An interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Children’s Book Review
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the New York Times-bestselling creator behind more than thirty books for young readers. He creates books with humor, heart, and deep respect for his young readers—qualities that have made his titles perennial favorites on the bookshelves of homes, libraries, and bookstores. In this interview, we talk about the highlights from his career (so far, because he is just getting started), what he hopes readers will take away from reading his books, and his highly entertaining new YouTube series. There’s also some exciting news about an upcoming book that will undoubtedly capture the hearts of his dedicated audience. Be prepared to feel all the feels as you read on!
Bianca Schulze: Before we dive into the very cool content you are creating for all the kids currently remote learning during the pandemic, we’d love to ask you a few questions directly about your career as a creator of children’s books. You’ve been publishing some of the most popular and widely read kids’ books for a decade now; including the bestselling Lunch Lady and Jedi Academy series, as well as your award-winning YA graphic memoir, Hey Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, A National Book Award Finalist. Which five words would you say best describe how you feel about your profession so far?
Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Well, before I get into the five words you have requested, I have to pause and thank you for that incredibly generous and kind introduction! So, just five words. Hmmmm….
1) I 2) am 3) just 4) getting 5) started.
While I’m sure there have been many highlights, can you share just one moment from your career that stands out the most to you?
Yes, there are many. But I am not much of a rule-follower, so I will share two moments because they shine a light on the importance of both the “serious” and “silly” books for kids.
Just before Hey, Kiddo was published, I heard from a reader who had gotten ahold of an advanced copy. A grandparent was raising this teenager because of his mother’s addiction. He stated that he didn’t know that he was allowed to be angry. That is empowerment for a person—to validate how they feel inside.
The second story that I would like to share is about my Lunch Lady series. I was signing books, and a mother happened upon the event. She asked me to sign books for her daughter, and while we talked, she began to burst into tears. She confided in me that she had escaped an abusive relationship, and when she and her daughter set up in a new location, her daughter slipped dramatically in her academics. But it was the campy and silly Lunch Lady books that hooked her back into reading and helped get her back to where she needed to be with her school work.
What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading your books?
I hope that my books can offer hopeful escapism.
What has been the most memorable reaction you’ve received from a reader so far?
Well, I will tell you the reactions that I miss the most since Covid-19 hit…and that is the moment of recognition from readers when they spot me in the school hallways when I get to their schools for an author visit. What I would give to overhear, “Look! It’s the “arthur”!
When Covid-19 descended upon the U.S. in March 2020—like many children’s book creators—you stepped up to help entertain kids with the now wildly popular web show on YouTube Draw Every Day with JJK. Can you tell us about your thought process in the moments leading up to creating the show?
I was in Pittsburgh, PA, for a speaking engagement on March 12th. My entire downtime on that trip was consumed by staring at the news on my phone. The hotel the host had me at was located just kitty-corner to the studio where Mr. Rogers filmed his television show—what a remarkable thought to think that Fred Rogers himself walked through those doors every day to work. When waiting for my flight at the airport, also glued to my phone, I came across a friend’s homeschool schedule that she had made for her kids. She had scribbled in “art” at 2pm. That is where I had my lightbulb moment. I spent the flight home making an animated intro on my iPad, and then went live that Monday, March 16th.
It was viewed more than 550,000 times for more than 53,000 hours in just six months. Do you think your experience as a radio host helped you in any way with the production of the program?
The response was wild. Having a recurring segment on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live taught me many things, but most notably, kids expected routine with their digital media, just as in life—so I needed to adhere to a regular schedule to make it work. I also learned about the importance of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. So when it comes to inviting young viewers to engage with your programming, you must make clear that the grown-ups need to take the lead on submitting materials for broadcast.
You have a deep passion for teaching the next generation of artists. Will you share some of the reactions or responses you’ve received from kids who have participated in Draw Every Day with JJK?
Art, and the process of making art, is healing. My main goal with launching Draw Every Day with JJK was to offer some escapism and coping strategies in a very difficult time. One family reached out to explain that the father, a doctor, was living on a boat to not expose his family to Covid. The mother was trying to manage life for their three children at home, all on her own. They tuned in every single day to my little YouTube show. They emailed me a photo of the artwork that the kids had made—displayed on the boat where the dad was temporarily living while battling this virus on the frontlines. I could live to 100, and that story will still fill me with purpose.
You’ve also started the new series Origin Stories w JJK. Will you share with us a little bit about this program and what prompted you to start it? The interviewees’ list is impressive: Raina Telgemeier, Jerry Craft, Raúl the Third, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Curato, Lucy Knisley, Maia Kobobe, Ngozi Ukazu, and Robin Ha.
I just really, really missed my friends—many of whom I only ever see at conferences and conventions. I wanted to utilize those relationships to create engaging content for young adult readers. I would have loved to have eavesdropped on conversations between my favorite cartoonists when I was a teen artist.
On a personal note, and before we close out, what’s giving you hope right now?
My kids. Their due diligence in giving school their all and maintaining and growing their friendships is astounding. There are many days where I feel like none of this is manageable, but then I see them from either end of the first floor attending school via a laptop. And I should add, they both have teachers whose reassuring tones and energy get me through the day as well.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your writing, your art, or any future books?
I am excited to get going on a year ahead without having to reinvent all aspects of life. I have a new graphic memoir for teens, Sunshine, which will publish in the fall. I am excited to give readers a deeper look into my teen years with this companion to Hey, Kiddo.
To order any of the books mentioned in this interview, visit Bookshop.org.
About Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a New York Times bestselling author, a two-time winner of the Children’s Choice Book Award for the Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year, an Eisner award nominee, and the author and/or illustrator of more than 40 books for young readers. His work includes several picture books, select volumes of Star Wars: Jedi Academy, the Lunch Lady graphic novels, and the Platypus Police Squad novel series. Jarrett has given two TED Talks, both of which have been curated to the main page of TED.com and have collectively accrued more than two million views online. He is also the host of The Book Report with JJK on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live, a weekly segment celebrating books, authors, and reading. Jarrett lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and children, and their pugs, Ralph and Frank.
To learn more, visit http://www.studiojjk.com
This interview—Hey, Reader! It’s a Jarrett J. Krosoczka Interview—was conducted between Jarrett J. Krosocka and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Author Interview, Graphic Novels, Illustrator Interview, and Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
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