Yeah, just okay. Not bad at all, but not the best ever either. It all depends on the year, I suppose...
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The setting, a free village in Canada populated by former slaves who have escaped from America, is extraordinary. Curtis must have researched the dickens out of this location and these free Canadian communities. Protagonist Elijah was born into freedom, which makes him an unusually naive character when he comes to interface with the wider world. This takes 3/4 of the book to happen, however, and though it's a nice meander, the page count is mighty high by the time the main action of the plot ensues. Still, Curtis takes on the topic of slavery like no one yet has in children's literature, and his naive protagonist is the perfect character to have encounter the brutality of slavery. And it is brutal, to the tune of brief nightmare-inducing images of a man who was tortured, mutilated in a way that I wish I could get out of my mind, and hung. Yet it is true, in the sense that historical fiction when well-researched can be true, and I can only hope it will cause young readers of any color to think about the great fortune that they were not born into such a horrific system.
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
Another nice wandering book, this time in a Vietnam-War-Era classroom. Holling Hoodhood likes baseball, acts in a Shakespeare play, gets to know his teacher, has mild adventures with the class pet... I can see how you could get sentimentally attached to this book if it was set in your childhood era. As for me, it was an okay read. I nearly put it down after a few chapters, but didn't yet have the 3rd Newbery winner, so I kept going and I'm not sorry I did. But it's not the kind of fresh, ground-breaking book that you'd hope would receive a national honor.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodsoon
On the up side, Woodson edits herself well, and the length of the book is about half that of the previous two under-edited tomes. The story also features a white boy who has been adopted and raised by a black family, which causes all sorts of stir in protagonist Frannie's all-black school into which he is deposited. The tension between the bully and the new kid is adeptly depicted. The tie that connects Franny and the new kid who calls himself Jesus (not the Latino pronunciation, but the Christ pronunciation) is that they both know sign langauge. Jesus doesn't remember how he learned it, but Frannie's older brother is Deaf, so she uses it to communicate with him all the time. Woodson is another author who is just plain good at what she does, and her books are worth reading for that reason alone. They are always emotionally expressive and feel very accurate to my remembered childhood experiences, even though she and I don't share a skin color. The cultural details are not those from my childhood, but the emotional details truly resonate for me. Read her stuff if this sounds good to you, because she's well worth reading. I'm not convinced that this is her best book ever, but it's good and if these themes sound appealing, then you'll likely enjoy it.