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Children's Literature History Made!

February 4, 2020

The 2020 Newbery Medal made history. For the first time, a graphic novel won the coveted award.

New Kid by Jerry Craft will forever be known as the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Award! Previously given to great works like Bridge to TerabithiaMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH; and A Wrinkle in Time, this award is the fast track to bestseller, if the title hadn't already achieved that status, and a long hold queue at the library.

First, a little background 

The Newbery Medal is given annually (since 1922) by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the "author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". Each year one Medal Winner is chosen, and then a small number of honor books, usually between 2-4, are also chosen. School children throughout the country know when they see that gleaming bronze medal sticker on the front of the book that this is a quality book. 

Now back to the book that made history!

The description from our library catalog:

"A New York Times bestseller! Winner of the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature!

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.

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?"

Ok, so a graphic novel won. What's really the big deal?

A couple of things:

  1. This is validation for what children's librarians around the world have been telling parents: Graphic novels are good reading! Over and over we hear the groaned pronouncement "If only he/she would read something other than comic books." Just like with kids' fiction, not all comic book/graphic novels are of the same caliber, of course, but don't dismiss the format as a whole! Graphic novels are great for reluctant readers because they're often fast paced and adventurous. They're also great for kids who are learning to read or struggling with reading because the words correlate with the pictures giving the reader visual clues to what the text reveals.
  2. Diversity. For the past 10 years or so, the children's publishing world has been changing—not enough—but a movement has started to emphasize the importance of allowing ALL children to see themselves in books. Jerry Craft says it best himself in an interview with School Library Journal:

he (Craft) also wants this book to show the possible path to success for stories with African American characters who “are not driven by misery.”

There are very important books that talk about slavery and civil rights or police brutality or gang life, but I really wanted to add to their narrative by adding a boy who has a mom and a dad, a family who loves him, a support system, neighbors,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about anything bad happening, anyone meeting an unexpected demise. [It's] something a kid can just read and relax and be like, ‘Wow I actually feel good reading this. I actually laughed.’ That’s not something I ever had growing up.

More than anything, I wanted to give 10-year-old Jerry Craft a book he could read and say was his own. That was probably the reason I was not a reader until I was an adult. The things I had to read in school couldn’t have been further from my life. Or if it was someone who looked like me, it couldn’t be further from the life I wanted to live when I got older.

So get out there and celebrate this win for children's literature and kid readers! Place a hold on the book and share it with your favorite kid or just read it yourself! Either way you'll be better for it.

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Miss Terri has worked at three different branches of Nashville Public Library since 2002. She's currently the head of the Children's Department at the Green Hills Branch Library. When she isn’t working, she is usually hanging out with her dog Boo. Isn’t he cute?