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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist: HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey KiddoHEY, KIDDO is a nonfiction graphic memoir.  Gently moving back and forth from somber to humorous and back, Krosoczka tells the story of dealing with his mother’s addiction and being raised by his grandparents in way that is approachable and appropriate for older child readers.

Being a graphic novel, the text is not as dense as in a traditional novel, yet Krosoczka still conveys multiple complex relationships.  Young Jarrett’s relationships with his mother, aunts, and grandparents are all fully expressed.  It would have been easy to simplify the characters – loving, sweet grandparents, an absent mother – but Krosoczka develops each of them into complex real people with virtues and flaws.  It would be impressive to have so many richly developed characters in a prose novel, let alone within the graphic novel limitations.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is it’s handling of Jarrett’s mother’s addiction. We see the addiction first by what her neglect means for a young child: preschool-aged Jarrett fixes his own breakfast every morning.  With this one detail, Krosoczka conveys the absence of the nurturing we expect for children.  We see her time in rehab through letters and drawings sent to Jarrett, many of which are actual artifacts from Krosoczka’s life.  The book makes clear that addiction is an illness that goes in cycles, improving and worsening, not easily cured.  The addiction is not sugar-coated, but we also see the support Jarrett receives from his family that helps him persevere.

It’s difficult to discern whether some of the strengths can be credited to the text only, which is always an issue with graphic novels and Newbery discussions.  The book conveys strong emotions: grief and fear and lots of love, but the artwork is a major factor in that conveyance.

In keeping with the nature of graphic novels, much of the text is dialogue.  The characters’ voices are distinct and lively.  We see this starting even on the first page when Jarrett’s grandfather is teaching him to drive.  “Now slowly take your foot off the bra—” he says, then in the next panel exclaims, “Jeepers Crow!”  This colloquial euphemism is a noticeable contrast to the frequently foul language used by Jarrett’s grandmother.  The dialogue all feels natural, and each line reveals more about the character speaking it.  Even portions that don’t seem essential to the plot deepen the characters so that no line is wasted.

Overall, the book makes great use of the format and the text, though seamlessly integrated with the illustrations, pulls its own weight in creating a cast of fully realized characters, involving the reader in their complex relationships, and carrying us through a true story filled with struggles but centered on love and hope.

Introduction by Mary Zdrojewski

Heavy Medal Committee members and other readers, please share your own insights about HEY, KIDDO in the comments below.  As always, we’ll start with positive impressions, then open up the discussion to all views, including negatives, later today.

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. SAM LEOPOLD says:

    THIS IS THE BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL OF THE YEAR, HANDS DOWN.!!!!
    I would be giving you a false statement if I said that I, as a reader, am never affected in any way by a book with a theme that relates directly to a life experience either I or a friend has had. And, unfortunately, I am quite sure I am not the only one who can relate in such a way to the story of Hey Kiddo.

    When I put on my NEWBERY CRITERIA glasses, I see a book that is amazing and distinguished.

    I love how Roxanne explained how the author dealt with the mother’s addiction. Addiction is not an illness that can be resolved in a “five step approach.” There are battles won and there are battles lost. Along the way, family and friends are directly affected by both the victories and setbacks. The author conveys this reality in a wonderful way with realistic dialogue and exemplary interaction with Jarrett’s thoughts and feelings.I found myself wanting to cry with Jarrett during the painful moments and I found myself wanting to laugh when positive events took place. Only a distinguished piece of writing can have this kind of effect on the reader.

    The first chapter—Family History– begins with the statement “‘My grandfather was a freshman, my grandmother was a junior.He, too, was smitten, so he lied about his age.” That bit of humor is seen at various places in this novel and creates opportunities for the reader to catch her breath. These moments are perfectly timed and placed smoothly within the plot pathway. Nothing, whether it is the pain or the humor, ever seems artificial in this story. The reader feels as if she is accompanying Jarrett on his journey as he learns to deal with an addictive mother and an invisible father.

    One strength that stands out to me is how the author seamlessly sprinkles moments of Hope throughout this story. That is one part that directly connects with my experience. The time when someone struggling with addiction is most at risk of really giving up is when there is no thread of hope left attached to the blanket of life. I loved how the name of the cemetery at the beginning of the novel is HOPE Cemetery.
    This is a memoir of hurt, pain, fear…..and hope. As distinguished a novel as I have read all year.

  2. Jessica Lee says:

    Thank you, Sam and Mary for bringing so many great features of this book to the fore. Often secondary characters are flat or forgettable. Krosoczka creates a whole family of individuals who each play their own significant parts in the overall narrative. One of the advantages of a graphic format is creating characters through their appearance which helps make each a distinct person. Little details such as a half-smoked cigarette can serve as short-hand for a character without needing to use words to fill out their personality or background. Krosoczka also manages to capture a number of unique vocal mannerisms in the dialogue to further create memorable characters.

    I am positive that this book will win awards this season. It is not a “typical Newbery” so I am curious if folks will be hesitant to support it because its audience is in the upper part of the age range and so much of the story is conveyed visually.

    • Another thing I thought of is that non-fiction is much more of a long shot for the Newbery. We are discussing three non-fiction titles – HEY, KIDDO, THE FAITHFUL SPY, and THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES. They are all wonderful but I don’t know how the awards might break down for them.

      I loved HEY KIDDO and it was also at the top of my graphic novel list for the year (tied with THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER). What stood out to me was the story of a young person whose parents were dealing with drug addiction as well as the fact that he was raised by his grandparents. I have had so many students who would relate to young Jarrett’s life and it is something I haven’t seen represented so explicitly before. The characters, as in a real family, were flawed and could be terrible to each other, but the support Jarrett’s grandparents gave him was powerful.

  3. Agree with all of the above.
    Grandpa seemed to have a cigarette in hand, without fail!
    All the characters were solid and the balance between tragedy and comedy was well-played.

  4. I have very little to add that Mary, Sam, and Jessica haven’t already brought up. I agree with everything they’ve mentioned.

    While KIDDO has already been shortlisted for ENYA and the NBA (and I think will seriously be considered for both the Printz and the Sibert), I can’t imagine the real Newbery committee saying, “Oh, it will win in other places, so we shan’t consider it here!” This book nails all the criteria in precisely the way previous commenters have indicated. It’s truly a marvelous piece of writing.

    • steven engelfried says:

      The Newbery Committee cannot consider other awards a book might win. Partly because they will have no way of knowing what the other committees will select, but also because all of the books must be looked at with the Newbery Terms and Criteria in mind. It might cross their minds that one book or another might have a stronger chance at another award. The Sibert is the one that seems especially tempting to me, since that committee considers both “language” and “visual presentation,” where Newbery focuses on the first. But during discussion, the likelihood of other awards would not be mentioned. I would imagine that a discussion of HEY, KIDDO around the Newbery table would dig so deeply into plot, themes, characters, etc., as we’re doing here, that members would be working so hard to evaluate those and compare them to similar elements in other books, that any thoughts of other awards the book might would not factor into balloting….

  5. I loved this one for all the attributes already listed, but especially for beautiful layers of hope throughout the story. As Sam mentioned above, the author so seamlessly adds these hopeful tidbits and makes a very hard book a true pleasure to read. I really do love it.

  6. Cherylynn5691 says:

    I loved the way the author took the complex character of the grandmother and fleshed her out so well. I felt like I knew her better for all the little stories he tells. There was the meeting of the grandparents, the birth of his aunts and uncles, a miscarriage, and raising him. She was a difficult person to like with her cursing and her actions, but I felt like I knew some of the things that made her into that person. For a memoir about himself he spent some of the book really helping us get to know the other people in his life.

  7. I am adding my emphatic support of Steven’s comment that the Newbery Committee members will never consider whether a book would be better suited for another award and thus reduce the discussion quality, time, or focus over any title. The members take the charges extremely seriously and will only focus on examining each title against the criteria.

  8. This was the book I was desperate to put in someone else’s hands as soon as I finished it. Jarrett’s story is so honest, heartbreaking, and hopeful. It’s the book I want the whole world to read.

    Everyone else has commented about the excellent character development throughout. I also feel that the setting, outside of what was merely shown in the graphics, felt gritty and genuine. I knew those places – that home, the school. Because of the way the characters filled them up. The time frame was recalled to precision.

    Regarding the age question. For sure it can be for the upper-range 13-14, and perhaps younger. i don’t have it in my k-6 library, but there may be students ready for it. I’m going to admit to a bias against championing a book for Newbery that I wouldn’t have available for my students. I’d like to think if I were on the actual committee I’d set that bias aside, but in full disclosure you’re going to need to talk hard and fast on this to get my vote.

    • DaNae, I think for HMAC, it would be great if you could just set that particular bias aside, as well. Since we are trying to emulate the actual process and holding people as much to that standard as possible. And — that the Newbery criteria definitely allow for books to be serious contenders beyond a k-12 Library scope. I think we could definitely discuss if this book is beyond the 14-year range and thus the members of HMAC should not support it. We can also definitely discuss whether this book is even with a young-reader audience in mind in its creation process, since the criteria does call for this particular examination. If we have consensus that Krosoczka is not presenting the theme in styles appropriate for children (up to 14) but more “adult” (and how,) then, it would also not have much chance to rise to the top as we ballot.

      So — the question then is: do you feel that this is not a “children’s book” as defined by the Newbery criteria?

      • Okay, bias shoved aside. I will make a case.

        I feel this book was written for older teens and/or adults. Krosoczka himself indicated that was the audience he saw if for in the interview he did with Terry Gross (He had not allowed his own daughter to read it at the time he did the interview). There is a sophistication in world knowledge that the reader might need to see what is not explicit. The part about the murder, for instance. I do think there will be younger readers who will find it and be moved by it. I think there may even be some, whose lives may mirror Krosoczka’s, who may find comfort.

  9. sarahbtlibrarian says:

    I agree with all of the above-the layers throughout, the moments of hope, the well developed characters. This is a perfect example of how distinguished graphic novels can be and how readers not only need to read the text, but look at the pictures to full understand the story. As was mentioned earlier, there are so many moments with the grandparents that are fleshed out not just with words but also in the art-the smoking, Shirl’s facial expressions. A great example of this is the spread that says she had a miscarriage and it broke her. Not much text, but pairing the text and art together you get a feeling for all of the complex emotions. The text alone stands well and is powerful, but the art adds an extra layer of emotion and it really packs a punch.

  10. I have recommended this book to more than one middle school boy and I do think that it falls within the Newbery range. I didn’t choose to buy it for my PreK-8 library but that’s because I don’t actually have a lot of middle school kids who get their graphic novels from my library. If I worked in a different middle school setting or with a different population, I would definitely consider it as a strong purchase.

    One of the challenges is that books that are on the edge of the range can be hard to form consensus about but to me this was one of the best books of the year and is worthy of our consideration.

  11. Sorry I was unable to comment yesterday… busy day at school. I have a few different things for this thread today so I hope everyone isn’t ready to move on from HEY, KIDDO yet. I’ll address them in two different comments.

    First, I’m wondering if the committee would ever discuss the eligibility of this text in terms of it being previously published. Many of you have probably seen Krosoczka’s TED Talk published over 6 years ago in which he pretty much tells this story. In fact, his About the Author page in the back of the book even refers readers to this very TED Talk. In fact, the transcript of his TED Talk is also published on their website in which it contains the same story.

    The Newbery criteria addresses previously published material by defining “original work” as:

    “presented here for the first time and has not been previously published elsewhere in this or any other form. Text reprinted or compiled from other sources are not eligible. Abridgements are not eligible.”

    Is this a stretch? Or could someone on the committee make an argument that this “story” has been published online as a TED Talk for 6 years?

    • This is a great question — not a stretch at all. In the Real Newbery Committee, they will put forth this question to the ALSC Office and their priority group consultant (usually a veteran ALSC member who has a lot of award committee experiences) for eligibility consideration. Once it’s determined that it is eligible, then the Committee should focus just on the literary qualities of the book and discuss. If it’s deemed not eligible, then the book cannot be considered for the award. This, hopefully, is resolved early on, even before nomination process started so no one’s nomination is wasted.

      Here, since we don’t have an ALSC office or a consultant to determine whether the book is eligible or not, and since it’s already nominated and discussed, I’d say let’s presume that it is eligible :) (Unless an overwhelming number of the HMAC members feel differently!)

      One past example is the witch chapter in the Graveyard Book — it was previously published but the book still went on to win the Newbery. I imagine quite a bit of back-and-forth eligibility examination happened during that year over this book.

      • It’s the “or any other form” of the criteria language that made me think of this. Krosoczka admits in the Acknowledgements section of the book that he began working on a memoir BEFORE giving that TED Talk but that talk inspired him to push deeper. If he was working on this before that presentation, and if you’ve watched the presentation it’s obvious, he was trying out parts of this story. Since TED “published” it online along with it’s transcript which is written text, I think that “or any other form” line from the Newbery criteria could actually apply.

        But for our purposes, I’m fine dropping it. I find it an interesting example nonetheless.

    • That’s an excellent point. I didn’t realize the TED Talk existed.

    • I don’t agree that I think it’s an issue that the TED Talk was produced before this. It’s a completely different, entirely separate piece of work. It’s not just that the format (spoken word/video vs graphic memoir) has changed. The text is entirely different. Scanning the transcript, I’d say that while the bones of the story are the same, the actual words and the way those words are used to shape a story are distinct from one to the other.

  12. Deborah Ford says:

    As with any illustrated contender, I find it a struggle to separate the importance of text to illustration. That’s my concern over the others we’ve already discussed. They are crucial to the story. That’s the point of a graphic novel- conveying messages that text does not. Like Sarah said, sometimes those pictures are what packs the punch.

    On a different note: My first thought for this title is that it’s too mature for Newbery. Yes, I know it goes to age 14, but that’s another discussion for another time. (Printz came after the fact and wouldn’t it be lovely if there was less chance for crossover?)

    However…

    In my elementary grade workshops I didn’t recommend it for their collections. I felt that it was too mature in content and language and lended itself to a better audience with grade 7 and up. However, on re-reading for this column, I found myself wondering wouldn’t this book really help elementary-age kids in similar circumstances? Wouldn’t they hear similar language? See similar patterns of behavior? Wouldn’t sharing a similar tale help a reader feel hope? Food for thought. Just saying.

    And somehow I missed the TED Talk piece too. Interesting….

    • Jessica Lee says:

      Taking a side trip from the Newbery discussion to chat about collection development:
      This is always a tricky point for school librarians. We have kids whose lives are far worse than anything presented in the library collection. Yet to include a book that details those extremes would be considered inappropriate. Librarians champion open access but need to balance that with “school appropriate.” We don’t want to traumatize the innocents but we do want to support and acknowledge those who are not so lucky. I think that HEY, KIDDO would be a book that should definitely be in every high school, be in many middle schools, and be known about by elementary school librarians. The hard part is knowing which young kids would benefit from reading it and getting the book into their hands. The extra tricky part with this particular book is putting it on the shelf next to the LUNCH LADY series. Kids are very likely to pick up another book by that beloved author and then… surprise!

    • I know a literary argument can be made for pictures and illustrations being “text” but I think in the Newbery sense, there is enough in the terms and criteria to suggest that they are defining “text” as “written word.” I agree with you… it’s tricky to fully consider and discuss graphic novels in this way.

      • I’m curious to see if the Newbery criteria changes over the upcoming years with regards to illustrations since graphic novels are becoming more and more prominent.

  13. Jessica Lee says:

    Random thought! There is a cameo by a Newbery winning author in this book. I can’t imagine a more perfect author popping in for a school visit than Jack Gantos. This is another perfect example of a broken life repaired through art.

    • Jessica, your comparison gives me so much joy. I knew the Gantos story from before. Jarrett mentioned it somewhere. But I didn’t think to the parallel within their lives.

  14. The thing about the “age debate” that always gets me a little riled up is that I think many people approach it backwards. It shouldn’t be about whether or not some 14-year-old out there in the world could pick this text up and find it distinguished. It’s about whether or not Krosoczka showed enough appreciation as an author for a 14-year-old mind while writing this. Those are two completely different things. Otherwise, anything is game! I have 5th graders reading IT by Stephen King.

    The Newbery criteria states:
    “The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

    I’m not of the belief that this book is actually FOR this age range. Again, can some 14-year-old somewhere pick this book up and find the same distinguished qualities others have posted about? Of course. But was this book actually FOR them and does Krosoczka show enough respect for their understandings and appreciations in the text? That’s different. As much as I loved the book, I don’t think he has.

    A way in which he could have shown more appreciation for a Newbery audience is end his story in middle school. Highlight the theme of what he had learned during those years. But that’s not what he chose to do because it wasn’t the message he was trying to get across. He continued it on into his high school years and that says something, I think. I also think the fact that he is an ADULT author/illustrator/narrator looking back on all this impacts his perspective and how he delivers his message. He was going for “brutal honesty” with this creative approach to telling his memoir, by his admission, and I’m not so sure that “brutal honesty” shows respect and appreciation for a Newbery audience.

    In Mary’s write up she writes about how fantastic and complex some of the characters are and says that it could have been easy for Krosoczka to simplify these characters. I agree, as an adult reader, the details he has provided for these characters are fantastic (Shirl is one of my favorites of the whole year) but I’m going to argue that this too, is an example of not showing an appreciation for a Newbery audience. Simplifying the characters in a text as heavy as this, would have maybe been better for a child audience. But remember, he was going for “brutal honesty” and showing the characters as complex as they were to him was part of that approach. Some of Shirl’s complexity I don’t think will be appreciated by most 14-year-olds.

    I agree with everything everyone has said about the book, in regards to just respecting and appreciating this work. All of the strengths written about are real strengths. But I do NOT think it was written with a child audience in mind.

    • Jordan, I’m in total agreement with you re how I usually “judge” the age-range issue. On the other hand, Poet X (to be discussed fully next Thursday) is evidently written with young/mid-Teen readers in mind.

    • Courtney Hague says:

      I actually completely agree with you here on the intended audience. I absolutely loved this title. I was moved to tears more times than I can count while reading this (granted I am an easy crier, but still). The characters were vividly portrayed and nuanced. For example, I wanted to dislike Grandma Shirl with her gruff demeanor but Jarrett’s love for her made her a lovable character.

      I think you hit it right on the nose. If this were a graphic novel intended for the Newbery age audience I think it would have done better to end in middle school. I don’t think this means that 14 year olds (or even younger children) won’t be able to read and enjoy this work, but I do think that the sensibilities of the work definitely skew towards the older teen if not adult audience.

    • I agree. From a writing standpoint, I think it’s actually an adult book, not even YA, because, as you point out, it’s very much from the POV of an adult looking back at his childhood, not from the child’s perspective.

  15. To nitpick, there’s one grammatically questionable sentence. On page 95 narrator Jarrett says, “And it was really nice having my mom there. I liked being able for her to meet some of my friends, and for them to meet her.” The phrase “being able for her to meet” makes me cringe. I wonder how it got past editors, though I recognize that grammar can be fluid and maybe it doesn’t sound jarringly awful to everyone. In my opinion it would sound better as “I liked her being able to meet my friends…” or “I liked that she was able to meet my friends..”

    I’ll also add that I saw the TED Talk before I read the book and I think that took away some of the impact of the book. But I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the TED Talk is a version of the book. For example, his grandma Shirl isn’t nearly as vividly portrayed in the TED Talk vs. in the book.

    • Oof. I despise the syntax of that sentence, Destinee. You’ve been on the Newbery committee: is it possible to have one sentence negate a book? Does the committee look at grammar and syntax and the like?

      And I guess another question I have is – how do you separate the author from the editor? What if an editor was the one who said, “Hey, Jarrett, I think it should be ‘being able for her to meet’.”?

      This is making my brain wiggle. My friend Christine is a freelance editor for a major publishing house. Maybe I’ll have her chime in.

    • That makes my brain hurt too!

  16. Leonard Kim says:

    Destinee (or others who have seen the TED talk) — is HEY KIDDO obviously aimed at a younger audience than the talk? That might be one way to judge audience for this. Personally I also have trouble seeing what makes this book’s audience children: the format? that it ends at high school graduation? that the author is a children’s book creator?

    As with FRONT DESK, I encourage committee members to consider how assessing “distinguished” may differ in a memoir that might feel like a novel but should probably be evaluated differently. I find myself declining to be critical about HEY KIDDO. I start analyzing and a voice rises up in my head, “dude, his mom just died!” Thank goodness we’re not discussing ECHO’S SISTER. I find myself hoping both of these powerful books weren’t nominated and thus spared from dissection. But if they have to be discussed, I agree maybe the core issue should be audience. I can appreciate the whole “this might help kids going through the same thing” argument, but I also find myself believing that these books arose for strong personal, and adult, reasons. So this goes back to the original question: what does a distinguished memoir for children look like? I agree with Jordan in feeling that HEY KIDDO would be different if it were really written for children, and that is to take nothing away from its power.

    • I think the book’s intended audience is clearly young adults 12-18 year old. If you believe that young teens aren’t really “children,” then it’s hard to reconcile the different aspects of Newbery criteria.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        I don’t disagree, but is the talk’s intended audience 12-18? If not, why not?

      • I would say a distinguished memoir for kids is Real Friends from last year–written very much from the child POV, not the adult looking back. Or even Be Prepared this year, although that’s fictionalized.

      • TED Talks are generally intended for adults, though I can imagine the talk could pretty easily be modified so that he could give it at a middle school for an author visit.

        Leonard, I’m not sure I understand why it matters that the talk was created for adults while the graphic novel was created for young people. If the point is to question whether the story was *ever* meant for children… I just don’t know how you can question that unless, as I said before, you don’t believe young teens are children (despite the criteria saying they are). In my opinion, HEY KIDDO is definitely intended for readers as young as 12.

        If anyone wants to watch the talk, it’s only 18 and a half minutes long and you can view it here: https://www.ted.com/talks/jarrett_j_krosoczka_how_a_boy_became_an_artist

    • I can tell you that the TED Talk pans the crowd occasionally and there doesn’t appear to be a single child in the audience. Mostly college kids and other adults it appears.

  17. You know, the other thing about a “memoir” like this that I always can’t help but think about, is how I wonder if we over exaggerate the “distinguished” qualities of the text because of the hardships or experiences of author. I mean, we have all this backstory with HEY, KIDDO and can say things like “Shirl was such a complex character,” but then, she’s not a character. She was the author’s grandma. So, of course she’s complex. And sometimes I wonder if we exaggerate that complexity without realizing it because she IS a real person. We don’t get to do this with fiction because we know nothing about some of the characters. Their made up.

    Probably didn’t explain myself very well there… but even Leonard above made the mention of not wanting to nitpick a work like this too much because “dude, his mom just died!” And I agree, I feel that same way. But I kind of think we ALL do and I just wonder to what effect that clouds our rationale when recognizing stuff like HEY, KIDDO as “distinguished.”

    Maybe a thought exercise would be, imagine this wasn’t written by Krosoczka. Image this was not a memoir. Image this same text was a work of fiction. Would all the strengths that have been pointed out still apply? I think it’s interesting to think about because I think we all bring a certain bias to the text as readers knowing that the book is true and written as a memoir. It changes our reading experience.

    I also understand that it IS a memoir and not a work of fiction and that’s what we have to critique it as. Like Leonard said above, what makes a memoir “distinguished” then?

    Or… maybe this is WAY too much thinking. The book is damn good and I agree about that so maybe it just needs to receive ALL the awards!

    • “but then, she’s not a character. She was the author’s grandma. So, of course she’s complex.”

      Woof. That’s a lot to process. So while I’m mulling that over, let me address your What If Hey Kiddo Wasn’t A Memoir koan.

      If this were a work of fiction, I think it would still rise to the occasion and be on the table. There is an effortlessness to the story, especially, I’d argue, it’s characterization. It’s a marvel when authors can give us sketches of the characters in a book and we still feel like we know them, even if it’s just as minuscule as a cigarette dangling from a lip. Would the characters in HEY KIDDO work if they were fictionalized? Yes. Would the plot still be compelling? Yes. Would Jarrett’s arc and growth work? Certainly. Would there be the same amount of tension? I think so. It’s hard not to care about a story about addiction and how it affects a family – real or imagined. It’s especially hard not to care when it’s so well written.

      • It was a lot of rambling on my part… I apologize. A lot of rough draft thinking. I just had an opportunity in my day to devote some more time to this so I went for it without filtering.

    • I’d like to make the counter-argument that it is MORE distinguished because it is a memoir and not made up whole-cloth. People’s lives generally don’t follow predictable paths that can be easily shaped into a coherent story. In some ways it is easier when an author gets to make it all up, because the author can manipulate people and events to create a cohesive whole, or to play up the themes they want to highlight. A memoir can’t do that, it has to stick to what actually happened, so the skill becomes how to frame what actually happened so that it makes sense to an outside observer, but retains the emotional impact of the participants.

      Shirl is a complicated character in part because she was a real person, but also because Krosoczka was able to translate that complexity in a nuanced way that we as readers related to. It would have been very easy for Shirl to be a caricature of herself. I think of the complicated relationships I have with various people in my life, and I’m pretty sure that if I were to try to put that down on paper it would not win awards for nuance and writing skills just because they are real.

      Would I think this book was distinguished if it were fiction? Absolutely!

      • Whew! Think of the emotional maturity and awareness it takes to write about a person so integral to who you are as a person with the kind of honesty and love Krosoczka does. I can’t imagine writing about someone in my family without editing them to the extremes depending on their impact on my life. (Though I suppose I don’t know grandma Shirl personally, maybe it’s a gross mischaracterization of her…she did feel very real.)

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I’m not saying that memoir is harder or easier to write than fiction, but that it’s worth bearing the differences in mind. I think Maura and Alys are correct in suggesting a way that memoir is harder is the non-fiction challenge of taking real events and turning them into a strong narrative that appeals to others and has a point of view. On the other hand, I absolutely don’t think it’s easy to make up stuff, and it’s possible one way that memoir is easier than fiction is you don’t have to create as much out of writerly imagination. Going back to FRONT DESK — if Yang were to write another novel, one that’s not premised on her distinctive childhood experiences, do you think it would as appealing as FRONT DESK? I don’t know. A lot of the appeal of FRONT DESK was that Yang had a great story to tell and a lot of great material. Take that away, and I don’t know that FRONT DESK proved she’s a Great Writer. We’ll have to see. Sort of the same thing with HEY KIDDO. Here’s my thought experiment: if you forced Krosoczka to write a book with the FRONT DESK premise or something like Federle’s NATE EXPECTATIONS, relying on his imagination and research, would he, just as a writer, be able to equal HEY KIDDO’S strengths in characterization, theme, and emotional compulsion in such projects? Maybe, I don’t know, but I suspect he’d have a tougher time. In that respect memoir is “easier” and I think the Committee should keep that in mind.

      The Newbery Terms say the award goes “to the author” not the book. And the Terms specify that “distinguished” is at least partly defined as “significant achievement.” I think “achievement” belongs to an author, not the book, and that’s why I think this discussion isn’t pointless. The exact same book may represent a different level of achievement depending on who wrote it (which is, I think, the point of Jordan’s thought experiment.)

      • Y’all are blowing my mind today.

        I need some time to chew on these thoughts. Especially Leonard’s last paragraph.

      • I think you have to evaluate a memoir the same way you would fiction. When you’re writing a memoir, you basically have to distance yourself from your own story and figure out how to write about the people in your life as characters. As others have pointed out, this is hard! But from our standpoint, I don’t think it should matter whether the story is true or not. We’re evaluating it as a story. Of course Joe is right and it does color our vision, but it’s not really relevant to the literary quality. “That’s how it happened” isn’t an excuse for an uninteresting or badly developed story. (Not that we have that problem here!)

        Leonard, I think it’s true that sometimes people only have their own story in them and then don’t really have anything else to write. But even though the award goes to the author, I don’t think it’s for who is the better author in some theoretical way. The thought experiments are interesting, but seem to be directly against the instructions to only consider the current book, not the author’s body of work (much less possible future works!).

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Katrina, I definitely get what you’re saying. Like Jordan I’m just trying to get my muddled thoughts together rather than trying to convince anyone of anything. It’s the definition of “distinguished” as “significant achievement” that’s tripping me up. Running an 8-minute mile would be a significant achievement for me, but would be nothing, a disappointment even, for my teenage son. I agree you have to consider the book at hand, but to judge “achievement”, at least for me, it’s hard not to consider, how difficult a task was it to have created this book? And then it’s hard not to consider the author and the circumstances of the book’s creation. This is why I tend to use different criteria for judging memoir vs novel. And such contextual considerations probably color how I might judge many books. (An 8-minute-mile isn’t the same achievement for Kate DiCamillo as it might be for someone else. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.)

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Ugh, I am not expressing myself well at all. Now it sounds like I’m saying that Kate DiCamillo should be penalized somehow. I’m not saying that at all. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that what is “significant” or “distinct” should be evaluated separately in each individual case. Something that might be “significant” or “distinct” in one book might be less so in another book, even though that thing might be superficially “objectively” similar (hence my 8-minute mile metaphor.) I think that’s preferable to applying some objective standard to all Newbery contenders regardless of other factors (e.g., “if characterization is this good, then I will consider it “excellent characterization” regardless of whether the book is non-fiction, or a memoir, or a picture book, or a quiet school relationship novel, or an exciting plot-driven thriller, etc.)

      • Courtney Hague says:

        Whoa. That was a lot of wrap my head around this morning. But I thought when we were talking about “significant achievement” and “distinct” we were talking about within the works of children’s literature published during this year (2018). So it shouldn’t matter if this is a significant achievement for this author but wouldn’t have been for a different author, because we shouldn’t be thinking about the oeuvre of any individual author anyway. It shouldn’t matter that Kate DiCamillo or Christopher Paul Curtis have written many Newbery award and honor books in the past and we know what they are capable of when it comes to character development, etc. It should just matter how this one memoir stacks up again their novels that they wrote this year. At least that’s how I have interpreted the Newbery rules, anyway.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Yes I agree. I am doing a terrible job conveying my meaning and at this point it feels like throwing good money after bad. Try this: take characters in the first 6 discussions: Werfel, Boy, Bonhoeffer, Mia, Merian, and Shirl. Arguably, Mia is the most appealing and the one we feel like we know the best. Does that mean FRONT DESK wins the characterization criterion? Maybe not, because the other characters arguably posed greater challenges to write, for all sorts of reasons, so the fact that the final character on the pages of their books might be less effective than Mia does not mean they might not represent the greater achievement. You guys are discussing JUST LIKE JACKIE now and praising the character of Robbie. That’s fine, but for all that we like her, maybe even the best-liked character, and despite the real challenge of writing a hard-to-like but likable, realistic, spunky girl—I think in the larger world of children’s literature, it is not an uncommon or particularly formidable feat of characterization.

  18. I agree with everyone that the characters are really well-developed. He does a good job of showing the interconnectedness of the multiple generations of trauma and why everyone is the way they are.

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