Jarrett J. Krosoczka, That’s How a School Visit Is Done!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 30th, 2014

Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a formidable name; the person attached to it could have been a lowering tower of intimidation. Fortunately, the author/illustrator of the Lunch Lady series, Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked, and several picture books (including Punk Farm on Tour)  turns out to be – like his books – funny, warm, and lively.

JJK by comicsWhen we were offered a visit to launch the newest Lunch Lady title, Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle, we leapt. We knew schools would be eager to meet Jarrett, and were they ever! We set up two visits and a store event, and the day was glorious. Jarrett does a fantastic presentation that really resonates with kids, and the schools created an amazing welcome for him. It makes all the difference when teachers get their kids excited about an author/illustrator, prepare them in advance for the visit, familiarize the students with the guest’s books, and invite the kids to be creative themselves. Both schools, Charlotte Central and the Orchard School, did that beautifully.

One teacher, Heidi from Charlotte, wrote afterward,

Dear friends,

Thank you so much for an amazing author visit. Jarrett, your presentation was just perfect. The kids (and their librarian) are still floating on air! Every single one of the teachers who attended told me that you are the BEST visiting author they have ever seen. They loved that you made immediate connections for their students. One of the 2nd graders told his teacher that today was “the best day of my life.”

Doesn’t get better than that, does it?!

She also thanked the bookstore, saying, “I am constantly grateful for your advocacy for young readers. Your work in connecting Vermont students with mentor authors is truly appreciated.” What a gracious, thoughtful thing for her to say. That is balm for a bookseller’s day!

Below are some images from Jarrett’s visit, and at the end of the post, a behind-the-scenes peek at how a bookstore prepares for an author visit like this.

lunch lady poster

In-your-face invitation just inside the Flying Pig front door.

jjk and ccs lunch lady

Jarrett with one of the Charlotte Central School lunch ladies.

JJK CCS lunch menu

The menu at Charlotte that day featured Fish Stick Nunchucks (with a caution: Do not throw!).

CCS had a Gadget Gallery students had created on display:

jjk CCS Gadget Gallery

 

The Orchard School also went all out, creating an entire Comics Corridor of art by the entire K-5 school. Their librarian, Donna, is a dynamo. She’s also a tech-savvy, social-media wonder who tweeted about the visit, made Vines of the Comics Corridor beforehand, and pretty much turned January 28 into Jarrett J. Krosoczka Day.

orchard cartoon wall

One small segment of the Comics Corridor at the Orchard School.

jjk packed auditorium

Jarrett speaks to a packed all-school auditorium at Orchard.

jjk signing aprons smile

The Orchard School had bought Lunch Lady aprons, which Jarrett autographed.

jjk with lunch ladies

The lunch ladies were completely surprised and delighted by their aprons! And shy about being in front of the crowd. One of the women said, “Oh, no! I’ve just come all hot from the kitchen!” But of course they looked lovely.

jjk drawing

At the end of his presentation, Jarrett draws for the kids. They can’t believe how fast he can create a lunch lady or a platypus!

Jarrett had brought his adorable, amazingly patient five-year-old daughter with him for the day. She had her own moment of fame when a small group of students learned that, not only was she the voice on the book trailers they had watched, but she had created some of the art in her Dad’s books. They oohed and aaahed over the colors she had painted on a boat in Jarrett’s upcoming picture book, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, and she beamed when an older boy said, “I couldn’t do anything that good!” (A side note: if Jarrett ever grows tired of creating books, and we hope he won’t, he could do a great business in giving parenting seminars. He was so gentle and fun and patient and kind with his daughter, it was just lovely to see!)

After his presentations, Jarrett signed and personalized more than 300 books for the kids in the schools. He also found time to razz a couple of illustrator friends, Bob Shea and Peter Brown, who had been mock-arguing on Twitter about whose books, Bob’s or Peter’s, would be more popular with kids in Vermont. This was Jarrett’s answer:

jjk razzing bob shea and peter brown

After the school visits, Jarrett came to Shelburne Town Hall for our store event.

Normally, we would have had a cake with his newest book cover on it, but both of the bakeries in the area that have food-grade printers couldn’t do it. One had run out of toner (for some reason, this struck me as so funny, that you have to order toner for a cake) and the other’s printer was broken. So the bakery had to make do with using some of the colors of the book:

lunch lady cake

jjk town hall

You’d never know Jarrett had already done two big presentations and signed 300 books. He was fresh and entertaining and give an entirely different talk at the store event. What a champ!

jjk eb and jl

Happy exhaustion at the end of the day.

For anyone wondering about behind-the-scenes prep for events like this, here’s how it works. When authors are launching a new book and are touring for it, the publisher is often willing to offer school visits in conjunction with the tour. Because this is a huge gift on the part of both publisher and author, those visits need to be supported with book sales and wide exposure. So at the Flying Pig, in addition to selling the books and promoting our own store event, we have a responsibility to (1) choose schools that go out of their way to create a special day for the visiting author and (2) invite book orders from those schools to support the visit. (Another behind-the-scenes tidbit: we offer authors first to schools that support us back by shopping at the bookstore. I’ve been surprised to be approached asking about free author visits from schools who don’t even do business locally!)

We create order forms and teachers send them home a few weeks before the event. We offer schools 20% off these event titles. That’s our normal school-purchase discount anyhow, and it gives a little break to families who might not have a lot of extra funds for books. One thing the Orchard School did that we LOVED was to ask the PTO to buy a book for all of the kids who use the free or reduced-fee lunch program. That way, no child who wants a book is shut out because they can’t afford it. This is so, so important, and something we’ve struggled with about these events. I don’t want ANY child to feel left out at an event! So this is a marvelous solution we will mention as a possibility to all schools in the future.

Once the orders come back, it takes a few hours to process the checks and cash and hilarious math mistakes (it’s figuring out the tax that trips people up; I’ve vowed that next time, I’ll just build tax into each book’s cost on the order form).

Then we pull books for each order and make Post-Its for each title with the child’s name, so that Jarrett can autograph quickly and accurately.

the process

 

We rubber-band individual orders, then sort the books into bags separated by classroom. We box up the bags, and off they go.

bags of jjk books

 

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about the back end of a bookstore-coordinated author visit, but there you have it!

With something like 600 inspired children, scores of delighted teachers and customers, two satisfied principals, and lots of wonderful books sold, well, it’s not hard to imagine that that adds up to happy author, publisher, publicists, and us!

Thanks so much to Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Random House, Deb Shapiro, Deborah Sloan, Heidi Huestis, and Donna Macdonald for a fabulous day!

 

5 thoughts on “Jarrett J. Krosoczka, That’s How a School Visit Is Done!

  1. Donna Gephart

    Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes look at very successful school visits and bookstore event. I, too, had the good fortune to hear Jarrett speak at an SCBWI event in L.A. He’s terrific in so many ways. It was good to see how much work and preparation go on in advance of and during these visits. Gives me more appreciation as a visiting author for all the hard work involved in these events.

  2. Donna Marie Merritt

    I love everything about this post! Let’s see, some highlights… I already knew Jarrett was a genuinely nice guy from his Facebook posts, but it’s good to hear it from someone who’s met him in person. I think it is AWESOME that he brought aprons for the lunch ladies. That PTO is my kind of PTO—nice job making sure every student could have a book. Fabulous prep by the schools; every author should feel that appreciated and welcome when they walk through the doors. Jarrett’s patience and kindness as a parent tops everything off wonderfully. AND, your bookstore’s dedication to author visits is to be commended!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Thanks so much for your kind comments!! One note: while Jarrett is fabulously kind and generous, it was actually Donna (librarian at the Orchard School) who surprised the lunch ladies with the gift of aprons. Jarrett was delighted to autograph them.

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