piky-haired author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka radiates an ebullient, crackling energy that is not only contagious, but may well be responsible for maintaining the dramatic vertical uplift of his coiffure. Spend some time with Krosoczka (CrowZAHS-ka), and you realize that the qualities shaping the main characters of his children’s books—spunk, persistence, and a joyous, inexhaustible youthful zeal—all emanate directly from the source. Krosoczka’s ability to translate those traits to the printed page, through his bold, painterly brush strokes, slightly kooky artistic perspective, and knack for writing well-paced prose, have earned him a growing fan base of young readers, and the attention of some major-league publishers. His first two titles from Knopf, Good Night, Monkey Boy (2001), about a free-spirited toddler and Baghead (2001), which presents a day in the life of a rugged individualist, were both met with critical acclaim. Krosoczka has two more titles lined up for release this year: Bubble Bath Pirates (Viking) and Annie Was Warned (Knopf).
One dominant theme in Krosoczka’s books is personal empowerment—the children in his stories tend to find ways to express themselves most fully as individuals. (Adult figures are typically bemused but foggily complicit.) The bootstraps theme has long figured in the artist’s life as well. Krosoczka, 25, attributes much of his pluck to his grandparents, who raised him in Worcester, Massachusetts, when his parents were unable to. His grandfather, a practical, self-made man, was particularly helpful in encouraging Krosoczka’s artistic abilities, enrolling him in art lessons at the Worcester Art Museum throughout junior high and high school, and not meddling when young Jarrett spent hours alone in his room, sketching and drawing comics. Krosoczka says that his comics inspired him to pursue children’s books, because they were another way of “creating characters, creating stories for those characters, and having a reason to draw pictures.”
After applying to Rhode Island School of Design, and being initially rejected, Krosoczka toiled on his portfolio at Hartford Art School and transferred to RISD in his sophomore year. While a junior, he wrote and illustrated his first book, Hello, Said the Slug, which was rejected by 15 different publishers. But Krosoczka soldiered on. He put together a personal Web site and promotional postcards, the latter piquing the interest of editor Tracy Gates (then at Knopf), who encouraged him to develop his stories. Shortly after graduating in 1999, Krosoczka sold Good Night, Monkey Boy, and that got the ball rolling for the other books.
Krosoczka’s tale of perseverance—breaking into the tough publishing world, handling rejection, believing in oneself — is a story he likes to share with the children he meets during his author visits to elementary schools. Krosoczka has been a longtime counselor at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for critically ill youths in Connecticut, and it’s clear his ability to connect with children goes beyond a bold color palette or a roster of playful characters. Krosoczka kneels down to talk with younger folks, and listens carefully to what they have to say—without any effort at all, he becomes six again. While Krosoczka realizes his books are beginning to have an influence on children, he keeps a realistic view of things - he knows he’s got a way to go before he’s up there with Sendak or Seuss. After once explaining to a second-grader that he was not quite a household name, the child replied. “So you’re not ‘limo famous’?” To which Krosoczka replied, “No, I’m not even take-a cab-instead-of-the-subway famous". But that may change soon.
——Joyce Rutter Kaye