Middle Grade Review: New Kid

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Series: New Kid
Genres: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade

Maturity Level: 2
View on Goodreads

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 a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? 

I loved this graphic novel! The art, the story, the characterization, the subtltly, everything was so spot-on! I would put this up there as an all-time favorite with El Deafo and Pashmina. A must-read for middle-graders!

Actually, I want to start by addressing the Middle Grade classification. Though this is being advertised as a MG novel, and the main character is in 7th grade and says he’s 11 at the beginning of the novel, I think that teen/young adult audiences will find a lot to connect with here as well. There’s enough depth here that a person of any age could enjoy it, and you’ll find more to unpack the older you are. So though it’s definitely a strong addition to the middle-grade collection, I would highly recommend it for the young adult crowd as well.

I. STINKING. LOVE. JORDAN. I don’t know for sure what it was, but something about this sweet, insecure, observant boy completely captured my heart. I’ve been a teacher for almost ten years now, and I’ve never had a student as sensitive and aware as Jordan. It’s a unique combination, and it’s a big part of what allows the book to have bigger themes and ideas. Jordan isn’t always brave enough to say what he’s thinking, but he is willing to write it down. And what he’s thinking is often heart-warming, gut-wrenching, or hilarious.

I loved Jordan’s group of pals too, each as unique as Jordan is. Though he’s not too sure about most of them at first, he gets to know them all over the course of the book, and every one of them has something to teach him about friendship and/or life. Though not in a preachy way.

A book about a black kid from Washington Heights going to a mostly-white private school couldn’t not talk about race, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and nuance. So often middle-grade books are very direct and focus on big, obvious racist items, but New Kid tackled everything from micro-aggressions, to code switching, gentrification to implicit bias, and did so with alternating subtlety and boldness. I loved that sometimes issues were hard for Jordan to put his finger on, or that he never finds a “right answer” to his problems, which is how life so often is. It was great to see a book for kids just letting the problems exist instead of trying to moralize or offer solutions.

The art. Wow! You can get a good impression of it from the cover, it’s stylized without being cartoony. It’s not “realistic,” but at the same time it captures everything about reality. The details! Wow! I especially loved the chapter-art, which takes something from our cultural awareness (like Game of Thrones or Star Wars) and put Jordan’s life into it. This is one of those things I don’t think all middle-grade readers will catch/understand, but will be great Easter eggs for teen and adult readers.

I also loved how Craft didn’t spoon feed the reader which elements of the illustration were exaggerated or happening in Jordan’s imagination, but allowed them to figure it out on their own. It’s often subtle, and it will go over the heads of some kids at first, but this is exactly how they learn!

Speaking of learning, this would be an outstanding graphic novel for classroom use. You could use the entire book as a novel study, but the chapters are episodic enough and short enough that you could just use a small portion for an individual lesson as well. Craft created a graphic novel with depth and complexity, but with scaffolding to help kids understand the big stuff he’s putting down.

I’m really going into kind of a teacher/librarian perspective of this book that’s making it all sound super academic and boring, but let me assure you that this book is FUN. Jordan has a great sense of humor, and he often finds himself in silly situations. Even heavier race themes are treated with a self-deprecating humor that keeps the book light. Kids are going to enjoy reading this book. All the other stuff I’ve talked about is icing on that cake.

Seriously, I just re-read this and you’d think I was analyzing the book the whole time I was reading it. I wasn’t. I was lost in the book, swept away in the art, story, and characters. I LOVED IT so, so much.

A must have for any classroom, personal, or school library. Perfect for fans of Ghost, Roller Girl, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But really, perfect for EVERYONE. Read it! Buy it! Give it as a gift! I want everybody to read this book!!!!

14 thoughts on “Middle Grade Review: New Kid

      1. That’s awesome! I think it is a prize choice for our kids this year in the summer reading club (if they complete they get to choose one free book to order).
        It’s a good one to share! I’m glad it is getting some recognition 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          1. We do it through a system of some kind (I’m not 100% clear on who handles it since I just started in March) BUT someone sponsors the club, and then they choose online from a specific selection of books for that age range and the company ships the books to the participants at the end of the summer.
            This year is different (apparently) in that the original sponsor dropped out so the one we did get will send all the selections to us once people have picked their books and we have to get them to the patrons… it seems really complicated but I do love the idea of getting a book to keep as a prize for completing.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I’m trying to think of how I can convince our district to re-vamp our reading program. It covers the entire year and they have to keep track of 100 books K-2 and I just don’t think that’s realistic. Nobody is going to keep up with something for 10 months. I think we could get participation up if we did a series of challenges instead of big long ones. (Also if we had online recording…)

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Hell yes! Let me know if you ever want to brainstorm. I just took over this library’s entire summer reading program (for all ages) and could use someone to talk to to get fresh ideas!

            Liked by 1 person

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