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Jack Gantos

Genres: Memoirs, Fiction

Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He remembers a lot of "pass the chalk" in Mrs. Neiderheizer's 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 pretending that 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 school, 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, 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 that 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 that 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 composing diary entries and good birthday cards.

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 marked the beginning of Jack's career as a professional writer. This surprised a great many people who thought he was going to be a mechanic specializing in rehabilitating old bookmobiles.

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 is now teaching in the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers.

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


Selection of Awards and Honors

  • Booklinks' "Few Good Books of 1994" for Heads or Tails: Stories from Sixth Grade
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book for Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year
  • A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age for Jack's Black Book
  • A National Book Award Finalist, an ALA Notable Children's Book for Young Adults and an NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
  • A Newbery Honor Book for Joey Pigza Loses Control


In the Classroom

Jack Gantos' honest, humorous and often touching memoirs provide an excellent entry for students (grades 4, 5, 6 and 7) into the genre of journal writing. Gantos kept a journal throughout his life and his stories grew out of actual events. Have students keep a daily or weekly journal of their experiences with family, in the neighborhood and at school. At Gantos' suggestion, have students draw a map of where they live. As they draw the details of the map, these visual cues can serve as story starters for future journal entries. Students can list these ideas and return to them periodically when they are in need of an idea to write about.

Other ideas might include the following:

Just as Jack moves from place to place, have students create postcards of places they have visited or would like to visit. On the back, have them write a brief anecdote about something that happened on their trip.

Discuss with students the reality of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, the subject of Gantos' Joey Pigza novels. Have students explore their reactions to Joey's character and brainstorm ideas of ways to help students with ADHD.



Here is a selected list of the author's published works.

Heads or Tails: Stories from Sixth Grade
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ages 10 and up

From alligators in the canal behind his house to an older sister who doesn't share his belief in UFOs, Jack has plenty to write about! Set in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this collection of stories written as personal journals draws the reader in and "has realistically captured the roller coaster life of a young boy." --Journal of Reading

"Funny moments, with an underlying poignancy." --Kirkus Reviews

Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ages 10 and up

Jack's family has moved once again and this time, Jack hopes for some peace and quiet in their new home- the island of Barbados. Much to our delight, though, his misadventures continue, resulting in a heated pepper-eating contest with his father and a violent case of blood poisoning that leaves him painted purple from head to toe! Readers are lucky that Jack has not abandoned the one stable thing in his life - his journal. And these eight stories are sure to please.

"Quirky and funny with some good advice subtly inserted." --The Horn Book

"By his insistent cheer, Jack conveys the tragic aspect of life much more forcefully than any sentimental treatment could." --Kirkus Reviews

Jack's Black Book
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ages 11 and up

Jack's family has now returned to Florida and, older and presumably wiser, Jack is determined to begin his career as a writer. There are a few setbacks, though, as he fails an IQ test and is sent to a vocational class, his dog dies, and he is chased by an escaped convict!

"There's enough descriptive disaster to satisfy youngsters looking for a gross-out; some solid writing; and a bizarre plot that even reluctant adults can't help but appreciate."
--The Horn Book

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ages 11 and up

"A sad, sweet, hilarious, antic novel about a boy with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Since it is told in a vivid first-person narrative, we come to feel firsthand how it feels to be spinning, bouncing, careening through life, unable to focus or sit still." --The Boston Sunday Globe

Joey Pigza Loses Control
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Ages 11 and up

"Joey feels intense pressure to be the 'winner' his father wants. And when Dad decides that Joey is a 'normal' kid who doesn't need to be on medication, Joey reluctantly agrees to keep the meds-free trial a secret from his mother. But he knows that it's just a matter of time before the old, wired Joey takes over. Readers will be drawn into Joey's drama by his ability to feel compassion as he struggles to maintain balance in an out-of-control world." --The Horn Book

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