Reviews /

School Trip

Authored by Jerry Craft
Illustrated by Jerry Craft
Published by Quill Tree Books

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School Trip is Jerry Craft’s third graphic novel about the experiences of children of colour who attend a New York private middle school. Like New Kid, the first book in the series, School Trip is narrated by Jordan Banks, a 13-year-old African American boy from Washington Heights who is a talented artist. As the title suggests, the main focus of this story is a trip which Jordan and his classmates take to Paris, and the book offers a light-hearted account of the students’ escapades before and during their trip. Many of the panels depict profoundly ordinary experiences – going shopping with friends, sharing dormitories or eating unfamiliar food. There are lots of funny moments, some more plausible than others – in particular, more than a little suspension of disbelief is required to believe in the ‘computer glitch‘ that means that all the school’s teachers get sent on the wrong trips for which they are woefully ill-equipped, but it does lead to some amusing complications and misunderstandings.

Threaded through the story, however, are frequent discussions and reflections about what it is like to grow up as part of a minoritised group. The graphic novel format is well-suited to exploring these issues: sometimes we observe one character making an insensitive remark to another, and the visual depiction of the reaction is enough for us to understand the comment’s impact. Craft also shows some very open and honest conversations between the students about race which are, if anything, more effective because of the absence of any mediating authorial voice. Many of these conversations involve the character of Andy, who struggles to understand the perspectives of Jordan and other children of colour, and whose mean jokes alienate him from many of his peers. His fellow students call him out on his behaviour but also patiently educate him about inequality and discrimination, and he gradually develops more empathy. In addition, Craft includes several spreads drawn by Jordan himself offering his observations on different topics, for instance times when people of colour feel invisible at a mall (when they are trying to ask for assistance) and when they feel more visible (when security guards are monitoring them).

Perhaps what makes this book most radical of all – although it is a pity that this is still the case – is that it takes the time to depict children of colour having fun in everyday scenarios. In his author’s note, Craft talks about the lack of such positive representation when he was growing up, and there is a nod to this in a sequence where the school librarian shows Jordan the new books (including graphic novels) which represent children of colour in a positive light – before adding that ‘unfortunately most of them been banned’, sadly mirroring the fate of New Kid in several American school districts.

This is a great book to share with older primary and younger secondary readers, as it explores complex, serious ideas about diversity and inclusivity in an age-appropriate way with lots of humour. It can be read as a standalone but I would recommend reading New Kid and Class Act first as there are lots of backstories and in-jokes between the fairly large cast of characters to which it takes a while to tune in.