The book was challenged in some school districts, including Texas and Pennsylvania, citing Critical Race Theory teaching.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
On capturing reality
In my opinion, a lot of books with African-American protagonists… there’s this really big thing that happens — a life-changing, catastrophic, death or police event or someone goes to jail or does drugs — and I didn’t want to show this. So there is no disaster in new child, but it’s just kind of the day-to-day code-switching that you’re so used to from an early age. My father lived when there were white fountains and black fountains. So I’m only a generation away from that. He didn’t expect anything… So when you think about the things our ancestors had to deal with and even the stuff my dad [dealt with], having someone call you by the wrong name or touch your hair – it’s not inherently catastrophic. It’s boring. I really wanted to have a book where you could read it and relax and just subtly point out the things that we can all do to improve the way these kids are growing up.
On Inspiring Black Children by Describing Positive New Narratives
You are trained in many ways to be a second-class citizen. Even taking my sons to the movies, while their white counterparts – if they wanted to see someone who looked like them – their parents would take them to see Harry Potter and you know, Percy Jackson. Our version was 12 years of slavery and Harriet Tubman… There just aren’t many happy stories. Even when I was a child, the show Good time was very popular. But for a show called “good times,” they never really had a good time.
…I have a teacher who emailed me [about how] all the kids were walking around saying what they wanted to be when they grew up [and] a black kid in class says, “Well, if I live to be 18, I hope…” So I wanted to have a book where there’s hope. In School trip, which comes out in April, the children leave for Paris. And I’m already reading some first reviews [about how people] I love the book… but once in a while someone will say “Well, I don’t think the kids will be able to understand going to Paris… But [a] the child could relate to being a wizard like Harry Potter or going to space or going back in time or any of the other fantastical things. But a black kid won’t be able to relate to going to another country… If I wrote about a dystopian future where a 13-year-old white kid single-handedly saves the world, is that relatable?
So when I do a new kid in class, not only do I do it for the kids to show they have hope and a future – but I also want to point out to the parents and some of the teachers and librarians who put these emotional and mental chains on their children [thinking] ‘I’m not even going to give them this book because [they’ll] never understand the fact of going to Paris. … Why can’t a kid have those kind of aspirations where one day they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I wish I could go like Jordan Banks did’ instead of, ‘Hey, here’s another gang book.’ So what? I can relate to that, I can relate to being in a gang. I can relate to being a slave… but it’s so different. … They tell them all these tough stories and then they forget they’re children.
On representation in books for children and young adults
When I do this [school visits] on zoom or in person, it’s about me being a very reluctant reader. I hated reading books as a kid because – who were my heroes? The black kid in Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? There was no child that looked like me that I was proud of. It was Black Panther … who came out, what, five years ago, that was the first time I had goosebumps. This and Into the Spider-Verse. I felt like I was 10 years old. What I would have given to have something like this when I was ten.
But one of the big problems I have is… [people saying], ‘oh, well… you make white kids uncomfortable.’ A lot of these books – especially historical books – you’ll get a book like Ruby Bridges, or stories where these 8-year-old kids are getting into the school systems on their own and there’s people throwing things around or swearing: So, These kids can handle it – but your little kid can’t bear to read about it because it makes him feel bad? And I think most of the time kids sympathize with the main characters. I don’t think kids ever empathize with bullies. And if they do, I don’t think you’re doing your job as a parent properly. ‘Cause when I read a graphic novel like El Deaf by Cece Bell, which is amazing, or Hey, kid, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s book – it’s all about kids being teased for being different. And again, if you’re raising your child so they can’t empathize with whoever is being bullied… I have white kids who dress up as Jordan Banks and Drew for Halloween. He’s one of their favorite characters, kids don’t imitate bad guys. And if they do, like I said, you might have missed a few parenting sessions that you should probably set up.
On who decides what is the appropriate reading
I am a parent…I think as a parent you have every right to decide what your child can and cannot read…But you have no right to tell me what my child can read. Because a lot of the time, kids will find themselves in books. They can’t even have [certain] discussions at home. I don’t know what it’s like at 12 to realize I’m gay and want to come out to my parents who will hate and disown me because of it. But there are books with these characters that kids can discover they’re not alone in.