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Jarrett Krosoczka, Children's Author/Illustrator: How Imagination Saved My Life
(Notes from TEDx talk by the author of Punk Farm, the Lunch Lady series, Max for President, and many other books at Hampshire College, October , 2012)

Before it was my vocation, my imagination saved my life. The most imaginative artist I knew was my mother—but my mother was addicted to heroin (and incarcerated). My grandparents, after raising five children of their own, raised me and adopted me. They smoked two packs a day each and by the time I was eight I could order [serious drinks].

Some of my best friends were the characters I read about in books.

When I was in 3rd grade, a published author came to talk to us about what he did for a living [and asked us to draw]. He stopped at my desk and he tapped and said "nice cat!" Two words that made a colossal difference. I wrote my first book in 3rd grade: The Owl who Thought he was the Best Flyer. He challenged Hermes and got turned into a moon. It was told with words and pictures, exactly as I now make my living. I even wrote a copyright page and an about the author page in third person.

Writing is using your imagination on paper, and that seems like such a foreign concept in today's schools. I would come home from school and fill my pages with words and pictures. I wrote about a refrigerator family of vegetables and the evil blender, the evil toaster, and the evil microwave who tried to melt them.

When I was in 6th grade, public funding for art in Worcester [Massachusetts, United States] schools was eliminated. I used to have art and then I didn't. My grandfather let me take classes at the art museum, and I was surrounded by kids who loved to draw. My first publication was the cover of my eighth grade yearbook.

Somebody at the local high school got stabbed, so I went to private (Catholic) high school. I didn't play sports, but I took solace in the art room. I made friends because I drew funny pictures of my teachers and passed them around.

I got caught and the teacher said, "you've got talent. The school newspaper needs a cartoonist." It was so cool because I could write these stories and they'd be published!

I was given a second-hand videocam and I instantly started doing my own animations (and comics).

Best advice I ever got: forget everything you learned. You have your own style, and you're really good (don't spoil it through imitation).

At 17, I met my father for the first time and discovered I had a brother and a sister. I got rejected at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], my only choice for college, and I volunteered at a camp. The kids at Hole in the Wall [actor Paul Newman's camp for kids with serious illnesses] responded to my work. I wrote a book and got 19 rejections. Later, I transferred to RISD.

One of the kids I worked with—I started calling him Monkey Boy. I wrote a book called Good Night, Monkey Boy. I sent out one last batch of postcards and I got a note from an editor at Random House. It was published June 12, 2001. Altogether, I've published nine graphic novels about a lunch lady who fights crime, and 10 picture books.

I get fan mail—a two-year-old wanted a Monkey Boy birthday cake. That photo is framed in front of me while I write.

And I travel to schools and let lots of kids know they draw great cats.

Punk Farm and Lunch Lady movies in the works. And last year at Halloween, I got a trick-or-treater dressed as my character.

Krosoczka's website is Shel Horowitz is the Editor of Global Arts Review. His latest book is Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green.

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