Reviews of the 2020 CSK Author Award winners


New Kid
by Jerry Craft; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Harper/HarperCollins    249 pp.    g
2/19    978-0-06-269120-0    $21.99    
Paper ed.  978-0-06-269119-4    $12.99    
e-book ed.  978-0-06-269121-7    $10.99 

Craft’s engaging graphic novel follows Jordan Banks (an African American seventh grader from Washington Heights) through his first year at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD). Jordan has his sights set on an art-focused high school, but his mother sees RAD as a necessary means to “open up new doors.” Jordan’s father is less comfortable with immersing his son in a predominantly white school and worries about RAD’s lack of diversity. Those concerns are indeed merited, as Jordan confronts both covert and overt racism on a daily basis, from the code-switching necessary to manage the bus ride to and from school, to the two-dimensional tales of black sorrow available at the book fair, to being made to feel insignificant when mistaken for another student of color. Slowly, however, he begins to develop supportive relationships with RAD classmates of different races. Jordan documents his thoughts, feelings, and observations in his sketchbook, shown in interludes throughout the main narrative. Craft’s full-color comics art is dynamic and expressive, generously adorned by emojis, arrows, and imaginative elements such as the small winged cherubs who frequently hover over Jordan’s shoulders; each chapter is introduced by a witty, foreshadowing double-page spread. This school story stands out as a robust, contemporary depiction of a preteen navigating sometimes hostile spaces yet staying true to himself thanks to friends, family, and art. PATRICK GALL

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Also read Jerry Craft Talks with Roger.


Honor Books

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky [Rick Riordan Presents]
by Kwame Mbalia
Intermediate, Middle School    Disney-Hyperion    496 pp.
10/19    9781368039932    $17.99

Tristan’s pursuit of Gum Baby, who has stolen Tristan’s deceased friend’s journal, leads him to the land of Alke, where — amid a series of perilous adventures — he discovers his own power as an Anansesem, or storyteller. This action-packed tale weaves in African and African American folklore, while sensitive Tristan’s first-person narration provides humor as well as insight into grief, guilt, and racial issues. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
by Junauda Petrus
High School    Dutton    320 pp.
9/19    978-0-5255-5548-3    $17.99

Audre lives in Trinidad; Mabel in Minneapolis. The two young women meet when Audre, caught by her mother in an embrace with her girlfriend, is sent away to Minneapolis to stay with her father (who is close friends with Mabel’s parents). The girls’ alternating voices are distinct, even if a plethora of flashbacks and side stories crowd out the main narrative. The prose is sensuous and distinctive; themes of Black power (especially Black lesbian power) are strong; you won’t see the ending coming. ROGER SUTTON

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
by Jason Reynolds
Intermediate, Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    193 pp.
10/19    978-1-4814-3828-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-3830-8    $10.99

Ten blocks. Ten stories. Lots of middle-school kids doing many different things after school. Jasmine and TJ walk home together, wondering what they’re made of—dust and water? boogers? Four friends hustle for change all day and maneuver their capital into buying an urgently needed treat for one of their moms. Ty sprints to check on Bryson, who stayed home to recover from getting jumped the day before. Fatima manages the unpredictable by writing lists of things that don’t change and keeping track of things that do. Gregory’s friends spruce him up and hype him up as they walk him over to Sandra’s house so he can finally tell her he likes her. And Canton, the son of the crossing guard who got injured by a school bus a year ago, sits at his mom’s intersection doing homework. Each short story is filled with the heart and humor for which Reynolds’s middle-grade and middle-school work (As Brave As You, rev. 7/16; the Track series) is known. The young characters cope with difficult problems, from stressed-out parents and aging grandparents to siblings they’ve lost to death or prison, but they are first and foremost ordinary, good kids. And all throughout their striving, surviving, laughing, and groundedness, they relate to one another and to readers in a way that captures the heart. Names, jokes, and details are cleverly and deeply woven between stories to show the interconnectedness of the characters’ world, while the individually distinct stories remind us that you never know what someone else is going through. AUTUMN ALLEN

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2020 CSK Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2020.

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