“I Make The Books I Wish I Had As A Kid.”
By Mary Mathew, Director of Advocacy
These are the words of Jerry Craft, New York Times bestselling author and graphic novel illustrator. He describes his books as the ones he wished he had when he was a kid, and the types of books he hopes every kid like him can enjoy reading today.
I had the privilege of hearing Craft deliver his morning keynote address to hundreds of educators, nonprofit and state leaders, youth and community advocates attending the 2023 Color of Education Summit hosted by the Dudley Floor Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity on October 7th. Not only was Craft funny, engaging, and inspiring, but he spoke so eloquently to many of the values and beliefs that Book Harvest also holds true.
Craft shared about his experience as a kid who loved to draw, but hated to read. He enjoyed Marvel comic books, but said they were confiscated by adults who told him they would “rot” his brain. According to Craft, his teachers took away the only books that made reading fun and replaced them with books that had nothing to do with his life as a Black boy growing up in Harlem and Washington Heights.
He described his experience saying, "I felt like I was in a laboratory somewhere, making kids hate to read."
Craft talked about how none of the books available to him as a child reflected the experience of his Black family. Any books he found that were about Black and Brown communities tended to focus on history or sad stories; not the happy, normal life he had and wanted to read about. He wished for books that were entertaining, not just about learning lessons. Libraries that were fun, not depressing. Books with regular characters that he aspired to be like, not just Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Craft’s childhood experiences inspired his work to change this reality for children today, and ensure equity for future generations. He spoke up for children’s literacy, saying:
“Any book a kid wants to read on his or her own is a good book.”
“We all have a choice in what a library is going to be for our kids.”
“We need to give kids the access to dream…Black kids need to read about going to Paris!”
Book Harvest couldn’t agree more. Our goal is to ensure that every child has access to an abundance of high-interest books in their home libraries that reflect their lived experiences and allow them to enter into worlds beyond their own. We believe reading should be fun and spark joy and imagination for every child and family, starting from birth. Like Craft and many others listening to his story that day, it is any equity issue we are committed to keep fighting for.
Near the end of this address, Craft shared about how after multiple rejections from publishing companies that were not interested in his early submissions, he went on to self-publish his own books and books by authors with similar stories to share. One of his graphic novels, New Kid, is the only book in history to win the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, and the Coretta Scott King Author Award for the most outstanding work by an African American writer.
Book Harvest is proud to offer New Kid and other curated books by authors from different backgrounds as a part of Books on Break; a program that provides students with the opportunity to select ten free books that they are excited about to take home, read over the summer, and keep forever. We hope that each of these students, and every child, finds the books they wish for and enjoys a lifetime love of reading.