Thursday, May 30, 2019

New Kid by Jerry Craft Book Discussion Resources








Just by looking at my copy of New Kid by Jerry Craft, you can tell I have lots of thoughts and feelings about this extraordinary book. Post-its are how I process my experiences with a text, especially when I am planning on discussing it with our graphic novel book club.

If you haven’t heard about New Kid yet, here’s the publisher’s description:
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School, where he is now one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either. Can he learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?



I heard about New Kid before the National Council of Teachers of English conference in November 2018 as the buzz about it started to grow. I read a digital galley (Thanks, Edelweiss!) and understood that the hype was real and well-deserved. I saw librarians and educators whose expertise I always seek praising it and I felt the same way. The critics also took note with starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, & Publishers Weekly. Most importantly, kids were raving about this book, connecting with Jordan’s story in powerful ways. I know this because I selected New Kid as a Books & Bites selection, our graphic novel book club, & got to have incredible conversations with kids about this amazing book. Our New Kid book club was one of our highest attended book clubs ever, especially because we got to Skype with Jerry Craft himself! I found Jerry Craft on Twitter and shared my appreciation for this groundbreaking, insightful, humorous, and engaging book and he kindly offered to visit us virtually for a wonderful Skype visit. (You can learn all about that experience at our library’s blog here.)


I scoured the Internets for all I could find about New Kid. My planning process for our book club is to dive deep into research mode, reading every interview & review, listening to all the podcasts, finding videos and trailers and twitter threads. I annotate my copy with post-its that capture quotes and ask questions, later typing up my notes in my detailed plan for our discussion, resulting in more than 8 pages of detailed notes, activities, and questions. I read the print book several times and listened to the audiobook twice. Then, during our discussion, I rarely look at my notes except to find specific pages to reference them because I have immersed myself so deeply in the story.


I thought I’d share some questions I’ve created and resources I found that helped me as I discussed New Kid with our book club. I hope that it helps others who are eager to share this amazing book. I’d especially love to see advisory groups using it in middle school and high schools to spark conversations and help young people transition into these spaces. I was thrilled that New Kid was selected for the Project LIT Community ProjectLit Book Club 2019-2020 list and I can only imagine the amazing experiences being planned right now. I believe that discussion guides and resources are the beginning point for each community’s own research and guidance for conversations with young people, so feel free to share your own questions or resources that you find useful. If you find any errors, please do let me know so I can improve this guide. It’s definitely NOT a definitive resource for sharing New Kid, but I hope it’s helpful.


Background Information
It’s essential to prepare kids when you’re hosting an author to ensure they can participate fully and create a positive experience for everyone. This means ensuring kids have access to the book, which we did through library holds and giveaway copies. I think it’s also vital to share background information, previous works, and creative history. I always love knowing more about why creators make their books and how much of themselves they put into their craft. Jerry Craft’s story of self-publishing his own books is particularly powerful and important to share.

Here are some resources to learn more about Jerry Craft and New Kid:
Minorities in Publishing with Jenn Baker Podcast & Transcript
Three New Graphic Novels & a Conversation with Jerry Craft: Books Between Podcast, Episode 70 with Corrina Allen
Harper Audio Presents: Own Voices with Jerry Craft and Bahni Turpin Podcast
More To Come 360: Jerry Craft Interview Podcast
What is Black? by Dr. Jacqueline Douge interview with Jerry Craft Podcast
The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Jerry Craft by Kevin Springer (Middle Grade Mafia)
Books & Authors: Talking with Jerry Craft by Jesse Karp (Booklist)
New Kid by Jerry Craft is a Middle School Must-Read by Katie Cunningham (The Classroom Bookshelf)







Discussion Questions/Activities


Being New
What makes being a new kid so challenging for Jordan? How do the school, teachers, and other kids make it difficult for him? Why does the school provide a guide for new kids? What makes a good guide? Is Liam a good guide? What are some similarities/differences between New Kid and All’s Faire in Middle School (a book we previously read for our book club)? Have you ever felt like one or been a new kid? How have you welcomed people who were new? What are some actions that can show we welcome people? What would you recommend your school or community do differently? What supports are available for new kids and how can they be improved? [Examples: p. 38, 56-57, 245]


Code Switching
In his sketchbook, “Jordan’s Tips for Taking the Bus” (p. 56-57), Jordan reveals his process of code switching as he travels from his neighborhood to his school. According to NPR Code Switch, “many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.” Code switching can be a survival tool to cope with jumping between worlds and communities - and as Jordan notes, it can be exhausting. We should challenge the conditions and systems of oppression that require code switching. The NRP Code Switch podcast and blog is an excellent resource that always sheds light in eye-opening ways about race, ethnicity and culture. I am super excited for their upcoming episode about challenging the ‘canon’. Their recent episode, Dispatches from the Schoolyard, is required listening/reading for anyone who works with kids, cares about kids, influences policy that affects kids, so basically every person. I’d love to hear a podcast from kids who are reading New Kid and hear their reactions and responses. It would make for a great book club activity!


Batman
How does Jordan’s connection to Batman serve as a code-switching metaphor? Why does Batman appeal to Jordan? [“I wish I was Batman so that I could fit in anywhere! One minute he’s at a board meeting. And the next, he’s in the most dangerous part of town. Completely fearless… But unlike me, Batman is always in control of everything...and I really love how Batman always stands up for the little guys. Because usually that “little guy” is me!” (166-167).] Why does Jordan identify with Batman? What makes Batman a superhero? Batman or the Black Panther? (Just kidding - the answer is Black Panther.)  How does Jordan stand up for Drew? (p. 227). [Examples: p. 2, 55, 166-167]


The Power of Representation
In the children’s book world, we frequently (and we should!) cite Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s landmark article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” when we talk about the importance of representation in books for young people. According to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (1990, p. ix). The sliding glass doors, the active approach to entering the world of an author and de-centering ourselves, has particularly resonated with me recently. You can discuss how New Kid can serve as a window, mirror, and sliding glass door and ask readers how they experienced it, understanding the importance of reader response. Why is it important to see ourselves reflected in books and other media? Have you seen yourself reflected in a book?


Consider the following quotes from Jerry Craft about the importance of being represented in books.


“Fast forward to me being a father who was now looking for happy books with kids who looked like my two sons. It was much easier when they were little. But, the older they got, the more scarce those fun stories became. There are LOTS of books about historical figures. Lots of sad stories. Lots of stories about struggle. Or gangs. Still not many stories about kids just being kids. Where was my sons’ Wimpy Kid? Or Percy Jackson? Where was their book that they can’t wait to share with their friends, no matter who they are, because they have a story that means as much to them as Smile, or Amulet? Where are the books that show other kids, that there are kids like my sons who like ice cream and pizza and tickle fights, and have both a mom AND a dad? (Insert sound of crickets.)” (A Letter from Jerry Craft)  


“When my kids were in middle school, Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out, and most kids carried that book around. They had their pencils, their notebooks, and a copy of Wimpy Kid. But my kids never really had books with characters who looked like them that they could carry around like that. When I was growing up, you’d go to the movies, and any kid who looked like me, who had aspirations of going to college and making himself better, you knew at some point, something horrible would happen to him. Our stories always ended in tragedy. I just want a kid to read this and be able to relax. Read it and laugh and go, “Wow, I made it to the last page and no one died and there was no heartbreak, and I’m going to read this again now that I know I can relax.” Then be proud to give it to their friends—white, black, Latino. I just wanted to humanize the characters because I feel like so much of what happens in society today is because people of color aren’t seen to possess the same humanity as others. So, when bad stuff happens, it’s no big deal. By having these kids, white kids as well, know what it’s like to be Jordan, or to be Drew, or to be Alexandra, I think that counts as much as anything for humanizing us and putting everyone on the path to becoming more caring adults.” (Booklist Interview)


“In my ideal scenario, Jordan would not only pass on a message to kids, but to teachers, librarians and parents as well. And that message is when you see kids of color, make sure you see them as kids first. Because they are! They like to laugh, and play, and use their imaginations, but to me they are constantly bombarded with so many things that force them to grow up at a much faster rate than other kids. Their books. Their movies. Their music. Everything is such a heavy reminder of how terrible their lives are going to be. Even when that is not the situation that they’re in. Let them keep their magic. They have the rest of their lives to be grown.” (Middle Grade Mafia)


The Danger of a Single Story
Sharing “The Danger of a Single Story” TEDTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can help students make powerful connections between themselves, the world, and other texts. 5th grade teacher Jess Lifshitz does extraordinary work having courageous conversations with her students, and you should definitely check out how she shares this TEDTalk with young people. I shared quotes from this talk with our book club kids, but I’d recommend sharing at least selections from the talk. Some quotes I shared included: “Stereotypes make the single story the only story” and “Power is the ability to not only tell the story of another person but make it the definitive story.” How does New Kid itself comment on the problematic or single story depictions of African-American characters in books? How have teachers and librarians bought into the single story? How can we resist the single story? [Examples: Drew: “But I don’t see a lot that interests me anymore. I miss that” (p. 128); reader’s advisory (p. 129); critique of books using humor (p. 130)]


Humor
Jerry Craft does a great job of embedding humor within this story, I imagine honed from his years working on Mama’s Boyz & knowing the exact timing for placing jokes. It’s clear he has great respect for young readers. As Craft said on the Minorities in Publishing Podcast with Jenn Baker, “And I try to make people laugh. I like to make kids laugh. I like to give them hope and not be a constant reminder of how miserable your life is.” Jerry shared in an interview with Edith Campbell that “I would love to create characters that mean as much to kids of color as Wimpy Kid, or Percy Jackson or any other books that you see kids carry around. I’d like them to think of this as a book that made them laugh, and also challenged them to think. But I would also LOVE for this to have the same effect on their teachers and their parents.” How can humor provoke readers to think? How can humor be used to navigate difficult situations? How does Jerry Craft use humor to share his message? How does Craft use humor to challenge systems? Jerry Craft has talked about his approach to the humor in a Romper interview, saying, “I think of my book a little like Shrek. There’s stuff that will make the little kids laugh, and profound stuff that will go over their heads and the teens and adults will totally understand.” Which references did you get? Which were your favorites? What did you find funny? Can you describe the different kinds of humor in New Kid? [Examples: Zombies back to school (p. 18-19), stylistic humor like the emojis, angels, chapter pages with pop culture references, Drew: “Is there financial aid?” (p.126); Mean Streets of South Uptown (p. 129-131, 138, 246)]


Jordan’s Drawings
How does Jordan’s observations and comics in his sketchbook give us a window into his perspective and experience? Why did Jerry Craft draw them in completely different styles? How do they combine social commentary and humor? How are they like editorial cartoons (p. 219)? How does Jordan use drawing to deal with being at Riverdale Academy? Why is drawing important to Jordan? What does Ms. Rawle not understand about Jordan’s drawings? Jerry Craft said in a Booklist interview, “I really can’t stress enough the importance of being able to sit down and gather your thoughts into a cartoon.” Why is it important to have a medium for self-expression? What is the way you express yourself? If you were going to create an artistic response to New Kid, which medium would you use? (This is an opportunity to create a space for readers to respond to this text in whatever way makes sense of them.) [Examples: Back to school (p. 4-5), My Dad’s Tips for Being a Man! “Shaking Hands” (p. 8-9), The Dude Pyramid: A Guide to Cafeteria Hierarchy (p. 40-41), Jordan’s Tips for Taking the Bus (p. 56-57), Jordan’s Guide to Fall Sports (p.70-71), Taking Photos with my Mom: A Tale of Terror! (p. 116-117), Tales of the Not-So-Dark Knight! (p. 166-167), The Baseball Hall of Shame! (p. 190-191), A Public Service Announcement (194-195), Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones but at Least Get my Name Right (p. 216-217)]


Comics Storytelling
Jerry Craft has shared how he identified as a “reluctant reader” in his youth. At the same time, he loved reading Marvel Comics. His teachers would confiscate comics and looked down on this medium for storytelling. Learn more about Craft’s experiences with comics in his Teen Librarian Toolbox post. In it, he says, “comics… did not rot my brain at all. If anything, they nourished it.” Craft intentionally told his story through pictures and text to make it appealing and accessible (Booklist). There are countless moments in New Kid where the comics medium is used effectively to tell readers something more than the text, where they have to read the pictures to understand the content. The writer could tell you that Maury and Jordan are worlds apart, that African-Americans are not a monolith… or you could show Jordan and Maury on different Earths and let the reader make that connection (p. 64). Another example of reading pictures is when Jordan enters the cafeteria and he’s facing away from the reader, around the size of the milk carton next to him (p. 38). The visual speaks volumes about Jordan’s emotions without saying a word, as Craft said in the Middle Grade Mania interview, “the art and words should not be redundant, they should be complementary.” Reading body language, facial expressions, and reactions is an essential part of the social-emotional experience of reading - and it’s through comics where we can hone these skills, and dare I say, improve our irl interactions. Comics are an essential medium for storytelling and it’s important to ensure kids have access to stories like New Kid. I guarantee that readers will discover something new every time they read New Kid. The librarian in New Kid who says “boys, I’ve picked out the perfect books for you… Real books, Alex. Not those silly graphic novels” disparages young people’s reading choices and judges based on stereotypes  (p. 128-129). Her bias against graphic novels is not uncommon, so it’s up to advocates for choice (and we know that self-selection leads to lifelong reading) to push back. And if you wanted to jump up on a table like Jordan to protect kids’ right to read comics, I wouldn’t stop you. Who am I kidding? I’d definitely join you.

Friendship
New Kid says so much about friendship - and the different kinds of friendships kids can cultivate. Examine the different friendships that Jordan experiences, along with the supporting characters. What does New Kid say about friendship as a theme? What makes a good friend? What do you think about Jordan’s Gran’pa’s Chinese food metaphor and argument that “You don’t always have to choose, kiddo. Sometimes let yourself be happy” (p. 114, 118). Do you agree with Jordan’s Gran'pa’s wise words: “My gran'pa always says that friends are like training wheels for a bike. They always keep you from falling down” (p. 249). What do you think about Jordan telling Alexndra's secret? How do friends stand up for each other? [Examples: Jordan and Liam’s friendship (p. 151-153, 238), Kirk and other neighborhood friends (p. 163, 142, 248), Jordan and Drew’s friendship (p. 85-91, 114, 241), Jordan and Alexandra’s friendship (p. 181, 229, 241), Andy and Collin’s friendship.]

Microaggressions
The glowing reviews for New Kid have frequently discusses how Jordan and other black and kids of color are treated at his new school. As Patrick Gall wrote in his Horn Book review, “Jordan’s father is less comfortable with immersing his son in a predominantly white school and worries about RAD’s lack of diversity. Those concerns are indeed merited, as Jordan confronts both covert and overt racism on a daily basis, from the code-switching necessary to manage the bus ride to and from school, to the two-dimensional tales of black sorrow available at the book fair, to being made to feel insignificant when mistaken for another student of color.” Victoria Jamieson points out in her New York Times review, “In addition to figuring out how to find his way through Riverdale’s sprawling campus, he must also deal with garden-variety aggression as well as microaggressions from classmates and teachers alike. His homeroom teacher, Ms. Rawle, continually calls Drew, another black student, by the wrong name. When Drew and Jordan choose to spend a frigid recess indoors together, Ms. Rawle is concerned that they don’t “associate” with other students. These aggravations build in intensity until a cafeteria altercation with the class bully threatens to get Drew suspended — but Jordan channels his superpowers and finds a voice to express his point of view about the injustices he’s faced throughout the year.”


The term microaggression was coined by Dr. Chester Pierce as “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put downs...’” (Pierce, Carew, Pierce-Gonzalez, & Willis. (1978). p. 66). Dr. Derald Wing Sue offers this definition, as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons).


There are lots of resources to learn more about microaggressions and how to discuss them. I am definitely not an expert and am still learning SO much from people much more knowledgeable than I am and of course, there is always more work to do. But here are some resource that can help us start this conversation and keep it going, and help us prepare to stand up for and with the young people we serve.


Microaggressions in K-12 Education by Edtivists: https://youtu.be/oFQJTBsC9pE
Microaggressions in the Classroom: Produced by Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZahtlxW2CIQ
A Look at Implicit Bias and Microaggressions by Todd Finley: https://www.edutopia.org/article/look-implicit-bias-and-microaggressions
Microaggressions Have No Place in School by Steve Heise:
Teaching First-Graders About Microaggressions: The Small Moments Add Up by Bret Turner
Speaking up without Tearing Down by  Loretta J. Ross https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2019/speaking-up-without-tearing-down
Implicit Bias: Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Racism
Learn their Names, Learn their Story by Aliza Werner https://classroomcommunities.com/2017/07/25/learn-their-names-learn-their-story/


Jerry Craft has said in his interview with Edith Campbell that “There are so many microaggressions, and some that are not so micro, that our kids face on a daily basis which can undermine the biggest reason why they’re in school in the first place, which is to learn!” New Kid is full of moments to stop and reflect and think critically. Because it’s a graphic novel, readers can use textual and visual cues to see and decode the stress and pain caused by microaggressions. The full-cast audiobook makes these moments stand out even more when you hear the hurtful comments shared and Jordan’s reactions.


White educators like myself have been especially moved by New Kid, as Craft shared with Romper: “Craft has also been pleased with how profoundly the story has affected white teachers reading it. They get so angry at the white teacher in the book, saying, “She is such a good character, but I hate her…,” which is exactly what he wants. The story is making adults react in a big way, forcing them to realize that they have done many of the things the white adults in the book erroneously do. He believes Black kids need to be prepared for the way the world treats them, their parents need to prepare them, and that teachers and educators need to realize how much power they wield over these kids. “Specifically black boys,” Craft continues. “The teachers seem to think they need more discipline and not the same loving approach other kids get.” In an interview with Middle Grade Mania, Craft reflected, “In my ideal scenario, Jordan would not only pass on a message to kids, but to teachers, librarians and parents as well. And that message is when you see kids of color, make sure you see them as kids first. Because they are! They like to laugh, and play, and use their imaginations, but to me they are constantly bombarded with so many things that force them to grow up at a much faster rate than other kids. Their books. Their movies. Their music. Everything is such a heavy reminder of how terrible their lives are going to be. Even when that is not the situation that they’re in. Let them keep their magic. They have the rest of their lives to be grown.”  Reading New Kid with young people is a call to action for educators to do this work.


Some discussion questions: What are microaggressions? What microaggressions do you notice in New Kid? How do kids use microaggressions? How does Andy use microaggressions (and also aggression) all the time and push back defensively when Drew calls him out on his behavior (p.199-202)? How do teachers use microaggressions? Why is it so hurtful for teachers to call kids by the wrong names (p. 216)? After Ms. Rawle finds his sketchbook, how does Jordan challenge her argument, saying “Oh, I see … it’s okay that this stuff happens to us … it’s just not okay for us to complain about it” (p. 221). How is the librarian’s false assumption about Maury’s interest in The Mean Streets of South Uptown show her bias? (p. 129) Have you ever had an experience like that? How can we disrupt or challenge microaggressions when we hear them? How we can be more reflective about implicit bias? How can we respond when we make a mistake?


Examples:
Kid Microaggressions: p. 26, 42, 56-57, 102, 133, 169. 176, 198, 240
Teacher & Librarian Microaggressions: p. 59, 60, 62, 67, 87, 90, 94, 129, 216,
Addressing Microaggressions: p. 199-207, 215-221.

Audiobook
The full-cast audiobook of New Kid is a marvel, worthy of its own post, so I’ll save a lengthy review for later. But you need to check out this exceptional production that is doing new things with the medium of comics and audio storytelling. The audiobook has a full-cast of incredible actors, led by teen actor Jesus Del Orden who plays Jordan. (I still don’t know if this is an Easter Egg or just a coincidence when Jordan tells his Gran’pa that one of the juniors at his school is in the Lion King on Broadway (p. 111) and Jesus plays young Simba. I need to know!) The cast includes Nile Bullock, Robin Miles, Guy Lockard, Peyton Lusk, Rebecca Soler, Dan Bittner, Phoebe Strole, Marc Thompson, Miles Harvey and Ron Butler. These are some of the best narrators out there. Guy Lockard narrated the Odyssey award winning Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Rebecca Soler and Marc Thompson were part of the full-cast of the Odyssey Honor Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Robin Miles narrated American Street by Ibi Zoboi and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, just to name a few. Ron Butler narrated Rebound by Kwame Alexander. So you get the idea about the community of talent that participated in created the New Kid audiobook. Reading comics often feels like watching a cartoon because you activate the story by moving between panels, creating the sound effects and soundscape in the story. So when an audiobook can capture the nuances of the comic, it’s magic. Producer Caitlin Garing did an exceptional job of directing and producing, as well as adapting the script to work for the audio medium. This production really has it all: a musical soundbed, sound effects, well-matched voices, a cast that reflects the story being shared, young actors who sound like the characters, humor that lands in all the right places. You can see a thread all about creating the audiobook from Caitlin here. You can listen to a preview here. I am so grateful that this story is accessible in this format. I think there are moments that I understood better after hearing the characters. Audiobooks and comics don’t have to fight each other for attention, but can show how storytelling works in all different formats. And the audiobook is about 2 hours long, making it a perfect road trip read. And don’t we educators love when we can compare texts in different formats? You know we do.

Readalikes
So you’ve read New Kid, loved it and are hungry for book to read next? Here are some suggestions. Of course, the best reader’s advisory happens when you know the readers well and can customize your recommendations based on the human being in front of you…

So... which books you would suggest?



 


Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Apple In the Middle by Dawn Quigley
Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce
Short & Skinny by Mark Tatulli
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by by Amy Reeder
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson,  Brittney Williams
Akissi by Marguerite Abouet
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero
Voces Sin Fronteras/ Our Stories Our Truth: True Comics From the Latin American Youth Center

And of course, make plans to return to the world of Jordan Banks in the sequel titled “Class Act” expected Fall 2020 from HarperCollins!