Friday, October 31, 2008

Newbery: Joey Pigza

Poor Joey. He doesn’t mean to get into so much trouble. He’s just so wired that things…happen. Sometimes his medication works, and he has a good day. Other days, his medication is a “dud,” and things get out of control. When he gets so out of control that he injures another student with scissors, he is temporarily transferred to the downtown special education school.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is a fascinating, funny, and stark look at a boy with severe ADD/ADHD. Although there is humor, situations involving his mean grandmother and his recently returned mother make it a very sobering and realistic look at the effects of an unstable family life on a child. Jack Gantos’s sympathetic, but not apologetic, portrayal of Joey makes this an addicting and enlightening read. Gantos’s superb writing make this a cut above ordinary “problem novels” in which the condition or tragedy, or a combination of conditions and tragedies, overwhelm the story.

In the Newbery Honor book (2001), Joey Pigza Loses Control, Joey finally meets his dad. His dad, a recovering alcoholic and amateur baseball coach, is eager to set Joey on the straight and narrow path. His father, who rids himself of nicotine patches, flushes Joey’s medical patches down the toilet and insists that Joey use positive imaging to help him in his crises. Of course, this spells disaster for Joey. This is a darker novel than the first one, with unforgettable scenes and discussion raising issues about attitudes toward ADD/ADHD medication.

My one complaint about the Joey Pigza books is that the cover art makes them look like a breezy and fun read. Although there are fun parts in the books, the series raises serious issues about abandonment and severe ADD/ADHD. It is one of the most remarkable children’s novels published in some time.

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