Bestselling Author Jerry Craft Meets With Calvert Middle Schoolers

Students from Calvert’s Middle School and the OrchKids program spoke with New York Times bestselling author Jerry Craft about his graphic novel New Kid last week in a virtual discussion that focused on the book’s themes, Craft’s inspiration, and topics like belonging.
Students had the opportunity to introduce themselves, ask questions, and share their favorite parts of the book, and many of them had been members of a collaborative summer book club led by Calvert parent and OrchKids Executive Director Raquel Whiting Gilmer and Calvert Spanish teacher and Director of Global Outreach Sandra Sachar. In addition, six Fifth Grade students joined the group after reading New Kid as a book club offering this fall.
 
During their discussion, Mr. Craft shared that New Kid was based on his two sons and his own experiences when navigating his middle school and high school years. He said that he had three goals when creating New Kid: write a book that would appeal to all kids — especially those that did not see themselves represented in books — share stories of the Black experience that were hopeful and not sad, and provide a vessel for kids to discuss topics like race, bullying, and belonging.
 
That, he says, is why all the characters in New Kid are multifaceted. For example, while Alexandra might be seen at first glance as only silly and fun, her backstory humanizes her, making her more relatable.
 
Mr. Craft said that he also hides new stories in the background of his graphic novels, giving readers something to discover with each reading. He aims to keep it fresh, hoping that readers go back to his books more than once. During the discussion, one stand-out Calvert student became the second person to ever bring up these hidden stories in a book talk.
 
Throughout the conversation, students asked Mr. Craft questions about his inspiration for the book, the themes he included, and if he attended a school like Riverdale Academy, where main character Jordan struggles to fit in.
 
He replied that, yes, he did attend a similar school while growing up, and that he wanted to write a book that he would have enjoyed reading in middle school. The themes of the story, he said, came from his own personal experiences and those of his two sons. The students also asked personal questions such as Mr. Craft’s favorite author — Elizabeth Acevedo, because there is always hope in her books — and favorite food, which he revealed was a Thanksgiving meal.
 
Throughout the conversation, Mr. Craft used Adobe Photoshop to illustrate three New Kid characters, Jordan, Drew, and Liam. Mr. Craft, and he signed his live-drawn image as the discussion ended. 
 
Mr. Craft released his second book, Class Act, just last month, and some of our students are already reading it. He shared that his third book will hopefully be released next year. Fifth Grader Landry Waters let Mr. Craft know that he had made his day and couldn’t wait to read it.
 
Through last week’s discussion, the summer book club, and more, OrchKids and Calvert School are developing a strong community partnership. Collaborative book clubs are just the beginning, and a musical composition collaboration is in the works with Calvert music teacher John Babcock and OrchKids Director of Operations and Strategic Partnerships Nick Skinner joining the team. 
 
OrchKids and Calvert School have managed to grow a strong, innovative partnership that is unique and essential during these times, and we look forward to more collaborative activities to come.
 
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Calvert School is a coed independent lower and middle school.

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