I'm not a big fan of nonfiction. I don't really have a difficult time getting through it like I do with most historical fiction, but honestly, I'd rather read a solid fictional story than something I consider to be akin to a school textbook. In fact, I would have had no interest in this book if not for its Newbery buzz; as of this writing, it is really the only book that has a decent chance of knocking the much-beloved-by-me "When You Reach Me" down to mere Honor status. Well, I've read this book now, and I can plainly see what all the hoopla is about: the storytelling here rivals that of even some of 09's best books.
When I was in fourth grade, I was heavily interested in civil rights. (Kind of a strange thing for me to be interested in at that time, I suppose, but nobody ever really said anything about it to me.) It was my favorite thing to learn about in social studies. Rosa Parks was my favorite out of all the icons of that era, as I saw her as a positive role model; she stood up for what she believed in and tried to change the way things were when she got sick of it. Taking that into consideration, I'm almost certain that my ten-year-old self would've loved this book's subject. It's utterly dumbfounding that there is so little known about Claudette Colvin. This should change, soon, as this book becomes more and more well-known.
The book is richly detailed. It goes into detail on aspects of the subject's life that other biographies would've skimmed over, and keeps things vivid and compelling throughout while, somehow, still remaining at a very svelte 104 pages (plus notes and bibliography). The details never seem unnecessary or didactic, though, and they help to bring the reader right into the story. I really felt as if I was right there throughout most of it.
In addition to the details, the book just looks fantastic. The cover is very striking, at least to me, and it's nice to see that a non-fiction, biographical kind of book didn't go with a dreaded cover of beige doom. (I mean, come on, it should be a law that no children's book should have gross amounts of beige or cardboard-box brown on it by now.) Inside, there are a ton of black-and-white photographs and newspaper-clippings that are very much worth a look. The font size is a little small, which gives me a headache most of the time, but seeing as how nonfiction books usually have smaller print, I let it slide.
So, do I think it's worthy of the Newbery? Yes and no. Certainly, it's distinguished enough, and it managed the rare feat of making history really, really interesting. However, I feel that the book is, quite frankly, a little bit too old for the Newbery. (I know I said my ten-year-old self would've loved it, but I was also the kind of kid who read Stephen King books and 400+ page adult books on the Presidents.) I mean, it's great for young teens and up, but there's a little bit of iffy content here that leads me to believe that the committee will decide against it. (I doubt a book that involves teen pregnancy will go over well with everyone there; it's a little different from the whole "The Higher Power of Lucky" scandal.) Also, the book will most likely win a thousand more in the coming months, so does it really need to get the usually-fiction-oriented Newbery as well?
Still, I can't say anything bad about the book itself. There will be kids who will flock to this, Newbery or not. If it wins it and "When You Reach Me" only gets an Honor, I probably won't feel too sad about it. "Claudette Colvin" is a great book, non-fiction or not, and it deserves all the praise that has been given to it so far. Don't miss out on it.
EDIT: This book received a Newbery Honor. Well deserved.