“Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 320 pages, Graphix, $14.99, ages 12 and up
In a 2012 TED Talk, Jarrett Krosoczka, creator of the popular “Lunch Lady” middle-grade graphic novel series, compared growing up as the child of a drug-addicted parent to Charlie Brown’s experience of trying to kick the football. Every time young Jarrett’s mom seemed committed to staying clean and becoming a positive presence in his life, she would disappear again. From the seeds of that talk grew this candid graphic memoir, nominated for a National Book Award.
Krosoczka’s comic-strip art incorporates personal mementos, such as childhood drawings; letters his mother sent from jail or rehab; and swatches of wallpaper from his maternal grandparents’ house in Worcester, Mass., where he was raised. His grandparents, Joe and Shirl, act as his parents. Krosoczka offers a loving portrayal of them without sanding away their rough edges; they curse, smoke, drink, fight — and do everything they can to help their grandson thrive. They encourage him to sign up for classes at the Worcester Art Museum. With Joe and Shirl’s unwavering support, he developed the artistic talent he inherited from his mother into a career that enables him not only to entertain children, but also to connect with them honestly about things that matter.