Black author of banned book Jerry Craft speaks at Katy Bookstore

When award-winning children’s author Jerry Craft learned that his books had been called “critical race theory” by some Katy ISD parents last year, the first thing he did was Google “critical theory of race.” of the breed”.

He had never heard the term before, and he was perplexed that his critically acclaimed young adult graphic novels could be considered controversial.

Despite previously being banned by the Katy School District, Craft made a big no-holds-barred gesture when he made a special appearance at the Katy Brown Sugar Cafe and Books on Friday.

The decorated author and cartoonist’s books “New Kid” and “Class Act” have been removed from Katy ISD’s libraries and her planned speaking engagement was originally canceled during the 2021-22 school year after approximately 400 parents alleged that the books promoted critical race theory. They were later reinstated after thousands of parents countered the dissenters and demanded the books be returned, but the controversy continues monthly at Katy ISD board meetings.

The books focus on the life of a young black student who attends a predominantly white private school. They’re largely based on Craft’s own experiences growing up, he said.

Craft said he was inspired to write the books because growing up he struggled to find literature that depicted him. Black authors were rare, and books focusing on the black experience were overwhelmingly negative.

“When I found books about black people, it was always a struggle. It was, I would say, ‘history or misery,’ he said. “It was like, there at 300, it was a struggle, or in the civil rights era, it was a struggle, or if it was now, it was the police, and it’s a struggle.”

No literature spoke to him as a child with a loving home and generally positive childhood, Craft said. “I’m like, ‘Can the kid just go get some ice cream and have a loving dad and mom and do some goofy dad jokes?'”

The graphic novels quickly became international bestsellers and have been translated into 12 different languages. “New Kid” is the only book in history to have won the John Newbery Medal for Most Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature, the Kirkus Prize for Literature for Young Readers, and the Coretta Scott King Author’s Award. for Most Outstanding Work by an African American. Writer, said Tonya Ellis, a Missouri City children’s book author who moderated the conference.

However, it was not Craft’s distinguished awards that made international news.

It was news that a small group of Katy’s parents had tried to ban her books. After the Houston Chronicle first reported the ban, Craft was thrown into a global discussion about the book ban.

“All of a sudden, I’m talking to CNN and NPR. I get calls from the BBC from London,” Craft recalls. “(I) used to draw cartoons, mind my own business and make happy books, and now I’m talking to Don Lemon.”

Craft thinks her books have been called controversial because the parents calling for the ban haven’t actually read her books.

Parents calling for the books to be removed claimed it made white children feel bad for being white. Although the books feature some tension between the races, Craft said, that’s not the point of the story.

“It’s not a black-on-white book, which a lot of people thought I was trying to portray,” Craft said. “Because if you actually read the book, which I don’t think they’ve ever read, some of the meanest things happen between African American kids.”

When the books were returned to Katy ISD libraries, the district contacted its publisher and asked if Craft would be willing to reschedule the speaking engagement that had been canceled.

“(My editor) said, ‘We understand if you don’t want to. We understand if you’re salty because of the way they treated you,'” Craft recalled. the children.”

It was in the same spirit that Craft traveled from his home to New York to meet Katy’s children, where his books were banned. Brown Sugar Books and Cafe was packed only when Craft fans, who fought back against the ban, gathered to hear him speak and sign their books.

The fact that some of his strongest supporters came to the bookstore was not lost on Craft.

“When my first book was published and I was able to hold it for the first time, it was truly a dream come true,” Craft said. “I have to say this crowd here is a bit rivalry because of what happened here in Katy.”

Some parents, like Farah Cardnell, hadn’t heard of Craft’s works before the ban, but bought the books for their children when they heard of the controversy. Cardnell brought her 8-year-old daughter, Isla, and her 11-year-old niece, Victoria, to the event.

“I wanted to make sure that if school districts like this and a state like this are trying to stop our kids from reading something, then it’s absolutely what they need to read.”

Isla said the books were some of her favorites. “I read them over and over again,” she said. “I like the ending where everyone got to be nice, and they’re all best friends.”

“I really liked the books because they show the issues people face with diversity and inequality that not everyone sees,” Victoria added. “These books are really popular because they educate people who may not know the issues.”

8-year-old twins Camary White and Cambri White were among the young fans eager to meet Craft and have their books signed. “I think the most important thing you learn from books is not to make fun of people,” Camary said. “When I read the books, it really made me think about being nice to everyone,” Cambri added.

Craft had some other big news for fans. He just signed a deal with LeBron James’ film production company, SpringHill Company, to create a live-action film adaptation of “New Kid.” Craft will serve as the executive producer, and he promises to keep the film true to the source material.

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Lola R. McClure