3 Things You Can Learn from Jerry Craft, author of The New Kid

If you haven’t read New Kidpick it up.  I know, I know.  Any type of shopping is inconvenient right now but this is worth your while. It is one of the funniest books that I’ve read in years.  My poor husband had to put up with my laughing out loud while I read in bed.  Then came “you’ve got to hear this part.”  In spite of the fact that New Kid is about race and class it is, at time, hilarious.  And that leads me to the first thing that you can learn from Craft…

  1. How to Combine Hard Hitting Topics with Humor.  Do it wrong, and your work is disrespectful.  But do it right and you break the tension.  Breaking the tension is vital because a story that is always TENSE is also exhausting.  Break that tension and you can build it back up.  Rising tension keeps the reader reading.
  2. See Beyond Race/Gender/Other Key Terms.  In the interview published here, Craft talks about never being considered as the right person to craft certain types of stories.  “If they wanted a cute story about a talking bear, I don’t think I would ever be considered for the job because it wasn’t specifically a Black story.” But New Kid won the Newbery, a first for a graphic novel and a first for a “black” story. And that’s one of the themes in the book as  the school librarian shows how limited her understanding of “black” stories and “black” readers is. Look carefully at your characters, even your secondary characters.  Make sure they aren’t stereotypic.
  3. Surprise.  Something else that Craft discusses is the reality that all of the characters in a “black” story seldom survive. His way of dealing with this was to create a Grandpa who is “gone.”  Eventually the reader realizes that he isn’t dead.  He moved.  Gotcha!

No matter what you are writing, remember that a wide variety of children will encounter your book.  Remember that they won’t be easily categorized or pigeon-holed.  Deal with this by thinking and writing in ways that are atypical and break with stereotypes.