Jerry Craft explores a prevalent issue with today’s youth in an unconventional way
Books have the power to inspire, nurse enlighten and provoke thought. Nowhere do these concepts exist more than in the pages of children’s books, where dreams and realities merge. These books entertain young readers, while teaching them valuable lessons and morals for the world in which they reside. Books help shape young minds in ways that may be unattainable by teachers and parents. Jerry Craft hopes his new book will help kids better understand themselves, as well as their own reality.
The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! is Craft’s latest full length book. The 228 page book tackles a prevalent problem facing many of today’s youth, bullying. But instead of the typical tale of childhood bullying, Craft decided to take a different approach on the issue. “I wanted to do a book about the kids doing the bullying, those who were bullies and didn’t know it.” Why are children bullying one another is the ultimate question Craft sought to answer with his book.
The book tells the tale of five middle school students who are experts in the realm of bullying. One day, due to a freak accident, they obtain super powers. But, instead of looking like amazing comic book superheroes, they take on the forms of those they ridicule. One character who gets joy out of teasing those who have braces is blessed with two long razor sharp teeth and is forever known as Beaverine. They all must come together to help save their school. Craft wanted to create compassion and sympathy for his characters amongst readers. “Now that they are the ones being teased and bullied, a sense of empathy is built.” The characters acquire humility throughout the story, as they try to save the school while fighting through low self-esteem and embarrassment.
Through his illustrations, Craft’s characters come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, giving children something to read with characters that look and act like them. Craft harkened back to the days of cartoons he grew up on such as Fat Albert and how he was able to relate to the characters as a child. “When I was growing up those cartoons really taught us lessons and morals, with characters I could identify with. Some of those things have still stayed with me.” Craft also explained that he wanted to eliminate racial lines with his book, because children don’t typically see those racial biases that may exist in adults, making it okay to cheer for the African American or Hispanic character.
While writing the book over an 18-month span, Craft enlisted the help of two special people to craft his story, his two sons Jaylen and Aren. Both gave their father tremendous feedback on the various characters and situations throughout the book when he read them passages, some coming from their own experiences. Before long they became an integral part of Craft’s writing process. “If they read something and didn’t understand it then my target audience wouldn’t either”. Also, Craft didn’t want the book to sound like a lecture to kids because they would completely tune out the overall message.
With today’s youth so deeply engulfed in the technology age, the concept of picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover has lost its zeal and is essentially viewed as boring. Craft stressed the importance of reading and why we must keep our children actively reading books. “Reading goes a long way into life and adulthood.” Craft explained that lacking strong reading skills, or refusing to read due to embarrassment, can keep a person from doing great things in their life. Keeping kids reading falls directly on the shoulders of their parents. Parents should promote the importance and power of reading to their children. Craft further said that instead of purchasing the latest video game or portable device for your child, buy them an inexpensive book. The ability to think and comprehend will always be the two most important tools for a child growing into adulthood.
Craft constructs his books in a manner that puts African Americans, as well as other ethnicities in a positive light. But the only way Craft can continue his positive work is from the support of the community. “If the audience is serious about kids reading and books reflecting kids of color in a positive light, go out and purchase the book. Help me help our kids.” With the support of the community Craft can continue writing and illustrating his books, while playing a pivotal role in the growth and development of our youth. Only with togetherness and encouragement can we see the changes we want in our communities.
The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! is available for advance order at http://jerrycraft.net/offenders.html. With ordering advanced copies of the book, Craft will allow his young readers to offer feedback and suggestions. They will then be featured on a special “thank you” page in the next edition. Craft hopes this book will lead to multiple changes amongst children, parents, and their communities.