On June 12th, 2001, my first book, Good Night, Monkey Boy, was published. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years, but I remember the day, and the days leading up to it so clearly. Every step of the way, as materials would come back from Random House, I was gitty with excitement—my name would be on the spine of a book! I had an ISBN! The first round of color proofs came in and I marveled at how well the colors reproduced. I hadn’t seen the paintings since I had dropped them off in the previous summer, but these were my colors. The excitement was building. I would lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling. June 12th couldn’t come soon enough. It was like seeing your Christmas presents displayed under the tree in September and you still had to wait for December 25th to open them. Publishing was a slow process, I would, ironically, quickly learn.
And then it happened—the first time I would ever hold a finished hardcover version of one of my books. I was living on Summer St in Somerville, MA at the time. I was meeting a friend for lunch in Harvard Square and made my way to the sandwich shop we agreed upon and waited. And waited and waited—my friend completely forgot we had set up a time for lunch. (Pat McKenna, I’m looking at you!) While I was in Cambridge anyhow, I stopped into the Curious George Bookshop in the heart of the Square. It’s the most amazing shop, filled to the brim with children’s books. It was at this bookstore that I would poke around in when I was first submitting work to publishers. I anticipated having a book of mine amongst the shelves. I arrived back at my apartment to find a large, padded yellow envelope on my doorstop. I instantly recognized the Random House logo, but I wasn’t expecting a package. I picked up the envelope and froze dead in my tracks, my blood pulsating at a breakneck pace. There was something sturdy in this envelope. It wasn’t floppy like all the previous packages. This was. . . a book!
On the stoop, I tore open the package and there before me was my first child. Monkey Boy’s grin couldn’t compete with mine. The endpapers, the jacket flap, it was all there and assembled. I can’t even begin to put into words the thrill and excitement and joy that filled me from head to toe.
In late May of 2001, I returned to work as a full-summer staff member for my 6th and last season as an employee at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Camp was in session when June 12th rolled around. I left my co-counselor, Chris Milmoe, and headed into town with old camp friend Erich Birkby. Birkby and I drove to the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT. When you’re in Ashford, CT, it’s the closest thing you can get to civilization. We made our way to a book store and I saddled up to the information desk. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m looking for a book. I believe it came out today. I don’t know the author’s name, but I know the name of the book.”
“What is it?” asked the store clerk, ready to help.
“It’s called Good Night, Monkey Boy,” I looked at Birkby as if to say, can you believe this?!
The clerk typed the letters into the computer, hit return and grimaced.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“The author. He has a really weird last name.”
“Oh really? What is it?” I enjoyed watching the clerk struggle through and butcher my last name. But they had a few copies!
Birkby and I followed the clerk into the children’s section and under “K”, he pulled out a copy of my book. It was official. I was a published author/illustrator with a book in a store. Birkby and I brought our copies to the cashier. I put the book down on the counter and placed my credit card just above my name on the cover. I pushed the book over to the woman working the register.
“Well this looks like a cute book,” she said with a smile.
My instincts were to say, “THANKS!” I was eager for positive reinforcement. But instead, I played it cool. “Yeah—it looks pretty good.”
She ran my card, bagged my book and handed it over. I’d have some time before I’d be recognized at airports. . . (For the record, even though I have been recognized at airports after conventions, the previous sentence was meant as a joke.)
The next big date I had to look forward to was Monday, June 25, 2001. My first book signing was scheduled at the fabled Tatnuck Booksellers in my hometown of Worcester, MA. It was such a remarkable store, in an old mill with creaky floors and high ceilings and a full restaurant. My Uncle Steve called me at Camp. “Hey J-baby! They’ve got your name up in lights!” Steve drove by Tatnuck Booksellers everyday on his way to work and they had put my name on the marquee. Even spelled “Krosoczka” correctly. Leading up to the event, I was interviewed on WICN, Worcester’s NPR affiliate, by old friend and former Worcester Art Museum instructor, Mark Lynch. When the radio program aired, my camp friends and I huddled together in my counselor’s room with an old radio with an antennae and managed to find some reception. I did then, as I do now, get queasy by the sound of my own voice. But still—my voice was coming out of this machine through airwaves. How surreal! I still have the interview on an old cassette tape. I was also interviewed by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. This is the paper that printed a comic of mine when I was in the 9th grade and the paper I used to tear apart on a daily basis for my Calvin and Hobbes fix.
|Read the article here.|
On the day the article was published, I took an hour away from my counselor duties to pick up a copy of the newspaper. I traveled East on Route 44, stopping at every gas station until I found one that carried the Worcester paper. I flipped through the sections and was bowled over—they had placed the article on the front of the People section and it was huge! I called my grandparents, who were at their summer home in New Hampshire, to see if they had gotten the paper. “Your father, I mean your grandfather, oh what the heck—I mean he is your father anyhow. . .” This is how every conversation with my grandmother, Shirley, began. “. . . Grandpa cried. He won’t admit it, but when he came into the house with the paper under his arms, he had tears in his eyes.” They were so proud of me and I was so happy they were a part of this.
The article was pinned on the bulletin board on the Admin building at Camp, so I was at least guaranteed to have some of my camp friends at my first book signing. I drove up to Worcester with a carful of friends and we stopped at my grandparents' house in Worcester. They had returned to Worcester for the event. Grandma had made a meal for all the weary counselors I delivered at her door. We are and then were all off. When I arrived at Tatnuck Booksellers, what did I expect? Not what I experienced. It was beyond anything my wildest dreams could have conjured. I arrived at the store twenty minutes early and they had already sold out of the two-hundred copies they had in stock. Everyone I had ever known was there. My entire family, counselors and campers from Camp, friends from growing up and their parents, high school teachers, college friends, my pediatric dentist and my first grade teacher, Mrs. Alisch. Mrs. Alisch barged in, pushed herself to the front of the line and proclaimed, “I taught him how to read!” People cheered. She planted a kiss on my cheek and in true Mrs. Alisch style, left lipstick in its wake. And in the center of all the chaos and the commotion, sat Joe and Shirley, holding court and beaming with pride.
Birkby described the whole evening as a wake, but happy. There were all these people that I knew, waiting in line to congratulate me and get a book signed. Worcester’s Channel 3 News was also on the scene. Watch that broadcast here.
In the fall after Good Night, Monkey Boy was published, I received a letter in the mail that would forever shift my perspective on what I did for a living. It was from a mother whose son’s favorite book was mine. In fact, he loved it so much, that he requested a Monkey Boy birthday cake. Included with the letter was a photograph of her two-year old son, blowing out the candles on a cake that was a recreation of my book in frosting. The cake looked delicious. With this, I realized something. My books were no longer just for me. They weren’t just something I’d show to my grandparents, family, friends or the campers at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. They were out there and they had the power to affect kids’ lives. Choosing the style of your birthday cake was a big decision—this kid would have this photograph in his family photo album for all time. I framed the picture and put it above my drafting table to remind me just who I was working for. I don’t know what became of the boy, the letter, but he’d be twelve now. The photo remains hung in my studio with pride.
It’s hard to believe it has been a decade since my literary debut. Since then, I have traveled the country a dozen times over, visited countless schools, libraries and bookstores. I have made the most incredible friends while on this journey. It’s a list that is both staggering and humbling, filled with passionate educators, avid book lovers, dedicated book sellers and fellow authors—both those whose work inspired me as a kid and those who have risen in the ranks alongside me. For those of you reading this, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for your support. Whether you’ve been there since the start or only just recently, your enthusiasm for my work has made my boyhood dreams a reality. I am a truly fortunate man who gets to use his imagination as his full-time job. I look forward to many more years of bringing you my words and pictures. It’s funny—ten years in and I feel like I’m only getting started!
June 12, 2011
Read the blog post about getting the contract for that first book here.