Book Review – New Kid

I will be the first to admit that graphic novels are not my first choice when I want to read a book. However, as a former English teacher and school librarian, I believe graphic novels are real books and should be read by all.

New Kid by Jerry Craft, who is the author and illustrator, is about a Black boy named Jordan Banks who goes to a new school. He is not the only new student. Part of the novel gives the reader insight into how other students handle being new. One student that stood out was another Black boy, Andrew “Drew” Ellis. Drew and Jordan eventually connect and find a way to deal with the microaggressions they face. 

One microaggression they had to deal with was their names. One teacher could not seem to remember their names and called them by other names or names of other Black kids. To make light of the situation, they called each other random names when they greeted each other.

My name is Shawnta, pronounced Shawn-tay, and it is constantly misspelled and mispronounced. This particular plot component hit home. I have yearbooks at home that teachers signed where they spelled my name incorrectly after teaching me for an entire school year. I have also had teachers mispronounce my name the entire school year. 

a page of Educator Barnes (Shawnta Barnes)’s 6th grade yearbook

Not much changed when I returned to the school setting as a teacher. I have had colleagues repeatedly call me by the name of another Black colleague even though we look nothing alike and aren’t even the same shade of Black. I have also been told that I am being too sensitive about these mistakes and the fact that people tend to also mispronounce or misspell my name despite numerous corrections. It bothers me when people say, “I guess I can’t do anything right,” when you share how their actions impacted you. Instead of listening, they have made the situation about them. Additionally, they are wasting time having a pity party when they could be trying to figure out why they are having so many problems remembering who we are. 

I have so many experiences when I have worked with white people who have the same name, and somehow, I still know who Kim A., Kim G., and even Kim number nine is (pseudonyms for this example). If I can remember which Kim is which, surely they can remember who I am.

I also appreciated the nuance regarding how Jordan and Drew responded to other incidents that didn’t involve being called the wrong name.

Parts of this novel reminded me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Ted Talk, “The danger of a single story.” It is a perfect choice to pair with New Kid. In the article, “‘Breaking the word’ and ‘sticking with the picture’: Critical literacy education of US immigrant youth with graphic novels,” the author Jie Y. Park pointed out that graphic novels are more complex than people think. I appreciated how Craft used the words and images to show how students felt. Each time there was a disconnect, he would show the students in two different places, drifting further and further away from each other. Students must pay attention to the art and text to get the full meaning when reading a graphic novel. Readers learned how a single story about a person can be dangerous.

I also think the format of a graphic novel made this information easier to digest. I wonder if this was a novel if it would have been as well received. Not enough students have the opportunity to read and analyze a graphic novel with a teacher, and this novel would be perfect for teachers to use. 

I wish this book were around when I was a kid, but I am definitely having my twin sons read it. They will be new kids next year in middle school, and they will be in honors classes for the first time. I expect the diversity in their classes to be lower than what they are used to, so I think this book will be a great read for them. 

I recently purchased the follow-up book Class Act, which gives readers more of Drew Ellis’ story, and I plan to read it soon.

Rating: 4/5

Suggested Grades5-8
LexileGN320L
GN means graphic novel
Guided Reading LevelW
Accelerated Reader Level2.9

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