Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction
Bestselling author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka is well known for his popular children’s graphic novel series about a superhero lunch lady. He’s also written and or illustrated more than 30 books for young readers. However, his latest book, a memoir in graphic novel format, was written for an older audience because it deals with serious issues, including the heroin addiction of his mostly absent mother, and an unknown father.
Hey, Kiddo, a National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Krosoczka’s life from birth until he graduates from high school. With no father in his life, Krosoczka’s lives with his mom, Leslie, until he’s about four years old. He has some fond memories of his time living with his mom, but he also remembers staying over at his grandparent’s house one night and being surprised in the morning when they fed him breakfast. At home with Leslie, at age three, he would often wake up to an empty house and have to get his own cereal.
His mom’s teenage sisters, Lynn and Holly, would babysit him and then come back home in tears, telling their parents, Joe and Shirl, they had to get him out of Leslie’s house. Eventually Joe convinces her to relinquish her parental rights and Jarrett moves in with his grandparents, never living with his mother again.
Leslie is a transient presence in his life from that point on, almost always missing his birthdays and other milestones of his childhood. She’s absent for long periods, sometimes in rehab, sometimes in prison due to her heroin addiction, something his grandparents don’t explain to Jarrett until he’s much older.
She does write to him, and they begin exchanging drawings in their letters back and forth. His mother was a talented artist and could draw any cartoon figure Jarrett requested. The book contains photos of several of their letters and other memorabilia from his childhood.
Although life with his grandparents is a definite improvement over life with his mother, it is in no way idyllic. Both Joe and Shirl are chain smokers and hard drinkers, if not outright alcoholics. Shirl is prone to hurling profanities at targets ranging from whatever’s playing on the television, to her family.
However, they both love Jarrett and provide a stable home for him, encouraging his interest in art and drawing comics. When his school district slashes funding for arts education, to the point where the arts are dropped completely, his grandparents offer him the opportunity to sign up for classes at the local museum. Jarrett says he survived his later teen year because of his interest in, and talent for, drawing.