All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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A video interview with

Jack Gantos

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Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. His parents moved so often that he attended 10 different schools between kindergarten and 12th grade. The Gantos family rented a variety of homes in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and the Caribbean. Jack spent his senior year of high school in Florida after his parents had already moved to Puerto Rico. During that year, Gantos worked at a grocery store, bought a car, and lived in an old motel run by Davey Crockett's great-great granddaughter.

After finishing high school, Gantos made a last-minute decision not to attend the University of Florida. Instead, he moved to the Virgin Islands to work on construction projects with his father. While hanging out in a bar one day, Gantos was approached by a man with an offer he couldn't refuse: sail a small boat from the Caribbean Sea to the United States for $10,000. That much money would pay for four years of college and more, Gantos reasoned at the time. The only catch was that the boat was filled with 2,000 pounds of hashish.

Little did Gantos know when he ran aground on the New Jersey shore, the FBI and the U.S. military had been tracking his boat. At the age of 20, he was sent to prison. During his18 months behind bars, Jack Gantos read, wrote, and vowed to turn his life around. After getting out of prison, he moved to Boston, enrolled in college, and began writing children's books. Within two years he sold his first children's book manuscript about a rotten red cat named Ralph.

Over time Jack Gantos established himself as an award-winning author of a wide variety of books. He wrote picture books for young children. He wrote chapter books for middle-grade readers. In 2001 Joey Pigza Loses Control, a book about a boy with ADHD, received a prestigious Newbery Honor. By 2002 Jack Gantos finally felt comfortable publishing a book about the time he went to prison. This nonfiction book for teens, Hole in My Life, has won numerous awards and reached many troubled teenage boys. In addition to writing, Jack Gantos speaks to young people in classrooms, libraries, and prisons.

Today he lives with his wife and daughter in Boston, Massachusetts.

Selected Books

from Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Age Level: 9-12

Joey is out of control. He knows it, his mom knows it, and the school knows it. Nothing seems to remedy his behavior until Joey runs away from a class field trip, hurts a classmate, and is sent to a special education program. There, his medications are regulated and Joey achieves a level of control.

Buy Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Age Level: 9-12

Joey Pigza really wants his six-week visit with his dad to count, to show him he's not as wired as he used to be, to show his dad how much he loves him. But Carter Pigza's not an easy guy to love. He's eager to make it up to Joey for past wrongs and to show him how to be a winner, to take control of his life. With his coaching, Joey's even learned how to pitch a baseball, and he's good at it. The trouble is, Joey's dad thinks taking control means giving up the things that "keep Joey safe". And if he wants to please his dad, he's going to have to play by his rules, even when the rules don't make sense.

Buy Joey Pigza Loses Control

What Would Joey Do?

Age Level: 9-12

Life is especially tough for Joey. Not only does he struggle with ADHD, his family is truly dysfunctional. Readers will sense that Joey is a good kid who's trying to do the right things, but often without much support. Readers will likely laugh and weep for Joey.

Buy What Would Joey Do?

I Am Not Joey Pigza

Age Level: 9-12

Joey's dad is back in the picture after winning the lottery. He's a man with a mission—to remake himself and his family. But, Joey wonders as his mother takes his father back into their life, is it really possible? Readers will cheer Joey on as his journey ranges from the heartbreaking to the comical.

Buy I Am Not Joey Pigza

Hole in My Life

Age Level: 14-16

The emotional honesty of Gantos' fiction for tweens and teens is evident in this nonfiction memoir for older, more sophisticated readers. Here, he shares his low self-esteem as a young person who gets caught up in dealing drugs. This book makes for tough but powerful reading — especially since Gantos is now on the other side of those early, difficult years.

Buy Hole in My Life

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

Age Level: 12-14

The discovery of a chilling secret reveals a disturbing side to the eccentric lives of family friends Abner and Adolph Rumbaugh, known throughout their small western Pennsylvania town simply as the Twins. Immediately, Ivy's discovery provokes the revelation of a Rumbaugh family curse, a curse that, as Ivy will learn over the coming years, holds a strange power over herself and her own mother.

Buy The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue

Age Level: 9-12

Jack and his family are moving to North Carolina now that his father has joined the navy. In school there, nine-year-old Jack falls hopelessly in love with his new teacher. Told through Jack's crisp, often funny, sometimes poignant narration in a format that emulates a journal, this is the prequel for the Jack series.

Buy Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue

Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade

Age Level: 9-12

Jack's life is a crazy roller-coaster ride. At his fifth school in six years, he has a crackpot teacher who wont give him a break about his lousy handwriting and a secret crush who wants to be a policewoman. At home, he has a pesky little brother with a knack for breaking an arm whenever Jack's supposed to be looking after him, a terror for an older sister, all sorts of weird neighbors, and, last but not least, ferocious alligators in the canal behind his house.

Buy Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade

Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade

Age Level: 9-12

Inspired by the author's childhood diaries, this collection of Jack Henry stories depicts a fifth-grade year to end all fifth-grade years. Living in a Miami rental home with a busy railroad track running a stone's throw from the backyard, Jack is plagued by a know-it-all older sister, a bizarre Francophile teacher, a series of crazed cats, a slightly off-kilter father, a tapeworm, and a pair of escaped convicts — to name just a few of his antagonists.

Buy Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade

Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year

Age Level: 9-12

It is the summer after sixth grade and Jack and his offbeat family have relocated to Barbados. But even in a tropical paradise, Jack is plagued by misadventure.

Buy Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year

Jack's Black Book

Age Level: 9-12

According to his new motto, "A Writer's Job Is to Turn His Worst Experiences Into Money," Jack Henry is going to be filthy rich even before he gets out of junior high, for his life is filled with the worst experiences imaginable. In the course of the few months Jack is humiliated by a gorgeous synchronized swimmer, gets a tattoo the size of an ant on his big toe, flubs an IQ test and nearly fails wood shop, and has to dig up his dead dog not once but twice. And that's not the half of it.

Buy Jack's Black Book

Dead End in Norvelt

Age Level: 9-12

This humorous and heartwarming novel takes place during the summer of 1962, when narrator Jack Gantos turns 12 and has been "grounded for life" by his parents. He takes on a summer job writing obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his Utopian town, Norvelt. Gantos expertly mixes truth and fiction in this book, which won the Newbery award in 2012. For mature readers 9-12 and teens.

Buy Dead End in Norvelt

From Norvelt to Nowhere

Age Level: 9-12

This rocket-paced follow-up to the Newbery Medal–winning novel Dead End in Norvelt opens deep in the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis. But instead of Russian warheads, other kinds of trouble are raining down on young Jack Gantos and his utopian town of Norvelt in western Pennsylvania. After an explosion, a new crime by an old murderer, and the sad passing of the town's founder, twelve-year-old Jack will soon find himself launched on a mission that takes him hundreds of miles away to places including Hyde Park, NY, escorting his slightly mental elderly mentor, Miss Volker, on her relentless pursuit of the oddest of outlaws and her determination to pay her respects to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Buy From Norvelt to Nowhere