One Book One Region author Jarrett Krosoczka comes to Conn College Tuesday
The 17th "One Book One Region Eastern Connecticut" initiative concludes with a Tuesday appearance at New London's Connecticut College by this year's honoree/author/artist Jarrett J. Krosoczka. He was selected for his graphic memoir "Hey, Kiddo — How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction."
One Book One Region Eastern Connecticut aims to unite citizens of all demographics to discuss ideas and society through books and literature. Previous selections and authors include Pete Hamill ("Snow in August)," Khaled Hosseini ("The Kite Runner"), Yaa Gyasi ("Homegoing"), David Benioff ("City of Thieves"), Tori McClure ("A Pearl in the Storm"), and Reyna Grande ("Across a Hundred Mountains").
Since "Hey, Kiddo" was introduced as this year's choice, dozens of libraries, schools, book clubs and social organizations have participated in discussing the work.
"Hey, Kiddo" is the beautifully and poignantly written and illustrated account — often humorous, frequently sad — of Krosoczka's childhood, when he was raised in Worcester, Mass., by his grandparents while his mother struggled with heroin addiction. For years, all the young man knew, though, was that his mom was an affectionate but very infrequent presence in his life. Instead, his grandparents, who had several grown children of their own, provided love, comfort and support — albeit in a distinctively "old school" fashion typical of their own upbringing during the hard times of the Depression.
Krosoczka also had no idea who is father was for years. As "Hey, Kiddo" develops, the author uses flashback revelations to provide answers and context — a particularly effective way of conveying his own confusion and an ongoing sense of vague unease despite the security and reliability found through his grandparents, their home and the relationships with his aunts and uncles.
The most important development in his childhood was a fascination with and dedication to the craft of drawing. While certainly accepted in the school environment, Krosoczka's exploration of art, and the encouragement of his teachers and family, provided a life-force of creativity and expression that ultimately resulted in an enormously successful career.
Krosoczka was a well-established author illustrator of children's books and a husband and father of two young children when he finally decided to write "Hey, Kiddo." He's published more than 30 books including his Lunch Lady graphic novels. He's a two-time winner of the Children's Choice Book Awards Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year and has been a finalist for the prestigious Will Eisner Comic Industry Award and National Book Awards 2018 for Young People's Literature. Krosoczka lives with his family in western Massachusetts and, earlier this week by email, answered a few questions about "Hey, Kiddo," his career, and the One Book One Region honor. Answers have been edited for clarity and space.
Q: Is "Hey, Kiddo" something that occurred to you to write when you wrote it — as an already established and successful author — or was it something you had to think about because of the revelatory component and what friends/family might think or how they'd be affected?
A: I actually started thinking about writing a graphic memoir in 2001 after my first book, "Good Night, Monkey Boy," was published. I looked at that as the marker for the happy ending for the kid who loved to draw but dealt with so much family trauma. But every time I sat down to "Hey, Kiddo," I would pause out of fear of what people would think.
So I realized I wasn't emotionally ready to write the truth as it happened. With time came that strength and the realization that the happy ending for that kid wasn't professional success but the personal triumph of getting married and starting his own family. And with starting your own family, you suddenly realize that the grown-ups from your childhood were human. You also realize that life doesn't play out in black and white but in a sliding scale of complicated.
Q: Is it also possible that a tipping point in your decision to proceed might be that, given the sad insanity of our opioid crisis, you simply felt a moral obligation to go forward?
A: In a way, yes. I gave a TED Talk in 2012 in which I revealed my mother's opioid addiction. And after that, I would meet so many young people at my school visits who were living through a similar set of circumstances — quite literally at every single school. So, for those young people, I did feel a calling to tell my story so they would feel less alone on this path.
Q: Did writing "Hey, Kiddo" provide you with any relief or moments of revelation that you maybe had suppressed or hadn't thought about?
A: Oh, totally. I activated all senses to trigger memory. I went out and bought my grandfather's aftershave and my grandmother's perfume, I listened to music, I bought old toys to hold them in my hand again ...
Q: You've made comments about fictional/cartoon characters being your best friends during your formative years. Have you ever met a specific kid in a particular situation and said, "That kid needs a friend" — and set out to then write/draw/create that friend. And it became a whole book or story?
A: No, but in essence I do feel as though we authors of children's books are running one big "Best Friend Factory."
Q: Do you think that the arts are developed in classroom situations to serve a therapeutic role, where maybe each student's curriculum might be tailored to fit her or his needs in that context?
A: I'm not sure. But one thing I can speak for, no matter what vocation a young person pursues, an education in the arts will help them navigate emotions and help them become creative problem solvers.
Q: A chance classroom meeting with Newbury Award winning Jack Gantos, where he complimented the drawing you were making, was a huge moment for you. Have you met him since?
A: I have, several times. He even interviewed me for one of my tour stops for "Hey, Kiddo!"
Q: Were you familiar with the One Book One Region program when you found out you were an honoree, and what does the selection tell you about your work?
A: I wasn't familiar with the specific program but well aware of what an honor it was when I was asked to participate!
If you go
Who: Graphic novelist/memorist Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the 2019 One Book One Region Eastern Connecticut selection "Hey, Kiddo"
What: Speaks, discusses and signs "Hey, Kiddo" at the program's closing event
When: 7-9:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Palmer Auditorium, Connecticut College, 270 Mohegan Ave., New London
How much: free
For more information: (860) 441-6750, onebookoneregion.org