I fell in love with Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer last summer, reviewed it, read it aloud to my 4th grade class, and then suggested it as our final book of the year for our staff book club. Yesterday was our meeting day and, since they live nearby, I invited Rita* and her editor Rosemary Brosnan to come. Eager to meet my students they came to my class beforehand and it was grand. Rita told the kids all sorts of remarkable stories related to the book and her life as a writer. The kids were completely engrossed. And when it came time for their questions, well, they blew us all away. Say FB who noted Fern’s change after the loss of Miss Pattycake. Or AB who asked Rita what advice she would give to someone who wanted to write “seriously.”
The book club meeting was wonderful too. I didn’t know what most of my colleagues thought about the book, but it clearly was a hit. Our participants are a range in terms of gender, teaching level, ethnicity, age, and interests. Our discussion was far-ranging and helped all of us, I think, to gain a better and deeper understanding of the book. We talked about whether child readers would see this as history or fantasy, the unflinching portrait of Cecile, the siblings’ relationship, the beautifully articulated portraits of the characters, poetry and poets, the focus on the children’s view of the times, and a whole lot more. Rita and Rosemary listened and then talked too. I especially appreciated Rita’s recognition of her intended audience — she was very clear how she recognized that they were younger than those for her YA books and what that meant. Rosemary spoke about their long relationship together and how, as a result, smooth the editorial relationship is. The manuscript came to her “clean” she told us. That said, Rita and Rosemary did talk about some changes that were made. Do I remember the specifics? Sadly, no. (Someone there will surely jog my sad short-term memory though.)
While I can’t provide direct quotes of what was said yesterday I can provide a few excerpts from emails my students wrote me a few weeks back after I finished reading the book to them.
FB wrote, “I loved One Crazy Summer. It was written very nicely and reads well. The twist with crazy Kelvin made the story even more breath-taking. The story was put together wonderfully and it flowed like silk. The story of Delphine and her sisters is a great one, and I hope the writer will write more books. For she is amazing.”
JF wrote, “One Crazy Summer is one crazy book, in a good way. The book is full of great detail and exiting moments. I love how the author gives Cecile that unpredictable attitude. I also like how the younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are just like everyday siblings. I think it is great how Delphine is big and strong, and then not knowing what to do. It seems like the author put in a lot of work making it. I loved the book.”
RG wrote, “One Crazy Summer is a great book. When Delphine, Vonetta and Fern visit their mother who left them in Brooklyn they thought nothing could be better. When they see her though she is dressed in men’s pants, sunglasses and a turban. She lives in a green stucco house with a palm tree in her yard. Will their mother ever be who they imagined? I highly recommend this book to every young reader.”
JJ wrote, “Overall I loved One Crazy Summer. At first I wasn’t sure about it because nothing really big and exciting had happened yet, but when they met Cecile it got more intriguing. As the book went on it got more and more interesting. My favorite character was Fern because I liked how she was so mysterious, for example, ‘I saw something!’ I look forward to reading the next in the series. ”
GN wrote, “One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is a fantastic book! Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern were just 3 normal girls that lived in Brooklyn. Until one day, Big Ma sends them to their mother Cecile, who abandoned them when they were little. Cecile doesn’t care a bit about them at all! She makes Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern eat Chinese take out everyday, and makes them go to a summer camp sponsored by The Black Panthers. There’s a mystery behind the doors of Cecile’s kitchen because the kitchen is off limits. I recommend this book to all ages so I hope you read it!
SB wrote, “One Crazy Summer was amazing! I really liked it because I could imagine every single detail of the road, and her being freaked out about it on the go-cart. It’s awesome! It was so good I’m going to get it.”
And here is a rather blurry Iphone photo (my apologies) of Rosemary, myself, and Rita before the book group. My great, great, thanks to them for coming.
* Oddly enough Rita and I met for the first time the day before at a book party. (I invited her through Rosemary whom I have known for a while.) I was introduced first and she laughingly said that she was coming to visit me tomorrow and so I figured out who she was! Only in New York.