Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “Reading Diversly” at 2019 AASL

Courtesy of School Library Journal
Posted on November 18, 2019

Ellen Oh opened the 2019 American Association School Librarians (AASL) National Conference with a resounding message: “We need to read diversely, every single one of us,” in order to help kids grow into the best version of themselves…

Graphic novel and memoirist Jarrett Krosoczka, supports this message, bravely connecting with readers of broad backgrounds by writing honestly about his childhood experiences with family addiction. Krosoczka’s books include the “Lunch Lady” series and 2018 National Book Award finalist Hey Kiddo.

Taking the audience through a slide show during his presentation at the AASL conference, he included photos of his family, childhood drawings, working cover ideas for Hey Kiddo, and snapshots of the library in the elementary school he attended, now demolished.

First, the library was near the school kitchen, so it smelled like tater tots and pizza. Then it was moved near the boiler and boys’ bathroom and smelled like “piss and cigarettes.” Still, he said, there was a librarian—and that human presence made it superior to the fancier library in the new school building, which doesn’t have one.

Krosoczka attested to the power of love in children’s lives to pull them through and lift them up. His mother was addicted to heroin and incarcerated when he was a child, and his father was out of the picture. Krosoczka’s unconditional love came from his often gruff grandparents, who raised him, recognized his artistic talent, and supported it. He told that story in graphic format in Hey Kiddo, a 2018 National Book Award Finalist, and at a TED Talk several years earlier at Hampshire College, where he presented on four hours’ notice after another speaker dropped out. The video of that talk has been viewed more than a million times.

Krosoczka recounted his childhood “Batman obsession” and his discovery of Anne of Green Gables—which he picked up, despite the girly cover—in seventh grade and then devoured several books in the series.

He also recalled the first time a Hey Kiddo author visit was canceled because of its “inappropriate” content around drug abuse—and he emphasized the importance of books with “difficult truths” that reflect the lives of so many children who are struggling.

Regarding a parent who might deem a book inappropriate for their child, he said, there’s “another kid who is living an ’inappropriate life’ who would benefit from that book. “These are well-meaning adults,” he said of people who try to shield kids from these books. “They’re just not right.”

In any school community, whether 95 percent of students have reduced-price lunch or families pay steep private-school tuition, “There’s going to be one kid with a parent who has addiction or is in jail,” he told the crowd.

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