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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Diversity in Literature, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

NEW KID by Jerry Craft

New Kid is a fabulous graphic novel about Jordan Banks.  Jordan is in 7th Grade.  Jordan loves to draw and wants to go to Art School.  We meet Jordan as he begins attending Riverdale Academy Day School.  Riverdale is a school in an upscale part of town;  Jordan has to take a long city bus ride in order to get there.  He is also one of very few students of color in a primarily white student body.  New Kid  succeeds brilliantly in so many ways.  Jordan’s story is that of a young boy beginning at a new school in an environment and with people he doesn’t know–just as so many middle schoolers do in 6th/7th grade (and again in 9th/10th).  The fears, anxieties and excitement about how to function and fit in socially with his peers, as well as worrying about disappointing his parents come through in Jordan’s exquisitely genuine voice (and drawings). New Kid explores both (1) the ways in which we begin to discover who we are as people, who we want to become, in those middle years; and (2) the many micro (and macro) aggressions students of color have to navigate in the course of a single day within a primarily white environment–and the frustrating weight of those days’ accumulations.

My life circumstances (as a white, middle-class female in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN) afforded me the luxury of growing up believing racism was a thing of the past–a grievously wrong set of beliefs that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his friends help this country to disassemble in the 1960’s. Of course, as an adult, I know that, unfortunately, is not the case.  For several years I worked as a theatre artist and educator in the schools of the Twin Cities.  I worked in all socio-economic and cultural neighborhoods.  I was often the only white person in the room, and was given a small experience of what it was like for my friends and colleagues of color on a daily basis.  Reading New Kid is similar to that experience for me:  I was able to vicariously experience what it is like for someone to interact in this life when the goals and dreams are so much the same but the skin is different.  It shouldn’t make any difference, but we know that growing up black and growing up white in the US are two different experiences.

The graphic novel format is a perfect fit for New Kid, as Jordan is an aspiring artist and combining drawing with prose in order to tell his story adds a deeper dimension to his inner thoughts and feelings, without taking anything away from the plot and the story structure itself. The graphic novel format also makes New Kid a quick an easy read so it will appeal to readers of ALL levels. New Kid is a great independent reading choice, but I would suggest that it might be useful to read it <I>with</I> your child/children in order to initiate some of those conversations about race.

The author of New Kid, Jerry Craft, says on his website “I make the books I wish I had when I was a kid.” I am thrilled that so many young people will have the opportunity to read New Kid–some to identify with and find reassurance in it and some who will learn there are many life experiences out there of which they are unaware. I wonder what it would have been like if New Kid had been available to me as a child. What would I NOT have accepted in school and work? What choices would I have made differently as a teacher and artist?

New Kid is an exciting addition to the world of children’s literature! The characters are well-developed.  The story is evenly paced and has a definitively 21st-century sensibility in the genuineness of Jordan’s voice.  New Kid is one of those books that helps me as a teacher–and as a person–to keep racial disparities in my consciousness where I can better address ways to change them, as opposed to allowing myself to believe it’s not that prevalent because I don’t have to navigate it every minute of every day. I am looking forward to reading more by Jerry Craft in the future!

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