John Sazaklis knows there’s no place like home. The New York Times-bestselling author and illustrator recalled his Hicksville roots while writing his latest children’s book series Billy Burger, Model Citizen, in which the protagonist is a student at Fork Lane School. Dutch Lane School’s own Mary Masterson was Sazaklis’ first grade teacher 28 years ago and she remembers him well. “John was a gentle, bright, creative boy,” she said.
Sazaklis feels that performing The Wizard of Oz in Masterson’s class had a strong influence on his creativity.
“It was exciting to perform the play because it was a collaboration between both first grade classes. The fond memory even made it as the plot of one of my books: Krystal Ball, The Great and Powerful,” Sazaklis said.
After the play, he took the teacher-created script home and performed it with his sister and cousins. He even made props with cardboard and construction paper, and had his father record them for three hours.
From a young age, Sazaklis was always creating, writing and illustrating. He focused early on a career in art, even as he worked at his family’s business, The House of Donuts, on Broadway in Hicksville. Sazaklis says his 15 years working there provided him with life lessons and the inspiration for many books. At the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he pursued a degree in animation, then changed to graphic design with a minor in literature and writing. This allowed him to explore many creative outlets such as sculpture, game design, book making, and the writing of comedies and plays. He graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
As an intern at Marvel Comics and Mad Magazine, Sazaklis made many business contacts which led him to the world of children’s publishing. He established himself in the industry by working on licensed characters and movie-related books. His first children’s book, Batman: Gotham’s Villains Unleashed!, became a New York Times best-seller. Sazaklis has also written titles featuring Superman, Spider-Man, Transformers, Wonder Woman, Scooby-Doo, Tinkerbell, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, and the Justice League.
He has also illustrated books featuring Spider-Man and other characters. He currently works at Random House Children’s Books in New York City and lives there with his wife, Nicoletta and daughter, Athena.
Masterson reconnected with Sazaklis after fortuitously meeting his mother at the Fork Lane/Dutch Lane 3rd Grade Pen Pal Picnic last year. Although she has taught 600 students since then, she immediately remembered the name and student. Masterson is proud of his successes and has welcomed him to return to speak to the current students at Dutch Lane School. With a possible visit and his generous donation of books to elementary school libraries, Sazaklis is sure to inspire the next generation of authors and artists in Hicksville.
Justina Ketyer teaches English as a New Language (ENL) and English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades K-5 at the East Street School in the Hicksville School District.