Newbery Medal-winning Jerry Craft visited with Bishop’s sixth-graders on Nov. 3, 2020. Awestruck students, all of whom had read his work, thoroughly enjoyed their time together.
In preparation for the start of school in August, library director Alisa Brandt and director of middle school life and English teacher Jasmyn Tanner ’98 were discussing potential author visits. Ms. Brandt recalls, “Jasmyn Tanner shared with me that she was using ‘New Kid’ as her fist unit with her sixth graders. We both thought it would be amazing to have him here for an author visit, especially since he had won the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children's literature and the Coretta Scott King Book Award for outstanding work by an African American Writer. Jasmyn thought it was the perfect book for sixth graders because it touches on so many important issues and it has elements of English grammar throughout.”
Ms. Tanner also had her students read Mr. Clark’s newest release “Class Act” once it became available in October. She says, “I chose these books because I thought the sixth-grade students could identify with the main character being a new kid at a new school. Jerry Craft’s novels allowed for me to discuss topics focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also thought it would be exciting to start the year with a graphic novel.”
Her advice for graphic novel readers is “to pay close attention to the images and the structure of the panels and gutters. Jerry Craft creatively shares his message through his art. Readers will gain more out of the novel if they not only read the words but also read the images.”
His work truly resonated with the sixth graders, who she notes, “love how Jerry Craft represents what middle schoolers actually experience. For example, the ups and downs with friendships and trying to figure out how you ‘fit in.’ His graphic novels are thought-provoking and layered. They enjoyed the fact that they could read the book several times and find something new each time they read it.”
Throughout their interactive visit via Zoom, the students learned about his creative process. “He talked about how long it took for him to finish ‘New Kid,’ drawing for much of the day and all night long. But the follow up book, ‘Class Act,’ was done in four months because of being in lockdown due to the pandemic. He talked about how he revised many of his panels to tell the story visually instead of with words and showed students early versions of panels compared to the ones in the book,” explains Ms. Brandt.
She continues, “Mr. Craft is a thoughtful storyteller who clearly enjoys writing for every unique young person he encounters. His personal story was an inspiration as he shared with us how he went from being a student who didn't enjoy reading to creating the kinds of stories he wanted to see in the world that reflected his experiences. The students were delighted by his drawing demonstration and felt at ease asking him questions. He seemed to really enjoy our students' energy and enthusiasm and even stuck around a little past our meeting time to answer a few more questions.”
Ms. Tanner adds, “The students loved how ‘chill’ and ‘down-to-earth’ Jerry Craft was, even with all of the awards he has won (their words). They were also amazed by the ease at which he drew the main character, Jordan. He answered questions while casually drawing; the students were in awe.”
A New York Times bestselling author, Jerry Craft is also the creator of “Mama’s Boyz,” a comic strip that won the African American Literary Award five times. He is a cofounder of the Schomburg Center’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival, and received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts.