Mary L. Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, NM
During the month of April, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson give their take on a range of award-winning children’s and YA books and honor books for 2020. In the first installment, Mary and Violet discuss New Kid written and illustrated by Jerry Craft. The graphic novel was the winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal and the 2020 Coretta Scott King Author Book Award.
MARY: “Fitting in on the ride to school is hard work. I have to be like a chameleon” (pp. 56-57). Drawings in Jordan’s sketchbook illustrate how he changes his appearance, posture and language while riding the city bus from his home in Washington Heights to his school in Riverdale. The daily transitions on the bus serve as a preview to Jordan’s days spent at Riverdale Academy Day School where he learns to navigate a system filled with stereotypes and discrimination masquerading as naïve indiscretions. The powerful part of New Kid is that Jordan and his new friends call out the indiscretions committed by peers and adults in intentionally direct and totally appropriate ways.
Set in New York City, Craft’s novel tells the story of Jordan Banks who, after a receiving financial aid scholarship, transfers to a prestigious new school in an affluent neighborhood. Jordan’s mother is over the moon with excitement while his father is a bit cautious. Perhaps Jordan’s father can foretell the future? Unsuspecting readers might think this is the typical “fitting in” trope found in novels about middle school students. However, New Kid is anything but typical! I’m excited to hear what you think, Violet! What’s your take?
VIOLET: I always enjoy reading a great graphic novel such as this one, Mary. Both the illustrations and dialogue capture the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the characters’ body language and facial expressions that add to the meaning-making process. While humor, wit, and reoccurring comical themes that middle-schoolers relish are central in the novel, the issues of assumptions, stereotypes and discrimination you discuss remain at the forefront of the storytelling. This book takes us through Jordan’s entire school year. We learn of his relationships and the interactions with other classmates and teachers, revealing the complexities beyond “fitting in” as a student of color on financial aid attending an affluent, prestigious private school. Furthermore, we also see other complex themes emerge when Jordan returns to Washington Heights and interacts with neighborhood kids. It is exceptional how Jerry Craft packed so much into this graphic novel.
MARY: I agree! I have a few favorite scenes where Jordan speaks his truth in such powerful ways. In the scene on page 183, Alexandra has just said something negative about herself. After an awkward moment of silence, she tells Jordan that this is when he is supposed to say something like, “That’s not true.” Instead, Jordan tells Alexandra that he does not want to comfort her with a lie. WOW! I admire Jordan’s honesty and respect for Alexandra and for himself. In this scene, Craft presents a powerful talking point for readers to discuss negative self-talk and lying to make someone feel better. I especially appreciate that Craft has Jordan say words that readers can use should they find themselves in a similar situation.
In another scene Jordan and an Anglo teacher, Ms. Rawle, pointedly discuss the discrimination Jordan has been experiencing throughout the school year. Ms. Rawle dismisses Jordan’s complaints, telling him that “being different is a blessing. It’s what makes you special” at Riverdale (p. 220). Jordan responds by asking Ms. Rawle if she would “teach at a school in MY neighborhood. You know, so YOU could be SPECIAL” (p. 221). Again, WOW! I imagine Jordan’s tone in this conversation to be candid and serious. He respectfully rejects Ms. Rawle’s indiscretion and shifts the heavy thinking about being special back on her where, in my opinion, it belongs.
VIOLET: I loved those scenes, as well! I knew this was going to be an excellent read when at the beginning of the novel Jordan’s guides arrive, Liam and Mr. Landers, to escort him to school on his first day. While Mr. Landers stands outside Jordan’s house in Washington Heights, he yells out to his son, Liam, to “stay in the car” and “lock the door!” (p. 10). Off to the side of the frame, we subtly notice an older lady who is comfortably engaged in sweeping off the sidewalk. Another scene finds Jordan inside Mr. Lander’s car, which we can infer by the illustration is a luxury SUV. Jordan then hides inside the vehicle when three neighbor boys walk by (pp. 12-13). There are so many complexities for initiating critical dialogue.
To discover more about what Mary and I are discussing here, we hope that WOW readers will pick up New Kid very soon. By providing our take, we invite readers to share their own take about the ways this award-winning novel affected them!
Title: New Kid
Author: Jerry Craft
Illustrator: Jerry Craft
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
PubDate: February 5, 2019
2020 Newbery Medal
2020 Coretta Scott King Author Award
Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature
Throughout April 2020, Mary and Violet give their take on books that have won awards or honors this year. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!