Class Act: A Companion to New Kid by Jerry Craft, 256 pp, RL 4
Class Act: A Companion to New Kid
by Jerry Craft
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
Class Act is a companion to the Newbery Award winning New Kid, the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal, which came out last year. In New Kid, protagonist Jordan Banks started seventh grade not at the art school he was hoping to attend, but at Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD), an elite private school. There, Jordan code switches while coping with microaggressions from students and teachers and racism couched as "jokes," drawing his feelings into comics in his sketchbook. Craft is an amazing writer who layers SO much into his stories, and Class Act is no different, especially with Drew Ellis as the protagonist.
Darker skinned than Jordan, Drew is treated differently at RAD and everywhere, something Craft/Jordan lays out for readers in, "Look what I 'Drew!'," a comic that Jordan draws about his friend that clarifies the racially driven challenges faced by Drew and Black Americans. Class Act truly is a mirror for readers of color and a window for white readers like me. Reading a graphic novel about a child's experience with institutionalized racism, micoagressions, white privilege and tone deaf, weak attempts at diversity and allyship by adults was powerful and painful, and I felt embarrassed and ashamed when I saw myself and the mostly white staff of the school district I worked for mirrored. One scene when Drew and Jordan visit Liam at his mansion and his mother orders pizza (awkward/funny moment with a white pizza) and watermelon-free fruit salad made by the maid the next morning stuck with me for days.
And, in all this, Craft tells a compelling story of Jordan, Drew and Liam, their wealthy, white classmate. All three are in different socioeconomic classes and a visit to Liam's "Lebron James House Big" mansion (with a tense traffic stop by a white police officer, yet another stunning, intense moment) causes Drew to question his ability to be friends with someone so wealthy when his own grandmother works to exhaustion for so much less. Craft has Liam flip the script, asking Drew if it would be acceptable for him to stop being friends because he does not have the same status. Drew struggles with the things that he feels he shouldn't do, like play basketball, hang out with the other Black students at RAD (an awesome moment when Craft manages to get a stellar group of writers on the page and name check them) and tell classmates not to touch his hair. At the same time, the mostly white leadership at RAD makes some deeply cringe-worthy attempts to diversify, including appointing a white teacher (who has already made clear that, despite his enthusiasm, he is blatantly the wrong choice) to the newly created Office of Diversity and Inclusion - over a clearly qualified Black teacher, screening a movie for the student body that reinforces the negative media stereotypes about Black life (the aftermath of which involves painfully funny attempts at "reparations" by white peers), and sending teachers to a conference on diversity and allyship with the acronym, "NO CLUE." Packed into this two page spread where the staff returns from the NO CLUE conference and are greeted by Drew and Jordan is a "Karen," the white librarian who tells the boys she "agreed to ask you both to help pick out diverse books for the library." Not only does she put the work she needs to do (educating herself on what diverse books are and where to find them) she disses graphic novels! I know that both these are things that librarians do and I know librarians who do this, but it still hurt to see it in the panels and think about how profoundly it impacts kids.
I can't say this enough, but there is SO MUCH in both of Jerry Craft's books - and his Newbery Acceptance speech, which I highly recommend you read - that I could write several more paragraphs. But really, just buy it, read it, share it and talk about it and learn from it.
And, in a truly awesome shout out to his fellow graphic novelists, Craft adapts the covers of their books (and his own) to become amazing chapter title pages! Click the titles below the pictures to see the covers of the graphic novels being referenced (and to read my reviews of these works!)
by Barry Deutsch
by Ryan Andrews
by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
by Raina Telgemeier