Newbery and CSK Author: Jerry Craft, New Kid
Earlier this week, Jerry Craft won both the Coretta Scott King Author Award (which goes to an author who demonstrates "an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values") and the John Newbery Medal for New Kid (HarperCollins). Craft's win marks the first-ever Newbery Medal for a graphic novel.
Congratulations! You had something of a massive morning! You won the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and your book New Kid became the first graphic novel to be awarded the Newbery Medal. How are you feeling?
I am feeling truly honored. And very appreciative of the amazing graphic novels that helped to pave the way for my graphic novel to earn prestigious awards such as these: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and anything by Raina Telgemeier, to name a few.
What has it been like seeing the response this title has received from adults and children?
I had such a hard time breaking into children's book publishing that I started my own company and began publishing children's books in 1997. Almost three dozen titles! It wasn't until 2014 that I got to illustrate a book for Scholastic: The Zero Degree Zombie Zone written by Patrik Henry Bass.
But the response to New Kid, from both adults and children, has been absolutely amazing! My intent was to create the same feeling that I had when I took my sons to see a movie like Shrek. I laughed hysterically at some parts, while my two sons laughed at completely different scenes. But we all came away happy! I think I have as many adult fans as I do kid fans.
Did you have any idea, when creating this book, that it would strike a nerve with readers? That it could affect so many people?
I had hoped so, and that was my intent, but I really had no idea until I started getting my first reviews. Only then did I begin to realize that people were understanding exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted to create a book with an African American protagonist that would be as universal as, say, Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I still remember how happy my sons were when they read and re-read each book. But the best part is that my fans are kids, teachers, librarians, parents... it has been truly amazing! And so many have shared stories of how in some way, New Kid has changed their outlook on how they relate to others. I couldn't ask for more than that!
And why did you want to tell this story in this format? What pulled you toward making the personal so visual?
The only thing that I enjoyed reading in my youth were Marvel Comics. And much to the contrary of my teachers' opinions, they did not rot my brain. In fact, they boosted my vocabulary and my desire to read. So, when I DID have to read a "real book," I was more than capable. I wanted to pay this gift forward and embrace confident readers while also comforting reluctant readers.
Is there anything specific you would like readers to take with them once they've finished the book?
Just to realize that there is no ONE way to be anyone... I just wanted to encourage kids, and adults (we need it more than kids) to look at others with a renewed sense of compassion and empathy.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?
Thank you sooo much for your support. It's hard to imagine that this time last year, New Kid wasn't even in stores. And less than a year later, I've been honored with a Kirkus Award, a Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery! But as much as I would LOVE to celebrate, I'm on deadline to finish New Kid 2, which will be called Class Act, and will follow Jordan and his friends (and Andy) through their eighth-grade year. It's back to work for me! --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness