The author and cartoonist's graphic novels for kids are winning top literature awards—and the attention of Hollywood.
Author and cartoonist Jerry Craft (BFA 1984 Media Arts) made history twice last year. His best-selling book New Kid—the story of Jordan Banks, an artistic African American 12-year-old newly enrolled at a predominantly white private school—became the first graphic novel to win the American Library Association’s John Newbery Medal, one of the highest honors in children’s literature. The ALA also chose New Kid for one of its two 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Awards, making Craft only the second person to hold both prestigious distinctions in the same year.
This past fall, HarperCollins published Craft’s latest book, Class Act. Class Act revisits the world of New Kid—the fictional Riverdale Academy Day School in the Bronx, and the students, teachers and families who make up its community—as well as its narrative style, incorporating “sketchbook” asides, flights of fantasy and pop-culture references into a story about bias, expectations, inequality, family and friendship. This time, the focus is on one of Jordan’s friends and classmates, Drew Ellis. Drew lives in an apartment with his hardworking grandmother, taking two buses to school each day—a far cry from the seemingly frictionless existence of his wealthy white friend Liam. After a visit to Liam’s house makes clear the gulf between their circumstances, Drew begins to doubt whether a meaningful friendship between the two of them is possible.
“With Class Act, I explored a lot more of Drew’s life,” Craft says. “You’ll get to meet his grandmother as well as witness the semi-volatile relationship that he has with his friends from around his neighborhood. It was also important for me to explore, and expand on, the differences between Drew and his best friend, Jordan. I wanted to show many of the intricacies and nuances that I don’t often see with Black kids in books and movies.”
Craft has already begun work on a third book in the series, tentatively scheduled for early 2023. In the meantime, New Kid fans may soon see their favorite characters on the screen. In August SpringHill Entertainment—the production company cofounded by basketball star LeBron James—announced a deal with Universal Pictures to adapt New Kid into a feature film, with Craft set to executive produce.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented a traditional publicity tour for Class Act, Craft is keeping a schedule of virtual events, readings and workshops. For more information, visit jerrycraft.com
A version of this article appears in the fall/winter 2020 edition of the Visual Arts Journal.