The ALA held their summer conference (virtually) earlier this week. While the award winners are announced at the winter conference, the winners give their acceptance speeches at the summer conference. Isn’t it nice the ALA gives the recipients time to prepare eloquent and thought-out statements? Maybe Hollywood should take note, but I digress…
This year, Jerry Craft was awarded both the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award for New Kid. The Newbery recognition is particularly significant, because it is the first graphic novel to win the most prestigious award in children’s literature. (Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl and Cece Bell’s El Deafo earned Newbery Honors.)
New Kid is a heartwarming story about a twelve-year-old boy who is a new student in an academically demanding private school. He also happens to be one of the few students of color. The story reflects his inner struggle to fit in with his peers while remaining true to his identity.
Here are three things I like about this book:
New Kid shows a young Black boy living an ordinary life, with the ordinary ups and downs any twelve-year-old will understand. You can read why this is so important (and sadly still not a common occurrence in children’s books) in Craft’s moving acceptance speech.
Craft’s artistic style is expressive, fun, and full of life.
I love how middle grade graphic novels present important themes while still keeping the tone light. I think it makes difficult and complex topics more approachable for a younger audience.
New Kid is a great addition to any library. Kids as young as eight may enjoy reading it; I think it will be most relevant for kids ten and up.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is both easy and hard to read. Easy because Mr. Krosoczka’s writing and art propel the story forward in a seemingly effortless way. Hard because the content forces the reader to confront the difficult reality that many children grow up in less than ideal circumstances.
The story is autobiographical. Krosoczka’s mother was a heroin addict, and at a young age, Jarrett is taken from her custody to live with her parents. While his grandparents love him, they are somewhat gruff and jaded, so it isn’t the most cozy environment for a young child – especially one that has already experienced a fair amount of trauma. Coupled with the fact the his mother is in and out of rehab centers and prisons, it’s easy to understand how young Jarrett experiences nightmares and anxiety. What’s most amazing is how Jarrett rises above it all to become a talented artist and family man.
Both inspiring and sobering, Hey, Kiddo is a graphic novel that is best for ages 14 and up. It contains mature content of drug use, suggestions of Jarrett’s mother’s sexual encounters, themes of abandonment, and disturbing images pertaining to Jarrett’s nightmares. The book may be helpful and appropriate to readers younger than 14 if they are experiencing similar life circumstances themselves, but otherwise, I would say it’s best for teens and adults.
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown is an excellent book for teens who want to know more about the refugee plight. Brown uses the graphic novel format to provide historical context and address current issues involving Syria and its people.
The book opens with a brief history of how the political situation escalated in Syria, which led to the outpouring of refugees. After setting the scene, Brown then follows various refugees trying to escape the war-torn country. We follow them on foot to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and we follow them on sea, across the Mediterranean into Greece and other European nations. We see the whole spectrum of young and old, male and female.
Brown does justice to his subjects by not avoiding difficult material. We’re faced with cold facts: some will not survive. They will die from starvation, exposure, and drowning. Although a graphic novel, Unwanted is not explicitly graphic, though scary scenes certainly are depicted in the illustrations. Due to this difficult content, I recommend The Unwanted for ages twelve and up. I believe it would be a compelling read to build empathy and compassion for those enduring this nightmare.
Yet another graphic novel nails the precarious nature of growing up. In Be Prepared, Vera Brosgol carefully balances pre-teen angst with childlike naivete as her nine-year-old main character (also named Vera) navigates summer camp among older girls.
Vera has a hard time fitting in with her more affluent friends at school. Jealous of the girls who spend their summers at camp, Vera convinces her mom to let her go to a Russian Orthodox camp that they will be able to afford with financial help from their church.
As she soon discovers, summer camp isn’t the carefree vacation Vera thought it would be. There’s no running water, which means she brushes her teeth in the river, bathes in the lake, and uses an outhouse for a bathroom. There are lots of camp rules that are hard for a first-timer, like getting her uniform just so and remembering to speak in Russian all the time. But worst of all, her tent-mates are best friends and repeat campers who are much older than Vera, and at fifteen years old, they want nothing to do with Vera.
Away from home and on her own, Vera must confront her challenges. She does make friends while becoming more comfortable in the great outdoors, and most importantly, she learns how to stand up for herself.
Be Prepared is a wonderful coming-of-age middle grade graphic novel that will appeal to fans of Real Friends by Shannon Hale and Roller Girl and All’s Faire In Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. While none of the content is overly graphic, I do think Be Prepared is more mature in content than the other graphic novels mentioned, and would recommend this for ages 10 and up, maybe 12 and up, depending on the emotional maturity of the reader. There is some content to be aware of: the older girls talk of menstruation, one of the girls has soiled underwear after her period, and there is some teenage kissing. If the reader has not encountered these life experiences, then perhaps hold off reading until older.