Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #16:
(Or, Are You Ready to Rock, Wisconsin?!)
Author/Illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka

h1 March 28th, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

We here at Team 7-Impossible can be pretty effusive about our love for Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Like here, when Jules wrote a glowing review of Giddy Up, Cowgirl. Or here, where Eisha was equally thrilled about My Buddy, Slug. Or here and here, where Jules gets excited over JJK’s blog and his great picture book recommendations, and raves about one of our all-time favorite books EVER, Punk Farm. And, oh yeah, who could forget this fab little moment, when Eisha got disturbingly effusive all up in his grill at the Boston Globe-Hornbook Awards ceremony. Woo.

So you can imagine our happiness when Mr. Krosoczka — sorry, we mean Jarrett — graciously agreed to an interview. Good thing for Eisha, his memory must be very short.

Jarrett grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, and as a boy was a fan of comic books and animation. His interest in creating books for young children was piqued when he first volunteered as a teen at a camp in Connecticut for children with life-threatening illnesses, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. As his site bio states (the first bio, that is; if you’ve never been to his site, we urge you to experience his “serious bio,” “fake bio,” “faker bio,” and “short bio”), he headed for New York City just six months after graduating and landed a contract for his first picture book. Good Night, Monkey Boy was published in 2001 (Knopf Books).

Baghead (Knopf) — a story about a young boy who goes through the day with a paper bag over his head due to a disastrous do-it-yourself hair trimming — followed in 2002, which Booklist called “offbeat, humorous,” and Publishers Weekly praised Jarrett’s “saturated, deliberate brushstrokes” and “{t}he hero’s successful acts of insubordination {which} attest to Krosoczka’s sympathy for his audience, who will readily identify.” In 2003, Jarrett brought us Bubble Bath Pirates, published by Viking (“”Yo ho, yo ho, it’s off to the bath we go!”) and Annie Was Warned (Knopf), in which our hero, Annie (who isn’t scared of haunted places, thank you very much, and who was born on Halloween) is dared by a friend to sneak out to spooky Montgomery mansion. And it’s in this title that Jarrett’s talent with texture shines the brightest, though it’s not as if his art work in any of the others is something to sneeze at (“Krosoczka’s richly textured, double-page cartoon paintings, executed in a dark palette filled with multidirectional brush strokes and ominous-looking shadows, create an eerie Halloween night atmosphere,” wrote a School Library Journal reviewer). And in her review for Booklist, Hazel Rochman wrote, “{e}ven when they know the cozy end, preschoolers will enjoy going back to those deliciously shivery moments, when ghostly creatures loom in the dark.” And in 2004, the red, white, and blue Max for President was published (Knopf), a simple and upbeat introduction to campaigning, elections, and the voting process (amusingly enough, Kirkus Reviews wrote of Max: “Krosoczka presents student government at its gentle finest — respectful, issues oriented — that the national political theater might emulate”).

Then came Punk Farm in 2005 (Knopf), which will be followed up this October by Punk Farm On Tour (Knopf) and which is in the process of being adapted to the big screen by DreamWorks Animation. What can we say about Punk Farm that hasn’t already been said by a kerjillion (to be exact) kids — and adults — in this country? It’s funny and clever and great fun — not to mention that we think it pretty much epitomizes the exuberance and spunk that is the work of JJK (his very funny “serious bio” on his site puts it well: “{JJK} writes and illustrates picture books that focus on the psychologies of idiosyncratic, often hyperactive youth. The protagonists tend to exude an independence that set them apart from their peers . . .”). Punk Farm is simply a Must-Have Picture Book — not to mention it has its own slammin’ web site, complete with the downloadable “Punk Farm,” which will rock you out, yo.

Finally, in 2006 we saw Giddy Up, Cowgirl (“YEE HAW!”), a rollickin’ good tale with much heart and much cheer, published by Viking, and My Buddy, Slug (Knopf), one of our favorite picture books here at 7-Imp about friendship and understanding and about which Jarrett briefly speaks below. As Eisha put it well (says Jules) in her review of My Buddy, Slug, “Mr. Krosoczka {hey, we pretty much had to call him that back then, but now we have his permission to call him Jarrett} is really, really good at: 1.) Writing picture books about situations that kids really encounter and care about; 2.) Snarky humor that does not condescend to kids . . .; and 3.) Bright, brilliant, uncluttered acrylic illustrations that have just enough detail and can convey so much with just a few brushstrokes… a raised eyebrow here, a little pindot mouth there.”

And here’s one more thing we love about Jarrett — his web site, which is all that and a box of cookies. We dare say that all author/illustrators would do well to emulate the lengths Jarrett goes to and efforts he puts into connecting with his readers — making the site interactive (there are old skool video games, dude); sharing sketches (early and new); using multi-media, such as with his book previews and The Punk Farm Book Tour, “an explosive documentary”; his detailed and interactive “News + Events” page; and much more. His blog has tour pictures and even very unusually-decorated Christmas tree pics. Truly, his site and blog are terrifically child-friendly, and Jarrett’s adoration for sharing his books with children via his book tours and both his knack for connecting with them and respect for them is evident. (You can also read more about his book tours below). If you pay attention to his blog, he is all the time giving thanks where thanks are due to the veritable slew of state awards (chosen by child readers themselves) he has received (a recent example being here). And what kid who is a big fan wouldn’t be very happy to read something like this from their favorite author/illustrator?

So, 7-Imp proudly presents: Jarrett J. Krosoczka. (We’re kind of belaboring the point here, but that’s just a really fun name to type.)

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7-Imp: Your site mentions that your mother was “a very gifted artist.” Could you tell us more about her art and how it perhaps inspired you?

JJK: Yes, my mother’s talent had a pretty big impact on me as a kid. She was really good at drawing and would draw for me all the time. She wasn’t able to raise me, so when she was away, we would correspond through letters. In those letters she’d draw a character that I had requested and then she would request a character from me. I’d draw a picture of that character and include it in my next letter to her and then request another character. This went back and forth for a number of years. I remember getting beautiful drawings of Snoopy, Woodstock, Garfield, the Pink Panther, Yogi Bear . . . Even when I was young, I recognized the fact that she hadn’t utilized her talent to its fullest capabilities in her life. I vowed at a pretty young age to do something with what I had been gifted. That pretty much explains where my drive comes from.

7-Imp: We see on your site that your first published work was in 9th grade — for The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Was it a story? If so, about what? Was it illustrated, too?

JJK: Back in the day, The Worcester T&G ran an editorial contest for jr. high and high school students. In 9th grade, my art teacher, Mr. Shilale, encouraged us all to submit an editorial cartoon. Each student was required to enter one cartoon. I entered four. I remember this girl in class mocking me and calling me a brown-noser. Hmph! I wasn’t brown-nosing! I just wanted to get one of my pieces published! Well, one did. I’ll never forget that feeling of opening the paper and seeing my work and my name there in print. My family was very proud. As you can see from the picture, it was the early ’90s — pegged pants and all!

7-imp: What’s the wackiest/funniest/wildest thing a child has ever said to you at your school visits?

JJK: Man, that would be hard to narrow down. Kids say a lot of weird things to me when I’m out book touring. So do adults! That’s actually one of the reasons why I started a blog in the first place. There were just too many one-liners being thrown at me and I needed to document and share them. Here’s what I’ve got so far — I don’t think I could narrow it down to just one. I need to start writing more down, I wish I had from the start!

Here’s one of my most favorite drawings from a kid, though:

7-imp: We are big fans of your picture books. Is there a One and Only Picture Book (of yours) for which you have a particular fondness? On that note, what are a few of your all-time favorite picture books?

JJK: Ah shucks, thanks! Kids are always asking that question. It’s kind of like being a parent — I love all of my books all the same. How would Baghead feel if he heard me say that I liked Slug better? He’d end up needing serious therapy later in life and it would only make the family reunions awkward. Where’s Baghead? “Oh you know him,” Monkey Boy would say. “Always down on himself, never being able to pull it together to get anywhere on time.” Of course, Monkey Boy would have been bitter for years because Baghead would always have been the focus of attention, due to his angst. When one kid sees that negative behavior patterns garner attention, they have no choice but to turn to a life of crime. It would be an endless cycle of pain and grief.

So no, I don’t have any one favorite.

However, I am excited about having revisited Punk Farm in the sequel. Punk Farm on Tour was a fun challenge because I needed to match the feel of the first book, but make it bigger. And while it does answer all of the unanswered questions from Punk Farm, it can easily stand on it’s own as a picture book.

My favorite picture books? Anything by the good Dr. My grandfather read a lot of Dr. Suess books to me as a child. I also will always love Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t mean to sound cliche, because I know that is probably the answer for a lot of people. But brilliance is brilliance!

7-Imp: How gratifying has it been to see how well-received My Buddy, Slug has been, considering how long it took you to get it published?

JJK: ENORMOUSLY gratifying. Getting the call from my editor, telling me the book was a go, a few years back was thrill enough. Everything else that has happened has been an out-of-body experience! It has certainly brought a lot of closure to my life.

7-Imp: What are the rockin’ Cow and Sheep and Pig and Chicken and Goat collectively listening to these days? Oh wait, if they’re too busy gearing up for their big tour, you can tell us what’s in your stereo or iPod. Do you still enjoy an occasional MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice tune?

JJK: Well, Sheep, Pig, Goat, Chicken and Cow don’t really listen to too much new stuff. They enjoy it from time to time, but they will never really appreciate it as they do The Ramones, The Clash, Blondie or The Talking Heads . . .

I listen to a lot of music. Currently on heavy rotation in my studio — Bloc Party, Ben Kweller, Cartel, Me First and The Gimmie Gimmmies, OK Go, Gomez, Kanye West, Blackalicious, Jurassic 5, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Mates of State and these great compilations called “Punk Goes . . .” They have an ’80s and a ’90s CD where these great bands cover music from those decades. And how could you ever put down The Hammer? The Ice Man — eh. But Hammer is classic. I’ve also been revisiting groups from that time period — like Black Sheep and A Tribe Called Quest. I miss Q-Tip!

7-Imp: Do you, by chance, offer input towards the writing of the “DreamWorks adaptation of Punk Farm to the big screen? Or is that completely in the hands of the screenplay writer Jim Hecht? Since they claim it’ll be a “music-driven animated movie,” do you happen to know what punk and/or rock songs will be used in the film?

JJK: I will serve as a creative consultant on the film version of Punk Farm. Film making is such a collaborative effort and a lot of people will be guiding the story-line of the movie version of PF. I’m excited to be able to be one of those people! I’m keeping tabs on the progress, but I’m not involved with the day to day going-ons of the process, though. Not sure what bands will end up in the movie, but I hope I get some backstage passes in the process!!!

7-Imp: What do you like to do in your free time, other than bowling, snowboarding, playing Pac Man, defending the world against evil space dinosaurs, and rap battling? Do you still sometimes work summers at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut?

JJK: Is there anything other than bowling, snowboarding and Pac-Man? Hmmm. Well, I’m a home owner now, so much like Frank the Tank, I’ve been spending a lot of time at Home Depot . . . and Ikea. I never thought that I would love home owning and fixing it up as much as I do. My fiancee Gina is way better at picking out colors for the walls in our home than I am. We got the paint chips and I was clueless — she was a natural! We’re almost done painting all the walls. I really don’t have too much free time these days, so when G and I aren’t dealing with the house or planning our wedding, we’ve been content to just chill out and explore our new neighborhood.

I’d love to get back to The Hole in the Wall to volunteer, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to this summer. I have less free time these days, but I was able to get ten solid summers in. I still help out in other ways, though. I donate paintings and the opportunity to be an “extra” in one of my books to their charity auction every year.

7-Imp: Are you working on any other projects (post-Punk Farm on Tour) that you can tell us about?

JJK: I’m working on a graphic novel project called Lunch Lady. I can’t tell you too much, but it’s a whole new ball game for me (sort of). I’ve been working on it off and on since ’01. It’s about a lunch lady who fights crime . . . It will be out by Knopf BFYR in spring ’09.

7-Imp: Any plans or desire to do anything for an older audience — perhaps in one of your first loves, comics or animation?

JJK: Lunch Lady is geared towards a slightly older audience than my picture books. When I created a piece for Guys Write for Guys Read, I realized that nearly everything I created as a kid was in that comic book format, so I’m eager to get back into that medium. Aside from my upcoming GN project, I would love to create stories for older kids and teens. I have a bunch of ideas brewing, but it’s all about being patient with them and waiting for them to develop. I like to draw and write stories — so the formats will be endless!

7-Imp: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

JJK: When I was in the 3rd grade, my hand got stuck in an escalator railing. My older sister and a store employee both grabbed my torso and pulled me back. I still have a small scar on my finger and now escalators worldwide have automatic shut-offs . . .

7-Imp: Is there a question you wish interviewers would ask you, but they usually don’t? Feel free to ask and answer here.

JJK: Um . . . I wish I would get asked more questions about . . . ugh. I don’t know. I do have two gallery shows coming up in the Boston area. So, how about a question about that?

Jarrett, you have two gallery shows coming up in the Boston area. Could you tell us a little bit more?

Yes! I’d be happy to! I have a solo show at the Shuman Gallery at the Groton Library {Ed. Note: Read all about it here} and I’m in in a group show featuring the work of a dozen great picture book illustrators at the New Art Center in Newton, MA. Thanks for asking! (Check out this link at my site for more info).

7-Imp: We like to pose to people the The Pivot Questionnaire, since who knew that asking someone, say, what their favorite sound or noise is could tell you so much about them. So here goes:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

JJK: “Flabbergasted.” I learned it in 3rd grade. Thank you, Ms. Turner!

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

JJK: “Juxtaposed.” I learned it in art school. Thank you, drawing teachers 1-20!

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

JJK: Standing inches away from a John Singer Sargent painting.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

JJK: Egos.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

JJK: I don’t curse, I write children’s books.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

JJK: Music.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

JJK: Nails on a chalkboard.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

JJK: Being a professional extra.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

JJK: Working at a busy airport.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

JJK: “Dude!” (followed by a high 5)

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For more information:

. . . and, just in case we didn’t link to them enough up there (hee hee):

* studio jjk, Jarrett’s official site
* the JJK blog, Jarrett’s blog

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Top photo credit: Steve DePino

10 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #16:
(Or, Are You Ready to Rock, Wisconsin?!)
Author/Illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka”

  1. Thanks for the great interview. I met Jarett and the lovely, sweet Gina in Austin at the Texas Book Fair. Besides being really talented, he is a super nice guy. I can’t wait to read more interviews, wonderful site!

  2. Thanks for this great interview. We are serious fans of Baghead over here at this house. A very big idea. A very brown idea. A very big, brown, bag idea….

  3. Very cool Jarrett worked for The Hole in the Wall Gang. The girls loved the book Giddyup Cowgirl and Max for President. Thanks for another great interview.

  4. Great interview, ladies! I am glad to see that Jarrett has met with so much success in his career.

    Did Jarrett tell you that he’s a dynamite emcee? He was the master of ceremonies at the Robert’s Snow kickoff event in Boston in 2005. Wow! What a terrific job he did!

  5. Why, no, Elaine. He didn’t mention that tidbit.

    Thanks, everyone. We’re so glad you enjoyed the interview.

  6. Yes, Jarrett’s probably too modest to mention but he was also KEY member of Robert’s Snow (–it never would’ve been as successful without him! It’s really great when good things happen to nice people, thanks for celebrating that.

  7. Our pleasure! We couldn’t agree more.

  8. Jarrett’s da bomb! Great interview!

  9. […] when 7-Imp was first born and back when I was blogging with my best bud forever, Eisha Prather, our interview with author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka (back when our images were disturbingly and fearfully small) was really one of our first […]

  10. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but after going through a few of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely pleased I discovered it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

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