Thursday, May 20, 2010

Joey Pigza: a lovable character spinning through life (ages 9 - 12)

Do you know someone who can’t sit still? Who is in constant motion? Maybe it’s your own son or daughter, falling off the chair throughout dinner, hopping around while they’re doing their homework. Or maybe it’s someone in your neighborhood. We all know someone who seems like they’re the energizer bunny who keeps going and going. Well, everyone needs to meet Joey Pigza. This is a kid who’s wired, a kid in constant motion, a kid who’s always getting in trouble because he just can’t sit still. Joey Pigza is one of the funniest, grossest and most touching books I’ve ever read. It falls in my category of “every family should read this”. You’ll go from laughing out loud to a lump in your throat in a matter of pages.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
by Jack Gantos
NY: HarperCollins, 2000 (paperback)
audio: Listening Library, 2009
ages 9 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local public library
Joey understands that he’s different – he’s wired, and something in his wiring works differently than in other kids. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t concentrate at school, can’t seem to do the right thing. Joey suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some days it seems like he’s spinning like the Tasmanian Devil.When his teacher asks him to sharpen pencils, he does what she asks him to. But then he starts sharpening chalk, then a Popsicle stick (great fangs!), and then his finger (ouch!). He takes meds every morning when he can remember, but they wear off by lunchtime.

Joey tells his story in an honest, straight-forward manner. Readers quickly see Joey’s good heart and difficult situation. They’ll laugh out loud as Joey literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck) and squirm when he pulls it back up, along with a few pieces of spaghetti from lunch. But readers will also cringe as they learn how his grandmother manipulates and abuses Joey. Author Jack Gantos presents a frank view of what it's like to be Joey - so honest that it hurts.

But Joey is also a warm, loveable and good-hearted character, and Gantos’ story is full of hope and love amidst the pain. Joey accidentally hurts a classmate and is sent to a special education center for six weeks. His mom returns and becomes a strong advocate for Joey. At the special ed. center, Joey gets the attention he needs; his medication is regulated and he learns how to manage his behavior. Joey leaves the center more in control, understanding his condition and knowing how to take better care of himself.

This isn’t an easy story to read, emotionally – Joey’s life is difficult and his situations are harsh. But it is a story that is full of compassion, that will lead to meaningful discussions, and that will mix heart-ache with laughter. If you like this story, you’ll want to read more about Joey in the sequels: Joey Pigza Loses Control; What Would Joey Do?; and I Am Not Joey Pigza.

Take a look inside at the HarperCollins site. You can read the first four chapters and see if you like it:

It's also available as an audiobook. I haven't had a chance to listen to it, but I have read it aloud to a 4th grade class. I think this would make a great audiobook for a family trip this summer.

The review copy came from our school library. If you purchase a book using the Amazon links here, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books - thank you for your support.

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