Despite attempts by lawmakers and some parents to remove his books from Texas schools , award-winning author Jerry Craft said his books have actually gotten more attention thanks to the controversies.
The author and illustrator spoke to fans during a virtual event hosted by Harris County Public Library Tuesday. In October, his books were temporarily removed from Katy ISD and his speaking event postponed after a group of parents complained the works promoted critical race theory . Four of his books were also included in a list of over 850 books, predominantly by writers of color and LGBTQ authors, targeted in an investigation by Republican Rep. Matt Krause into the book collections of Texas schools.
Craft’s books “New Kid” and “Class Act” follow the character Jordan Banks, a seventh grader navigating being one of the only students of color at a predominantly white private school. The stories are inspired by Craft and his sons’ real-life experiences. Growing up, Craft said he didn’t see characters like him in books so he sought to create his own representation.
“If I saw any other African American characters in books, they were probably not living their best lives,” he said. “Most of the books I saw really were about struggle… being enslaved, gangs, the civil rights struggle. I never really saw myself… I wanted to [write] African American characters that sometimes the hardest [decision] during the day is ‘do you want chocolate ice cream, or strawberry?'”
When asked about the incident at Katy ISD, Craft said it caught him by surprise. “I don’t think that the people that banned it actually read the book,” he said. “What has happened is so many places have sold so many copies because now people want to see what all the hubbub is. They get it and they write to me and they’re almost disappointed because there’s no big thing that they were looking for.”
Craft said the fact that this happened to him is part of why he chose to make books like “New Kid” in the first place. “Sometimes, when you are an African American, you never stop being Jordan Banks,” he said.
Houston parent Marty Troyer tuned into Craft’s event with his children. In an emailed statement, he said his kids were confused as to why anyone would try to remove one of their favorite author’s works from shelves. Ever since the incident, Troyer wrote he has been encouraging his children to read more banned books.
“I hope my kids have a better understanding of the subtle and systemic ways that race works in America,” Troyer wrote in regards to the controversies surrounding critical race theory in schools. “Racism isn’t something just about bad people doing bad racist things, it’s something that impacts every area of life and people knowingly and unknowingly do things that are racist. We’re all swept up in it, and need to make intentional choices to interrupt racism. That’s why it’s important to learn critical thinking and read authors of color.”
Children of color need to see themselves in the books they read and white children, like his own, need to be exposed to a diversity of perspectives, Troyer said. He adds parents need to demand that school districts are transparent about what books are being challenged and why.
“To have any chance for our kids to learn how to dismantle racism we need the lived experiences of POC to be centered and understood,” Troyer said. “More often than not when Critical Race Theory is being disparaged or dismissed it is being confused with more basic concepts such as historical literacy, critical thinking, honesty, anti-racism, or even more problematic just a story told from a non-white perspective.”
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