5 Questions with Jerry Craft

The 2020 Newbery Medalist shares his favorite moments from winning, including a Kwame confusion, and tells the 2024 winner to enjoy the moment but not expect to get a lot of work done.

Photo of Jerry Craft and his New Kid book cover
Photo by Hollis King


Winning awards can be life-changing. That’s definitely true if the honor is the Caldecott, Newbery, or Printz. SLJ asked past winners of the Big Three about their fondest memories of receiving the award, the biggest challenge after, and their words of advice for this year’s winners—who will be announced Monday, January 22 during the Youth Media Awards ceremony.

Jerry Craft, who won the 2020 Newbery Medal for his graphic novel New Kid, shares his favorite moments from winning, including a Kwame confusion, and tells the 2024 winner to enjoy the moment but not expect to get a lot of work done.

For you, rules and criteria aside, what makes a book Newbery worthy?
For me, it’s a book that makes an impact on my life. Where the characters seem like friends and I read the last chapter more slowly because you don’t want it to end. And most of all it stays with you well after you put it back on the shelf.

What is your fondest memory of winning the award?
Definitely getting the phone call at 6:42 am was AMAZING!!! And as I watched the announcement on my computer, my hands were shaking.

But the funniest thing by far was getting a phone call to congratulate me from my buddy Kwame M’balia. We must’ve talked for about 10 minutes until I realized it wasn’t him at all. It was Kwame Alexander!!! He had never called me before so I had no idea he even had my number. Just goes to show you what a classy guy he is.

Also, getting a hug from Kate DiCamillo, who fangirled me before I got a chance to fanboy her. That also caught me off-guard.

Unfortunately, there was no award reception the year I won because of COVID, so all of the phone calls that I received are some of my best memories.

What is the biggest challenge for an author after winning?
There are so many. The first is that you have to be very conscious of how you spend your time. Before the Newbery. I knew exactly how long it would take me to do a book. Now it is much harder because of all of the school visits and speaking engagements that I get asked to do. It’s very difficult for me to say no, but now I have found that I have to in order to meet my deadlines. Oh, and don’t forget the Zooms! I could literally do two a day for the rest of my life.

Another thing that surprised me is how excited people are to see you. I used to walk around conventions like ALA and NCTE almost completely anonymous. I stood on line to get my books signed like everyone else. It’s sometimes a bit embarrassing to have publishers recognize me and escort me to the front of the line. I remember stopping to take a photo of Jason Reynolds, who was signing books and I looked up to see someone taking a photo of me. She said, “While you’re author-stalking him, I’m author-stalking YOU!” That was when I started to realize that things were changing.

Also, now it may take me an additional 45 minutes to walk from one side of an exhibition hall to the other because of all of the requests from fans to take selfies. I’m not complaining at all. And if you’ve ever seen me at one of these events, you know I will take the time to pose for each and every one of them. It‘s just such a different experience now.

Any advice for this year’s winner?
I wasn’t really a reader as a kid, so I have to admit that I was a little stunned once I realized the amazing honor that had been bestowed upon me. But it really started to sink in when one of my friends called me in tears once they had heard the news. She shared with me that she had tried to read all of the Newbery books as a kid, and how proud and happy she was for me.

So my advice is to take time to let it sink in, enjoy it, and don’t expect to get a lot of work done in the immediate future.

What are you working on now?
A brand new three-book graphic novel series that has nothing to do with New Kid. But I can’t share details just yet. Sorry. But I CAN say that there’s also a New Kid movie in the works that I am an executive producer on.

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