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New Kid: A Librarian’s Perspective Review

A scene in New Kid reminds me of a scene in American Born Chinese, where a white teacher introduces new student Jin Wang as “coming all the way from China.”  Jin Wang mutters, mostly to himself, that he moved there from San Francisco. Similarly, in New Kid, teachers constantly mispronounce African American students’ names.

I love that both these books call out these microaggressions and brings them to readers’ attention. It is not difficult for teachers to make sure they get students’ names right. My Korean American friend in middle school also had her first name constantly mispronounced. It is most definitely a thing.

Every middle school library needs New Kid. It’s a beautiful graphic novel, so an automatic win, but many middle schoolers will relate with Jordan.

AUTHOR: Jerry Craft
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins
PUBLICATION DATE: February 5, 2019
ISBN: 9780062691194
PAGES: 256
SOURCE: my son’s bookshelf
GENRE: graphic novel, realistic fiction
SETTING: New York City, present
GIVE IT TO: Grades 4-7

SUMMARY OF NEW KID

Jordan Banks lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City with his mother and father. On the first day of school, Jordan starts at a new school, an expensive private school where Jordan is one of a handful of scholarship students. Nearly all of his new classmates are wealthy and white, and Jordan and the other “scholarship students” attempt to fit in without losing themselves in the process.

THE SHORT VERSION

Aww, so cute! I love the illustration style and the colors used. Jordan’s difficulties are realistic, and many readers will find something to relate to. Tons of topics for middle school classroom discussion.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT NEW KID

This book portrays everyday racism in a realistic way that middle school readers will want to talk about. The racism isn’t violent or loud; it’s subtle and subversive. So subtle that the teachers don’t even realize they are calling the African-American students the wrong names. So subversive that the white teachers call the black teachers the wrong names, too.

All the characters feel real. I loved Jordan’s parents, especially his dad. His mom is super-ambitious and while she’s supportive of Jordan, she doesn’t much listen to what he wants in life. Jordan’s dad supports Jordan’s desire to attend art school and seems to be a bit “run-over” by his wife’s ambition. The mom is likeable, but I’m glad she isn’t my mom.

Jordan feels stuck between two worlds: his wealthy private school and the neighborhood school where his childhood friends go. Again, it’s a realistic recurring theme throughout the novel, with some resolution at the end.

LOVE LOVE LOVE all the book references in New Kid, including contemporary graphic novels and books for tweens, too! Many middle school libraries will have these titles.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT NEW KID

Only one teeny-tiny gripe: The novel introduces many characters quickly, and I had trouble keeping them straight at times. I’ve had this difficulty before with other books, so maybe it’s just me.

This isn’t a criticism of New Kid, but a criticism of the middle grade graphic novel industry as a whole. It makes me sad that this is the only graphic novel for tweens I can think of with an African-American boy as the main character or even a character at all. Plenty of readalikes pop into my head, including Chmakova’s Awkward series, Telgemeier’s Smile books, Hale’s Real Friends, Holm’s Sunny books, and Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School. With the exception of the Awkward series, these books focus on white female main characters.

Okay, I lied. There’s also Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover graphic novel, which just came out last week. So that’s two.

LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW

Themes: new students, friendship, bullying, prejudice and racism, everyday racism, rich vs. poor

Would adults like this book? Yes, especially adults who work with or have middle school children.

Would I buy this for my high school library? Probably. The book is fabulous and brings to light lots of issues, but the main characters are all seventh graders. It’s a bit young for high school, but as I mentioned, it’s not like we have tons of other choices. Until we get a LOT more diverse graphic novels for tweens and teens, this one has a place on high school shelves. Even if the characters are middle schoolers.

Would I buy this for my middle school library?: Absolutely, with no reservations. Every middle school library needs this book, and I’ll even go a step further to say it should be in middle school classrooms, too. And elementary school libraries.

MATURE CONTENT

  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: none; no romance or crushes at all
  • Violence: very mild; some bullying
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none

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