This being my first Newbery possible evaluation, I started writing far too much and had to limit myself to two sentences for each bullet point.
Publication Date: January 26, 2010
Reviewed for: Grades 4-7
Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few fragmented memories of her mother, Cecile, a poet who wrote verses on walls and cereal boxes, played smoky jazz records, and abandoned the family in Brooklyn after giving birth to her third daughter. In the summer of 1968, Delphine’s father decides that seeing Cecile is “something whose time had come,” and Delphine boards a plane with her sisters to Cecile’s home in Oakland. What they find there is far from their California dreams of Disneyland and movie stars. “No one told y’all to come out here,” Cecile says. “No one wants you out here making a mess, stopping my work.” Like the rest of her life, Cecile’s work is a mystery conducted behind the doors of the kitchen that she forbids her daughters to enter. For meals, Cecile sends the girls to a Chinese restaurant or to the local, Black Panther–run community center, where Cecile is known as Sister Inzilla and where the girls begin to attend youth programs. Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love. – Booklist
Thoughts on Criteria:
- Presentation of information (accuracy, clarity, organization)
When I read reviews of this book before it came out, I had been expecting a lot of historical details about the Black Panthers and their beliefs. I was disappointed when this information was couched in the characters and plot – but overall I think the novel does a fair job of informing readers about the Black Panther movement, even if it isn’t quite the historical fiction novel with hidden history lessons that I was hoping for. While initially I disliked Delphine’s distrust and dislike of the Panthers because I felt it painted them in a negative light, I think that her initial dislike will mirror that of any readers. I didn’t feel anything was inaccurate as far as Black Panther history goes, but I do still wish she’d talked a little bit more about the major tenants of the movement as well as some of the figures (there is some namedropping that happens but they’re not introduced very well.)
- Delineation of a setting
Oakland, 1963. From the classes I took in college on Civil Rights Black History, the setting felt very accurate. Characters fit comfortably into the setting despite the treatment received from Cecile/Inzilla.
- Delineation of plot
Sending Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to Oakland to be with their mother seemed odd to me. Delphine, I could understand sending because she’s getting to the age where a vacation on her own would make sense. I suppose Vonetta and Fern were just sent along as well. Throughout the whole book, the girls’ reason for being in Oakland kept nagging at me as being weird.
- Delineation of characters
“Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion.” – Booklist. I enjoyed all of the characters and felt even the minor passing characters to be important and well-developed.
- Appropriateness of style
The writing style is much like Cecile – short and to the point – despite being narrated by eleven year-old Delphine who is self-proclaimedly different from her mother. I had to keep reminding myself that the book was reviewed as low as fourth grade and that just because I felt the subject matter to be ‘advanced’ (in the sense that no one ever talks about the Black Panthers in 4th-7th grade), the writing style did not need to be.
- Interpretation of theme of concept
“Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love.” – Booklist. I thought this novel ended up being more about family than about black history – the black history was kind of a “bonus” to the point of the novel.
- Excellence of presentation for a child audience
Very approachable. I hope to recommend it to kids who are reluctant historical fiction fans, I feel that it would be very approachable to them.
Concluding Newbery Thoughts:
I thought this was a great book and I plan to recommend it often, but I’m still not sold that it’s outstanding enough for a Newbery. I love Rita Williams-Garcia and would love to see her rewarded in this way but I just don’t see this book as the one to do it for her.