Thursday, April 4, 2013

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Children are so often relegated. Not to any lower realm or back shelf in particular. Just relegated. Period.

Children's and young adult books are less serious endeavors than grown-up literature. (Don't believe me? Eat lunch at work or school while reading Harry Potter, and then again while reading Finnegans Wake.) Children's opinions, no matter how well-informed, are less valid than adult rantings. (Don't believe me? Check and see the last time your state legislature had a member of the high school speech and debate team in to give a presentation on a controversial topic.) Children's perspectives in history, and the way historical events affect children, don't expend much ink in history texts. (Don't believe me? Go to the library and see what you find that isn't related to Anne Frank.)

Which is what makes One Crazy Summer such a special -- and important -- kind of book. Its narrator, Delphine, and her sisters get caught up in the Black Panther movement in Oakland in 1968. Children are present for, and affected by, all the great political and social movements.Their experiences and responses are genuine and human. So what if their take is different than the canonical history? Doesn't that make our understanding of the past all the richer?

Wearing the harmless cloak of the "children's book" label, novels like Rita Williams-Garcia's can fly under the radar of those who relegate children in the first place. Once they make their escape, however, these books have the power to show us our world through different eyes.

Isn't that what all books, for readers of any age, aspire to?

UPDATE: Same day I wrote this, I came across a great and relevant line from C. S. Lewis: "A book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then." Sometimes, these stuffy old dons really knew where it was at.

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