Sunshine: Jarrett J. Krosoczka's 2023 BGHB Nonfiction Award Speech

Time and chance have profoundly impacted my life and work.

As a toddler, I was deeply fortunate to have my grandparents, Joseph and Shirley, gain legal custody of me when my mother could no longer provide adequate care. From elementary through high school, I serendipitously was placed in the classrooms of so many teachers during pivotal moments.

But the most significant example of time and chance affecting my trajectory from childhood to adulthood came when a high school teacher pulled my name from a hat in the spring of 1994. Community service was central to the culture at the high school I attended. The centerpiece of that community service was the high school’s partnership with Camp Sunshine, a therapeutic camp in Maine that served families dealing with pediatric cancer. Given the program’s popularity amongst the student body, far more students attended that first after-school informational meeting than could have been chosen to serve as volunteer counselors at the selected camp sessions. The faculty advisors did what they thought was most fair. They had the gathered students write their names down for placement in a hat. My name was one of the few chosen to travel to Maine and volunteer at this storied program.

From there, chance would further play its game — the teachers assigned me to the session scheduled for the last week of that September. From there, I, along with my hodgepodge group of classmates, was assigned, at random, to programming stations. Further, we were each assigned a family to sit with during meals.

At sixteen, I was a jaded and angry teen who was processing the trauma of his mother’s addiction — and I was then thrust into this concept of service, thereby forced to think beyond myself and meaningfully link to the greater world around me. I can confidently tell you that I would not have grown into the adult I am without this eye-opening work.

An odd arithmetic is associated with serving others, a lesson I learned when volunteering at Camp Sunshine. The more you give of yourself to others, the more you get out of it. My favorite people have always shared this sentiment and lived with the mission of service as central to their purpose in life. While I used to surround myself with co-counselors who led groups of campers from activity to activity in the picturesque wilderness of camp, today I am blessed to be working alongside colleagues spread far and wide and in various settings. The mission is very similar: to provide caring respite for young people navigating challenging times.

Through the pages of books, authors offer escapism; librarians and booksellers give a sense of community; and editors act like the camp’s group leaders, ensuring everything is in place so the camp can hum along smoothly. Therapeutic camps help make kids feel less alone as they connect with peers who are experiencing similar plights, and a reader can share a similar feeling when they see their experience reflected to them in the pages of a book.

Back in my camp days, families often told me that their children lived to get back to camp the following summer. Today, I often hear from readers who report that books have saved their lives. I see these bibliotherapeutic moments when invited into schools and libraries and witness them via the social media posts I see from educators daily.

It was a gift for me to dig deep into my memories and create Sunshine: How One Camp Taught Me About Life, Death, and Hope. To write a memoir is to relive past experiences for days on end. While there are so many heavy and emotionally fraught experiences that I have relayed in this book, I also revisited so many happy moments. I got to, once again, spend time with Eric, “Diego,” and so many of the campers that I befriended at Camp Sunshine.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2023 BGHB Nonfiction winners.]

Thank you to David Levithan, my editor, friend, and mentor, for recognizing that this camp story was too big to be a chapter in Hey, Kiddo. David quickly edited out the Camp Sunshine chapter of my first memoir because this story needed its room. It was a story that needed a spotlight all its own. Thank you, too, to the entire team at Scholastic for supporting Sunshine during both the book’s creation and its launch into the world.

Thank you to my wife, Gina, whom I met by chance at a Cinco de Mayo party that I begrudgingly attended, for believing in me — and having patience with the ups and downs of this book industry. Time and chance gave the two of us three wonderful children — Zoe, Lucia, and Xavier. I am grateful for their understanding when my book life takes me away from our daily family life.

My profound gratitude to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Committee for recognizing Sunshine with the Nonfiction Award. I am thankful for your hard work in assessing all of the titles, and I realize how fortunate I am that time and chance put you all on a committee together for the 2023 selections.

There is power in being remembered after we leave this Earth. I am so thankful that I could share these camp memories through the written word — and the drawn illustration. These campers I befriended all those years ago are always in my thoughts, and I am proud to have empowered them by sharing their stories. Thank you to the readers who have revisited these camp moments with me, who turn the page and read about these experiences. Thank you to their educators — both in the classroom and the library — who make my work available to them. While it shouldn’t be an act of courage to place a book on a shelf, in this modern era, it is an act of courageous love.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB23. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and watch his conversation with BGHB23 Picture Book winner, Jack Wong, from our "Cover to Cover" event co-presented with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on January 18, 2024.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka received the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Nonfiction for Sunshine and a 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction for Hey, Kiddo (both Graphix/Scholastic).

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Chris Buchanan

These types of books are necessary. They deal with tough topics and make us realize how special each one of us is and how lucky we are to share time together. Life is short and precious. We need to prepare our young people and comfort them when they need us. Thank you, Jarrett K and congratulations!

Posted : Feb 19, 2024 07:15



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