Last week, a special visitor joined students during Middle School News. Jerry Craft, author and illustrator of graphic novel New Kid, arrived via Zoom to discuss his artistic journey and share insights with the young scholars. Mr. Craft’s New Kid received both The Corretta Scott King Book Award and The John Newberry Medal, the first graphic novel to win the award in its nearly 100-year history.
“It’s funny because I didn’t like to read as a kid,” Mr. Craft chuckled before diving into a discussion by explaining the plot of New Kid. The story centers around Jordan Banks, a seventh-grade boy who dreams of going to art school. Instead, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school where he is one of only a few kids of color in his grade. He splits his time between his home of Washington Heights and the “upscale” Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan finds himself struggling with figuring out where he fits in while staying to true to himself.
Mr. Craft also described his childhood and overall writing process. As a self-published author, he said it took several years to see this creation hit public shelves. While his efforts began in January of 2017, the graphic novel wasn’t released until February 2019.
Middle School Librarian Natasha Goldberg then began facilitating questions from students while Mr. Craft shared his screen, showing his drawing process in real time.
“What is the sequel about?” one student asked, as he drew a simple circle that appeared on the screen.
“The sequel is titled Class Act and it’s about their second year at school – same characters – and maintaining friendships,” explained Mr. Craft. “There is some conflict that they have to try to get through.”
Jordan’s hair and facial features began to emerge effortlessly, as Mr. Craft added various lines and shapes.
“Did someone teach you to draw?” asked another student.
“A lot is self-taught,” he said. “I did study visual arts in college, but it’s a lot of continuous learning. I am a better artist now than I was when I created New Kid. I continue to develop.” A rough draft of Jordan was nearly complete, now showing his full body, with color being added to his clothes.
Opening a blank page in Adobe Photoshop and drawing three new circles, he said, “Look at shapes.” He continued to answer more thoughtful questions as his circles quickly developed into three familiar cartoon characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Charlie Brown and Patrick Star.
“I draw the shapes I see,” Mr. Craft remarked, etching a simple arrow onto Sonic the Hedgehog’s face to create a smile. “You might not think Patrick Star could come from a circle. You have to look for it.”
When asked to reflect on the importance of his story and its moral, Mr. Craft emphasized one word: Respect. “I want to promote respect between students. Students and their teachers, parents, etc. Just respect one another.”
As a final question, Ms. Goldberg asked for any advice he could give to the ambitious learners. After a taking a moment to ponder, Mr. Craft said, “New Kid was rejected over and over, by seven or eight publishers, but I kept working hard and making it better. Now, after winning awards, I bet they look back and think, ‘We should’ve picked that book up!’”
“For young artists, give yourself a break!” he emphasized. “Just sketch and don’t destroy work you think isn’t good enough.” Mr. Craft explained that with a little perseverance, your work can transform into something you love before you know it. He also underscored the importance of always finishing drawings, stories or any piece of work.
The visit ended with many thanks from Ms. Goldberg, Head of Middle School Mary Rafferty and the students, who then began to exit, no doubt inspired to tackle their next endeavor with persistence and creativity.