Questions about Jack Gantos’ books about a boy with ADHD

Joey-Do-book-by-GantosAfter my children’s book about Seeing Eye dogs, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, was published, I was asked to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Membership has its privileges.

Tonight SCBWI members are invited to attend the Zena Sutherland lecture at Harold Washington Library Center here in Chicago. Tonight’s lecture, the 33rd annual, will be given by Jack Gantos.

Mr. Gantos has written books for all ages, from small children through adults. His novel Dead End in Norvelt, featuring a fictional character named Jack Gantos, won the Newbery Medal in 2012, but he’s best known for his Rotten Ralph series of picture books for beginning readers and his Joey Pigza series for older children.

The two Joey Pigza books I know about are Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and What Would Joey Do? The books are written from the perspective of an elementary age boy, Joey Pigza, who has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and while they might be good for adults trying to get into the head of someone with ADHD, I’m not so sure kids with ADHD — especially those who are having difficulty at school or with peers – should be encouraged to read them.

In What Would Joey Do?, Joey’s grandmother tells him she won’t die until he has a real friend. This friendship-thing is so important to Joey’s grandmother that he pretends to have a friend, and his grandmother dies the next day. Through all this, Joey’s parents aren’t really much help to him.

In Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Joey doesn’t seem to be able to manage his own behavior, the school and his mom seem unable to meet his needs, and “special education” takes place down in the boiler room away from the rest of the kids.

If I get a chance during the Q&A tonight, I’m going to ask Mr. Gantos why he decided to portray Joey Pigza as such a brave boy without giving him any support from his family, and no hope for any on the horizon. Stay tuned for his answer in a future post!


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