If success could be attained via charm and personality alone, Jarrett Krosoczka would have had this fame and fortune thing sewn up a long time ago. I'm admitting this right here - I love the guy. His books are a joy, and he's a born showman in person: at panel discussions, he sings, he draws, he engages the crowd and sometimes wears costumes. In the strange, airless space that is the online author visit or virtual storytime, he is responsive and enthusiastic and introduces his dog.
That's Jarrett in his red pleather suit at the Guys Read: Thriller panel at BEA last year, seated between Jack Gantos and Jon Scieszka (who is not wearing a wig) (for once).
But as important as enthusiasm and hard work are, they do not automatically translate to stardom in the demanding, puppy-eat-puppy world of children's lit. Jarrett's newest publication, From Monkey Boy to Lunch Lady: The Sketchbooks of Jarrett J. Krosoczka, tracks the ups and downs of his career as an author/illustrator and the sometimes crooked path along which an idea travels on its way to becoming a book.
Reading From Monkey Boy to Lunch Lady the night before the new couch arrived. (Today's Pink Me banner picture, by the way, is my attempt to take a photo of the new couch - interrupted by my very own Monkey Boy.)
There's a lot to look at here, and a lot of interesting insights on the creative process and book publishing. Jarrett freely admits his missteps - Baghead was originally written in "really, really bad rhyme" - and his brainstorms - a set of monkey pajamas in a costume box at the summer camp where he worked inspired Good Night, Monkey Boy. The book is also short enough to read through in one sitting, even aloud, as I did with my sons.
Zhou, who is 8 and an enthusiastic artist, was very interested in the ways that Jarrett drew his characters. Page after page shows characters in many different positions and expressions, or wearing various hairstyles or outfits. His eyes lit up when he saw this page, which shows how an entire book is laid out in thumbnail sketches:
I am pretty sure it had never occurred to my son that he might plan out a story before, during, or after writing and drawing it.
Milo, who is ten, was more interested in how the stories themselves developed. He scrutinized the sketches for differences between concept and execution, loved hearing about rewrites and stories left on the shelf until inspiration struck again.
I myself was hugely gratified to read that now that he is himself a parent, Jarrett would have reworked the ending of Bubble Bath Pirates: "What mother in her right mind offers ice cream to her kids after they've taken a bath?" I am a big fan of that book - I especially love that Mom is happy and fun, and not depicted as the Mean Ol' Bath Nazi - but I always shook my head at that ending. I mean, fun moms let you have bubbles in your bath, but I think only stoned moms give you ice cream after.
Monkey Boy to Lunch Lady is available in a bunch of different ways: as a PDF for $4.95 directly from the author; in print from Ingram; and as a Google ebook via your local independent bookstore (I chose Mac's Backs in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in honor of the many bags of my ex-roommate's romance novels they bought from me in the mid-80's - Mac's generous used book buying policy kept me in P.O.C. and ramen for at least a whole summer. Plus I would run into Harvey Pekar at Mac's - wait no that wasn't a plus, Harvey was a nasty old coot).
I recommend the ebook edition. Navigation is simple and intuitive, the art and photos glow, and the textured paper background is warm and convincing. We read the book on our iPad, which meant we had to download the free Google ebooks reader app (no big deal); but Google ebooks are also readable on your computer or on your Android device; or you can download the ebook to Adobe Digital Editions and then transfer it to your Nook or Sony Reader. Also, Google ebooks is now fully integrated with the iRiver Story reader, which - you know I try to keep up to date on this stuff, but I don't know what the hell that thing is.
All proceeds from the sale of this book go to The Joe and Shirl Scholarships, a program that provides tuition for art classes at the Worcester Museum of Art to underprivileged kids in unique familial situations. The scholarship program is named for Jarrett's grandparents, who raised him, got him art classes at the museum when his school's art program was cut, and who sent him to RISD when it became clear that his future was in art. Joe and Shirl, ladies and gentlemen - if this sketchbook doesn't inspire you, their story should.
And look at that, I have gotten all the way through a review of one of Jarrett's books without mentioning Lunch Lady once! Let me fix that: Jarrett is also the author of the Lunch Lady series, which are outstanding comedy-mystery graphic novels that appeal to just about every living human above the age of six. If your fun-loving young person hasn't discovered this series yet, make yourself a hero and slide 'em a copy of the almost brand-new Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco.