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An Interview with Author Jack Gantos About Jack Gantos
ETC: What inspired you to create a character like Joey Pigza? Is there anything autobiographical about him?

JACK GANTOS: When I grew up I knew a lot of kids like Joey. They were very active, and very interesting and in and out of trouble and found it hard to keep friends. And they were never the popular kids. But I was drawn to them. I went to ten different schools while growing up and, like a lot of the "Joeys", I too was not terribly popular. So I spent a lot of time on the social fringe with guys like Joey and I knew, despite the trouble they encountered, that they were good guys. They were just impulsive and made a lot of bad decisions.

Later in life, as an author, I noticed those kids never showed up in books. And so when I had the opportunity to write about one I did. I meet a lot of kids while doing school visits and there was one very active kid in a class I was visiting and he was so great, and smart, and winning-and yet so hyper active, and he reminded me to write a book about kids like him. And so I did.

ETC: All things considered, Joey seems to be an average kid who wants all of the same things the next kid wants… especially acceptance. Is this something you meant to get across to the reader?

JACK GANTOS: Joey is a kid who shares all the hopes and dreams of any kid-except he can be his own worst enemy. And I wanted young readers to know him, and understand him and realize that he is just as much a kid as they are, and deserves a bit more empathy because of the difficulties of ADD or ADHD.

ETC: What are your thoughts on ADD and ADHD kids who are taking some kind of daily medication? Are we "dumbing and numbing" these kids?

JACK GANTOS: It is impossible to speak of "taking medication" without first examining how each kid is evaluated by medical professionals. In general, I can say that many children have excelled because the medication allows them to calm down and make decisions that represent the best of themselves. However, it appears that some children are given medication because of other behavior issues that may be based on personal emotional and family problems. Again, I stress that every child should be given a medical exam by a professional who fully understands the nature of ADD or ADHD, before any medication is prescribed.

ETC: Do you think that once a child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD they are forever labeled a "problem child" and are often times denied the attention and patience they so badly deserve and desire?

JACK GANTOS: Not at all. Because I am now so closely linked to ADHD because of the "Joey Pigza" books, kids come up to me at school and tell me about their diagnosis and if they hadn't told me there would be no way under the sun I would ever know, since they are so in control of themselves. And I get many letters from kids who do not have ADHD, but have read a "Joey" book and tell me that they will be more understanding and helpful toward kids who do. Children have big hearts and are very generous with each other. And teachers too, have a child's best interest at heart, and as a child grows and improves they embrace the positive changes rather than cling to the old problems.

ETC: With What Would Joey Do? being the third title in this series, will the Joey Pigza books end here or can we look forward to more?

JACK GANTOS: This will be the final volume. I've enjoyed writing about him and his family, and now with WHAT WOULD JOEY DO? I think I have fully revealed him to readers. I think the stories of all the characters in the books are now understood. And with Joey, I think he is left in a good place. He is the one who got better. He is the one who wants to move on with his life and be a success. I believe he will.

Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He remembers playing a lot of "pass the chalk" in Mrs. Neiderheizer's class in first grade. He was in the Bluebird reading group, which he later found out was for the slow readers. To this day he'd rather be called a Bluebird than a slow reader. His favorite game at that time was playing his clothes were on fire and rolling down a hill to save himself.

When he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing. Students were friendly but fiercely competitive, and the teachers made learning a lot of fun. By fifth grade he had managed to learn 90 percent of what he knows to this very day.

When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. His greatest wish in life is to replace trailer parks with bookmobile parks, which he thinks will eliminate most of the targets for tornadoes and educate an entire generation of great kids who now go to schools that are underfunded and substandard.

The seeds for Jack's writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister's diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers' lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories.

In junior high he went to a school that had been converted from a former state prison. He thinks the inmates probably fled for their lives once the students showed up. Again, he spent most of his time reading on his own.

In high school he decided to become a writer. But he would have to wait another three years, until he went to college, before he could actually meet other writers and study with teachers who thought writing amounted to more than just cribbing book reports and composing sympathy notes.

While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack's career as a professional writer. This surprised a great many people who thought he was going to specialize in rehabilitating old bookmobiles into housing for retired librarians.

Jack continued to write children's books and began to teach courses in children's book writing and children's literature. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.

His publications can take a reader from "cradle to grave" -- from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults.

Mr. Gantos is known nationally for his educational creative writing and literature presentations to students and teachers. He is a frequent conference speaker, university lecturer, and in-service provider.

Hole in My Life

Young Adult

by Jack Gantos

Becoming a writer the hard way

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.

In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos - once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell - moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.
--Farrar Straus & Giroux 2002 READ MORE

Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (1998)
A National Book Award Finalist
An ALA Notable Children's Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
Ages 11 up
Joey Pigza Loses Control
Joey Pigza Loses Control (2000)
A Newbery Honor Book
AN ALA Notable Children's Book
Ages 11 up
What Would Joey Do

What Would Joey Do? (2002)
Ages 11 up
I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos The Pigza Sage continues....
Just when Joey Pigza’s wired world finally seems to be under control, his good-for-nothing dad pops back into his life. This time, though, Carter Pigza is a new man – literally. After a lucky lotto win, Carter Pigza has a crazy new outlook on life, and he’s even changed his name to Charles Heinz. He thinks Joey and his mom should become new people, too. Soon Joey finds himself bombarded with changes: a new name, a new home, and a new family business – running the beat-up Beehive Diner. He knows he should forgive his dad as his mom wants him to, and get with the new family program. But Joey is afraid that in changing names and going with the flow he will lose sight of who he really is. In this rocket-paced new chapter in Joey Pigza’s life, a favorite hero discovers what identity and forgiveness really mean, and how to cook a delicious turkey burger.
Ages 11 up
More books by Jack Gantos:


Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade (1994)
One of Book Links' "Few Good Books of 1994"

Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year (1995)
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book

Desire Lines (1997) Ages 12 Up

Jack's Black Book (1998) Ages 11-13

Jack on the Tracks (1999) Ages 10 Up