One Crazy Summer

Date Read: March 1, 2018 to March 8, 2018img_5861

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This was the selection for the “One Book, One City” program in Grand Rapids for 2018. Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Public Library partner on the project that provides a copy of the book to all 5th grade students in the city, as well as classroom resources for teachers and an online community for students to participate in. It is an incredible project, and one that I have seen students truly take off with. This year, students were encouraged to participate in an online classroom and blog project, where they answered questions posted throughout the month and had opportunities to interact with students from other schools. Several schools that were active with the online resources were invited to an event to meet the author and talk about her book. Being a part of the schools in Grand Rapids (albeit not a classroom teacher), I often find myself compelled to read the books I see becoming popular with students. While the 5th graders in my city were reading and marking up their personal copies of this book, I decided to took advantage of my access to the school library.

I suppose to summarize my thoughts in a sentence: What a great choice of books for this project. There are so many great conversations that can be started from this book: family dynamics, sibling relationships, racism, history, social justice, independence, growing up, poetry, personal identity. I love how many different paths a book can take you in. One difficulty I can see with this, however, comes from a teaching perspective. Because there are so many dynamics, you’re really only scratching the surface of most of it. While I am familiar with the history of the time period, many of the students in the target age range are not. I suppose you could see this as both positive and negative: most students who encounter this book today probably know about as much about the Black Panthers as Delphine and her sisters did when they were on their way to the community center.

I suppose it is worth pointing out the probably cliche, but probably perfect for the story, use of the unattainable: Disneyland. As Delphine and her sisters depart for California, she is saving the money that their Pa had given them, planning to take her younger siblings to Disneyland. Of course, when they arrive in Oakland to meet their mother, one of the first things she does is confiscate their money– to which Delphine protests: they are going to Disneyland! It is the fantasy highlight of their trip. As an adult reader, I can see how unrealistic the expectation of Disneyland truly is. The amount of money given to them surely was not enough, and although in California, Disneyland is nearly 400 miles from Oakland. At least the girls get to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and visit Chinatown. Perhaps though, we have the perfect metaphor for their whole experience. Undoubtedly, the girls were heading to Oakland expected their mother to be their fantasy mother. Cecile falls far short of that, but at the same time, I think in the end they did get something from that relationship– just not what they had been expecting.

Boris’s thoughts: “Black Panthers? I approve. 4 paws.”

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