Priya Iyer is the Founder and Champion of KidsMustRead.com. She will be giving us a book review every fortnight. Here’s the first one!
The ‘New Kid’ on the Block
American author, Jerry Craft, won the Newbery Medal in 2020 for ‘New Kid’. This is the first time in the award’s 100-year history that a graphic novel has won the highest honour in American children’s literature.
New Kid is the story of the struggle of twelve-year-old African American Jordan Banks as tries to navigate two very different cultural silos (the elite private school which has very little diversity, and his home neighbourhood where he is a middle-class boy), while trying to gain acceptance for being who he is. Jordan also has to balance his parents’ differing expectations of him: he joins the private school at the behest of his mother, who thinks of it as a great opportunity, but his father has reservations about the private school as he is afraid that Jordan might forget his middle-class roots.
At Riverdale Academy Day (RAD) School Jordan deals with several issues: he struggles to make friends, he deals with the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that he and other black members of his school face, and he balks at the automatic assumption that he will be able to relate to stories of black hardship. How Jordan deals with these issues of race, finds friendship and along the way finds himself, is dealt with a light touch of humour and makes for a layered book.
New Kid is a seemingly simple narrative of a complex and multi-layered book starting with the title – initially we think the title refers to Jordan who is the new kid in school but by the end the reader realizes that it refers to Jordan’s character growth. The well fleshed out characters, whether black or white, deal with the grey issues of acceptance in their own unique way. Unlike most books that feature African American characters, where they are shown as coming from broken homes or facing dire circumstances, Jerry Craft’s refreshing protagonist is a boy who has a mom and a dad, a family who loves him, and supportive neighbours. New Kid winning the Newbery medal is an acknowledgment of the golden age of the graphic novel and places the graphic novel format firmly outside the ambit of ‘comics’. It is a must-read for middle schoolers.
Age appropriateness: 10+ years
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