Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction (Middle Grade)
Format (How I Read It): Paperback
In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.
“A name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it’s a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can’t be knocked down. Your name is who you are and how you’re known even when you do something great or something dumb.”
Themes: Names are important. Family. Racism. Sisterhood. Use your voice to make change. Youth and the power to make change. Making a difference in your community.
“It was a strange, wonderful feeling. To discover eyes upon you when you expected no one to notice you at all.”
Character Development: I thought the character development in this story was powerful and realistic. Most of the growth that occurs is subtle, though I’m sure more growth will occur throughout this series. The mother in this story is difficult to read about. She abandons her children and doesn’t seem to even see them as real people. By the end, her perspective definitely shifts, but she still won’t be winning any awards for mother of the year. However, as hard as it was to see that she still didn’t really discover any maternal instincts (you desperately want her to for the sake of her children), it seems more realistic that this change would occur slowly and subtly. Someone that inherently selfish would need a lot more time for more significant growth in that area. I also loved how the oldest daughter, Delphine, developed and became more confident as the story went on. I would be curious to see how she continues to grow throughout the series.
“That was how I knew Sister Mukumbo was a real teacher, aside from her welcoming smile and her blackboard penmanship. She asked a teacher’s type of question. The kind that says: Join in.”
Plot/Pacing: Overall, this was a very character-driven story. However, it still was paced well with an interesting plot. Once I got into it, the story kept me engaged throughout.
“We didn’t come for the revolution. We came for breakfast.”
Writing Style: The writing style in this book was beautiful and even poetic at times. The characters really came to life on the page.
Emotional Investment: Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors: 1960s. Black Panthers. Civil Rights Movement. Absent/emotionally unavailable mother. Racism. Older sibling in parental role.
“I wanted to write this story for those children who witnessed and were part of necessary change. Yes. There were children.”
Overall Thoughts: One of my biggest struggles with middle grade historical fiction is that so many context clues need to be embedded in order for kids to be able to understand all of the historical background information and references. Overall, I thought this book did a pretty good job of including enough clues to mostly understand the historical background! However, there is still so much you need to know about the historical, political, and cultural context of this time period in order to fully understand the story that I worry that many young readers would still be confused. In addition to this, there was a lot of advanced/mature language and idioms. Like with the context clues for historical context, I noticed many context clues embedded throughout to help with unfamiliar vocabulary, but I still feel like this would be a difficult one for English language learners (especially due to the idioms). Also, there was some mature language regarding giving birth and nursing. There’s nothing inherently inappropriate about these topics, but it’s still good to know before reading this with children so you can be on top of it. I’ve read books with my sixth graders where it’s revealed that an adult character is pregnant, and I always hear quiet giggles from some of my students. So just be sure to consider the maturity of your child/students and be aware of the conversations that might come up.
Other than that, something I loved was that it briefly mentions that the daughters take tap dancing lessons. As a tap dancer myself, I was really excited to see tap dancing appear in this story! In general, I really enjoyed this story. However, with the subtilty and nuance of the character development and the complex historical background, I actually think this book may be more enjoyable for adults than for children. But it would be a great one to read together!
Recommendation: I wouldn’t do this one as a read-aloud due to some of the outdated terminology used to discuss race (this was intentional to reflect the time period). To be clear, none of the language used in the book is offensive or derogatory, but it’s still not language I would be comfortable reading aloud to a class. You could do this as a novel study/book club, but you would have to be very intentional with providing lots of supports while reading it so students can get more out of it (language supports, content support, etc.). It would also be a good option for independent reading for more advanced/mature readers! In general, it’s a great book that I would recommend for adults and children alike!
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!