banned voices: Jerry Craft

When New Kid by Jerry Craft

Wait! this isn’t just ‘New Kid” this is Newbery Award winning New Kid!

When Newbery Award winning New Kid by Jerry Craft started appearing on the lists of challenged books, we knew thing were being taken to a whole new level. While many listed books were somehow aligned with critical race pedagogy because of their intentional anti-racist message, New Kid wasn’t a book with that messaging. At this point, we realized that work was (and is) being done to silence the voices of marginalized people. With no stories, with neither vision nor knowledge that stories provide, the people will perish. Like Malinda Lo said, “Don’t let them erase us.”

Being anti-racist is about doing the work. It’s about day to day, day in and day actions that disrupt the status quo. As Nic Stone reminded us, it’s about buying the books. Adib Khorram encouraged us to become familiar with our local school board. As you’ll see in today’s interview with Jerry Craft, authors are able to move forward from attacks on their work, but it’s jarring. So, be sure to talk about these books and recommend them to others. Give them a shout out on your social media sites. I’ve been pitching books more often on my FB page, which is the most personal of my social sites, and my friends are noticing books they’d not considered before. And, they’re purchasing them! Be creative! Do the good work. Be anti-racist!

How are you doing, Jerry? I remember interviewing you YEARS ago when New Kid was first released. It grew from a long career and from much hard work and dedication. I remember how much you believed in the book and its message, and rightfully so. What has surprised you about the book’s success?

JC: To be honest, just about EVERYTHING has surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, I was confident about what I had done on my end, but once it’s out in the world, you really have no idea how it will be received. I felt strongly that kids would like it. But I was elated to see that New Kid was embraced by teachers, parents, librarians . . . So not only did it get consumer success, but also critical success, which does not seem to happen too often.

What do you hear from young people who read your books?

JC: I’ve had fans in tears sharing stories of what the book meant to them or the kids in their lives. Reluctant readers who were both proud, and amazed, that they finished AND enjoyed a book for the first time. Kids who have found a strong emotional attachment to the characters. Or even kids of all backgrounds who dressed as some of my characters for Halloween. It STILL gives me goosebumps.

Beginning with your work on Mama’s Boyz, you’ve been so good at sustaining characters and concepts throughout a series. How do you do that? How do you keep engaging characters you’ve already developed and how do you keep their situations fresh?

JC: First of all, thank you. Second, I watch and listen more than I talk. So when my sons were in middle school, I made them co-writers on my book The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! That was a story about five middle school bullies who get superpowers but end up looking like the kids that they pick on. I really paid attention to what it was like for kids that age. With my comic strip “Mama’s Boyz”, all the characters had different aspects of my personality. When I was younger, I was more shy like the older brother, Tyrell. As I got older, I was more outgoing, like the younger brother, Yusuf. And when I had kids, I related more to Mom and the other adults. So, it was pretty easy for me to write. Also, in my work, I never talk down to kids, I’d rather bring them up to the level of my writing and storytelling by using relatable characters.

In these times with so much at risk, what can you share with young students, beginning writers and artists and with teachers that helps you get through?

For me, drawing and writing are an excellent way to help make sense of it all. Sometimes you can’t always put into words what you can put into a drawing or a story. Things that may be more difficult to have a conversation about. Especially face to face. I think even moreso for a generation of kids whose main form of communication is via text.

Jerry, I haven’t asked you about the book challenges that you’ve faced. You’ve been a force for good, taking and making opportunities to end the hate. Do you remember that day you found out your work was being challenged?

JC: Absolutely! Up until then I had gotten nothing by love. The first graphic novel to win the Newbery. The only book ever to win the Newbery, the Kirkus Prize, and the Coretta Scott King Award. And both New Kid and its companion book, Class Act, reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list. So this was the first major stumbling block. Not only with the small group of people who wanted to see my book removed from a school district in Texas, but for the many states that are trying to silence any books with kids of color or representing the LGBTQIA community. It’s pretty sad, because it’s the kids who lose out of wonderful characters who show them that they are not alone.

I’m sure you’re still moving forward. What’s next, Jerry?

JC: I’m currently working on the third book in the New Kid world. But my personal goal is to put kids of color where we’ve never seen them before. For example, we recently released both a New Kid sketchbook as well as a 450-piece New Kid jigsaw puzzle. I’m also EXTREMELY proud to announce that NBA superstar LeBron James has teamed up with Universal Pictures to develop a film adaptation of New Kidwhich he will produce alongside Maverick Carter through their SpringHill Entertainment banner.

It doesn’t get much better than that. Thank you for all you do, Edi! 😊

 WOW! Jerry, that’s fantastic! I really hope avenues continue to open up to you that will take these characters to all the young people who need and want to see them.