Graphic Novel Review: School Trip by Jerry Craft

Cover image by Jerry Craft, published by Quill Tree an imprint of Harper360UK
on 27 April 2023

School Trip is the third of author and illustrator Jerry Craft’s full colour graphic novels featuring the entirely lovable character Jordan Banks. You can read my review of the multiple prize-winning New Kid which detailed Jordan’s life as a scholarship boy at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School here.

School Trip begins with Jordan receiving the news that he has been offered a place at The High School of Music, Art and Mime; a huge deal for a boy who loves to draw comic books. Before he has a chance to process this news, the school trip allocations are posted and Jordan is delighted to learn that he’s heading to Paris with best friends Drew and Liam. Also on the trip will be Ramon, Maury, Alexandra (Girl Alex), Ashley, Samira (all of whom are likely to be great travel companions) and Andy (who acts in an ignorant, arrogant and insensitive way to anyone who does not share his privileged, white background). Some mischievous interference with the teacher schedules means that the trip is accompanied by Coach Roche and Mr Garner, neither of whom speak French and who are not in possession of the correct school credit card. It looks as if this trip of a lifetime is about to go terribly wrong…until Maury steps up and becomes the lead character in this novel.

I will state right now that School Trip will be one of my books of the year. It is an absolute pleasure to read and being a graphic novel, it is a book which you can finish reading very quickly as you are unlikely to want to put it down once you immerse yourself in Jerry Craft’s brilliant combination of art and narrative. His characters are totally believable, the expressive graphics and natural conversations bring the story alive in your mind and for me the novel certainly played out like a movie in my brain. I love the clever design switch into black and white graphics whenever we are treated to one of Jordan’s life lessons and are able to see his wise reflections on the situations he experiences. There is humour, warmth, and real character growth as students and teachers learn lessons about themselves and each other as they navigate a foreign city.

And then you can dig deeper and realise that this is so much more than an entirely enjoyable quick comic book read, for there are so many lessons that can be taken from this masterpiece. Jerry Craft is very clear about the fact that he has created books that he would have wanted to read when he was younger, featuring African American children at the centre of the story in positive, inspiring, empowering situations. At one point in the story Jordan reflects on the fact that his friends from Washington Heights do not dream of going to Paris because they have never read a book or watched a movie where a black kid travels on a European vacation. There’s an incredibly touching moment near the end where he hands his friend Kirk a gift to inspire him to travel.

There are many examples of racism and micro-aggressions portrayed throughout the story, many of which concern Andy, but I will mention a couple of non-Andy situations that caught my eye. Liam, who is from a very affluent white family, has Jordan and Drew to stay at his house the night before they head to France. His grandparents are sitting on the sofa when the boys arrive and there is the most exquisitely subtle illustration of Grammy pulling her handbag closer to her when she sees that Liam has two black friends in the house. Prior to this, there is a scene in a shopping mall when Drew realises that the shop assistant has not removed the security tag from a shirt that he has bought, but he daren’t go back to the shop to point out the mistake because he is sure he will be accused of stealing. These moments really hit home to me, a white middle-aged reader, the unfairness of being pre-judged because of skin colour and the effect that this must have as soon as children become aware of it.

Inequalities and misconceptions are explored in interesting ways and I was intrigued that even Jordan and Drew were shown to be astonished to find that Maury’s father had formerly been the boss of Liam’s father, the disbelief that a black man could be even more rich and powerful than a white man had presumably not been something they had experienced before. Fortunately for all the characters in this story, Maury’s experience of regular Parisian holidays, his fluency in French and his credit card with its generous credit limit ensures that the trip is a great success; especially when each character finds the strength to talk about their challenges and their desires. The ability to learn from previous misconceptions, to own mistakes and to make the effort to listen to others’ experiences and change as a result is best embodied (for this librarian reader) by school librarian Miss Brickner! In the same way that she starts to stack the library shelves with graphic novels and stories which feature positive representation of minoritised characters, I urge all school librarians and upper key stage 2/key stage 3 class teachers to purchase a copy of School Trip, it’s an essential read for anyone of 9 and above.

I am very grateful to publisher Quill Tree Books (an imprint of Harper 360 UK) and publicist Antonia Wilkinson for sending me a copy of School Trip to review ahead of publication on 27th April 2023.


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