A Children’s book about the Black Panthers. I know, I didn’t believe I myself. But, finally, it exists, and more over, it’s nothing sort of amazing. The book is beautifully written, with poise and personality. The adventures and relationships jump off the page and make it nearly impossible to put down.
It tells the story of Delphine the eldest of three sisters who leave Brooklyn for the summer of 1968, to spend it with their mother in Oakland. While in Oakland they attend the Black Panther day camp, which is these young girl’s first introduction to Black Liberation politics.
The theme that is explored most thoroughly is identity.
The first being family identity. Delphine and her sisters (Vonetta and Fern) have not seen their mother since Fern was born 7 years ago, and she isn’t too excited to see them now. A central issue the girl’s struggle with is what their relationship to this woman should be, and what it actually is.
Another identity they explore is their Black identity. The girls have been raised by their grandmother and father, and their grandmother’s views of Blacks in America differ greatly from the views that the girls are taught in Oakland. They go from a life where they press their hair and think that if they make a scene in public it’ll “be an embarrassment to the negro race,” to a world of afros, know your rights trainings, and protests. It’s a lot for three pre-teens to deal with, and Gracia gives them space to think about and suss out these ideas for themselves.
The thing that most excited me about this book was how it legitimized politically radical people’s lives. We meet Black Panthers in this story that aren’t scary or crazy. People who are at odds with America and the police are given a voice and legitimate reason for having these believes. Delphine, Venotta, and Fern’s close friend is the son of a political prisoner, they themselves have negative experiences with the police. It’s a very real look at the lives of Black Liberation activists in the late 60s, and it manages to do it in a way that isn’t too intense for child readers.
And why wouldn’t it? There were many children like Delphine and her sisters in the Black Panther movement. Why wouldn’t those experiences be made accessible to children today? I think Williams-Garcia sums it up perfectly with the last line in her author’s note: “And yes, there were children.”