Monday, October 6, 2008

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

2008 Newbery Honor

"Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul" so says Emily Dickinson in a poem that is in the mind of sixth-grade Frannie, trying to figure things out in 1971 when a white boy enters her all-black school.

Feathers is a rare gem. When a new student, dubbed "Jesus Boy" brings with him a sense of calm and peace into a rowdy classroom, Frannie and her classmates begin to question if he really is Jesus and their own faith. Because, as her friend Samantha says, "If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn't this one be it?"

Frannie questions all that surrounds her at school and at home as she watches her beloved older brother, who is hearing impaired, struggle to be accepted by the hearing world. And she watches her mother be full of hope and worry with her new pregnancy. Frannie feels the worry in her family surround her, but carries the poem in her heart while she searches for the thing with feathers.

When Trevor, the classroom bully, rages against Jesus Boy, truth is shone on both children. And Frannie asks herself, was he God's child? Aren't we all?

Woodson was smart to set this quick novel in 1971, during the rising tide of the Vietnam War, and the racial tension of desegregation. For the questions asked then still mirror the questions children growing up today ask themselves.

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