Have you read New Kid? If not, you really have to ask yourself why because it’s a must read. There’s a damn good reason why it’s the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.
It’s good – really, really good.
Seventh-grader Jordan Banks reveals his apprehensions attending a NY private school as one of the few students of diversity.
It sounds like such a simple premise but like life, there’s so much beneath the surface. Nobody’s life is as simple as it appears, and many people are unaware of how differently others experience life. Craft shows Jordan’s experience from real, honest point of view.
The story is about an African-American kid from Washington Heights who wants to go to art school (note: just like Jerry in real life) but his parents send him to an expensive, private, and mostly rich & white school instead. They want him to make connections and have opportunities that will help him in life. But as you might expect, a POC city kid encounters many different things in such an exclusive, tony environment.
This is fiction that feels like it could be real-life – and it’s a testament to how good the story is that it succeeds so well despite a number of artistic flaws.
I hate to be nitpicky about something that’s so, so good but it’s a fantastic example of why story is the most important thing. We’ve all read comics or watched movies that looked fantastic and fell flat because the stories fell flat (this includes most superhero comics and the notable Pixar failures Cars & The Good Dinosaur). New Kid succeeds despite a cover with too many fonts, inconsistent speech bubbles & tails, inconsistent inking, and reused digital assets (example: grandpa’s sideview head).
I’ll put it this way: the flaws were noticeable but not enough to take me out of the story or overshadow it. (If you want an example of something that really takes you out of the story, check out the atrocious font used in The Okay Witch.)
Art & design critiques aside, there are two things that set this book apart:
- It feels so real. Normal people, having normal conversations and normal reactions, without being condescended or heavy-handed. Often people writing for children tend to write down to them (or down to the level they imagine children to be). The learning experiences are played up and the lessons a heavy-handed. Craft sidesteps this completely with real, honest dialogue and reactions. This is masterful showing versus telling.
- Jerry doesn’t shy away from heavy stuff. Stereotypes, micro aggressions, code-switching – it’s all here. Again, it feels real and it’s not done in a didactic, heavy-handed fashion. And the heavy stuff doesn’t feel that heavy, it presented honestly and the reactions tell the story. There’s a lot to unpack here but by the end of the book one should be much better versed in stereotypes & micro-aggressions than they were before.
This is the book that should be required reading – for kids and adults. And there’s no excuse not to read it – being a Newbery winner means every library not run by wackjobs will have a copy, it’s available on both Hoopla and Libby, and there’s a free preview online!