New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid offers a fresh and funny graphic-novel take on the middle-school blues.

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-14

From Washington Heights to Riverdale Academy is a big leap that Jordan Banks isn’t sure he wants to make. A black kid from a middle-class neighborhood attending a fancy prep? He’d rather just go straight to art school (he’s into drawing, not basketball), but this scholarship came through and his mom is convinced it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. Dad too, though he’s not quite as gung-ho. The first day of school comes with more than the usual jitters: will there be any other students of color? Will Jordan have anything in common with anybody?

Turns out that . . . people are people! Who knew? Some of his classmates make assumptions about him, but he has his own assumptions to overcome. Some kids are cool, others annoying, one or two snarky or mean. Some rich, some poor, some snotty, some nice–and neither their race nor their economic status seem to be the determining factors. One of Jordan’s best friends turns out to be Liam, a rich white kid who envies Jordan because his father is home most of the time. As far as racial stereotyping goes, the grownups may be worse than the kids. The author/illustrator has some fun with this, such as the book-sale lady offering Maury, another black student, the latest in “gritty” African-American fiction: “You’re really going to identify with DaQuell, the protagonist. He’s suffered so much, growing up in poverty without a father.” “Ummm . . .” says Maury. “Thanks, Miss Brickner, but my dad is the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.”

Stereotyping isn’t so funny when Jordan’s friend Drew is accused of attacking a white kid when it was the other way around, but the students find their own way to redeem that situation. In another context, Jordan worries color will be a barrier between Drew and Liam. But his grandpa, who’s been around and knows something about life, is able to offer good insight about that.

The story isn’t primarily about race, though. It’s about those difficult middle years when you’re outgrowing your old friends (some of them) and getting to know new ones and figuring out what you’re good at and what you like and what you don’t. It’s about deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. And it’s a lot of fun.

Cautions: Language (about 3 instances of mild profanity, e.g., “jeez” and “omg”

Overall rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.5Artistic value: 4.5
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