Monday, October 24, 2011
Book Review: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos (HarperCollins, 2000)
Told through the eyes of a boy with ADD, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key moves at an almost frantic pace. Joey is "wired". He can't sit still, even when he knows that acting up in class is wrong. Abandoned by both his parents, lives with his abusive grandmother who is also "wired". When Joey's mom returns, she struggles to keep him medicated and on track, but she works long hours and she drinks out of frustration.
Joey's behaviors become self-destructive - he swallows his house key; he sticks his finger in a pencil sharpener; he separates from his class on a school trip and finds himself sitting on a rafter in a barn. The school is trying to be understanding and has him spending part of his day in the Special Education class, but when Joey decides to run with a pair of scissors and injures a classmate, he is suspended and sent to the district's special ed program for six weeks. There, he meets with a social worker who helps him get his medications adjusted and works to get him - and his mom - back on track.
The frenetic pace of the storytelling gives the reader a glimpse into what goes on in the mind of a child with ADD, and Joey's explanations help readers figure out what motivates him to do what he does - regardless of it being right or wrong, Joey does have reasons. It is an important read for understanding kids that are sharing classrooms with one another, and gives both adults and children a starting point for discussions on what ADD is and how it affects people.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key has won numerous awards including the Newbery Medal. It was a National Book Award Finalist, one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year, and it is an American Library Association Notable Children's Book. It is the first in a series of Joey Pigza books including Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, and I Am Not Joey Pigza.
The Macmillan website for the book offers award information, critical praise, a biography on Jack Gantos, and links to Mr. Gantos' website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Wikipedia page. The Multnomah County Library system offers a discussion guide and related book suggestions.