Friday, August 27, 2010

One Crazy Book Club

I like to brag that I have the world most enjoyable job, and I will take on all the ice cream tasters and mattress testers who want to dispute my claim. Sometimes opportunities come along that take the enjoyable to the realms of enchanting. Recently Jennah Watters from the K-12 Recorded Books Blog offered me the opportunity to hold a summer book club starring one of the most extolled books of 2010, none other than Rita Garcia-Williams’ One Crazy Summer.

(Let me see, would I like to gather together a group of eager young readers and indulge my fondness yammering about fine literature with the same young readers? The answer is a big fat YOU BETCHA.)

Jennah provided an extravagant number of audios, and I provided a perfect number of girls willing to spend a summer’s afternoon in the school library. It goes without saying that the caliber of participants was exceptional. These are girls who spend big chunks of their summer reading without mandates. I would have loved to include a few boys but as I was culling from Summer Library patrons I had to recruit from the troops that walked by. Maybe another time we can get some male involvement. It does have to be said that One Crazy Summer is a very girl friendly tale indeed.

One Crazy Summer is an emotion-packed story of three young sisters, Delphine 11, Vonetta 9, and Fern 7. They have flown from their Brooklyn home the summer of 1968 to travel to San Francisco to spend a summer with their mother, Cecile. A mother they haven’t seen since she walked out on them when Fern was a nursing infant. From their first contact with Cecile, it is clear that she has no use for her offspring. The girls, hoping for seven years of makeup mothering, were instead kept at arms length and shipped off each day for summer camp at the local Black Panther establishment.

I’d read the book some months ago and was already a big fan. Listening to the audio was a whole other level of delightful. Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson, the book that has been repeatedly lauded for having a strong, genuine voice was attached to an audible voice, in Johnson, which cemented the time-period, location, and cadences to perfection.
One the afternoon when I gathered with six lovely young readers appropriate refreshments were offered. Naturally we had egg rolls, alas, not provided by Mean Lady Ming. They were served with fruit punch, as Big Ma would not have approved of soda pop. Cookies were also involved but there was no literary tie in. Let’s just say that we met in Utah, and I’m pretty sure it is obligatory that any meeting of greater than 3 people must include cookies. Appropriately all were severed on a blanket on the floor. No one was allowed in the kitchen.

We began by discussing our favorite characters. Fern, the youngest sister, was a big hit all around. Sisi Johnson’s reading did well by Fern. Her interpretation of Fern’s clear, strong, little voice was like a love potion, beguiling unsuspecting listeners. Fern’s doggy yips are full on charming. Brinley loved the way Fern balled her fists. Paige liked Vonetta because she was always trying to get attention. A surprise was Shelbi, who was partial to Cecile because, and I quote, “She is the kind of character who changes, and you find the truth about her.” Did I not say these where exceptional girls?

Hirohito was a big hit among this group of Delphine’s would-be peers. The part where Delphine rides Hirohito’s go cart was much lauded. I can only imagine why. The awkwardness of the “China Boy” scene was also admired. (Note to all middle-grade writers: a little romance, no matter how light, does not go unappreciated.)

Not surprisingly the climax at the rally was a favorite. Riley thought the sisters’ recitation of I Birthed a “Black” Nation raised a lot of emotion. They were all thrilled with Cecile reaction, and Fern chance to shine. Brinley liked the end when Fern got excited when Cecile finally called her Fern.

I was struck by how appreciative my very non-diverse, well-mothered group was of Delphine’s, Vonetta’s, Fern’s and Cecile’s story. It reinforced my belief that reading not only provides our young with experiences that broadens their understanding of the world, but also broadens their capacity for empathy.

The girls were able to send along questions to Rita Garcia-Williams. I will be doing another post in the future with her responses.

The chance to sit and luxuriate in this conversation was like a small dose of heroin. I’m ready for another fix. I’m looking forward to starting up my Newbery Club in a few weeks, which will hopefully elicit more experiences of this sort. Thank you to Jennah and Recorded Books for this opportunity.


  1. I'm glad you had so much fun with it. I love what you did with the food! Too cute :) We're happy to provide the opportunity.

  2. ENjoyed this post (I also liked the book) and appreciated how involved the girls were with this book. Food ideas were great!

  3. I am so very glad you enjoyed the book. I had a great deal of fun reading this lovely work. One of the greatest pleasures in doing audio narration is to see and hear the feedback of the people who listen to and appreciate a good story. I found this site unexpectedly and it really tickled me to read you all enjoyed "One Crazy Summer". I am always most grateful when my voice is well received by the young audience whose point of view I so much wish to get across to listeners. Thank you ladies, one and all.

    Yours Warmly,

    Sisi Aisha Johnson