One Impossible Visit Before Lunch with
July 7th, 2009 by Eisha and Jules
Jarrett J. Krosoczka and the Lunch Lady
(”It looks like today’s special is a knuckle sandwich!”)
Jules: Eisha, holy guacamole! One of our favorite children’s book creators is here today, Jarrett J. Krosoczka. And it’s for such a very fun reason. He is going to tell us the story behind how he came to write his new graphic novel series, debuting this summer from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, called Lunch Lady.
In Book 1, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (to be published at the end of this month), we find out that Lunch Lady, bedecked in her yellow suction-cupped rubber gloves, fights crime — but secretly so. The Breakfast Bunch at Thompson Brook School—Hector, Dee, and Terrence—do wonder what she does when she’s not a lunch lady and dishing out shepherd’s pie (”I bet she has a like a hundred cats!” Dee says). But little do they know she’s got the backs of the students, meeting up with Betty (her sidekick and herself a lunch lady) in the Boiler Room, to keep an eye on the school and any, ahem, robot substitutes who might be planning very evil plots. Well, little do they know until they decide to follow her one afternoon; Hector, after all, does wonder aloud one day if perhaps she’s “some sort of super secret-agent spy or something.”
Eisha, was this book not hysterical? And by that I mean LAUGH-OUTLOUD FUNNY? I also love the very series idea itself. Jarrett had me at hello with the series’ tag line:
Who doesn’t have a strong memory of one sort or another of the lunch ladies from school? (Or, you know, Lunch Lady Doris.) I mean, I certainly do. In fact, do you remember that lunch lady from Maryville College who would say “yippur” if you asked her if she was doing well, or—more generally in her wonderful East Tennessee twang—”I’m fair-to-middlin”? Sometimes she’d say “pur-yip” just to mix things up. Did I ever stop to consider if she had a double life or perhaps her own Refridgaportal? OH NO, I DIDN’T. Anyway, I don’t know what my favorite part of Book 1 was; there were entirely too many. Stopping the burglars’ get-away car with sloppy joe mix (and before the title page even)? The Spatu-copter? The banana boomerang? Betty’s Mole Communicator? The Fish Stick Nunchucks? Oh, I could go on, and I hope I didn’t just take some of your favorites.
I think these books are going to be big with kids. They are terrifically funny and clever, and they really tap into middle-school humor. In fact, in high school, I would have cracked up at this. Okay, so I’m thirty-seven, and I’m cracking up over it. Also: The very notion of a crime-fighting lunch lady would lend itself to all kinds of great plots, I would think, for the future titles in the series. After all, “a lunch lady’s work is never done.” What do you think?
(And P.S., Eisha: Did you know that Universal Studios has optioned the film rights to the series? Amy Poehler will star as the Lunch Lady in a live-action version of the graphic novels. Whaddya think? I think Amy P. is freakin’ hysterical. I was a big fan during her SNL years.)
Eisha: Oh YES, I thought this book was totally hilarious. Brilliant concept, flawless execution. Every little detail is so well-thought-out, from the school-lunch-inspired spy gadgets (you already mentioned most of them, but yeah, those Fish Stick Nunchucks made me hoot out loud) to Lunch Lady’s expletives (”Oh, Doughnuts!” and “Nutritious!” were a couple of my faves). I fell head-over-heels for bad-ass Dee. And I love JJK’s use of perspective in the comic panels, and the running gags he weaves throughout the text. It makes me wonder why he hasn’t been making comics all along (although, arguably, some of his picture books made use of comic-style conventions - Annie Was Warned and My Buddy, Slug come to mind). At any rate, I hope he continues to mess around with comic books, particularly to bring us more Lunch Lady adventures.
Speaking of, have you had a chance to read the second book in the series, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians? Also hilarious, with even more gadgets (Taco-vision Night Goggles, Spork Phone) and funky not-quite-curse-words (”Great Tuna!”). My only beef (Ha! See what I did there?) is that we librarians don’t come off looking too good. In fact, these librarians are downright sinister. I HOPE Jarrett doesn’t think we’re all like that. *Sniff*
What did you think?
(p.s.: Amy Poehler?!? That’s outstanding! Do you think Rachel Dratch could play her partner-in-crimefighting-and-Sloppy-Joe-serving, Betty? OH, and maybe Tina Fey could be one of the League of Librarians? SQUEEEE!!!)
Jules: Well, hold your horseradish. Jarrett’s an equal-opportunity offender: The substitutes of the world also may not appreciate the cyborg rap. Nah. For serious. I think that Jarrett’s just messin’ with us. Haven’t you ever wanted to hatch an evil librarian plan anyway? I thought both books were bookalicious and applesaucey. My favorite part of Book 2 was her even more dramatic entrance on the title page. (It was, however, freaky-deaky to see the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, and a few other Alice characters released as the League’s final weapons.)
The whole X-Station 5000 bit in Book 2 made me think of part of what Jon Scieszka said he’d talk about during his term as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: That, while also talking about and promoting books, he didn’t want to demonize things like television and video games for children. Jarrett’s got that goin’ on in Book 2, without a doubt. I liked it.
Well, Great Tuna! Jarrett’s here, as mentioned, to tell us the story of how the series came to be. It’s great to have him back. We thank him mightily. Here he is…
Jarrett: “In November of 2001, I visited my old grade school to speak to the students about getting my first book published. While setting up in the cafetorium, I couldn’t help but notice Jeannie, my old lunch lady. I had to say hi. By no means did I expect Jeannie to recognize me—I hadn’t seen her in ten years. When I approached her to say hello, she looked at me quizzically and said, “Stephen Krosoczka?” Stephen is my uncle, who is twenty years my senior—she had been his lunch lady, too! She went on to tell me about her life, about her grandkids. And it freaked me out. She had kids, who then had kids? I had never thought about her life outside of the lunchroom. I went home and began writing.
try to talk her out of gathering evidence against the League of Librarians.
At first I wrote the book as a picture book, but when I settled on the idea of Lunch Lady being a crime fighter, I quickly realized that a picture book was much too thin to tell the story that I wanted to tell. Then I wrote the book as a chapter book, but I soon came to the conclusion that the humor in this story was far too visual for that format. Some time in the following years, I was approached by a producer who wanted to know if I had any ideas for an animated TV show. I had Lunch Lady on the back burner, so I wrote out a document that would establish the rules of this world. Ultimately, I walked away from the idea of Lunch Lady as a cartoon, because I wanted to focus on Lunch Lady as a book. In 2004, I was asked to contribute a piece for Jon Sczieska’s Guys Write for Guys Read, in support of his reading initiative aimed at young males. I wanted to revisit an old work, so I tore apart my mother’s attic, looking at everything I had ever created. And nearly everything was a comic. So I finished a story that I started when I was in the 5th grade—and I had a blast! The comic medium is so much fun to work in, and I was reconnecting to a tradition of storytelling that I hadn’t dealt with since my picture book career picked up. I wrote Lunch Lady as a comic book, my editor loved the idea, and now the first two Lunch Lady books will be published on July 28, 2009.
While this is a new professional endeavor for me, creatively I’m going back to my roots. In the month of July, I’ll be posting some old comics from my childhood and college years. It’s neat to look back at old work and see how it connects to your current stuff. After all, it is my 5th-grade self that had the biggest impact on these Lunch Lady books.
And whoever thought that my childhood lunch lady could have such an affect on my life? You know, besides serving me chicken nuggets and Salisbury steaks?
All artwork and photos courtesy of Jarrett J. Krosoczka. All rights reserved.
LUNCH LADY AND THE CYBORG SUBSTITUTE copyright © 2009 by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Reproduced by permission of the author. Published by Random House, New York, NY.
LUNCH LADY AND THE LEAGUE OF LIBRARIANS copyright © 2009 by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Reproduced by permission of the author. Published by Random House, New York, NY.