NEW KID by Jerry Craft

new-kid-1Firstly: Massive congratulations to Jerry Craft for winning the Newbery for New Kid! A graphic novel winning the medal! We are kind of living through a Golden Age of children’s fiction, aren’t we? It’s good to stop every once in a while to just look around and actually notice. It’s the whole point of awards.⠀

New Kid follows Jordan Banks, a twelve-year-old kid about to start the seventh grade. A budding cartoonist, Jordan wishes for nothing more than to go to art school, but his parents, wishing him to have better opportunities than they had, decide to send him to a more affluent school. A prestigious private school, to be exact. A school where Jordan is one of the few kids of color. Being the new kid is hard enough, but this, in addition to coming from a more modest background than most of his peers, means dealing with a bunch of unwelcome challenges — not least of which being general ignorance and racism — as Jordan just tries to go about his days, trying to figure things out.⠀

I really enjoyed New Kid. While I was not a huge fan of the artwork itself, the story and the writing definitely won me over. I really loved — and admired — how it maintained a light and fun tone while also exploring some heavy themes. It’s a deceptively casual book in this way. There are depictions of class difference, of code-switching as a person of color, of casual racism and microaggressions, of privilege and lack thereof — and they are all portrayed in the same easy-going manner. Underneath this layer of mellow, though, there’s a current of frustration and exasperation that runs all the way through, which makes this casual story lose none of its pointed poignancy. Because being a person of color in this world sometimes means keeping your cool even during the most uncomfortable of times, even if you’re a child.⠀

But these weighty subjects don’t make up the whole of the story. Just as they don’t make up the lives of the kids who have to deal with them. One of the central themes in New Kid has to do with Jordan’s frustration with books about kids of color being extremely limited in scope: books about white kids can be about anything and still expected to be relatable; books about Black kids can only be about Serious Issues and are expected to be read only by Black kids. Books about white kids can be fun; books about Black kids have to be severe and gritty. Jordan thinks this is extremely unfair nonsense. Because, yes, while kids like him may have to deal with more complicated situations than most others — at the end of the day they’re also… just kids. Normal and goofy and beautiful and awkward and nerdy and clever kids who would love to do nothing more than just live and have fun and be happy and to see other kids like them doing likewise. This doesn’t mean that books about Serious Issues are not important, only that reality is far more complex, and stories about said reality should reflect it accordingly. Because representation is important. This is what Jerry Craft does with New Kid, and does it elegantly. It’s my favorite aspect of this story.

It’s also a book that’s just funny and clever, which is what instantly hooks you. Jordan and his group of friends are instantly likeable and relatable. The art, as I said, wasn’t my favorite, but Craft’s storytelling is clear and concise, and the book has great pacing because of it.⠀

It’s another one of those books I wish I could give to my younger self. Which is something I often find myself saying about a lot of the kid’s books I’ve recently read. I think that’s an inevitable thought to have, though, as someone who spent their childhood reading nothing much at all, after reading a particularly great children’s book. There’s a sense of deprivation — of having missed out — and wanting to go back and fix that. It’s bittersweet, but in a positive way, you know?⠀

I digress. ⠀

New Kid is a fine book. And it deserved to win the Newbery. And I can’t wait to see what that means for the future of graphic novels and children’s fiction in general.

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