Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Jerry Craft, Author and illustrator of New Kid, a middle grade graphic novel published by HarperCollins that has earned five starred reviews, including one from Booklist magazine, which called it “possibly one of the most important graphic novels of the year.” Kirkus Reviews called it “an engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America.”
Jerry is a co-founder of the Schomburg’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. He was born in Harlem and grew up in nearby Washington Heights. He is a graduate of The Fieldston School and received his B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts.
Jerry stopped in to visit Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester the other day, and I later asked him if he could answer some of our Author Spotlight questions for us. Here are his answers:
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
New Kid is almost anywhere you can buy books, including Target. But I always encourage people to support the Indie Bookstores first.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’ve made that very easy, everything is just “jerrycraft.” My website is www.jerrycraft.com and jerrycraft is also my handle on all social media.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from New Kid?
New Kid is the story of seventh grader Jordan Banks who 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. I think my readers will get a sense of what it’s like to be the “New Kid,” even when we feel it as adults, and I’ve added lots of teachable moments, conversation starters, and laugh-out-loud humor.
What kind of research went into writing this book?
This was based on my four years of attending The Fieldston School in the Riverdale section of New York City, where I was one of the few kids of color. Plus, I saw this again, but this time as a Dad, when my sons went to a similar private school in Connecticut. But even in every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been one of the few people of color, so it’s basically a lifetime of research.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out New Kid? How did you overcome that challenge?
The biggest challenge was to tell a story to mainstream America (and beyond) that featured an African-American protagonist, and make him relatable. I think the kindness of the character as well as the humor in the book made that happen.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I never had middle grade graphic novels as a kid, but I so wish I had. I would have enjoyed reading at a much earlier age. I feel like the pictures help to draw in even reluctant readers while the story and writing are on the same level as your favorite prose books. Graphic novels are definitely not a step down.
What is your favorite part of being both an artist and a writer?
One is definitely working from home. Although it’s not as easy as people think. It takes a ton of discipline. The other favorite part is inspiring new readers, and has also helped to initiate some important conversations about race and class, which are two topics that tend to make people very uncomfortable.
And I LOVE the fact that I was able to write AND draw New Kid because it was EXACTLY the book that I wanted to do. I can marry the text and the images in a way that I MIGHT not be able to do if I had to work with another artist or writer. And since this was a personal story, I was ecstatic to be able to do it myself.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
As I mentioned, my sons’ school is in Connecticut, so there is a lot of New England kids’ fashion and sensibilities included.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Currently working on the next two books in the New Kid series.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
When I write, I like it to be quiet. But when I draw, I like to talk on the phone with friends or other book people. And there’s also plenty of Netflix!
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I have two Beagles named Snoopy and Dexter. When I’ve been working too long, they start to nudge my drawing hand with their noses which forces me to take a break. Which is often needed.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Jerry! We hope to see you here next year when your next New Kid book comes out!