Imagine my surprise when, two years back, I received a message from an editor at Scholastic. Jeffrey Brown, a graphic novelist who I admire immensely, was stepping away from Jedi Academy, and would I like to write new books for the series? It was actually rather intimidating. It’s Star Wars, a world that is so rich with history that is so very iconic. It’s Jedi Academy, a hugely popular book series. But it was the very daunting nature of the proposition that motivated me to step up and grab hold of the lightsaber. I was being invited for what I do, so I knew early on that the only way this would work would be for me to create something that was very much me.
I hope that you enjoy A NEW CLASS as much as I enjoyed writing and illustrating the book. I listened to the John Williams Star Wars score to pump me up throughout the entire creative process. I got to write lines for and draw Yoda! It’s like being handed the keys of a vintage, mint-condition swamp-green sports car. I also got to create my own droid, P-10! And of course, I created an entire cast of young characters for that galaxy far, far away. What an honor and a privilege.
May the Force be with you and please look for A NEW CLASS at your local bookshop.
Last summer, I had the great pleasure of getting a tour of Lucasfilm. Because they also house Industrial Light & Magic, I saw many pop-culture artifacts from my childhood up close and personal. Here are two of my favorites.
We are hoping to make it to the movies this weekend, barring any trips to the delivery room...
Imagine being a kid who loves to read and make comics, and you're a big Star Wars fan. Then imagine your family is having dinner at your friend's house and you're handed a Star Wars graphic novel—that has your name in the dedication!
I handed these guys an ARC of Jedi Academy: A New Class, and their faces lit up when I pointed to their names! Two more weeks until the finished version of the book is here!
I was supposed to be at #ILA16 this weekend, but need to stay closer to home for want might be the sooner-than-expected birth of our third child. So I sent in a few hundred signed bookplates. I drew a lot of Yodas. But if you pick up a copy of Jedi Academy: A New Class and you find a drawing of Victor or Christina Starspeeder in your book—I'll Skype into your classroom! Look for copies via Scholastic and Anderson's Bookshop. NO PEEKING!!!
I recently got to see my brother play music. He's about to embark on a cross-country trip on his motorcycle. He'll start in Provincetown this week, then he'll play his banjo from town to town until he hits the Pacific Ocean. If you see a busker that looks like a younger, shaggier version of me please throw a few bills into his hat. His name is Rich, tell him I sent you.
Last week's event at the library in Winchester was unreal.
I arrived to the summer reading kickoff in a limo with lunch ladies (and one lunch dude). We toasted with apple cider. There were magnetic signs on the side of the limo. We had a police escort. Kids put out a red carpet for the lunch ladies (and the one lunch dude). Each lunch lady (and the one lunch dude) was called by name and got huge rounds of applause. Kids choreographed a dance for the lunch ladies (and the one lunch dude). There was a Punk Farm band at the steps of the library! They performed the songs from the books and Blitzkreig Bop by The Ramones.
When we entered the library, a police officer read aloud from Platypus Police Squad. I gave my talk, albeit dancing around some technical setbacks, and it went very well. A good time was had by all. But it got bigger... and more important.
I signed books and bookmarks for anyone who wanted to wait in line. A family at the end put a well-loved, ragged copy of Good Night, Monkey Boy down in front of me. The dad told me that he needed to tell me a story. His girl used to have cancer when she was two years old. Same robust and beautiful, much bigger kid who stood before me. She had needed a bone marrow transplant. From my time working with this population, I knew what this meant—a perfect match and six months of isolation after the procedure. Luckily, her sister was a perfect match. But now imagine—a two-year-old in six months of isolation. Think about it. Unfathomable.
But you know what they had? They had books. They read to their little girl while they and she fought for her life. I was lucky enough that they had my book. A book that was published 15 years ago. Wrote it 17 years ago. But about 5 years ago, unbeknownst to me, this family was reading my book in their darkest hours. The dad pulled out his phone and shared with me this video of his little girl reading my book. She'd lost her hair from the chemotherapy, but held on to her spirit.
I am remiss to be missing the American Library Association's Annual Conference this year. For no greater reason because I'd love to be in that audience when Matt de la Peña delivers his acceptance speech for his Newbery Medal. Last Stop on Market Street is one of the most important picture books published in recent memory. I love reading it to my girls. Matt's books are beautiful and powerful, and I know his speech won't be anything but.
I'll be able to catch my friend's speech on YouTube later on, but, man, if I was there? I'd be one of the first to give that man a standing ovation. In fact, I might not even wait for the speech to be over, just so I could be one of the first on my feet.
In the meantime, I shall add a tilde to de la Peña whenever I see it missing on a poster.
My first book was published fifteen years ago. Something that has been happening to me now on the road—I meet high school graduates who tell me they read my book when they were kids. Trippy.
On the day of publication, back in 2001, I walked into a bookstore to find my book in the wild. I walked up to a bookseller and said, "I'm looking for a book that was just published. I don't know the author's name, but the book is called Good Night, Monkey Boy." The bookstore employee typed the title into the computer and then grimaced. "What's the matter?" I asked worriedly. The clerk responded, "The author has a really weird last name." I smiled as they butchered my last name and then followed them to the bookshelf where my book was. My friend Erich Birkby was with me, we had the day off from working at the The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. We were both astonished—there was my book! On the shelf! In a bookstore.
I paid for the book with a credit card and walked away undetected. It's a tradition that I had with every on-sale date...until Punk Farm was published. Once they started saying, "Hey, Jarrett!" my jig was up...
All summer long on The Book Report with JJK on SiriusXM Kids Place Live, Absolutely Mindy and I are throwing out summer reading prompts for the young listeners. When your kiddo has completed each mission, they can color in and decorate a badge. Hopefully, they will be well-decorated by the end of the summer!
Here are the archives for the first two challenges:
Twenty years ago I started a summer job that left an indelible mark on my life. In the summer of 1996, I traveled to Ashford, CT, to work as a cabin counselor at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. I have no doubt that I wouldn't be the person I am today or be doing what I'm doing today without my experience at this magical place.
It's difficult to put into words just what this camp is and does. Yes, it's that camp that Paul Newman founded. Yes, it is for children with critical illnesses, but no, it's not a sad place. It's the most joyous, life-affirming piece of land on this Earth. I'm lucky to have spent several summers there.
I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the fact that it's been two decades since I was introduced to this place. I'm lucky to still be in touch with several of the friends I made that summer. I'm luckier still to have created memories with some friends who are no longer with us.
I kept copious photojournals during my time at Hole in the Wall. I wrote down stories about every camper I had the honor of taking care of. I'll be pouring over these recorded memories in the coming days. In this photo, I'm pictured with my co-counselor Joe. We were a solid team that summer in cabin Purple 10. Three months of ushering new sets of campers to P10.
I've put nods to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in several of my books. In Good Night, Monkey Boy—look for the cowboy hat on the floor. In Baghead and My Buddy, Slug—look for the sports jerseys that call out cabins like Yellow 5 and Red 8. And this summer in Star Wars: Jedi Academy: A New Class—look for the droid named P-10.
What a wonderful day in Columbia, SC with Lauren Castillo and hundreds upon hundreds of readers! We were in town for South Carolina State Library's Storyfest, their big summer reading kick-off. Every single kid received a free copy of one of Lauren's books and one of my books. How amazing is that?!
Susan Polos is an incredibly passionate and gifted school librarian. I visited her school last week, and the electricity in the air was palpable. The students' enthusiasm for books had been imparted by Ms. Polos—that's pretty much her job description. She told me that she had always wanted to host me, which humbled me. She told me this could also be her last school visit because of budget cuts, which infuriated me.
The evening after I visited, librarian positions were eliminated in her district. Ms. Polos will retain a job, but it will be unrecognizable—one librarian for five elementary schools. Sure, it's better than no librarian—but these kids deserve better. They deserve a librarian at their school, for their school. The entire community deserves that too.
Librarians shouldn't have to live their lives in fear of their positions getting cut every year. Nobody wins in that atmosphere.
In this instance, there weren't enough votes to get the school budget approved—it lost by a slim margin. We all need to make our voices louder and get them heard.
If your kid goes to a school with a dedicated librarian, maybe write a letter now to let your school's administration know how integral they are. Maybe CC the superintendent while you're at it...and the school committee...and city officials.