Featured KidLit – A WORK IN PROGRESS by Jarrett Lerner

On May 2nd, author-illustrator Jarrett Lerner’s illustrated novel in verse, A WORK IN PROGRESS, will be released (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). The book tells the story of seventh grader Will, who is body-shamed in elementary school and subsequently develops disordered eating and body dysmorphia. Will and his story are largely based on Jarrett’s experiences in elementary and middle school.

What follows is an imagined conversation between seventh grader Jarrett and his current self.

In conversation with Jarrett & Jarrett
Hey. Thanks for doing this.
Yeah. Sure. Whatever. I was kinda curious.
About what?
About what it’s like. You know, to be me – but . . . old.
I’m not that old. And it’s good. Really good. I’m happy. I mean, I have good days and bad days, like everyone. But overall, the main thrust of my life – it tends toward happy. Toward gratitude and excitement and joy. I hope it helps, hearing that.
So it gets better.
It does. It really does. I wish someone had told you that – had told us that.
Is that why you decided to write about me? To, like, tell other kids that?
I think so. Or I think that’s why I kept writing about you, even when it got hard – and it got really, really hard. But I’m honestly not sure why I started writing about you in the first place. I guess . . . I guess I just couldn’t not. I’ve been trying to write this story – starting it and stopping it and then coming back to it again and again – for more than a decade. It’s like I just had to get it out of me. But I don’t think I was ready and able to get it out of me, to put it all on paper fully and authentically, until now. Or until a little over three years ago, when I picked up the story again, for what felt like the thousandth time.
And was it . . . What’s that word? When you feel better after doing something hard that you maybe didn’t really actually wanna do?
That’s it. Was it that?
No. It just . . . Well, to be totally honest, it sucked. It was hard and painful and sad and took so, so, so very long. And when I was finally done, all I felt was relieved to be done with it. But now – now that a whole bunch of people have read it and told me what they think and how they feel about it – now I’m starting to feel some of that catharsis. Like I’m not just glad the whole long, grueling experience is over, but actually glad I did it. Which, in the midst of it all – one year ago, two years ago – I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel. And I think that good feeling is only going to grow once the book is actually out. Once kids are reading it. Once I’m in schools and libraries with them, talking about it all.
I really wonder . . . I wonder if that would’ve actually helped me. Us. If someone had come to school in fifth or sixth or seventh grade and talked to us about all this stuff.
I’m not sure. But I hope it would’ve.
Yeah . . . I think it might depend on how bad a day I was having.
I can see that. But it’s not all  bad days you’re having, right? Your life – you’ve got lots of good things going on, too. Looking back, that’s how I remember it, at least.
I do. You’re right. But the thing is, a lot of the time, the bad parts – they get so BIG. They feel so LOUD. And in those moments, I can’t even see any of the good anymore. It’s all blocked out. And those moments? Sometimes they can last for a while. For days, you know?
That makes me think of this thing – this really nice thing someone said about the book.
Oh, so now this is gonna turn into you bragging about yourself and your book?
Just listen. Okay?
This person, her name is Robin, and she knows books, especially kids’ books. And she said, “If you can teach a child that his current life is just a part of his life and not the whole, it is an enormous kindness. A Work In Progress succeeds beautifully in doing so.”
It gets better.
It does. It can. So . . .Two weeks. How do you feel about your story – our story – being out in the world in just two weeks?
Kinda scared. But also, in a weird way . . . excited, I guess? I don’t know. But if sharing all the deep, dark stuff I’ve always wanted to keep hidden can somehow help some other kids – that feels nice. That feels right. And I think, as hard as it’ll probably be, talking about it all will be a good thing. How do you feel about it all?
The exact same. I actually couldn’t have said it better myself.
I was being sarcastic.
I know it. Anyway . . . This was nice. Except for the sarcastic bit. We should do it again sometime.
Sounds good to me.
Take care of yourself. Take it easy on yourself.
Easier said than done.
I know it.
But I’ll try my best.
I will, too.


Now let’s take a peek into A WORK IN PROGRESS!

A young boy struggles with body image in this poignant middle grade journey to self-acceptance told through prose, verse, and illustration.

Will is the only round kid in a school full of string beans. So he hides…in baggy jeans and oversized hoodies, in the back row during class, and anywhere but the cafeteria during lunch. But shame isn’t the only feeling that dominates Will’s life. He’s also got a crush on a girl named Jules who knows he doesn’t have a chance with—string beans only date string beans—but he can’t help wondering what if?

Will’s best shot at attracting Jules’s attention is by slaying the Will Monster inside him by changing his eating habits and getting more exercise. But the results are either frustratingly slow or infuriatingly unsuccessful, and Will’s shame begins to morph into self-loathing.

As he resorts to increasingly drastic measures to transform his appearance, Will meets skateboarder Markus, who helps him see his body and all it contains as an ever-evolving work in progress.

ABOUT Jarrett Lerner

Author-illustrator Jarrett Lerner is the award-winning creator of the EngiNerds series of Middle Grade novels, the Geeger the Robot series of early chapter books, the activity books Give This Book a Title and Give This Book a Cover, The Hunger Heroes series of graphic novel chapter books, and the Nat the Cat series of early readers. Jarrett is also the creator of the forthcoming illustrated novel in verse A Work in Progress, as well as several as-yet-unannounced projects. All of Jarrett’s books are published by Simon & Schuster. In addition to writing, drawing, and visiting schools and libraries across the country, Jarrett co-founded and co-organizes the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects, and regularly spearheads fundraisers for various reading- and book-related causes. He is also the founder and operator of Jarrett Lerner’s Creator Club. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his wife and daughters in Massachusetts.

CONNECT WITH Jarrett Lerner
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