I was so excited to take a deep dive into middle grade literature as I prepared for my new teaching role at NCS. Jerry Craft’s graphic novel, New Kid, won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King award in 2020. After giving it a quick read, I then went back through, spending more time with Jordan Banks as he navigates seventh grade in a new private school. There are stark differences between his neighborhood and the one where his new school is located. Within the first few pages, author/artist Craft spells it out while the parents review the school’s website: there’s not much diversity and there’s a long list of courses and curriculum offerings that simply aren’t available at the local public school.
Jordan really wants to go to art school, but acquiesces and heads off to Riverdale Academy Day School or RAD. He learns all about legacy families and its impact on his friend Liam, the divisive term Oreo shows up in a large panel, and there’s no shortage of microaggressions, bullying, prejudice, and code-switching in this story. While this book is for young people, there are plenty of important messages for adults, too.
There’s so much to enjoy and engage with in this original and complex book.
I loved the build up to puppet-wearing Alexandra’s reveal and how Jordan provided her with such kindness. That panel and dialogue was a special part of the book for me, capturing the awkwardness of young kids while also showcasing how something difficult can become bigger with time. I also thought the black and white drawings about the cafeteria hierarchy were, again, uncomfortable for their realistic take on the typical lunch scene. It made me grateful for one of the many ways North Country School builds community with assigned seating at meals; there’s no carrying your tray and trying to figure out where to sit. There are no “bad” seats and the assignments are for a week at a time, enough to get to know a little about your tablemates and then move on. The black and white inserts, like the one called “Judging Kids by the Covers of Their Books” was another bold and awesome feature of the book.
While a few of my students already read New Kid, I brought it into the classroom on the big screen (using the fabulous Sora reading app) to open up the dialogue in a safe space. In addition to downloading and studying the New Kid Teacher Guide, I created a set of Google Slides about financial aid and naming opportunities related to NCS as an extension activity for teaching this book. Showing videos featuring Jerry Craft talking about the inspiration for New Kid helped round out the reading period. I also found this blog incredibly helpful for crafting my lessons with this novel: http://inthekeyofbooks.blogspot.com/2019/05/new-kid-by-jerry-craft-book-discussion.html