The Crossover (Newbery winner) by Kwame Alexander, HMH Books for Young Readers
In this thoroughly non-traditional Newbery, a middle-school aged basketball player raps the story of his life with his twin brother Jordan, former basketball star father and vice-principal mother. Josh Bell, known as Filthy McNasty, recounts his exploits on the court in what appears to be poetry, but reads like prose, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. The reading level is less than challenging, but the book provides an example of healthy family life. Josh and Jordan live with two parents who clearly love each other and are not afraid to hold their adolescent boys to high standards. Josh struggles with studies and a bout of normal rebellion when Jordan starts to spend all his time with his new girlfriend. While from a literary point of view the book is a wash, with little character or plot development, the relationships it portrays are valuable.
Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor) by Jacqueline Woodson, Nancy Paulsen Books
Like this year’s winner, Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiographical story is written as a series of poems, though in reality they are just one page chapters in a story. She describes life in the US South during the 1960’s as the civil rights movement got underway. Woodson begins the book in Ohio where her father insists the family will face less discrimination. Her mother is homesick, however, and takes her three children “home” to South Carolina. They have virtually no contact with their father, and soon come to see their grandfather as a father figure. Still unsatisfied, Jacqueline’s mother travels to New York for several months, returning with a new baby whose father is never seen. Eventually they all move to NY, but Jacqueline never forgets her origins.
Once again, relationships trump literary style in this award winner. Aside from the divorce at the beginning of the story, family loyalty plays a central role in Jacqueline’s life. In spite of her parents’ separation, she visits her father as an adult when preparing to write her story. She and her siblings demonstrate perseverance and determination in the face of adverse circumstances. Actual family photos complement this light read, making their story more real. Unfortunately the book’s simplistic presentation diminishes the impact of the several important social issues presented.
Jennifer Minicus is a wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.