They might not fly or have superpowers (or maybe they do—we wouldn’t be surprised!) but there’s no question that school foodservice workers are heroes. That’s why SNA loves collaborating with children’s author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series to celebrate School Lunch Hero Day every year.
#SLHD22, which takes place this Friday, May 6, 2022, marks the 10th anniversary of an observance all about recognizing the hard work school nutrition professionals do and the way it benefits children’s education and growth.
“ School Lunch Hero Day has far exceeded my hopes and vision for what the celebration could be,” Krosoczka says. “It has become a huge annual party, which means the world to me.”
Krosoczka started writing the Lunch Lady books in 2009, chronicling the adventures of the titular lunch lady who doubles as a crime-fighting spy. It was met with wild success, spawning a series of two books a year through 2014.
“Kids love silly things, humor and adventure,” he says. “They also love getting presented with their world in a different light. And so, to take this figure that most have in their lives, the ‘lunch lady,’ and give that figure a totally unexpected attribute—vigilante spy crime-fighter—it became the recipe for the series’ success.”
During the years when he was writing the books, Krosoczka collaborated with SNA to establish the first School Lunch Hero Day in 2012. Over the past decade, Krosoczka has had the opportunity to attend celebrations in person at schools across the country and witness firsthand how some of these schools celebrate. One particularly noteworthy celebration was in Houston Independent School District in 2015.
“Students lined the hallways with artwork, and they wrote poems and thank-you notes,” he says. “For lunch, each lunch hero was seated at a table with students in the library and served a catered meal! The entire day cumulated with this big Broadway-style production filled with songs and choreographed dance numbers!”
For Krosoczka, the mission to acknowledge the heroism of these school lunch professionals is a personal one. Because he drew inspiration for his series from the cafeteria workers who served him as an elementary schooler, he invited them to his official book launch back in 2009, where they were greeted with applause by all the children who had eaten in their cafeteria over the years.
“Shortly after the event, I received thank-you cards from them,” he says. “In these notes, they told me how they loved every single kid who came through their lunch line. That realization hit me. Instinctively I knew that, but it had never been verbalized.”
He’s also pushing back against the media trope that depicts school nutrition workers as “the butt of the joke,” and instead portrays them positively. “I have met so many hard-working and compassionate people working in school cafeterias, and I am so thankful for every interaction,” he says.
Even though School Lunch Hero Day and the Lunch Lady books have been so successful over the past 10 years, Krosoczka says there’s always evolution and improvement happening. “For instance, while the celebration is a spin-off of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, and the main character herself became the de facto mascot for the program, she is a singular white woman,” he explains. “To better reflect the people we are celebrating, I created a diverse group of inclusive characters in the style of the Lunch Lady graphic novels for the program. And yes, even a few ‘lunch dudes.’
These characters will appear in future installments in the Lunch Lady series, which will be twice as long as the original books in the series, thereby featuring more adventures and an expanded look at the world of crime-fighting lunch heroes Krosoczka created.
And that’s not all that’s in store for the Lunch Lady series. Penguin Random House has reissued the original books in the series in new full-color versions. Additionally, there’s a full-cast audiobook performed by a full cast, including real kids as the kid characters, seasoned audiobook narrators as school staff, and Kate Flannery of The Office fame as Lunch Lady herself.
To learn more about the Lunch Lady series or any of Krosoczka’s other creative works, visit him online at studiojjk.com. How are you celebrating #SLHD22? Tag SNA on social media to share your festivities with us.—Dylan Roche