Jerry Craft wrote and illustrated New Kid, and recently won the American Library Association’s 2020 John Newbery Medal for best new book in children’s literature. I was excited to see that a graphic novel for middle grades had won this year’s award.
The March trilogy, written by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, first grabbed my heart. At the time, I felt the graphic novel approach to telling stories of the civil rights movement enabled the authors to convey so compellingly the levels of fear and anxiety experienced by people risking their lives to change the world.
With New Kid, I feel the same way. Craft shows us what it is like to be called the wrong name – by your teacher. To be excluded from discussions about vacations – by your classmates. To be different.
A story about diversity and exclusion, at least initially
Seventh-grader Jordan Banks is sent to a posh private school by his parents. So Jordan is the New Kid. But Jordan doesn’t want to be there. He wants to go to art school. And so the story begins.
When reading the story, at first I felt like Craft was re-plowing old ground. Covering issues of diversity and exclusion in a very superficial way that has been done before. Not bringing new insight.
But as I read more, I changed my view. As Jordan Banks works from exclusion to inclusion, we see some depth of character development. We see more depth, more details, more to ponder.
In the end, I decided that New Kid is a book well written for middle grades. It’s a great book for a kid who is new and different. And it’s a great book for a kid who is in school with others who are new and different from them.
There is another, deeper look at these issues
As you know, I’m a huge fan of Renee Watson. Her novel Piecing Me Together won the 2018 Coretta Scott King award. When I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Watson last summer, I told her that I thought she should have won the John Newbery Medal for her story of 11th grade Jade Butler. Like Jordan Banks, Jade Butler leaves her neighborhood for a posh school. But Watson’s story goes far beyond initial issues and summary discussions of diversity and inclusion. Watson’s story shows her new kid, Jade Butler, challenging the underlying presumption: why does she have to leave her neighborhood to gain more opportunity?
Watson’s story is written more for high school students, and I remain as moved by that story today as I was two years ago.
So now we have more options. New Kid for a middle grades reader, and Piecing Me Together for the older teens. Both stories are worth your time.