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Art therapy: Northampton authors launch new drawing webcasts to help kids, parents cope during pandemic

  • Florence-based author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka has started offering a drawing webcast every weekday at 2 p.m. Eastern time on his YouTube channel. Here he is drawing the main character from his “Lunch Lady” series. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Zoe Krosoczka, age 11, with her father, the Florence-based author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The Krosoczka family’s daily schedule is more like a checklist, says Gina Krosoczka. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Editor in Chief
Published: 3/17/2020 10:16:31 AM

Monday marked the first day of working remotely for scores of Americans following social distancing guidelines, including many parents and guardians who suddenly found themselves homeschooling their kids. Of course, not everyone has the privilege of working from home — only 29%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — but for those who do, and for those trying to balance a full-time job with full-time child care, yesterday was an unprecedented and eye-opening social experiment.

While my husband went to a critical work meeting yesterday, I was at home trying to create some simulacrum of first period for my son, who’s in the second grade. Without schoolwork (we pick up packets today), we went freestyle. My son spent the hour writing a Lonely Planet-style travel guide to a country he invented called Hoilemandeii, which is an island located between Japan and Australia, and where the most popular restaurant is named Miyagi’s Japanese Food and the national sport is catching flies with chopsticks (yes, he recently watched “The Karate Kid”).

All the while, as my phone rang and pinged with texts from reporters and editors, my 4-year-old daughter needed help building a fairy habitat, putting on a ragged, hand-me-down Elsa gown and painting her toenails pink. It was only an hour, and it was largely well-spent, but wow — time really bends.

Fortunately, there are people in our own community who are helping caregivers fill and structure the days ahead with everything from online drawing lessons to resource guides overflowing with ideas on how to engage creative, curious minds.

This morning, my son and I watched the first episode of “Draw Every Day with JJK,” a webcast launched Monday by Florence resident Jarrett J. Krosoczka, also known as JJK, the National Book Award finalist and author and illustrator best known for his graphic memoir, “Hey, Kiddo” (which won Book of the Year at the Harvey Awards), and his “Lunch Lady” and “Jedi Academy” book series. The webcast will air every weekday 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at youtube.com/studiojjk.

Another Northampton resident, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems, also launched a new webcast Monday called “LUNCH DOODLES with Mo Willems!” from his home studio. “I wasn’t planning on being here, and you probably weren’t planning on being here, either, but now that we’re here, let’s hang out together for a little while, let’s create some things, let’s doodle,” Willems begins. “Let’s find a way to be isolated and together at the same time.” New episodes will be posted at 1 p.m. every weekday, and like Krosoczka’s episodes will remain online for future reference.

“It gives me solace that if I can’t see my neighbors in person, at least we can share some time together,” Willems told the Gazette. “I’m so glad so many illustrators are sharing their talents with families and look forward to doodling in person with them soon.” There are so many “local heroes” making videos, he added, including authors Grace Lin and Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi.

As a parent, I’m so grateful for resources like these. We borrowed an idea from Willems long ago to cover the dining room table with paper to doodle on, and I have a roll of newsprint around at all times — perk of the job. As I write this column, my daughter is doodling away. Actually, just this second, she face-planted into a box of markers, but fortunately my husband is here, so back to the column at hand!

Krosoczka was nice enough to hop on the phone with me Tuesday morning to talk more about his new webcast. As many schools across the country know, he has been webcasting and connecting with young readers from afar since 2011. “One of my New Year’s resolutions was to offer more webcasts on a regular basis and access to my author visits in a more equitable way for students all across the country,” Krosoczka said. “When everything was lining up last week, and it was clear that school might be out for two weeks, my mind rapidly shifted to how kids would be out of school and out of their rhythm, both nationwide and locally.”

Around the same time, Krosoczka said, he was scrolling through his Facebook feed and saw that many friends here in the Pioneer Valley were already putting together daily schedules for their own children to give them a sense of order. “This was before Northampton Public Schools closed, and Gina and I already decided we would pull our kids out abundance of caution,” said the author, who, with his wife, Gina Krosoczka, has three children, ages 11, 8 and 3. “That’s when I realized I could offer their kids and all kids something I can give my own children — which is my own personal art lessons.”

The webcast airs at 2 p.m. because that’s when many kids have their “special” at school, such as art or music class. The hope was that the webcast would offer caregivers a bit of a break and offer kids, from preschool to high school, some productive screen time, “and then they’d want to turn off the screen and make something,” Krosoczka said.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, said Gina Krosoczka, who took a break from making green pancakes for St. Patrick’s Day (“Luck of the Irish!”) to talk about all the parents sending in pictures of their kids drawing to the video. As of Tuesday morning, there were just north of 17,000 views on the first episode; around 3,000 people watched it live.

“For us, it feels comforting in the sense that we’re actively doing something,” said Gina, who noted that Jarrett’s speaking gigs have been canceled, “which is scary for us.” The webcasting, meanwhile, “gives us structure, but it also gives us the sense that we’re doing something to help — because we’re not doctors, we’re not scientists, but Jarrett is very good at speaking to kids.”

As for their own kids, the Krosoczkas are doing their best to keep them occupied and engaged, which is a challenge considering their different ages and stages. “Instead of keeping a schedule, I’m keeping three separate checklists because I can’t figure out how to keep a schedule yet and keep everyone on board,” Gina said. “Having a schedule, I think I would set myself up for failure and frustration — it’s just not possible.”

Monday included a family exercise in bedtime meditation and Gina stealing away earlier to figure out Day 2. “When the kids are off on their own playing, I’m planning for the next day,” she said. “My older two designed an obstacle course. We were able to engage the others and feed off of each other, and then Jarrett and I were able to switch off, too.”

The webcast features cameos by other family members, including 11-year-old Zoe (wearing a shirt that says “SHARE KINDNESS” in the first episode) and pugs Ralph Macchio (seems like “The Karate Kid” is making a comeback!) and Frank. “Typically, I’m reserved about sharing images of my kids on work projects. But this is such a different time, and their presence will help other young artists make connections,” Jarrett said. “I did hear from parents who said Zoe’s presence was a calming force for their kids.”

Another calming force: the lack of talk about the pandemic. “We watched a few episodes of Mister Rogers before we went live to get the right tone, calm and measured,” Jarrett said. “I’m going to talk today about how you draw facial expressions — when a character is worried or angry or sad — but I won’t specifically mention what’s going on because people are hearing that already several times a day.”

The webcast will livestream during weekdays for “the foreseeable future,” he added.




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