Writer and illustrator of children’s books Jarrett J. Krosoczka‘s graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo is as the sub-title describes “How I lost my mother, found my father, and dealt with family addiction” . As he said in a TED Talk recorded in Oct 2012 that he uses his “imagination for his day time job”. He tells stories with words and pictures. Sometimes he lets the words tell the story and sometimes he lets the illustrations to do the work. He has always loved to draw. His mother was a talented artist too. Unfortunately he did not know her very well as she was a heroin addict and lived most of her life either in jail or in care. His father was faceless and unknown to him till they met when Jarrett was 17 and discovered he had half-siblings. Jarrett K. Krosoczka was formally adopted by his maternal grandparents when he was three years old.
When he was in the third grade, a real author came to the school for an interaction during the school assembly. It was Jack Gantos of the Rotten Ralph series. Jarrett was over the moon with joy. Then the artist came to the classroom and walked around to see what the students were drawing. Looking over young Jarrett’s shoulder, Jack Gantos said “Nice cat”. It was a significant moment for the child as an established author appreciated his art work.
Hey, Kiddo is a mix of traditional graphic storyboards along with paste-ups of Jarrett’s memorabilia. It is painted mostly in tones of grey and orangeish-red with little else colour. The only splash of brightness is in the green and yellow checked shirt of the boy on the cover. This little detail stands out for the glossy finish to the character. Otherwise the book has fragments of the loving letters his mother wrote her son from prison and were preserved by Jarrett’s grandparents. There are pictures of Jarrett with his mother holding her newborn son. There are clippings of his grandparent’s notes to him. There are snippets of the first book he ever wrote for children while in third grade called The Own Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer.
This graphic memoir explores a space of writing for young adults that is tricky as it shares family secrets like a mother who is a drug addict and an absentee father. It is about a family that would probably be termed as “dysfunctional” for not conforming to the socially acceptable norms of a “normal family”. As Jarrett admits in the book he had two incredible parents except that they were one generation removed. On the one hand the author is sharing very personal moments in his upbringing and on the other he has to ensure through his art that the takeaway young readers get from Hey, Kiddo is that they are not alone if they belong to dysfunctional families. Also it is hopefully empowering such readers that it is important to find a way to live, perhaps find a hobby, a passion that you love and stick to it determinedly. In Jarrett’s case it was his love for drawing. This is a confidence building measure that is equally important as holding up a mirror to one’s own experiences as it helps the reader feel he/she is fully in charge of at least one aspect of their life. Truth is always stranger than fiction.
Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir that has understandably been shortlisted for many awards and has been a part of innumerable “Best of 2018 Reads” lists for while it focusses on a child/adult who is flawed, it only makes him human — someone the readers can relate to. The book presents the tough childhood Jarrett had or even the difficulties his grandparents had and yet in their eighties they bravely took on a little boy to care for, although they had already brought up five of their own. Yet what shines through Hey, Kiddo is that despite the straitened circumstances, Jarrett was showered with love. He was not necessarily in want. His grandparents recognising his love for art were as heartbroken as their grandson when the public funding for the art classes dried up. So they put their pennies together, a tough decision for self-made man like his grandfather, and enrolled Jarrett into art classes at Worcester Art Museum— and Jarrett blossomed. For his fourteenth birthday they bought him a drafting board. That night Jarrett had a Chinese dinner with his grandparents. On the top hand right corner of the drafting board is pasted the message he received in the fortune cookie that he ate that night — “You will be successful in your work”. Decades later Jarrett continues to use the same drafting board!
Hey, Kiddo is an extraordinary memoir meant for readers of all ages. It is a bittersweet reading experience with a happy ending — full of hope and joy!
27 February 2019