The move to high school is a challenge for lots of children and Jerry Craft tackles some big issues in a light-hearted and humorous manner in this brilliant graphic novel. The highs and lows of life at a new school are all included; the seating pecking order in the canteen, social anxieties, laughter in the corridors, trying out for sports teams and the challenge of navigating your way around a new school.
Twelve-year-old Jordan Banks would rather be going to art school to pursue his dreams but his parents have enrolled him at the prestigious private school on the other side of town. His mom is convinced that his attendance at Riverdale Academy Day (RAD) School will give him more opportunities and will equip him with the skills to ‘play the game’ in corporate America.
With Liam - a boy whose family have a history of attending RAD - as his guide, Jordan tries to make sense of his new world and finds himself not fitting in anywhere. He struggles to fit in at RAD and becomes detached from his old friends and way of life. It’s not easy being the new kid…
Told from the perspective of African-American Jordan Banks who is starting at a new private school, New Kid is the story of a boy from the other side of the city trying to fit into a world which is completely unfamiliar to him. As he navigates day-to-day life at school he faces racial prejudice from children and adults and tries to make sense of a world that is full of privileged children who go on globe-trotting holiday breaks, see buildings named after their ancestors and wear salmon coloured shorts as a symbol of status. At the opposite end are the few black children who have to deal with the teachers who get their names muddled up and are stigmatised because they receive financial aid.
Private school is all about appearance and in order to fit in you may have to be somebody that you are not. Author Jerry Craft explores the big issues that people of colour face through no fault of their own. Jordan has to deal with people judging him and the other coloured students by their appearance and is the sufferer of assumptions and racial stereotypes. Craft has a lightness of touch in dealing with racial issues and much of it is handled in a light-hearted manner, one instance being when black boy Maury reads far too much into a Secret Santa gift when he becomes concerned that another child has given him basketball shaped cookies, a voucher for KFC and a chocolate Santa biscuit.
As people, particularly children, we just try to blend into our environment and Jordan relates this to being like a chameleon as he changes his appearance on his bus journey from home to school to fit into his surroundings. Hoodie and sun glasses are replaced by shirt and shorts and an academic book as he transitions from a tough persona for the ‘ghetto’ neighbourhoods to the ‘picture perfect’ student for the well-to-do neighbourhood location of the school.
The illustrations and comic sketches are great and allow for lots of opportunities to delve deeper into the text looking for subtle clues and to make observations around the actions and facial expressions of the characters. I particularly like the extracts from Jordan’s journal which give a greater insight into him as a person. His page, ‘Judging Kids by the Covers of Their Books’, is a big smack in the face that stings of the truth and reminds adults to be more socially aware of their well-meant actions.
A necessary read that offers hope and promise of a better world for the future generations and encourages us all to be more aware of our well-meant but sometimes misguided efforts.
Recommended for 10+.