A story about a middle schooler struggling to fit as one of very few students of color, and “an ode to black American triumph and tribulation” have won the top honors for children’s literature.
At its annual convention in Philadelphia today, the American Library Association announced its Newbery Medal went to Jerry Craft for his book “New Kid.” The Caldecott Medal went to Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson for “The Undefeated.”
Craft is known for his syndicated comic strip, Mama’s Boyz. His graphic novel “New Kid” is about a boy in New York City whose parents send him to an elite middle school where he is one of very few kids of color. The story is about his attempts to find a place where he fits in, while developing his talent as an artist.
The commute that his character makes to and from school, across neighborhoods from Washington Heights to the affluent Riverdale, is one that Craft himself made himself when he was a child.
Crafts admits that now, as an adult, he is doing the same thing with his two sons by enrolling them in an affluent school in Connecticut.
“I really got a chance to experience this as a student who is trying to fit into a community that was not necessarily what he was born into, then trying to watching my sons trying to do the same thing,” said Craft in a YouTube video produced by his publisher, HarperKids.
“The Undefeated” began as a poem Alexander performed in 2016 for the ESPN web series, “The Undefeated,” about the history of grit and perseverance of blacks in America.
This is for the unflappable.
The sophisticated ones
Who box adversity
Who tackle vision
Their light for the world to see
And don’t stop
‘Til the break of dawn.
Alexander previously won a Newbery Award for his 2015 novel “The Crossover.” After his poem “The Undefeated” was featured on the ESPN site, he teamed up with Kadir Nelson to illustrate his poem for publication.
“I’ve written 32 books. I told my dad after writing ‘Undefeated,’ this is my best book,” said Alexander in a video posted on ESPN’s Undefeated website. “I said, ‘This is it. This is the one.’ And he reminded me that I’ve said that after every book. So I don‘t know where it ranks in terms of all my books, I just know it’s my favorite right now.”
Both “New Kid” and “The Undefeated” also won the Coretta Scott King Award for author and illustrator, respectively. That honor for African-American authors and illustrators is also given out by the American Library Association.
Other notable winners this year are George Takei, from the original cast of the TV show “Star Trek.” He won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature for his illustrated memoir about living in a WWII Japanese internment camp, “They Called Us Enemy.”
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor won the Schneider Family Book Award for her picture book “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,” illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
The Schneider awards are given to books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. Sotomayor, who has previously written for children about her upbringing, was inspired by her own experience with childhood diabetes to write this book about the unique qualities all children possess.