I think 2003 was a good year for the Newberys. I loved three of the honor books ("A Corner of the Universe," "Pictures of Hollis Woods," and "Surviving the Applewhites"), and I am almost certain I'm going to love the other two ("Hoot" and "The House of the Scorpion"). The medal winner, however... Well, I liked it. It's more of an Honor book, though, even though it's impossibly hard for me to pick which of the Honor books I think deserved the biggie more.
For one thing, it takes a little bit to get going. It isn't until Crispin meets Bear that the story becomes really interesting. I think that a book truly worthy of the Newbery is engaging from the first sentence on. It's not so much that the stuff before that is bad, it's just, well, a little dull. I'm not big on historical fiction, so writing in a formal manner that uses outdated words doesn't do much for me.
Second, the conclusion is a little abrupt. Call me crazy, but I don't think everything needs to rush to a finale in the last three pages of a book. I felt that was what happened here. There are two sequels, though, so I may get around to reading them if I desire a little more of the characters in the story, who I'll admit I grew fond of during the story.
So, yeah, I didn't love this book like I've loved nearly every Newbery winner since '90 that I've read, and it would probably rank pretty low on my list (higher than "Missing May," though). Despite that, though, this is a perfectly good book. There's not much for me to complain about, nor do I feel that any book was "robbed" of the medal. I'd read it again, no doubt about it. It's just a tiny bit underwhelming, that's all.