Lion Forge: Haphaven by Norm Harper, illustrated by Louie Joyce

New Kid

Twelve-year-old Jordan wanted to go to art school, but instead, his parents enroll him in "one of the best schools in the entire state." Although his father expresses concern about Riverdale Academy Day's glaring lack of diversity, his mother insists that with Jordan's smarts, art school "would be such a waste." On Jordan's first day, he's picked up outside his family's Washington Heights apartment by his RAD-assigned "guide," Liam--well, Liam's asleep in the back seat of his father's luxury SUV. At RAD, Jordan stands out amid chauffeur-delivered students, manicured lawns, fancy fields and "a lot of pink." Thankfully, Liam proves his guiding mettle and becomes a true friend.

Even with Liam's support, however, Jordan's RAD adjustment is a constant challenge: learning social hierarchies, avoiding gossips and bullies--and figuring out where he might belong on a campus with so few students of color. As difficult as navigating relationships with peers might be, teachers are an even greater provocation. Jordan's homeroom teacher can't distinguish one African American student from another and the librarian can suggest only stereotypical titles to black students. Art helps Jordan survive--his sketchbook is filled with daily experiences, his sensitive interpretations far more astute than his tween years would indicate.

Award-winning author/illustrator Jerry Craft confronts elitism, microaggression, racism, socioeconomic disparity and white privilege in a familiar setting. Craft also accentuates the many assumptions we all make about one another, regardless of background. Presented in predominantly full-color, richly saturated panels, Craft distinguishes Jordan's sketchbook entries in black-and-white pencil drawings, their stark simplicity underscoring their uncomplicated wisdom. Craft's messaging leans toward heavy-handed, but his preteen audiences will undoubtedly recognize and empathize with Craft's memorable cast. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon