From the Desk of Chancellor Dwight C. Watson – New Kid by Jerry Craft

Book cover image of The New Kid

New Kid Jerry Craft

One in a series of reviews contributed by Chancellor Dwight

As a former elementary teacher, I truly enjoyed teaching reading. My dissertation was a study about bibliotherapy which is how to help students choose and read books to help them heal. I so enjoyed children’s literature that my work as an elementary teacher educator focused on literacy development and the use of children’s literature to increase self-esteem, reading achievement, and reading attitude. I had many successes with reluctant readers if I could find the right book for the right person.

The New Kid is the right book that would be ideal for reluctant readers since it is a graphic novel written and illustrated by the main character, Jordan Banks. This unique approach to storytelling will captivate reluctant readers especially if they are middle-school aged males of color, but also anyone else who would enjoy a celebratory adolescent adventure. The New Kid also won the 2020 Newbery Award, the most prestigious award for children’s literature, and the 2020 Coretta Scott King Award, the most outstanding book written by African-American authors for children and young adults.

The New Kid is the first graphic novel to be chosen as a Newbery Award winner and vividly illustrates the tale of Jordan Banks. As Jordan enters middle school, a Black boy from Washington Heights, he takes his readers through the day-to-day reality of his mostly White prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate tale of race, class, micro-aggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

As Jordan navigates his new life in the school that is several bus rides away from his current school, he must learn to adapt and adopt to practices that are foreign to him such as playing soccer, friends who actually travel on Spring Break, and teachers as well as classmates who say things that are micro-aggressive and unconsciously biased. One such incident is when a teacher constantly calls Jordan’s friend who is a Black young man by his wrong name because the teacher was remembering another Black young man from a class she had before. Another incident is when everyone just assumes Jordan is good at sports when all he really enjoys doing is writing and drawing in his sketch pad. Other incidents include White administrators mistaking a veteran Black teacher for the football coach, and White classmates parroting African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) to make themselves sound cool. This school story stands out as a robust, contemporary depiction of a preteen navigating sometimes hostile spaces yet staying true to himself thanks to friends, family, and art.

One reviewer stated, “Jerry Craft, the author, skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable” (Kirkus Reviews, 2018)

The story does a nice job of having readers question the relationships between characters, no matter their race or ethnicity, and inspires thoughts about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Jordan learns how to adapt, adopt, and assert as he makes a variety of friends from different races, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. The story, as a graphic novel, showcases the themes and issues in a way that mere words would not have captured. The images propel the story along in ways that highlights the nuances and amplifies the instances.

Reference: New Kid. (2018). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jerry-craft/new-kid-craft/

About Ellen Latorraca

Reference & Instruction Librarian Liaison for the College of Education & Professional Studies
This entry was posted in Chancellor Dwight C. Watson and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.