Friday, June 22, 2001
By Nancy Sheehan
Telegram & Gazette Staff
When it came to his career as a children's author, Worcester native Jarrett J. Krosoczka didn't monkey around.
He had illustrated a couple first-grade textbooks while still a student at Rhode Island School of Design. But his first trade children's book, "Good Night, Monkey Boy," which he wrote and illustrated, was published last week by Random House.
It wasn't a quiet debut.
The publishing powerhouse featured the book on the cover and the inside fold-out page of its summer catalog. They've made magnets and posters trumpeting its availability. They're organizing promotions, including a signing Monday at Tatnuck Bookseller in Worcester and another July 11 at Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
And, even as the monkey madness peaks, Mr. Krosoczka has begun work on a second Random House book, to come out in the fall of 2002.
It would be a great spate for a seasoned author. But Mr. Krosoczka is just 23 -- and a little amazed by it all.
"The day my book came out I got about 50 e-mails," he said. "It was both overwhelming and inspiring. I'm beside myself with everything that's going on."
On publishing day, he had the day off from his job at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Northeastern Connecticut, where he has worked as a counselor for critically ill children the past several summers.
"I went into a Border's right outside of Hartford. That's pretty much the closest thing to camp," he said. But, unbeknownst to him, the camp's director of volunteers had called the bookstore and had the entire stock of five copies set aside. There was disappointment when Mr. Krosoczka checked the shelves. "I thought 'Oh, they don't have it.' "
He went up to the information desk and asked whether the store had the book and was told it was temporarily out of stock, and that its author was someone he had never heard of. "The guy looked it up on his computer," said Mr. Krosoczka, whose name is pronounced Krah-ZAWS-ka. "He said 'That's by Jarrett Crow-ZOKE-ah.' He totally butchered my last name. I said 'What was that last name again?' With complete confidence he said 'Crow-ZOKE-ah.' I just said 'Thank you' and walked out of the store."
Later in the day, he and a friend went to a Barnes & Noble, and found the book on the shelves.
"When I went to pay for it and the woman said, 'This looks like a cute book,' my first instinct was to say 'Oh, thank you.' But I wanted to keep it a secret so I just said 'Yeah, it's a pretty cool book,' " Mr. Krosoczka said.
Looking back, that cool book, about a little boy's bedtime balking, was a lifetime in the making.
"I think, in some ways, I've always known what I wanted to do," Mr. Krosoczka said. "Ever since I was a little kid and could pick up a crayon or a pencil I would always draw pictures, but my pictures were always characters and they always had some sort of story behind them."
In the third grade, he wrote and illustrated his own little book, called "The Owl Who Thought He Was the Best Flier" complete with an about-the-author page and copyright page. The author page stated: "Jarrett lives in Worcester. He goes to Gates Lane School. He enjoyed writing this book."
He lives in Somerville now, but, back then, he lived in the Webster Square area, with his grandparents, Joseph and Shirley Krosoczka, who raised him when personal issues rendered his natural parents unable to. He remains close to his natural mother and father. But his grandparents' nurturing dedication garnered them a dedication of a different sort. Open "Good Night, Monkey Boy," and, right after the title page, you'll read: "For Grandma and Grandpa, the best parents a kid could ask for."
It was Mr. Krosoczka's grandfather who encouraged his art by suggesting he take classes at the Worcester Art Museum School.
"I was in sixth grade and he came into my room one night and told me that it was up to me but, if I wanted to, I could take classes at the Art Museum once a week," he said. "I was thrilled by that. I took classes there from sixth to 12th grade."
There also were art classes at Holy Name High School.
"He had a raw talent back then, but just loved it and he persevered," said Richard Shilale, an art teacher for 31 years, the last 18 at Holy Name. "He has improved immensely since he went to Rhode Island School of Design. That's when I could see the big change. There's more maturity and more depth now, but the spark was always there."
It's a matter of sensitivity as well as skill.
"He has a nice, warm personality and a lot of insight into things," Mr. Shilale said.
After Mr. Krosoczka graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1999, he worked at Hole in the Wall Gang that summer, but when September came, he needed a job. He knew he wanted to write children's books and had been told it would be hard to break into it. Taking the more-is-better tack, he started sending out 50 promotional postcards every other week. The cards included an image of one of his paintings, his name, phone number and Web site (www.studiojjk.com). Months went by without even a nibble.
As he mulled his options, he met with children's author Grace Lin, who happened to live just down the street from him in Somerville. She also happened to be a Rhode Island School of Design alumna, graduating when Mr. Krosoczka was a freshman.
Ms. Lin encouraged Mr. Krosoczka, and offered a key bit of advice. "She told me I should send my postcards to the editors instead of the art directors," he said.
It was the end of November, a Monday. He sent out 50 cards, to editors this time.
"I said to myself 'OK. I'm mailing these out. If nothing happens, I'm just going to get a regular job like working at a bookstore for a while or maybe being a waiter -- just something to make some money,' " he said.
That Thursday, when he checked his e-mail, there was one from Random House.
"All I saw was the Randomhouse.com on the e-mail and I nearly flipped out," Mr. Krosoczka said. "I had to walk away from the computer for a second and come back and read it."
It was from Tracy Gates, who would become the editor for "Good Night, Monkey Boy." The e-mail said: "I saw your postcard and I visited your Web site and I liked your work. If you ever happen to be in New York City, call me. I'd like to see your portfolio."
"I waited until the next day to call her up because I didn't want to seem too eager," he said. "I told her I was going to be in New York City the next week, so we made an appointment for Friday."
Had New York City really been in his pre-Tracy-Gates plans?
"Not at all," he said. "I was going to be in Connecticut at the camp -- Northeastern Connecticut, nowhere close to New York City."
Not knowing whether the Random House meeting would amount to anything, Mr. Krosoczka called a second publishing house and said, "I'm coming to meet with Tracy Gates of Random House. Can I meet with you that day as well?" "Sure, we'll make some time for you," answered someone at Henry Holt, apparently impressed with his big-house connections. He did the same thing with a third publisher, saying, "I'm meeting with Random House and Henry Holt," and then a fourth.
"By the time I called up the fourth person, they were like 'Who is this guy?'," Mr. Krosoczka said.
At Henry Holt, his first meeting that day, the publisher agreed then and there to do a book, which will be called "No One Messes With Margaret Roofus."
"I left and I got on a pay phone in New York City and I called my grandmother at home and I called my grandfather at work to tell him the good news," he said. "Then I rushed off to my next meeting."
The next two meetings did not go as swimmingly. "They were sort of like, 'OK. Your work's good. Have a nice day.' Which is a nice way of saying 'We don't want to work with you,' " he said.
His last appointment was at Random House, with Ms. Gates. A week later he got an e-mail saying it wanted to publish "Monkey Boy."
So it was worth monkeying with his travel plans that day. The book contracts that resulted have brought a sense of achievement and pride to Mr. Krosoczka, his family and his friends -- as well as a former teacher or two.
"For a teacher, that's one of the pluses, seeing one of your students doing well," Mr. Shilale said. "You sort of reap the rewards of teaching, and you don't see that immediately every day."