Jerry Craft, Black author of banned book, speaks at Katy bookstore

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


He’d never heard the term before, and he was nonplussed at the notion that his critically acclaimed young adult graphic novels could be deemed controversial.

Despite having once been banned by the Katy school district, Craft made a grand gesture of no hard feelings when he made a special appearance at Katy bookstore Brown Sugar Cafe and Books on Friday.

The decorated author and cartoonist’s books “New Kid” and “Class Act” were pulled from Katy ISD libraries and his scheduled speaking engagement was initially canceled in the 2021-22 school year after about 400 parents alleged that the books promoted critical race theory. They were later reinstated after thousands of parents countered the dissenters and demanded that the books be returned, but the controversy continues in Katy ISD board meetings each month.

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

Craft stated that he was inspired to write the books because growing up, he struggled to find literature that represented him. Black authors were scarce, and books that focused on Black experience were overwhelmingly negative.

“When I did find books about Black people, it was always a struggle. It was, I would say, ‘history or misery,’” he said. “It was like, 300 years ago 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.”

None of the 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 and get some ice cream and have a dad and mom that loves him and make some goofy dad jokes?”

The graphic novels quickly became international best sellers and have been translated into 12 different languages. “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, said Tonya Ellis, a children’s book author from Missouri City who moderated the speaking engagement.

It wasn’t Craft’s distinguished awards that made international news, however.

It was the news that a small group of parents in Katy tried to ban his books. After the Houston Chronicle first reported the banCraft was launched into a global discussion on book banning.

“All of a sudden, I’m talking to CNN and NPR. I’m getting calls from the BBC from London,” Craft recalled. “(I was) drawing cartoons, minding my own business and making happy books, and now I’m talking to Don Lemon.”

Craft believes that his books were branded controversial because the parents calling for the ban didn’t actually read his books.

The parents calling for the books’ removal claimed that it made white children feel bad for being white. While the books do feature some tension between races, Craft said, it’s not the point of the story.

“It’s not a black versus white book, which is what 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 ever read the book, some of the meanest things happen between African American kids.”

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

(My publisher) said, ‘We understand if you don’t want to. We understand if you’re salty because of how they treated you,’” Craft recalled. “But the truth is, the only ones that miss out are the kids.”

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

That some of his strongest supporters had come to the bookstore was not lost on Craft.

“When my first book was published and I got to hold it for the first time, it really was a dream come true,” Craft said. “I have to say this crowd here kind of rivals that because of what’s happened here in Katy.”

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

“I wanted to make sure that if school districts like this and a state like this is going to try to prevent our children from reading something, then that’s absolutely what they need to read.”

Isla said the books are among her favorites. “I read them again and again,” she said. “I like at the end where everyone has learned to be nice, and they’re all best friends.”

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

Twins Camary White and Cambri White, age 8, were among the young fans eager to meet Craft and get their books signed. “I think the most important thing you learn from the 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 other big news for fans. He just inked a deal with LeBron James’ film production company SpringHill Company to create a live action film adaptation of “New Kid.” Craft will be the executive producer, and he promises to keep the film true to the source material.

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