“I’m used to doing what’s hard.”
It’s no wonder.
Delphine’s mother just up and left one day when Delphine was only four, her younger sister Vonetta wanted someone to carry her, and baby Fern was still nursing.
Their grandmother, Big Ma, came up from Alabama to help, and the girls have lived with her and their father in Brooklyn ever since.
Big Ma fries pork chops, crushes the girls in bosomy hugs, and makes sure their hair is straightened every Sunday when they go to the Baptist Church. It’s Delphine’s job to keep Vonetta and Fern in line, but life is predictable and safe.
That is until their father decides the girls need to spend some time with their mother in Oakland, California.
Delphine, Vonetta and Fern “California dream” about movie stars, sunny beaches and Disneyland. What they get is a mother who doesn’t want them there and four weeks at a Black Panther day camp.
Delphine had heard about the Black Panthers on the evening news, but she is surprised by what she finds at “The People’s Center”–Black Panthers serving breakfast and helping kids from other races, too.
What was the civil rights movement like for blacks living in Brooklyn or Oakland (where the Black Panther Party was founded) instead of the deep South?
Rita Williams-Garcia lets you live in the skin of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern as they are suspected of shoplifting just because of the color of their skin. The girls are “colored counters” who know all the TV shows and commercials with colored people and count the number of lines they are given.
Through these young girls’ eyes, the reader learns a lot about the Black Panther Party–a neglected element of the civil rights movement in America as far as children’s literature is concerned. (Note: I just searched Follett’s Titlewave for resources about the Black Panther Party for grades 3-8 and got two results–this book and The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon, a John Steptoe Award winner).
Most book reviewers suggest grades 4-7 for the interest level and the book jacket says “ages 9-12.” The book jacket cover seems geared to that interest level, too, and the main character is 11. However, she has always had to act older than her peers, and I think 7th- and 8th-grade readers could identify with her. There is nothing inappropriate for younger readers, but I think the interest and comprehension level is closer to 5th-8th grade.
This is the Newbery Honor Book for 2011, but I would have awarded it the Medal. Highly recommended.
Awards/Lists: Best Books of the Year 2010; Children’s Books of the Year Ages 9-12, 2011; King Medal Author Award 2011; Newbery Honor Book 2011; Notable Children’s Books 2011–Middle Readers; Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 2011; Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books 2010.