’s interesting to think about Most Dangerous and One Crazy Summer when keeping in mind the perspective through which the narrative is shaped (Bobby’s comment is relevant to this as well.) Sheinkin tells the story of an incredibly compelling hero/antihero whose actions have immediate resonance for American politics. Williams-Garcia takes a different tack, beyond the obvious difference that her work is fiction; as others have pointed out, Delphine is a personable narrator and also an everyday girl whose struggles are relatable even as they are backdropped by their political context. One of the elements of One Crazy Summer that I most enjoyed was how all three of the sisters, as well as their mother, develop and grow over the course of the summer; the focus on Delphine, as the narrator and protagonist, does not exclude their secondary dynamism.

    Finally, as an ardent devotee of 1960s protest music, I thought I’d share two of my favorite songs about Vietnam for anyone else who enjoyed Most Dangerous: “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” by Tom Paxton (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTyqoV1d2Ys) and “We Seek No Wider War” by Phil Ochs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTm7TVWZi0E).

  12. Uttara Pant says:

    Like everyone else on this thread I really enjoyed “One Crazy Summer”. I really appreciated the way the Williams-Garcia dealt with the Panthers and their activities, the complexity of the girls’ relationship with their mother and growing up. Like several others have commented, the sustained focus on Delphine, her sisters and their summer was something I really appreciated. I thought Williams-Garcia kept the relationship between Cecile and her daughters very “real” and complicated. Although they understand each other in the end and seem to have forged some sort of real relationship, I really liked that they didn’t have some sort of perfect reunion. Although there was that very sweet hug at the end. But it didn’t act as a moment of perfect reconciliation and I really liked that.

    As I write this post I have about 20 pages of “No Crystal Stair” to read. First- Pardon my ignorance but I had no idea such a place ever existed so I was amazed and overjoyed. Second- like Catherine mentions, the way in which Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are discussed in terms of how they both speak really struck a chord with me as well. I’ve often thought about the ways in which activists of any kind present themselves, especially through speech and how accessible they are. I don’t know if I can answer Catherine’s question about the importance these books but on “speaking plainly” and “making oneself understood”- but I think they are both definitely on to something. And I think these books do that very effectively as well. They are able to tell amazing stories while also laying out, quite clearly the setting in which these stories are taking place, the political atmosphere and the implications these have on the lives of the characters. To my mind this is often quite difficult to do, especially when you are writing for young adults and both these books do this exceptionally well!

  13. Sophia Pompilus says:

    One Crazy Summer was an interesting book. It was difficult reading this book because I was utterly frustrated at Cecile’s selfishness in how she treated her daughters like inconveniences. Reading the story from Delphine’s perspective and realizing how mature she is made me forget at times that she was not that old herself. And yet, Delphine assumed the motherly role Cecile refused to take on in caring for her younger siblings. I am very close to my own Mother and have a mother-daughter relationship with several women in my family and I cannot imagine such a cold reception from them. While Cecile’s work in the community and her willingness to speak up about the injustices the Black community was facing, I could not initially reconcile her commitment to the community while ignoring her own commitment to her children.

    However, even in my own family, there’s always that one narrative that is passed around from generation to generation that is hard to rid of. Especially for children as young as Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, their only concept of reality is that which the adults they trust (Pa and Big Ma) expose them to. It made me question what the balance is between letting children know information that is necessary but may be detrimental to their emotional health, versus giving them the information to process on their own. I struggled immensely with this question in light of the fact that Big Ma and Pa sent the girls to Oakland with half truths, while also stating they needed to know their mother. In not fully explaining why Cecile took the actions she did, Big Ma and Pa caused there to be a strain in the girls’ relationship with her even before they boarded the plane at JFK.

    Lastly, I appreciated this book as a historical fiction piece because I felt it was easy to place myself in Oakland during the rise of the Black Panthers. Community organizing has only recently seemed to be pushed more as a norm, but the level of organization the Panthers had in the 60s and 70s was phenomenal. While I knew much of this information before, it was nice to see Williams-Garcia highlight aspects of the movement (such as the free breakfast program) when oftentimes they’re presented as simply a militant, anti-police group.

  14. Bonnie Tynes says:

    I am moving to the Bay Area this summer, and was very excited read “One Crazy Summer”, as it is set in Oakland. It’s fun to transport yourself to another location through reading, especially one that has you might have a personal connection to. Aside from the setting, I found this to be a thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable read. Delphine pulls you in from the get go as she expresses that her main role is just keeping her sisters “in line”. I felt a lot of frustration and confusion toward Cecile at first, but as the plot unraveled I found myself sympathetic toward her actions. She doesn’t fit neatly into the box of mother, and she doesn’t fit neatly into the box of any other title, really. She is a poet, she is an activist, she is stubborn, but what would her title be if she had to give herself one?

    Further, I greatly enjoyed reading “No Crystal Stair” by Lewis Michaux. The interwoven commentary throughout the book around ways of speaking and communicating was fascinating. I appreciated the opinions of Michaux in regard to these speakers, but I also appreciated his invitation to form ones own opinion.

  15. Gardenia Xiaoyuan Ye says:

    When I began reading the book One Crazy Summer, I was not familiar with this period of time of the US back in 1960s. I did some search on the Internet about Miss Patty Cake, Booby Hutton and Huey Newton, and had a feeling that I was actually experiencing a similar but different kind of learning with US teens who are reading this book. The book is weaved in a way that even if you have no clue about what Black Panthers is about, you can still hear the whole story and the protagonist Delphine talking to you, after which you get interested and do research about the event and want to reread it all over again.
    I agree a lot with what have been mentioned: Jenni mentioned the complexity of sisterhood and motherhood; Catherine referred back to Brown Girl Dreaming about the title “Ma’am” (and I only learned about the implied meaning and culture attached to “Ma’am” after reading these two books); Ana mentioned the familial relationship depicted in the authentic voice. Besides, what interested me most was the three sisters’ trip to Chinatown in San Francisco in the book as well as on the book cover. 1960s was also a hard time for China, when students were stopped from attending schools, but were called “Red Guards” and sent to attack the items that were subject to Four Olds (old customs, culture, habits and ideas) and later to attach people with bourgeois elements. The Little Red Book mentioned somewhere in One Crazy Summer was the guideline for the Red Guards. Only by looking up Wikipedia later did I learn that Huey Newton went to China for 10 days in 1971 and was supported by Chinese people and the government. This makes the reference to Chinese elements in this book seem more sensible to me. It is interesting to me in the sense that the two movements seem to have some association, but I have never learned about that during my education in China. It is also interesting to me what people in our classroom think about the Black Panthers (I am eager to know this during the discussion).

  16. Sarah Mintz says:

    Like Stone and Min, I am not generally a big fan of historical nonfiction, especially war stories. However, I too enjoyed reading Most Dangerous and quickly became immersed in its gripping narrative. I think one of the reasons it worked so well was that, aside from being a fast-paced book covering an exciting time in U.S. history, Most Dangerous also did a great job of expressing what different people were thinking or feeling at any given moment, which made the history really come to life. The attention to detail and close characterization of each individual in the story made me almost forget at times that I was reading a true account rather than fiction. This was an exciting and pleasurable read that I think would be a great entry point for adolescent readers to reading works of nonfiction.

    I also greatly enjoyed One Crazy Summer; it is a book that I can imagine my current sixth grade students getting really into. Delphine is a candid and funny narrator who seems older than her eleven years. Her voice was captivating and kept me invested in her relationships with her sisters and estranged mother Cecile. I did appreciate that the book was set in Oakland in 1968 – I felt that the setting in such a tumultuous time in American history added a richness to the book’s plot that would not have been present otherwise. However, I think the heart of the book is really the relationships between characters as the girls figure out how to navigate their summer with the mother who abandoned them. From a teaching perspective, I think One Crazy Summer would definitely be a good book to explore in the classroom, provided there was time to really delve into the historical references, perhaps with paired nonfiction texts that explain the Black Panthers movement. There are a lot of references in the book that I think my students would not understand automatically, so I would have to be strategic about how to make that knowledge accessible so that students could achieve a deeper understanding of the novel.

  17. Rebecca Hawk says:

    Similarly to the other bloggers, I loved reading One Crazy Summer. I like Bonnie’s question about what Cecile/Nzila’s self-title would be. I loved the way that Williams-Garcia asks readers to consider identity through names. I feel like renaming oneself and talking about multiple selves would be an interesting topic that students might latch onto-especially students who have experienced name changes, perhaps after immigrating, etc.

    I also loved the descriptions about teaching in Wiliiam’s-Garcia’s book.I particularly loved the quote, “She asked a teacher’s type of question. The kind that says join in” (71).It made me think a lot about what aspects of teaching students take away as important or affirming.

  18. Nana Seiwaa Sekyere says:

    Like Gardenia, I wasn’t familiar with the historical context of the One Crazy Summer. I have heard of the Black Panthers but did not really know much about them. Sarah brought up a good point about supplementing this text with nonfiction texts about the Black Panthers. One Crazy Summer gives the reader a lens into snippets of the Black Panther movement and it certainly would be helpful for students to be able to delve deeper into its meaning.
    Throughout the book I wondered what Cecile had named Fern and was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed at the end of the book. Going off the windows and mirrors theme we discussed last week, I felt like I was looking through a window for most of the book but learning that Cecile named Fern ‘Afua’ was my mirror moment. I’m from Ghana and some tribes name their children based on the day of the week they are born. Afua is an Akan name given to a girl born on Friday.

  19. Ana Roche-Freeman says:

    I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia did a wonderful job depicting how the three young sisters experienced so much more that just a summer visit with their mother. The story intertwines the complexity of the relationships between the sisters and their mother with historical the historical content of the era. At first like others I was frustrated with Cecile’s actions an lack of affection towards the girls, but I do agree with Jennie P that although Cecile left her children and chose the revolution, her affection does become clear toward the end of the book. I think it is a great to dele into historical content while being drawn in by the relationships Williams-Garcia creates.

    I also read and enjoyed “No Crystal Stair” by Lewis Michaux. I enjoyed the commentary and the relationships in the book, the depiction of book store and all the conversations that took place there Lewis Michaux love of books and passion for education were so apparent.

  20. Alice Wang says:

    About One Crazy Summer:
    I have mixed feelings about this book. It does several things successfully: Sister relationships, kids who have to take on extra responsibility at a young age, homeless teens, and political action in America in the 1960s. And all within a palatable mid-elementary storyline. I worry, though, that kids far removed from that time and place will somehow get the picture that the black panthers condoned abandoning your children. The panther characters in this book seem angry, dogmatic, and tone-deaf to the needs of the actual people in front of them (other than food). The reasons for their political movement and the history behind them are only briefly touched upon. The ending also implies that everything is now okay. Delphine’s mother may have told the story of her hard life; it explains, but does not erase, the hardness she has shown her girls.

  21. Andrea M. says:

    I enjoyed reading “One Crazy Summer” very much, both for the story itself and the historical facts along it. I think the merging of these elements was well achieved by Williams-Garcia. I certainly saw myself reflected in Delphine’s relationship with her sisters, just as Katie mentioned, having two younger brothers myself; but I was also engaged by the underlying historical events. These were particularly interesting to me since I’ve had limited exposure to American History, like Gardenia and Nana commented, and I was certainly intrigued and willing to learn much more about this period “as it was lived” like Bobby said.

  22. Oops, never posted this late before…but I did get to read everyone’s fascinating comments! One Crazy Summer was an absolute treasure: a skillful portrayal of three sisters, each with their own voice and individuality. They can be enemies one second, but then stand up for each other in a heartbeat. It was riveting just to see how they’d play off each other. Delphine is a memorable character, and I can identify with her self-imposed sense of responsibility for her younger siblings—admirable, but sometimes you have to let go and “just be 11.” She is super perceptive about other people and her own behavior/speech, and she likes control. Thus, she hates it when she loses control of herself (like when she’s scared of an adult, or when she has feelings for Hirohito). It’s great to see whenever she lets go and allows herself to enjoy herself, like the go-cart scene.

    I love Bobby’s comment that people’s daily experiences are the atoms of history, and I agree with Shaina that the novel presented history without being didactic. The book makes the 60s really come alive without being forced (unlike Eleanor and Park, which I felt was a bit inorganic in its overt 80s references, though I still liked them!). I definitely had a single story about the Black Panthers, so like Gardenia, I was driven to read more about them online.

    There are a lot of different views on Cecile. As Sophia shared, I, too, was absolutely frustrated by Cecile’s unwillingness to have an open mind toward her daughters. I don’t know that her emotional baggage can excuse her behavior, yet her story is realistically complex, and as Uttara points out, it is good that there’s no neat fairy tale resolution to their relationship. Nevertheless, I still melt at their airport good-bye when the girls know they needed to hug their mother.

    Finally, shout-out to Rebecca for praising the insightful descriptions of the teacher’s style. Some kids really are very aware of how they’re being taught!

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