Hey Kiddo

Written and Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Celebrated (and prolific) children’s picture book artist and author Jarrett Krosoczka recounts his childhood and undertakes narrative therapy by way of graphic memoir. Raised by his maternal grandparents, Jarrett is unquestionably loyal and appreciative of them and their commitment, and as such, this is much their story as well.

The story begins with the elder Krosoczka’s Shirley and Joseph meeting in high school in the early 1940’s. The minutiae in some of the retelling of their romance, break up and then re-union post World War 2 struck me as self-indulgent at some points, but hey this is his memoir and unless I want to write my own memoir, I need to shut the hell up about that.

Soon, they have a family full of kids one of which is our author’s mother. Based on how we get to know Joseph and Shirley, I am led to believe they were parents of their time. That they are drawn with ever present cigarettes serves as both a generational frame as well as a socio-economic indicator. The Krosoczka’s are working class people. In my experience with this demographic, kids are an eventuality of life and loved, but they’re not something you dote on, or even pay close attention to as we learn Leslie, our author’s mother, was doing heroin as early as 13.

She ends up pregnant and raising Jarrett as a young single mother with the normal problems inherent of this circumstance. Plus the drugs.

She ran with a bad crowd, and thieved to support her habit and was soon incarcerated. Jarrett ends up spending the rest of his childhood with only intermittent contact. She weighs heavily on his mental development.

The most interesting relationship dynamic is his interaction with his grandfather Joe and his grandmother Shirley. Joe seems to be by far the most sympathetic and even handed of the two. Shirley, without giving us any indication early in the story, becomes a harsh, angry, profane and critical presence frequently berating him and dismissing him. Despite this, they deeply love each other and function as a family.

Hey Kiddo is a deeply personal, emotionally cathartic work that is worth the read.

The Best We Could Do

Written and Illustrated by Thi Bui

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for stories of human triumph in the face of great adversity. Especially when the innocent, oppressed or exploited overcome impossible challenges where the only alternative is death. It just means more to me than celebrity makeover.

Vietnam’s history is fairly well known among most Americans – a French colony until World War 2 when the Japanese invaded and, for a short time, set up shop. After the Japanese surrendered, France returned in an attempt to establish its colonial rule, but Ho Chi Minh from the north organized a resistance and defeated the French, ending this period. Divided in half, South Vietnam was ruled by a series of prime minister type heads of state supported by the United States politically and militarily as the North pushed toward unification under communist rule.

Thi Bui narrates a first person story of fleeing post war Vietnam in 1978 in a perilous boat journey but also explores the time and environment that shaped her family from her great grandparents to her newborn son. These times in Vietnam and the succeeding years in America were difficult.

In America we often like to think of people who seem to constantly deal with bad conditions as having somehow deserved them. Maybe lazy or stupid. Or worse, “got sideways” with a supreme being who issues penalty backed by the power of omnipotence.  It never fails to surprise me how infrequently the consideration of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time might be the reason some people don’t have it as good as others.

But the truth is that bad things happen to good people and they suffer undeserved hardship, making generations live in pain and suffering. This story is inspiring and an opus on strife, racism, class discrimination, corruption and ultimately survival. A must read.