The New Kid: A Librarian’s Perspective

There’s a scene in Yang’s American Born Chinese where a white teacher introduces new student Jin Wang as “coming all the way from China. And Jin Wang mutters, mostly to himself, that he moved there from San Francisco. The New Kid reminds me of this scene, where the white teachers constantly call the African-American students the wrong names. The racism is subtle, but it’s there. I love that both these books call it out and brings it to readers’ attention.

Every middle school library needs this book.

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

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

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 The New Kid, including contemporary graphic novels and books for tweens, too! Many middle school libraries will have these titles.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

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 The 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.

MORE ABOUT CONTENT IN THE NEW KID:

Language: none

Sexuality: none; no romance or crushes at all

Violence: very mild; some bullying

Drugs/Alcohol: none

BOOKTALK OR DISPLAY THIS WITH:

        

If you can think of more tween graphic novels that feature African-American boys as the main characters, please share them in the comments!

 

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