Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

BIBLIO: 1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux., ages 10 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-374-33664-6

Joey Pigza is a little boy that any kid can relate to. He is hyper and jittery and plays the class clown. But unlike most kids, he has ADHD. Joey tries really hard to act like the good kid he is but… he has to “get back to you on that”. With an illness controlled by poorly administered meds, Joey frequently gets caught up in wild antics like shouting out, sticking Band-Aids everywhere, swallowing a key, eating a whole shoofly pie, and cutting off Maria’s nose!
Unable to handle Joey’s wild behavior the school sends him to the Lancaster County Special Education Center. There he meets Special Ed (Mr. Ed Vanness) to get reevaluated for meds and change his outlook on life. After six weeks at the center he returns to school well –adjusted and with a renewed hope for his academic success, and with a new puppy, Pablo, who was an incentive to get better.
He realizes that everyone had been rooting for him all along and that he actually made a difference in people’s lives. Among them Mrs. Maxy, Mrs.Jarzab, Mrs.Howard, and Nurse Holyfield from public school who worry about his safety and only want to see him learn; not forgetting Charlie and Howard, the special needs students he befriended, showing that he, Joey Pigza, really could make a positive change in the world.
Jack Gantos uses this book as a way to describe to the reader how it feels to be hyperactive and attention deficit. Using descriptive language such as “wired” and “spring” and describing the blurring of the surrounding world bouncing everywhere except into Joey’s brain. Subtly the author also brings in themes of a troubled home-life. Starting with the abusive grandmother and nonexistent dad, and moves along to the devoted previously absentee mother who has a messy past with alcohol. This very real book brings some perspective to how a mentally challenged student might feel about themselves and how they understand what society thinks about them.

More titles in the Series:
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War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert

book cover war dogs

BIBLIO: 2013,Watertown: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc.
Ages 5 to 9, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book; History
ISBN: 978-1-58089-415-9

Taking the main perspective of Rufus, Churchill’s dog, the Second World War is looked at through an innocent’s eyes. Selbert expresses Rufus observations about his important owner working hard to keep his country together. Repeatedly, Rufus is being shown as a comfort and constant companion to the prime minister. The war is described in vague terms including bombings of London, interactions between the big three ( USA, England, and Russia), D-day, and the announcement of victory. This story expresses the difficulties of war through the quotes taken from the gifted orator Churchill and the descriptive, short paragraphs. The stylistic choices of acrylic and collaging add a charming effect to the rather solemn content. The art adds emotion and warmth to the story making it more child friendly and showing a softer side to the “English Bulldog” Churchill. Included in the back is a war timeline and brief biographical entries. Great way to introduce the serious topic of war and create interest in WWII.