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Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Why lunch ladies are heroes

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Children's book author Jarrett Krosoczka shares the origins of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series, in which undercover school heroes serve lunch...and justice! His new project, School Lunch Hero Day, reveals how cafeteria lunch staff provide more than food, and illustrates how powerful a thank you can be.

- Author/illustrator
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author/illustrator of countless children's books and graphic novels, including Good Night, Monkey Boy, Baghead and the Lunch Lady series. Full bio

When my first children's book was published
00:12
in 2001,
00:14
I returned to my old elementary school
00:16
to talk to the students about being an author
00:18
and an illustrator,
00:20
and when I was setting up my slide projector
00:22
in the cafetorium,
00:24
I looked across the room,
00:28
and there she was:
00:30
my old lunch lady.
00:32
She was still there at the school
00:34
and she was busily preparing lunches for the day.
00:36
So I approached her to say hello,
00:39
and I said, "Hi, Jeannie! How are you?"
00:41
And she looked at me, and I could tell
00:42
that she recognized me,
00:44
but she couldn't quite place me,
and she looked at me and she said,
00:46
"Stephen Krosoczka?"
00:49
And I was amazed that she knew I was a Krosoczka,
00:52
but Stephen is my uncle who
is 20 years older than I am,
00:54
and she had been his lunch lady when he was a kid.
00:57
And she started telling me about her grandkids,
01:00
and that blew my mind.
01:03
My lunch lady had grandkids,
01:06
and therefore kids,
01:07
and therefore left school at the end of the day?
01:08
I thought she lived in the cafeteria
01:12
with the serving spoons.
01:13
I had never thought about any of that before.
01:14
Well, that chance encounter inspired my imagination,
01:16
and I created the Lunch Lady graphic novel series,
01:20
a series of comics about a lunch lady
01:23
who uses her fish stick nunchucks
01:26
to fight off evil cyborg substitutes,
01:28
a school bus monster, and mutant mathletes,
01:31
and the end of every book,
01:34
they get the bad guy with their hairnet,
01:36
and they proclaim, "Justice is served!"
01:37
(Laughter) (Applause)
01:41
And it's been amazing, because the series
01:45
was so welcomed into the reading lives of children,
01:48
and they sent me the most amazing letters
01:51
and cards and artwork.
01:53
And I would notice as I would visit schools,
01:55
the lunch staff would be involved in the programming
01:58
in a very meaningful way.
02:00
And coast to coast,
02:02
all of the lunch ladies told me the same thing:
02:04
"Thank you for making a superhero in our likeness."
02:06
Because the lunch lady has not been treated
02:10
very kindly in popular culture over time.
02:13
But it meant the most to Jeannie.
02:16
When the books were first published,
02:19
I invited her to the book launch party,
02:20
and in front of everyone there,
02:22
everyone she had fed over the years,
02:24
I gave her a piece of artwork and some books.
02:26
And two years after this photo was taken,
02:28
she passed away,
02:31
and I attended her wake,
02:33
and nothing could have prepared
me for what I saw there,
02:34
because next to her casket was this painting,
02:37
and her husband told me it meant so much to her
02:40
that I had acknowledged her hard work,
02:44
I had validated what she did.
02:46
And that inspired me to create a day
02:49
where we could recreate that feeling
02:51
in cafeterias across the country:
02:53
School Lunch Hero Day, a day where kids
02:56
can make creative projects for their lunch staff.
02:58
And I partnered with the
School Nutrition Association,
03:01
and did you know that a little over 30 million kids
03:03
participate in school lunch programs every day.
03:06
That equals up to a little over five billion lunches
03:08
made every school year.
03:11
And the stories of heroism go well beyond
03:13
just a kid getting a few extra chicken nuggets
03:15
on their lunch tray.
03:17
There is Ms. Brenda in California,
03:18
who keeps a close eye on every
student that comes through her line
03:20
and then reports back to the guidance counselor
03:23
if anything is amiss.
03:25
There are the lunch ladies in Kentucky
03:27
who realized that 67 percent of their students
03:28
relied on those meals every day,
03:31
and they were going without food over the summer,
03:33
so they retrofitted a school bus
03:35
to create a mobile feeding unit,
03:37
and they traveled around the neighborhoods
03:39
feedings 500 kids a day during the summer.
03:40
And kids made the most amazing projects.
03:43
I knew they would.
03:45
Kids made hamburger cards
03:46
that were made out of construction paper.
03:48
They took photos of their lunch lady's head
03:50
and plastered it onto my cartoon lunch lady
03:52
and fixed that to a milk carton
03:54
and presented them with flowers.
03:55
And they made their own comics,
03:58
starring the cartoon lunch lady
04:00
alongside their actual lunch ladies.
04:01
And they made thank you pizzas,
04:03
where every kid signed a different topping
04:05
of a construction paper pizza.
04:07
For me, I was so moved by the response
04:10
that came from the lunch ladies,
04:14
because one woman said to me, she said,
04:16
"Before this day, I felt like I was
04:18
at the end of the planet at this school.
04:20
I didn't think that anyone noticed us down here."
04:23
Another woman said to me,
04:25
"You know, what I got out of this
04:27
is that what I do is important."
04:29
And of course what she does is important.
04:32
What they all do is important.
04:35
They're feeding our children every single day,
04:37
and before a child can learn,
04:40
their belly needs to be full,
04:43
and these women and men
04:45
are working on the front lines to create
04:47
an educated society.
04:49
So I hope that
04:51
you don't wait for School Lunch Hero Day
04:54
to say thank you to your lunch staff,
04:56
and I hope that you remember
04:58
how powerful a thank you can be.
05:00
A thank you can change a life.
05:03
It changes the life of the person who receives it,
05:05
and it changes the life of the person
05:08
who expresses it.
05:10
Thank you.
05:12
(Applause)
05:14

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About the speaker:

Jarrett J. Krosoczka - Author/illustrator
Jarrett J. Krosoczka is the author/illustrator of countless children's books and graphic novels, including Good Night, Monkey Boy, Baghead and the Lunch Lady series.

Why you should listen

Jarrett J. Krosoczka has been a storyteller since the ripe age of eight, when he wrote his first book, The Owl Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer, about an owl who challenged Hermes to a flying race. Since that rather promising start Krosoczka has published 18 picture books and graphic novels for children, including the much-loved Lunch Lady series, which is a two-time winner of the Children's Choice Book Award. Krosoczka hosts The Book Report with JJK on Sirius XM's Kids Place Live, a radio show about books, aimed at kids 10 and younger. In 2010 he founded the Joseph and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarships at Worcester Art Museum, to fund classes for young and underprivileged aspiring artists.

More profile about the speaker
Jarrett J. Krosoczka | Speaker | TED.com