02 Jan / New Kid by Jerry Craft [in Shelf Awareness]
Twelve-year-old Jordan wanted to go to art school, but instead, his parents enroll the seventh grader in “one of the best schools in the entire state.” Although his father expresses concern about Riverdale Academy Day’s glaring lack of diversity, his mother insists that with Jordan’s smarts, art school “would be such a waste.” On Jordan’s first day as the new kid, he’s picked up outside his family’s Washington Heights apartment by his RAD-assigned “guide,” Liam – well, Liam’s asleep in the back seat of his father’s luxury SUV. At RAD, Jordan’s the one who stands out amid chauffeur-delivered students, manicured lawns, fancy fields, and “a lot of pink” – more accurately, “salmon”-colored clothing, a privileged fashion statement. Thankfully, despite Liam’s somnolent first impression, he proves his guiding mettle and becomes a true friend.
Even with Liam’s support, however, Jordan’s RAD adjustment is a constant challenge: learning social hierarchies, avoiding gossips and bullies – and figuring out where he might belong on a campus with so few students of color. As difficult as navigating relationships with peers might be, teachers are an even greater provocation. Jordan’s homeroom teacher can’t distinguish one African American student from another, repeatedly using the wrong names; a white administrator mistakes the algebra teacher – a 14-year RAD faculty veteran – for a coach because both happen to be African American; the librarian can only suggest stereotypical titles to black students.
Art helps Jordan survive. His sketchbook is filled with daily experiences, his sensitive interpretations far more astute than his tween years would indicate. He shrewdly depicts his bus commute from Washington Heights to posh RAD as a code-switching exercise: he boards wearing a hoodie and sunglasses to “try to look tough”; by Inwood, he “can lose the hood,” but won’t dare smile; in Kingsbridge, he discards the shades and breaks out his sketchbook as “the public school kids get off”; by Riverdale, it’s no hoodie, no shades, not even his sketchbook as the other passengers (including an arms-crossed policeman) overtly watch him. He’s rightfully “exhausted” by the time he reaches RAD. Between way more homework than he’s ever had before, playing sports he’s never tried, and making new friends while holding on to his neighborhood buddies, Jordan still manages to make his art, play plenty of video games, and grow into being a “new kid.”
Award-winning author/illustrator Jerry Craft, creator of the Mama’s Boyz syndicated comic strip, confronts elitism, microaggression, racism, socioeconomic disparity, and white privilege in a familiar middle-grade setting. Beyond Jordan’s struggles, Craft also accentuates the many assumptions we all make about one another, regardless of background: “Try not to, you know, judge,” Liam repeatedly asks of Jordan. Presented in predominantly full-color, richly saturated panels, Craft distinguishes Jordan’s sketchbook entries in black-and-white pencil drawings, their stark simplicity underscoring their uncomplicated wisdom. Craft’s messaging leans toward heavy-handed, but his preteen audiences will undoubtedly recognize and empathize with Craft’s memorable cast.
Shelf Talker: Although Jordan wants to go to art school, his parents send him to seventh grade at an elite private school instead.
Readers: Middle Grade