When author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo (Scholastic/Graphix) was released in October 2018, it received wide and warm acclaim, including being named a National Book Award finalist and landing on numerous year-end, best-of lists. The book, told from the author’s perspective at age 17, recounts Krosoczka’s childhood being raised by alcoholic grandparents as the family dealt with his mother’s heroin addiction, and as Krosoczka’s burgeoning passion for art sustained him.
The project represented the culmination of a long creative and emotional journey begun some 20 years prior. As he told PW in 2018, “Many of those years were just spent thinking and wondering and imagining and building up the courage to actually write this book.” When his 2012 TED talk about how his imagination and love of drawing helped him weather the difficult circumstances at home went viral, Krosoczka was compelled to expand it to a graphic memoir.
Now, a year after its release, Hey, Kiddo has been adapted for audio by Scholastic Audiobooks. The recording features a cast of more than 40 performers, many of them Krosoczka’s family and friends, and he served as co-producer and co-director, alongside Paul Gagne at Scholastic. Krosoczka chronicled the recording sessions on his blog over a period of months and he’s now sharing some photos from those sessions with PW, together with more insight on the experience of adapting his memoir for a new medium.
Why did you want to adapt Hey, Kiddo for audio and how did the project get off the ground? Was it your idea, initially?
In spring of 2018, I was planning for my Hey, Kiddo book tour by creating a PowerPoint that would pan and scan over each panel with embedded sound effects. I would read selections at my stops, taking on the voice of every character, while the art projected on a screen. I was also planning a unique live read of the book in its entirety, with a cast of 10 performers. At the American Library Association’s 2018 annual conference in New Orleans, I participated in Scholastic’s Readers’ Theater, debuting a segment of Hey, Kiddo.
Paul Gagne of Scholastic Audiobooks was in that audience. He had a lightbulb moment of how we could approach this graphic memoir as an audiobook. Paul produced audiobooks of two YA titles by Cherie Priest, which were primarily text narratives with graphic sequences interspersed between chapters. Scholastic Audiobooks had also produced audio adaptations of Brian Selznick’s books, which have several visual segments. Paul was also impressed with what HarperAudio had been able to do with the audiobook adaptation of [graphic novel] Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. That convinced him that an audiobook adaptation of graphic literature was possible.
Without question, I was so excited for the challenge to adapt Hey, Kiddo for audio. But what convinced me that it would be important work was meeting a reader who is blind at one of the live reads. He had no entry into the story otherwise. Since then, I have had many conversations with educators who have expressed enthusiasm that this adaptation would offer equal access to the students they serve.
What was it like adapting your graphic memoir to a new format/medium? What were some of the challenges you faced?
We first conducted an audit of all of the story elements that were told exclusively through the artwork. While I worked on writing additional narration, the team at Scholastic Audiobooks drafted a spreadsheet of each unique voice required for the book. We put together a full cast with the caveat being that they needed to be able to both perform, and speak in the accent regional to my hometown of Worcester, Mass. After each pass of the audiobook, Paul and I would combine notes on how to better improve the production. Sometimes that meant tightening an edit or choosing a different sound effect. But sometimes it meant that I needed to write even more narration to clarify a scene further.
How did the recording process work? You have lots of radio and studio experience from your “The Book Report with JJK” segments on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live, so did you serve as director or producer?
It was a thrill to roll up my sleeves and work on this. I served as a co-producer and co-director. Multiple sessions took place in various studios across the country. Jenna Lamia, who voices my mother, recorded in Los Angeles. Richard Ferone, who voices my grandfather, recorded in New York. I recorded my lines here in western Massachusetts while we rented a studio in Worcester, Mass., to capture the voices of my friends and family who played themselves. The recording sessions all unfolded over several months.
How did you go about casting the audiobook? I understand that it’s a true family affair for starters, and that there are many special cameos. How did people react to being asked to participate?
We cast seasoned audiobook performers for the heavy parts of my grandfather and my mother. But for my grandmother Shirley, that part went to Jeanne Birdsall. Yes, that Jeanne Birdsall, the National Book Award-winning author of The Penderwicks books. When I was plotting out the unabridged live reads, Jeanne asked if she could read as Shirley. And she stole the show during those performances. So much so that Paul hired her for the audiobook. From that live read that Paul attended, he also hired the two young actors who read as the younger iterations of me, Zoe Krosoczka and Jaiden Meltzer. And yes, Zoe is my daughter. What a unique and beautiful way to walk her through our family history while supporting her artistic endeavors.
Paul was looking for a place for the other readers as some of the teachers, but I couldn’t imagine how the real people would react to the interpretations. And then it hit me, why don’t we just invite along the actual people. So I invited my former high school teachers, Mark Lynch, Robin Bahrr Casey, and Richard Shilale—they were all on board! This led to casting the characters who represent my family members. I compiled home video clips to share with Paul and his team so they could get a sense of their voices. And from that, Paul suggested we cast the actual people. Every single person that I invited along jumped at the chance. It is so incredibly unique. The role of [Krosoczka’s friend] Pat was split between the actual Pat and his 11-year-old son, Seamus. Even Pat’s mom came into the studio for a few lines, as did Barbara Kholstrohm, who worked as the office manager at my grandfather’s shop. In a very powerful turn of events, even my birth father came in to read as himself, which included that first letter that he wrote to me when I was a teenager.
What was your favorite part about working on this project?
There were so many favorite moments, but I loved the entire process—from concept to the seemingly impossible work of capturing all of the voices to listening to the various passes of the book. What is magical about this is the reader feels as though they are right in the room, with all of the action unfolding around them. The team at Scholastic Audiobooks did an extraordinary job with everything here. The soundscapes and edits... I am just so appreciative of all of it!