#MGTakesOnThursday: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Jerry Craft

Illustrator: Jerry Craft

Publisher: Harper Audio Productions/ Harper Collins

Favourite sentence from Page 11: I listened to the audio production, so I have estimated the position of this quote and have chosen it to highlight Jordan’s sense of displacement early in the story.

“It was great not to be the only black kid in class but after being fooled by the chauffeur and then the whole Mory/Oreo thing , I turned my head when Drew tried to make eye-contact and I have no idea why”

This book in three words: Comics – Friendship – Diversity

As we reach the end of another school year and many children are moving on from Year 6 to their secondary schools, it seemed the perfect time to review New Kid by Jerry Craft. I don’t listen to many audio books as I often find the narration irritating – but this full-cast audio production is exceptionally good and I have listened to it three times during the loan period from my local library.

Here is my review:

 I had seen this book recommended in several lists compiled to increase the diversity of book collections and was delighted to spot that it was available as an audiobook on the Borrow Box app from my local public library. I have been swept away by the  full cast performance of this beautifully crafted and thought-provoking story which highlights the issue of racism and the need for everyone to have the courage to speak out when it is encountered. I believe that the physical book is actually a graphic novel which fits perfectly with the main protagonist Jordan being a 12-year-old obsessed with drawing comic strips.

Jordan Banks is a charming and bright boy who has won a place at prestigious elite,  Riverdale Academy Day School or RAD for short. His mum works in publishing and has high aspirations for her son and wants him to learn the unwritten rules which will help him, as an African American, succeed in whatever he chooses to do. His father on the other hand has opted out of corporate life and now runs the local community centre and coaches the local kids’ baseball team in his spare time. He is less certain about Jordan joining the privileged, predominantly white cohort of students at his new school and has promised that if things don’t work out he can move to art school in ninth-grade. This conflicting views of the parents and their concerns for their talented son are deftly explored throughout the story.

On the first morning of term Jordan is collected from his home in an apartment block in Washington Heights by his “guide“ Liam Landers and his father, a successful and wealthy businessman. Liam is the third generation of his family to attend RAD and on first contact the two boys seem to have very little in common. However as the story progresses it is clear that Liam is an extraordinarily kind and considerate boy who is quite uncomfortable with his family’s vast wealth and his father’s constant absence on business trips, and despite their social differences he and Jordan develop a close friendship

The lack of diversity in the school is made very clear from Jordan’s first arrival, where the only people who look like him are the “drivers” of his affluent classmates. There are only a handful of African American students and the innate racist behaviour of some students and even staff members is made clear. By lunchtime on his first day Jordan feels “lost and alone” and despite being rescued by Liam in the cafeteria he is bewildered by the continued racism displayed by the swaggering, white-priviledge behaviour personified by Andy Petersen. This character’s bad behaviour and the fact that nobody surrounding him has the courage to call him out on it gives readers/listeners an opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour. Jordan’s fellow African American classmate, Drew, expresses more overt anger, in particular to the form teacher who constantly refers to him by the name of a former pupil with whom she clearly had a bad relationship in a previous year.

The story is punctuated by Jordan’s “sketchbook breaks” where he articulates his feelings in the form of comic strips. He is a compellingly engaging character, trying his best to fit in and ultimately unafraid to stand up and do the right thing. He is driven by the wise words of his grandfather, “you don’t have to like everybody, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it” and by applying his good sense and natural charm has a positive effect on those around him.

There are very many things to enjoy in this story, from the quirky chapter titles which play with the names of famous books and films, to the perfectly drawn characters and Jordan’s skilled navigation of the race and wealth differences between himself and his class-mates. Jerry Craft has constructed a wonderful story which promotes kindness, tolerance, courage and friendship. A wonderful read for Year 6 pupils as they move on to secondary schools and I think that it is likely to appeal to teens who will love spotting the Hamilton references- my favourite was the echoes of the Ten Duel Commandments in Chuck Banks’ rules for handshakes! Having listened to the audio-book I will certainly be buying a copy of the graphic novel for the school library where I imagine it will be greatly enjoyed and I would recommend this audio production to any school or home collection.

2 thoughts on “#MGTakesOnThursday: New Kid by Jerry Craft

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