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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

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. 

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Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. 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 sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

    Great introduction, Steven! What is essential about New Kid is that it’s not a predictable novel, it does not shy away from examining not only Jordon’s experiences being an outsider looking in, but what his friends are encountering the challenges they face at the academy. Craft captures how characters with good intentions can be condescending to the Jordan and DeAndre, I mean, Drew. And those are moments that give the novel its humor and heart.

  2. Alissa Tudor says:

    I loved this book. It was a quick, entertaining read that somehow felt both intense and lighthearted at the same time. The comedic situations and humor worked to slice through the tension and unease as Jordan navigated his way through a world where he felt like an outsider.

    I thought Jordan’s “tips for taking the bus” (pg. 56-57) was a perfect example of his internal struggles and inner conflict. “I have to be like a chameleon”- he describes how he has to adapt his personality in order to fit in. He feels as if he has to change things about him to conform to what he thinks will make him accepted. His mom also emphasizes the point, “You have to know how to play the game” (96). Drew echoes this idea when talking about the school. “Why do they make it so tough for us? We don’t dress weird. We don’t use a whole lot of slang… We’re not aggressive” (89). The boys feel like they have earned their spot in the school, but they are still fighting so hard to prove themselves worthy.

    I thought the tropes were well done. Craft basically throws as many characters with annoying traits at Jordan as he can. They really emphasized the point the book was trying to make. The teacher trying too hard to be politically correct and somehow still failing miserably, the teacher who can’t seem to get the names right, the coach-not-coach, the stares anytime minorities or financial aid is brought up, the librarian who doesn’t quite understand reader’s advisory, and several others. Jordan has to navigate through these personalities and awkward moments.

  3. Mary Zdrojewski says:

    I think the use of figurative language added layers of meaning to this book. Even the chapter titles show deeper meaning behind the events of the chapter, for example, “Chapter 1: The War of Art” and “Chapter 2: The Road to Riverdale — There and Back Again.” Both prepare the reader for the deeper meanings of the events about to come, and both are accompanied by visual metaphors that enhance them.

    • Rachel Wadham says:

      I really enjoyed the literary/media illustration these conveyed, I think that is a fun way to connect with popular culture that helps to bring greater depth to the theme and issues that were being conveyed. It really also adds some humor and is pitch perfect for this audience as well.

  4. Rachel Wadham says:

    As Steven notes I love the head on honesty that this book brings to the issues of diversity especially in the context of schools. That is especially done through multilayered characters were everyone is facing their own issues and dealing with them in their own unique ways. While I felt that some of the teacher portrayals were a little one sided, the young characters in this book were always multi-faceted and their own reactions to their own painful realities were portrayed as very complex. I also like the subtitle shifts in thinking that Jordan makes not only when it comes to interacting within friendships but also how he interacts with the bully when he sees him in a new light. Jordan and all the characters in this book are relatable from so many different angels and the way they progress, and change is honest and authentic. The concept of treating pictures as text with this book is significant because so much of the story is told through the pictures. I personally love that there are different styles as we represent Jordan’s life and then his own drawings, this technique is akin to me of using a different font style or color to bring attention to a portion of the text in a different way. I love how the different pictures tell us different things and express the theme as well as the characters emotions from a different perspective. You might say we really get two points of view because of this, one more first person one a little more third person. I think this contrast really adds to the text and provides it with a unique stylistic voice.

  5. samuel leopold says:

    To quote the kool aid man…. “OH YEAH”……I am so excited we finally made it to this book! This is one of the most excellent pieces of children’s literature I have experienced in a long time.
    And I used the word EXPERIENCED, instead of read because this book is a real experience for the reader.

    Steven’s intro. is wonderful and everyone’s comments effectively state some of the many reasons I love this book.
    The figurative language, Chapter titles, pictures as text, unpredictability, diversity and multi-layered characters are all reasons that have been discussed so well above and show how distinguished this story is.

    One of my favorite parts of this story are all the black and white two page layouts that describe some interesting/fascinating movies that are playing inside Jordan’s head. My dad’s tips for being a man, tips for taking the bus, guide to fall sports, taking photos with my mom, etc. are all amazing ways of showing us what the character is really feeling inside. And so many of these resonate with my memories of my middle school years. Even up until my mom passed away just recently, I could completely relate to the Taking photos with mom pages.

    And….being a complete Batman geek, I loved the two page story called TALES OF THE NOT SO DARK KNIGHT! And, on a more serious note about the Batman story—the author hit a home run here by showing what young adults want so much and why they sometimes struggle so much—-up until Middle School, a lot of kids feel that they have some control over life. Middle school, in so many ways, changes that. And so, when the author has Jordan’s Batman saying ” But unlike me, Batman is always in control of everything! ” the author catches the angst of the middle school years perfectly.
    And almost every kid—and adult—can relate.

    I have been a cheerleader for Graphic novels for years….and I think it is about time for a Graphic novel to have the honor of wearing a Gold Newbery medal. And this is the perfect place to start!

    • Molly Sloan says:

      I agree with you, Samuel. He does capture the middle school years really well. I teach in a K-8 and I am also parenting a 7th grader and I would say it is spot on. Kids love the references to the Dark Knight, the (Non)-Winter Soldier, The Force (Farce) Awakens etc. As an adult I do worry a little bit that this book may seem terribly outdated to young readers ten years from now but today’s kids love it! And hopefully Jerry Craft will keep creating spot on books for kids so that ten years from now he will still have his finger on the pulse of the middle school reader.

  6. Molly Sloan says:

    Thank you to everyone who has made such perceptive comments about this special book. I have loved it since I read it last spring. I think it is such an important book. I teach at a private, mostly white school. Jordan’s story–the way he has to navigate the two separate worlds he inhabits was really eye-opening for me as a teacher. I particularly appreciated the two page spread of Jordan’s Tips For Taking the Bus (p. 56-57). It takes so much energy and awareness just to get from one sphere to the other–that he has anything left for actual learning and/or navigating the choppy waters of middle school is amazing in and of itself. I especially appreciate Rachel’s comment about Jordan’s sketchbook being like almost a third person analysis of the events shown in first person. It adds to the distinguished nature of this book. Jordan uses his art as self-reflection which demonstrates just how keenly he perceives the world around him and where he fits within it.

    I had a few minor critiques of the graphic presentation in a few places. Let me be quick to acknowledge that graphic novels are not my native language. But I did get a little lost in a few places. It was sometimes hard to tell what he was saying out loud and what he was saying in his head. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure whether it was Andy or Liam in those shorts and ties. Eventually I realized Andy always had the red tie and hat but at first it was hard to keep them straight. And the guardian angels on the character’s shoulders took awhile for me to figure out. Nothing was a major problem for me, but I did have to work to untangle the layers of meaning in a few places because of the graphic presentation. However it would have been impossible to create those layers without the graphic element of the story. And it was probably my own weakness as a graphic novel reader that caused me to stumble in the first place. I just thought I would mention it in case others experienced some confusion too.

    Overall this is a timely, important, unique and heart-filled book. I would be very glad to see a medal on its cover this year. I agree with Samuel–this graphic novel is distinguished enough to be the first to win the Newbery Medal. I would be pleased to see it!

  7. Meredith Burton says:

    I do not know if I’m supposed to comment during these discussions, but I have to say that the audio version of this book is superb. Being blind, I often do not have access to graphic novels, so I was thrilled to discover an audio edition of this particular book. The full-cast production was spot-on in representing the different characters’ personalities. I never felt lost during the story, and I related to Jordan’s feelings. My favorite scene is his lunch with his grandfather, where the discussion of the pepper steak, shrimp lomain and other foods are a metaphor for Jordan’s friendship with Drew and Julian. Another scene I loved was the Secret Santa gift exchange where Drew is uncertain about the types of gifts he receives. The gifts are given for totally different reasons than racial ones, thus emphasizing how everyone assumes things that are not always true.
    Jerry Craft has written an excellent story that everyone can relate too on some level. I think the book definitely deserves recognition, and the audiobook deserves to be experienced, too. I will be thrilled if this book wins an Odyssey Award, too.

  8. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Yes, please continue to comment Meredith. We welcome input on these books from all HM readers, not just the HM Committee Members (though they will be the only ones to take part in the official mock-ballot. Your experience of hearing the words without seeing the pictures affirms what others have said here about the excellence of the language.

  9. Melisa Bailey says:

    I also really liked this book. It provided the mirrors/windows that good children’s literature should. Jordan was a very likeable character and the middle school experience rang true. I liked the depth that most of the characters had and appreciate how Craft related that everyone feels weird in middle school.
    I did have a question about this book fitting the Newbery criteria. Number 2 says that the text is to be primarily used for evaluation. How does this work with a graphic novel?

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Melisa notes the part of the Newbery Criteria that states: “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text.” This is where graphic novel evaluation through a Newbery lens gets very tricky. On HM we’ve looked at how one might view the narrative content and meaning of illustrations as “text.” But it’s still a stretch. In the comments from an earlier post about Shannon Hale’s “Best Friends,” Mr. H. expressed the dilemma nicely:

      “We can have these discussions about ‘what is text’ and ‘reading’ illustrated panels but they are beside the point I think. Because the way the criteria was written, and the time period in which it was written, it’s pretty clear to me that it was referring to written words. It even goes so far as to refer to ‘illustrations’ as ‘other aspects.'”

      I think he’s correct that when written, the criteria were not taking books like “New Kid” into consideration at all, and that the only way most graphic novels will have a shot at Newbery recognition is if we do use the broadest interpretation of text. Since GNs have had some recent Newbery Honors (“Roller Girl,” “El Deafo”), though, I think Committees must be doing this to some degree. “New Kid” seems like an excellent test case for this year’ Committee…

  10. I absolutely agree with everyone’s insights and affirmation of this book. I think it’s one of the strongest candidates in our pool, and it’s a book that sticks with you.

    Steven’s call out of the Judging books sections (particularly the “A gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness.”) was one that I had to sticky note, photocopy, and share with several other staff members. It’s so spot-on to how books are sold and marketed (and both that book and the wizard fantasy are by the same “author”).

    I also really liked the portrayal of the differences in opinions between Jordan’s parents, which I haven’t seen mentioned yet. They both have different expectations for him and for whether this “model minority” role is the best place for him, and I think it added a lot of layers to the story and to the ability of the book to act like a mirror/window for many different experiences.

    I was so thrilled to hear the Jerry Craft is already hard at work at a sequel (more of a companion book, I believe), and I hope some Newbery recognition helps him on his writing journey!

  11. Amanda Bishop says:

    New Kid is such a wonderful and accessible book for kids to understand the complexities of race and discrimination. The visual aspect of it only adds to the understanding of how Jordan must navigate through the world. My fifth grade students read this with me as part of a book club and what we noticed is how Craft uses artistic elements to enhance the text of his novel. You can tell by the speech bubbles whether a character is confused, happy, angry, etc. The dialogue throughout this book allows for readers to really understand Jordan and what he is feeling. The plot is well developed and the characters are great.

  12. Elaine Kaufmann says:

    I loved so many things about this book that have been discussed above. It does a fantastic job of conveying what it can feel like to be an outsider because of one’s race. The writing is funny and the format is incredibly appealing. My students have been lining up to read it.

    It did have one sour note for me, though, when Jordan and his friend Kirk are playing a video game and joke about peanuts and anaphylactic shock (p. 144-45). Food allergies are often played for laughs in movies and popular culture, but the reality is far different. Anaphylactic shock can be life threatening; being unable to breath because of an allergic reaction is traumatic. For a book that is so insightful about feeling different, it was disappointing to see this exchange, even though it is a very short moment in the book.

  13. Courtney Hague says:

    I am coming to this a day late so I will just say that I agree with many of the very well thought out assessments that have been laid out here.

    I think that the characters are very well-rounded. The images are very well done. I especially liked the two-page spreads that were meant to show Jordan’s own work and how they reflected his feelings or gave more insight into the situations that were presented.

  14. Brenda Martin says:

    Agreed with all the positive comments above. My only quibble remains that ever so occasionally, I felt Craft’s themes/thoughts veered older than the general audience of this book. Not that they were inappropriate at all, just somewhat unlikely for a New Kid to focus on when he was focusing on all the other changes in his life. An example of this was wokeness, which again is not foreign to kids this age, but the perspective sometimes seemed more adult than adolescent.

  15. Tamara DePasquale says:

    I have enjoyed and agreed with many of the comments stated in previous posts. I would like to add two additional strengths which elevate and distinguish New Kid from other titles up for discussion.

    Let’s begin with Craft’s ability to present all the micro aggressions that Jordan, his classmates, and even his teachers experience on a regular basis at the Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD). I cannot recall another title that has portrayed so clearly and so successfully the comments and behaviors that are intentionally hurtful and those that are delivered in total ignorance. There are many examples throughout the book, but Craft’s ability to present them without hitting the reader over the head is masterful. This consciousness raising is important for all readers. Has anyone on this thread found themselves looking more closely at conversations and behaviors within their own organizations because of this book?

    Another strength found in Craft’s writing rests with double meanings. Let’s start with the title: New Kid. When we meet Jordan at the beginning of the story, we assume this references his status at RAD. By the end of the book, we recognize his development and just how different he is from the start of the school year; he is indeed a new kid. I would go even further and suggest that Jordan is the “new kid” or new character among graphic novels. The Secret Santa exchange between Drew and Ashley is innocent but brilliant! And Craft continues this playful volley when Ms. Rawle is concerned that Drew does not join other students outside, when the reality is simple – it’s just too cold outside! Craft’s telling is built on double meaning and assumptions, and the observant, thoughtful reader will understand and appreciate each one.

    New Kid presents a middle school setting that Molly refers to as “spot on” and the characters are very real and recognizable to its intended audience. I could not agree more. For me, it’s the effortless presentation of complex themes that makes this title an important one and certainly a significant contribution to children’s literature.

  16. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    We’re now closing comments on our HM discussions, as balloting by the HM Committee is underway. Look for new discussions in the January 23rd post as members re-discuss contending titles.