Hey Kiddo

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“I’ve seen the needle and the damage done

A little part of it in everyone

But every junkie’s like a setting sun”

-- Neil Young (1972)

“My mother started using when she was just thirteen years old. Joe and Shirl tried to help her, but things just got worse and worse. For everyone.

Things were bad at home--things were bad wherever Leslie went. She would run away from home and then turn up again without warning.

My grandfather got her an apartment downtown when she was sixteen, thinking that would help her. It didn’t. It only made it worse.

She’d steal anything to sell it for heroin. She’d walk into a store with a trash bag, fill it with batteries, and then run out of the store--selling the batteries on the black market to fuel her addiction.

She’d shoplift from TJ Maxx and then have her unsuspecting baby sisters return the merchandise for cash. They had no idea the goods were stolen. They thought they were just running errands for their big sister.

And Leslie would steal from Joe and Shirl--all the time. One time, Grandma had her purse sitting out on the kitchen table. Leslie grabbed it and ran. Shirley chased her down the street. but it was no use. She had to go out and get a brand-new license and cancel her credit cards.

That’s why my grandmother was always hiding her purse in cabinets. But the most heartbreaking moment came when Shirley was washing the dishes one night. She took her wedding ring off and placed it to the side of the sink. Leslie knocked her down, grabbed the ring, and disappeared into the night.

On nights that she would return, she wasn’t let in to the house. Leslie banged on the door until it cracked. The only time that Leslie didn’t use was when she got pregnant with me. I was lucky not to be born addicted to heroin. And I was told that--often. But after I came into the world, Leslie started using again. And again and again. My grandfather swooped in, gaining legal custody of me so that I wouldn’t become a ward of the state. Leslie tried halfway homes, trying to recover. But nothing worked. She always went back to that poison.”

Cartoonist and author Jarrett J. Krosoczka has a successful career, having created such illustrated children’s books as the LUNCH LADY series and PUNK FARM. HEY, KIDDO is a graphic memoir, told from his teen perspective, of growing up living with his maternal grandparents, Joe and Shirley. This, because his mother was a heroin addict and his father was unknown to him--at least until he was nearly out of high school.

For Jarrett, it was tough to have been birthed by an addict who never showed up, even when she promised to, even when she wasn’t in jail. That’s a tough hand to be dealt. But HEY, KIDDO is Jarrett’s own story, not his mother Leslie’s story. That’s why this is actually a really sweet and memorable memoir about the author being raised by his colorful and loving grandparents.

I get to regularly visit my own grandkids. I sing, read, and recite poems; run around, take them to the park, build tall towers, give them piggyback rides, and put them down for their naps. Then I’m able to head home and kick back. It’s a much more rewarding gig than when I was an under-appreciated 24/7 parent.

That’s why I really admire how Joe and Shirley stepped up big time, in their golden years, to raise Jarrett as his substitute parents.

320 pages            978-0-545-90247-2           Ages 8-12

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations:  http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

Many of us grow up with wonderful grandparents. But as tweens and teens, we rarely have to negotiate with them, two generations away from our own sensibilities. That Joe and Shirley did such a great job of bridging that multigenerational divide makes me doubly appreciate their efforts and success. I’m also impressed by what a great kid Jarrett was to accept the differences between his own home situation and that of his friends who lived in “normal” parent-child households.

Both a joyful, feel-good story of love in the family, and a cautionary tale about addiction, HEY, KIDDO is a first rate graphic read.

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How many thousands or even millions of kids have read the Lunch Lady graphic novel books and laughed and loved them? It would seem that the author/illustrator of those stories might not know about how hard life can be because they take us away and make us laugh. Those books are so fun to read.

But, you know, everyone has a story. That includes the author of the Lunch Ladies. So here it is, in its bare-naked state. This is the invisible story of Jarrett Krosoczka...the one you don't imagine when you read his stories or see him at an author visit.

Told through heartwrenching images, this story takes us back to where he grew up and even to a generation before that. We meet Joe and Shirley, his grandparents and see what life deals them and how they grow and change. We can see the love that runs through the rough exteriors.

When Jarrett was a little boy his mother was using drugs. She was a heroin addict. Here is a window into the life and mind of a little boy who loves his Mommy. She plays with him and puts him in his Superman jammies. She buys him the cereal he loves and watches him save the marshmallows for last. But she just cannot stop using drugs and that eats her up and takes her away from him and eventually, he is taken in by his grandparents and they are the ones who raise him.

Jarrett draws the monsters that appear in his head. These monsters are scary and they come back to him time and time again. He has his drawing as a lifeline for keeping him sane and giving him a way to process his pain and fears at least to some extent.

Families can really stumble along and struggle with so much dysfunction and emotional damage and the darkness of the drug culture. This story is written to reach out to every child that has her/his/their own monsters. This story is written to say, "Hey kiddo. It isn't you. You are made out of good stuff. "

Sometimes when the world around you is crummy, you start to believe you are crummy. Jarrett is here to tell every child that is not so. You are wonderful. The world around you is not so wonderful. You are going to make it and your world can become a place of safety, happiness and love which are all things you deserve.

Courageous, empowering, perhaps even awakening for some people, and above all a huge message that love belongs to each and everyone of us and we can find it in our friends, our grandparents, a missing father, even a mother who cannot save herself.

This one is a gift.

320 pages 978-0545902489 Ages 13 and up (profanity to include the "f word")

Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

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In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery -- Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents -- two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.

Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.

Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.--from the publisher

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