Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist #6: New Kid
Introduced by Steven Engelfried
New Kid was published early in 2019 and it’s gotten a lot of attention on Heavy Medal all year, leading the pack in number of suggestions and nominations. The Newbery Criteria define “distinguished contribution to American literature…as text.” With graphic novels like this one, I think it’s most helpful to use the broadest interpretation of “text,” where the choices and concepts of illustrations can be viewed as textual contributions, even if they’re not words. In the case of New Kid, I feel that both the language and the “pictures as text” elements are very strong.
There’s a lot to admire in this book, but I think the most notable accomplishment is the way themes of diversity and racial stereotypes are explored. These aren’t the only issues in Jordan’s life, but they come up every day and the author brings them to our attention without being preachy or didactic. When Jordan tells his dad about the first day of school, for example:
[Dad] So how was the…you know…
[Jordan] Diversity? Not great. But better than we thought. A few of us in each grade.
[Dad] I guess that’s better than nothing. How did they treat you?
[Jordan] Pretty good. But I’m starving. I’ll tell you about it while we eat. (48-49)
It’s a topic that they both know is important. There’s a little hesitation to address it directly, but they do…though Jordan doesn’t share everything. And his dad isn’t quite sure what to say
He talks with Drew about some of the common experiences they’ve had as people of color, and he can share in a different way than he does with his dad or his Gran’pa:
[Drew] See? Those are the things that bother me. Like whenever a class talks about slavery or civil rights –
[Jordan] Everyone stares at you, right? And financial aid!
[Drew] I even got stared out when we talked about minority partnerships in business. (88)
They cover some painful realities, but end the conversation with humor, mocking the way that people get their names mixed up. But even that humor is tricky: a teacher intervenes with their mock-play, calls Drew by the wrong name again, Drew gets angry, and, as Jordan says: “Man! That sure escalated quickly!” (90)
Jordan sometimes uses his artwork, along with his sense of humor, to help navigate these issues. They serve as good examples of how visual content can function as distinguished text. “Judging Kids by the Covers of Their Books” (130-131), for example, is a very funny and insightful illustrated comparison of “Mainstream Books” and “African American Books.” I love the mock review of the latter: “A gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness.”
There are just a few examples of how Craft uses subtlety, humor, and sometimes direct discussion to explore these very complicated themes. And best of all, he does it ways that are appealing, relevant, and comprehensible to the kids who will read the book.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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