Graphic Novel Wins Newbery Medal for the First Time

Graphic Novel Wins Newbery Medal for the First Time

The writer and illustrator Jerry Craft won this year’s John Newbery Medal for “New Kid,” the first graphic novel to receive the prize for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

“New Kid” is about a 12-year-old boy named Jordan who lives in New York City’s Washington Heights and dreams of going to art school, but his parents instead enroll him in a prestigious private school where he is one of the few students of color. Published by HarperCollins, “New Kid” marks a shift from Craft’s previously self-published work and reflects the industry’s shifting attitudes about the literary merits of graphic novels.

The Undefeated,” written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. An ode to African-American life and accomplishments, it includes references to slavery, the civil rights movements and black heroes such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and others. The book also won a Newbery Honor, one of only a few picture books to receive the distinction. Mr. Alexander had previously won the Newbery Medal for his novel “The Crossover” in 2015.

The awards, announced Monday at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference in Philadelphia, are some of the top prizes in young people’s literature and have great influence over book sales and teacher and librarian recommendations.

Children’s books over the last several years have been at the forefront of shifting conversations around diversity and inclusion in literature and publishing. Alexander published “The Undefeated” under his new diversity-focused imprint Versify, one of a number of new mission-driven imprints, including Kokila, Rick Riordan Presents and Christopher Myer’s Make Me a World, that are making waves in the industry.

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