Reviews of the 2020 Newbery Medal Winners

Winner

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

The Undefeated
by Kwame Alexander; illus. by Kadir Nelson
Primary, Intermediate, Middle School     Versify/Houghton     40 pp.    g
4/19     978-1-328-78096-6     $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-05761-1     $12.99

Alexander and Nelson honor the achievements, courage, and perseverance of ordinary black people as well as prominent black artists, athletes, and activists. The free-verse poem begins: “This is for the unforgettable. / The swift and sweet ones / who hurdled history / and opened a world / of possible. The ones who survived / America / by any means necessary. / And the ones who didn’t.” While some events (e.g., the transatlantic slave trade) are “unspeakable,” Alexander’s words convey a sense of pride at what his “unflappable” and “unafraid” ancestors have accomplished and continue to do despite racial oppression. He incorporates the words of black icons (such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and movements (Black Lives Matter), creating a through-line from past to present. Nelson’s paintings effectively use white space to extend the text and amplify its meaning. For example, the image of enslaved people on ships shows the figures in cramped quarters — a double-page spread compact with black bodies; while what accompanies the text for “the ones who didn’t [survive]” is simply two blank pages. The realistic oil paintings convey racial oppression in the past (black-and-white images of the four little girls who were killed during the church bombing in Birmingham) and present (full-color paintings of African Americans killed recently by police) — demonstrating that racism remains deeply entrenched in America today. Nelson depicts numerous famous people whom adults and children may recognize, from Billie Holiday to LeBron James, as well as others (Sarah Vaughan, Romare Bearden) whose faces and stories they may not know. The book concludes with an afterword by Alexander and an annotated list of historical figures and events featured in The Undefeated. JONDA C. MCNAIR

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. More by and about Kwame Alexander.

 

Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga
Intermediate, Middle School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    342 pp.
5/19    978-0-06-274780-8    $16.99   
e-book ed.  978-0-06-274782-2    $8.99

Warga’s (My Heart and Other Black Holes, rev. 1/15) latest book is a middle-grade and middle-school novel written in free verse and narrated by a Syrian girl named Jude. The first signs of things going wrong in her world are arguments between Jude’s older brother, who is dedicated to the cause of a free and democratic Syria, and their father, who wants stability even if that means allegiance to the oppressive President Assad. When military fighting comes dangerously near their hometown, Jude and her mother leave their home and family to come to the United States, where Jude’s uncle lives with his American wife and their daughter. Starting school, improving her English in an ESL classroom, making new friends, and taking part in a school play are challenges in Jude’s new life, as is dealing with the ugliness of Islamophobia and being brave: both for her pregnant mother and to fulfill her promise to her beloved brother, now missing in a war zone. But Jude is strong enough to face all challenges. Her voice throughout is convincing and authentic, infused with thoughtfulness, humor, determination, and hope. Her adjustment period upon arrival in the United States offers a realistic portrait of the strength it takes to move to a new country, as well as of the complicated dynamics between first- and second-generation immigrants. AUTUMN ALLEN

From the July/August 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read Publisher's Previews: Five Questions for Jasmine Warga.

 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes
by Christian McKay Heidicker; illus. by Junyi Wu
Intermediate    Holt    32- pp.
7/19    978-1-250-18142-8    $16.99

Seven little foxes defy their mother and sneak out into the night to visit "the storyteller," hoping to hear some good and scary tales. Heidicker does not hold back on the horror, with stories of zombie paws, humans who trap foxes and peel off their skin, a beloved fox teacher turned rabid, and more. Wu's black-and-white illustrations -- menacing, shadowy, and textured -- enhance the creep factor. KRISTY PASQUARIELLO

From The Horn Book Guide.

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2020.

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