I'm not sure what I expected from a book with a title such as this (expecting high art from a book centered on a wise paper finger puppet is not a good idea), but I was ultimately a little disappointed considering this book's reputation. (Then again, I didn't much like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books either... though this was a bit better than them.) This book has a number of strong spots; the writing is quite good, the little drawings by Kellen are often humorous, and Dwight is a fascinating character even if his eccentricities aren't always believable.
My biggest problem is that, though the characters all have distinct voices, the majority of their characterization is rather thin. Our protagonist, Tommy, does not seem to have any characterization at all besides liking a girl and wanting to know more about a puppet. I was glad things worked out well for him in the end, but I couldn't connect with him and it kept the ending from being particularly cheery.
The one character besides Dwight who really stands out is Harvey, who stands out for all the wrong reasons. He is, by far, the most obnoxious "friend" of a protagonist that I've ever seen in a middle grade novel. Perhaps that was the point, but it was very difficult to see why he had any friends in the first place if all he was going to do was act like a smug little jerk. His condescending nature was a tad too overwritten. I wanted so desperately for Tommy and Kellen to abandon him like he deserved. The one-chapter wonder Marcie is equally painful, but that was the point.
What is good, though, is that the book handles its silly premise incredibly well, and about as realistically as it could. While I found it bizarre that middle school kids would ever believe a finger puppet had ESP, the way the kids react to Dwight's advice via Yoda is otherwise completely plausible. It was a great way to show, with a modicum of subtlety, how people slowly could come to realize there was more to him than just being the weirdo.
All in all, I can mostly see why this won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award (at times I imagined it being read by several different kids, which honestly sounds like a great idea for a play), and I imagine kids in the 9-12 age range probably see a lot more in it than I do (it has a number of sequels, after all. Is it a top-tier middle grade novel in my opinion? Not really, I prefer meatier fare. But it's a sweet little story with some really nice points. It may be interesting to see where the sequels go from here... if the characterization gets better, that is.