When I'm lucky enough to speak before a group of educators, I talk about how I grew up making monthly trips to the comic book shop alongside reading every book in the Anne of Green Gables series. Then I share this slide, and point out that there is no reason why these books can't coexist in a child's reading life. As happened tonight, several teachers confessed that they had been counting some books as "not real reading", but they would be switching up how they approached books in their classrooms. It takes a lot for an adult to do that, and I have so much respect for these teachers! #ReadingisReadingisReading
As an artist, you spend a lifetime working on your craft, and then you become a parent. And with everything you've learned in your years, you look at your kids' art and it's more inspiring than anything. The simplicity, the inhibition, the pure unbridled joy. That's what I aspire to.
Now, you may be looking at this photo and find yourself asking, "Why is David Levithan leaving Jarrett Krosoczka's house while sporting a Smurfs backpack?" Honest question.
David, celebrated YA author, higher-up at Scholastic, is an old and dear friend of ours. We first met while book touring Philadelphia in 2003. We are lucky to steal any time we can with him, even luckier when his book tour sends him to our town, as it did this past Sunday. We had a great visit. Gina laid out an incredible spread for us to dine on, we talked books, shared tales of book festivals past... But inevitably, it was time for David to leave—he had a book signing to get to. He grabbed his backpack off of our couch. As he prepared to leave, Gina and I looked at the couch. Ugh! Frankie (our pug puppy) peed! Right there on the couch. Then, the world stopped. We looked at each other with the realization—David's backpack! We rushed to his backpack, which was now placed on the kitchen chair. Soaked. Absolutely soaked.
Luckily, David had a good sense of humor about it. Luckily, I had just been given a Smurfs backpack by a school I had visited. (Thank you, Webb!) So while we laundered David's belongings, he left our house with his book-tour gear in a brand-new backpack. It sorta felt like our son's first day of school.
Frankie wrote a heartfelt apology letter. And tomorrow is his "special surgery" that will stop the little guy from trying to be alpha to household objects...
A special thank you to United States Capitol Police Officers Webb and White who read aloud a passage from Platypus Police Squad to students at the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress. Thanks to Everybody Wins DC, every kid in attendance received a free copy of Last Panda Standing! It was a great event!
At the National Book Festival, every author is assigned to a volunteer to escort them from event to event. This past September I was lucky enough to have Leslie Long get me to where I was supposed to be. She was incredibly kind and gracious—and helpful! As we talked, I learned that she worked at the Library of Congress as a book conservator. She spent her days mending books that were in dire need of care in order to be preserved. When I mentioned that I would return to D.C. in October for a reading at the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, she told me that she would love to show me where she worked. And she lit up when I mentioned my daughter would be with me. Leslie kept to her word and met us at my event on Wednesday. She guided Zoe and I through the underground tunnels between buildings, and we arrived at a door with a big red stop sign on it. This was not a place for tourists. What we saw was like a Santa's Workshop of book repair. "The gang," as Leslie called them, each had their own work bench—and stacks of books that needed attention. Leslie very patiently explained the process of fixing up the books so that they could maintain their historical integrity. Some books were made with hand-made paper in the days before mass production, like the book from 1799 she was currently repairing.
How lucky we were to see the process up close. And how lucky we all are that these artists dedicate their lives to keeping our literature and history in tact for future generations. While we were there, a stack of children's books came in. Included in the pile was a book by Ludwig Bemelmans that had a copyright date of 1940. "Zoe remember that girl you were playing with at the Princeton Book Festival? She is this man's great-granddaughter." Serendipitous.
Gina organizes the book fair at our daughters' school. Moved by #WeNeedDiverseBooks, she wanted the school's book fair to become a vehicle to bring local awareness to the movement, as well as a space where our community could find windows and mirrors within every book. We curated a list of books with the help of the resources at weneeddiversebooks.org and from the teachers' input. The Odyssey Bookshop, a great local indie, handled sales. We are lucky enough to live in a community where we were able to invite authors Lisa Yee, Heidi Stemple and Rich Michelson in to read and sign books. This is something that anybody can do regardless of their proximity to authors. You don't even need a husband who can design a fancy logo. (In fact, I am giving that logo to WNDB for some exciting things.) There was so much good that came from this. We were able to connect our kids to some great books. And at our dinner table at home, we were able to talk about what diversity means and why it's so important.
One of the biggest treats for me every year is seeing people dressing up as my characters for Halloween. (And you know how serious we take our costumes here in the Kroso house...) If you are dressing up, I would love to see the pictures!
If you had stopped me as a teenager and asked if I was an avid reader, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, "Nah, not really." Sure, I read the required texts for school, but for pleasure? Pfft! Yet here I am unpacking huge storage bins filled to the brim with the comic books that I collected as a teen. At least once a month, I would find a way to Fabulous Fiction Book Store on Main St in Worcester. It was filled from wall to wall with comics. More often than not, my grandfather Joe would give me a ride. But when I couldn't get a lift, I would walk—and it was a mile and a half each way! Imagine walking three miles for reading material, but you don't really think you're much of a reader...
I saved each comic in plastic sleeves with special archival backing with expectations that these would all be worth a ton of money someday. And in a way I was right—these comics are priceless. They put me on the path to where I am today, and I look at them as a symbol of my grandfather's unconditional love. He'd patiently sit in his car smoking his Camels while I perused the aisles looking for the latest issues. Most adults didn't think much of comics as reading in those days, but Joe...he knew something good was happening.
The magic of social media. Within 30 minutes of posting this, my pal Chris Eliopoulos (illustrator of the Ordinary People Change the World picture books) pointed out that he likely lettered many of the comics in my bin. And it turns out he did! It didn't take me long to find his name.
Variety just broke the news on the Platypus Police Squad movie!
That's right, MOVIE! I'm pinching myself!
I am BEYOND thrilled to be working with Walden Media, the studio behind the Narnia films and the upcoming adaptation of Roald Dahl's The B.F.G., to bring these monotreme detectives to the silver screen. And with the talented Jon Saunders and Ross Evans penning the script and Saunders directing, Zengo and O'Malley are in very capable hands!
Earlier this week, I had the chance to reconnect with my old friend Amy, who I know from The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Amy is incredible, and not just because she got her entire family to dress as my characters and planned the school visit as head of the PTO. I know Amy because her younger brother, Craig, was one of my campers back in the day. Craig was just an incredible kid. When Paul Newman founded the camp, he stated that he wanted to create a space to "let kids kick back, relax and raise a little hell." Craig personified that mantra in the most beautiful way possible. He had a quick wit and a warrior's heart. Craig began his battle with cancer at age four and lived with it until he passed in his early twenties.
Grief can weigh us down, and then there are people like Amy who use grief for a greater good. She, along with her sister, Beth, founded The Sister's Wish. The mission of this non-profit is so admirable—grant wishes for young adults aged 18-30 who are living with terminal and chronic illnesses. They do this on their own and throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
I know Craig would be so proud of his sisters. It was magical to see his mischievous spirit living on in his nephew and nieces.
In 1997 I gave this fourteen-year-old kid advice about RISD and art school, and now he's set to direct and cowrite a movie based on my book series for a major Hollywood studio.
As many of you may know, I spent many years working at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp starting in my late teens. One of my nearest and dearest friends that I worked with there was Ali Baghai. When camp wasn't in session, I often found myself at his house, just outside of Boston. The Baghai house was just one of those households where everyone collected. Ali's mother, Jane, just reveled in having her sons and all of their friends under one roof at the same time. She was a remarkable woman who always made you feel so loved—Wendy to our Lost Boys. It was at one of these get-togethers that I met this red-headed kid named Jon Saunders. Jon was Ali's younger-brother Jeff's friend. Jon and Jeff were (and are) both artists, and in-between games of Goldeneye on N64, I'd share my experiences at Rhode Island School of Design. I was a sophomore at the time.
(Another friend that I made at the Baghai house in those days was Chris Zengo, who grew up to be a Massachusetts State Trooper, and the namesake for a certain platypus detective.)
Jon would later attend RISD, along with Jeff, and during their time there, I was a frequent guest lecturer for my former professors. We'd catch up whenever I was in Providence. I even won an alumni award the year that Jon graduated in 2005. So I got to see him grab his diploma from the stage.
Jon moved to L.A. after graduation, and I found myself there often. Punk Farm had just been picked up for development and I was hitting the streets, meeting with just about every development executive in town that would make time for me. I crashed on Jon's couch in those days and shared folders filled with samples of this Lunch Lady project I had brewing.
Jon moved forward with some amazing animation projects over the ensuing years, and I kept plugging along with my books. We kept in touch, but as it goes when you start having kids—I got insanely busy. I named the corrupt mayor in Platypus Police Squad after Jon to thank him for those weeks of couch surfing.
Jon called me up last winter. His career was picking up steam, and was I doing anything with Platypus Police Squad? I was, in fact, readying something. We put our heads together, along with his brilliant writing partner, Ross Evans. Walden Media was quickly on board, and we now have a movie in development! Jon and Ross really get what I have been doing in the Platypus Police Squad books, and I could not have found a better pair to shepherd this project along from page to screen.
Jane Baghai is no longer with us, but I can only begin to imagine how tickled she'd be by all of this. If she was here, I know she'd instantly produce a photograph of a gang of kids sitting on her couch playing Nintendo in 1997. I miss Jane terribly, she was a very special woman—and I will forever be grateful to her for opening her doors to me.
The photo on the left is of Jane and Ali Baghai and I at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in 1997. On the right, that's Jon Saunders, Ross Evans and I on our first creative meeting for the film adaptation of Platypus Police Squad back in February.
Check out the animation that Jon Saunders directed for Nike. It currently has more than 88 million views!!