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Jack Gantos (1951–) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights

(John Bryan Gantos, Jr.)


Born 1951, in Mount Pleasant, PA; Education: Emerson College, B.F.A., 1976, M.A., 1984. Politics: "Liberal Democrat." Religion: Roman Catholic.

Jack Gantos


Author and educator. Emerson College, Boston, MA, professor of creative writing and literature, 1978–95. Visiting professor at Brown University, 1986, University of New Mexico, 1993, and Vermont College, 1996. Frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and educational conferences; facilitator of writing workshops.


Pen International, American Association of University Professors, National Council of Teachers of English, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writer's Guild, Amnesty International.

Honors Awards

Best Books for Young Readers citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1976–93, for "Rotten Ralph Readers" series; Children's Book Showcase Award, 1977, for Rotten Ralph; Emerson College Alumni Award, 1979, for outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing; Massachusetts Council for the Arts Awards finalist, 1983, 1988; Gold Key Honor Society Award for Creative Excellence, 1985; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1987, and fellowship; Quarterly West Novella Award, 1989, for X-Rays; Children's Choice cita-tion, International Reading Association (IRA), 1990, for Rotten Ralph's Show and Tell; Batavia Educational Foundation grant, 1991; West Springfield Arts Council grant, 1991; Parents' Choice citation, 1994, for Not So Rotten Ralph; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, 1997, for Jack's Black Book, and 2002, for Hole in My Life; Silver Award, 1999, for Jack on the Tracks; Great Stone Face Award, Children's Librarians of New Hampshire, National Book Award finalist for Young People's Literature, ALA Notable Children's Book, National Council of the Social Studies/Children's Book Council Notable Children's Trade Book designation in the field of social studies, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year designation, named Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction, and New York Public Library One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing listee; all 1999, Iowa Teen Award, Iowa Educational Media Association, Flicker Tale Children's Book Award nomination, North Dakota Library Association, and Sasquatch Award nomination, all 2000, all for Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key; Newbery Honor, ALA, 2001, for Joey Pigza Loses Control; Michael L. Printz Honor, ALA Best Book for Young Adults designation, Massachusetts Children's Book Award, Parents' Choice Award, and Robert F. Sibert honor, all c. 2002, all for Hole in My Life; other regional and child-selected awards.



Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.

Worse than Rotten, Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984.

Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat!, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986, reprinted, 2004.

Rotten Ralph's Show and Tell, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.

Happy Birthday Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1990.

Not So Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.

Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

The Christmas Spirit Attacks Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Rotten Ralph's Halloween Howl, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Back to School for Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Rotten Ralph's Thanksgiving Wish, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1999.

Rotten Ralph Helps Out, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2001.

Rotten Ralph Plays Fair, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2002.

Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2002.

Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2004.

Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2005.

The "Rotten Ralph" books have been translated into other languages, including Hebrew and Japanese.


Sleepy Ronald, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.

Fair-Weather Friends, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1977.

Aunt Bernice, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

The Perfect Pal, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1979.

(With Nicole Rubel) Greedy Greeny, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Doubleday (New York), 1979.

Swampy Alligator, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Simon &Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.

The Werewolf Family, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1980.

Willy's Raiders, illustrated by Nicole Rubel, Parents Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1981.


Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.

Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

Jack's Black Book, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade without a Clue, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.


Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

Joey Pigza Loses Control, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

What Would Joey Do?, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2002.

I Am Not Joey Pigza, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2007.


Zip Six (adult novel), Bridge Works (Bridgehampton, NY), 1996.

Desire Lines (young-adult novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

Hole in My Life (young-adult autobiography), Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2001.

(Author of introduction) Edward Eager, Half Magic (50th anniversary edition), illustrated by N.M. Bodecker, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (young-adult novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of novella X-Rays. Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte, 1997; and On the Fringe, edited by Gallo, 2001. Contributor to magazines, including Storyworks.


Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, read by the author, was released on audio cassette by Listening Library in 1999; Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade was released on audio cassette; What Would Joey Do? was adapted for audiobook by Listening Library, 2002. The "Rotten Ralph" books have been adapted for television. Two Rotten Ralph animated specials were produced and broadcast on the Disney Channel; in addition, the BBC produced individual programs based on the character for broadcast in the English-speaking European and Asian markets.

Work in Progress

A four-book series for upper elementary readers.


A popular and prolific author of books for readers ranging from the early primary grades through adults, Jack Gantos is considered both a gifted humorist and an insightful observer of childhood feelings and behavior. His middle-grade fiction presents bittersweet reflections on the pains and pleasures of growing up, while his novels for young adults deal frankly with serious themes. Gantos is perhaps best known as the creator of Rotten Ralph, a large, red, anthropomorphic cat whose devilish and unrepentant behavior is always forgiven by his patient young owner, Sarah. Gantos has collaborated on a series of picture books featuring the rascally feline with illustrator Nicole Rubel, whose bright colors and bold designs complement the author's brisk, droll prose.

Gantos's "Jack Henry" books describe the experiences of the author's alter ego during his fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade years. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a story about a boy with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), introduces another of Gantos's popular series characters, while in the YA novel Desire Lines a teen outs two lesbian classmates in order to save his own reputation. Other works address issues important to teens, such as the nature of friendship, dealing with jealousy and loneliness, being forgiven and accepted, the importance of playing fair and doing the right thing, and learning how to fit into the often baffling world of adults. Although some of the award-winning author's books have been labeled as exaggerated, irreverent, or unsubtle, and include elements that are considered gross or unsettling, many critics have cited the positive values in Gantos's books, as well as his stories' outrageous humor and underlying poignancy. His memoir Hole in My Life has received many awards.

Born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, Gantos was the first son born to John Gantos, Sr., a construction superintendent and salesman of Lebanese descent, and Elizabeth Weaver Gantos. He began expressing his creativity at an early age, and when he was in the second grade, he received a diary, which he had coveted because his older sister had one. "I wrote the date, the weather, and what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Gantos later recalled of his daily diary entries. "Food was the most important thing in the world to me and so I wrote about it all the time." As a child Gantos also collected what he would later call "a lot of junk": shells, rocks, stamps, pennies, bottle caps, baseball cards, butterflies, and "lots more good stuff."

In second grade Gantos moved with his family from Pennsylvania to Barbados, where his father hoped to find work. Jack moved his collections by incorporating them into his diaries, gluing, pasting, and even drilling holes in the books. The move to Barbados prompted a change in Jack's journal entries. "I began to write about all the stuff that was in my diary. I wrote about where I caught my bugs. I wrote about the stamps I collected. I wrote stories about the photographs I had saved. And I became a lot more excited about keeping a diary because so much of what I wrote about had personal meaning to me. To this day I still put lots of junk in my notebooks and write about it. The junk and stuff has become the details in much of my writing."

While in Barbados, Gantos attended British schools that emphasized the importance of reading and writing; he later claimed that by fifth grade he had managed to learn ninety percent of what he knows as an adult. When the family relocated to south Florida, Gantos's new classmates were disinterested in their studies, and teachers generally acted more like disciplinarians than instructors. In addition to spending more of his time reading, in the sixth grade he began collecting anecdotes and writing down his own thoughts and feelings. "Most of the stories were from real life," he recalled. "I saw a plane crash and wrote about it. My father rescued a drowning husband and wife in the ocean. He was heroic, and I wrote about it. Once my sister accidentally started a grease fire in the kitchen. The whole house almost burned down but my mom was only thankful that we were safe. She wasn't even angry, and I wrote about how she loved us. I wrote many more stories from my life." Many of these stories would provide the inspiration for the author's "Jack Henry" series.

In junior high, Gantos attended a school that had once been a state prison. In this inspiring setting, he once again spent most of his time reading outside of the classroom. By high school, writing professionally was his career goal; as he told an interviewer for Amazon.com, his "diary and journal writing background gave me a lot of confidence that writing was something I had loved all my life." After graduating from high school, Gantos attended Boston's Emerson College, where he met art student Nicole Rubel; the pair became friends and decided to work together on picture books for children. "I made a lot of mistakes," he recalled of his early efforts. "I thought children's books had to be sweet, warm, and gentle." After the rejection letters began to arrive, he grew frustrated. "Then," he recalled, "I remembered what one of my teachers had told me. She said, 'Write about what you know.' I was sitting at my desk and I looked down at the floor and saw my lousy, grumpy, hissing creep of a cat that loved to scratch my ankles, throw fur around the house, and shred the clothes in my closet." This cat became Rotten Ralph, and a new antihero was born. Gantos's first book, Rotten Ralph, was published in 1976, the year he earned his B.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. He went on to earn his M.F.A. and established a career as an educator in addition to developing his work in children's literature. He married art dealer Anne A. Lower in 1989; the couple have a daughter, Mabel Grace.

In Rotten Ralph the title character indulges in bad behavior at home, such as crashing his bike into the dining room table; sawing the tree limb that supports the swing of his owner, Sarah; and wearing Father's slippers. Sarah's family takes Ralph to the circus, but he misbehaves so badly that he is left there as punishment. Unhappy as a circus performer, Ralph runs away and is found, ill and underfed, by Sarah, who welcomes him back home. While it first appears that Ralph has learned his lesson and will become less rotten, the cat ultimately reverts to his impish self. Writing in Language Arts, Ruth M. Stein called Rotten Ralph a "successful first book by both author and illustrator." Although Zena Sutherland noted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Gantos's humor "seems overworked," Washington Post Book World critic Brigitte Weeks called Rotten Ralph "a moral tale" that children will "highly appreciate."

In subsequent volumes of the series, Ralph continues to get away with his naughty behavior, ruining holidays and spoiling Sarah's Show and Tell and birthday parties, and even a wedding. In each installment, the books engage even reluctant readers, adding unusual word combinations and quirky images to budding bookworms' expanding vocabularies. In addition, the cat engages in such activities as tormenting his sweet, well-mannered cousin Percy; leading a gang of neighborhood alley cats on a day-long trouble-making spree; clawing his way into Santa's toy sack on Christmas Eve; attempting to get in top shape to beat Percy at a cat show; and stealing Aunt Martha's wedding bouquet. In Not So Rotten, Ralph mild-mannered Sarah takes her unruly pet to Mr. Fred's Feline Finishing School, where Ralph is hypnotized into good behavior; however, Sarah soon misses his mischievous spirit and lures him back into his natural state. Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten finds the feline flat on his back with a tummy ache after a night of foraging in neighborhood garbage cans.

In each of the "Rotten Ralph" books the cat behaves very much like a child, and young readers have been attracted to his gleeful overindulgence and the fact that he ultimately gets away with his crimes and is still accepted by the patient and non-confrontational Sarah. In their review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard stated, "Rotten Ralph may be satirizing the arrested development of the spoiled child, but the character of Sarah serves as a wry comment upon overindulgent parents." Writing in Horn Book about Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, Elizabeth S. Watson noted: "It's no wonder kids love Ralph—what a perfect vicarious way to get back at all those well-meaning adults who make you go to parties where everyone else seems to be having a great time." Assessing the same title in Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin commented that this work, like all of the books in the series, "allows children the vicarious thrill of being unabashedly naughty. But at the same time it provides assurance that even in the face of bad behavior they'll still be loved—something worth talking about." In his review of Back to School for Rotten Ralph in Booklist, Michael Cart called Ralph "a cat so rambunctiously rotten that you've just gotta love him," while a reviewer for Horn Book added that "Gantos's skillful examination of the child's world is once again evident as the author probes a common negative emotion and suggests, but never preaches, a positive outcome."

In addition to their works about Rotten Ralph, Gantos and Rubel have collaborated on several other picture books. Sleepy Ronald focuses on a little rabbit whose constant sleepiness—on roller skates, on the diving board, in the bathroom, and in rehearsals for a Wagnerian opera—brings him trouble until his friend Priscilla realizes that Ronald's ears droop over his eyes and fool him into thinking that it is nighttime. In Aunt Bernice, young Ida's parents are going away for the summer, so her Aunt Bernice and her dog, Rex, come to babysit. Aunt Bernice's behavior—such as laughing at a mushy movie, which gets her and Ida kicked out of the theater, and dressing up as a gorilla to scare Ida's friends at a slumber party—embarrasses her niece, and Rex drools and gets his fleas all over everything. Finally, Ida realizes that she is growing fond of Bernice and Rex despite their shortcomings. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "the spiffy nonsense of Gantos is perfectly complemented … by Rubel's nutty, brashly colored cartoons," creating "a comic masterpiece." A critic in Kirkus Reviews similarly stated that "Gantos's story provides a suitable outlet for Rubel's manic energy."

With illustrations by frequent collaborator Nicole Rubel, Gantos's Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance finds a crafty cat forced to suffer some misplaced affection on Valentine's Day.

In 1994 he produced the first of his "Jack Henry" books, Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade. In this collection of autobiographical and semi-autobiographical vignettes, Jack, who has lived in nine houses and has gone to five schools because of his dad's desire to find a better job by moving from place to place, is living in southern Florida. The text, written in diary form, is accompanied by samples of Jack's handwriting and photocopied items such as a mouse skin and a squashed bug. Jack gets into situations with family, friends, and neighbors and at school. He fights with his know-it-all sister, attends the funeral of his maternal grandfather, sees his dog eaten by an alligator, and generally tries to do the right thing but lands in trouble. Calling Jack "a survivor, an 'everyboy' whose world may be wacko but whose heart and spirit are eminently sane and generous," School Library Journal's Cart called Heads or Tails a "memorable book" and Gantos a "terrific writer with a wonderfully wry sensibility, a real talent for turning artful phrases, and a gift for creating memorable characters." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that a "bittersweet resonance filters the humor in these stories and lingers most welcomely."

In Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year Jack and his family move to Barbados, where Jack makes new friends, thinks his parents are lost at sea, gets his heart broken, sees his dad rescue a drowning couple who turn out to be English royalty, loses his birthday money to a shady friend of his father's, and searches for a lost boy who turns up dead. He also thinks that he has gained the power to make things happen and, in the process of trying to be a man, conquers his fear of horses. As in the first volume, Gantos presents readers with both laughable moments and serious thoughts. Writing in Booklist, Susan Dove Lempke wrote that "the eight stories here convey with sharp humor Jack's uncomfortable yet exhilarating early adolescence" and concluded that readers will "anxiously await the next installment of Jack's life." Elizabeth S. Watson added in Horn Book that, as in the first book in the collection, "the first-person narrative authentically reproduces the language and observations of twelve year olds. Quirky and funny with some good advice subtly inserted."

In Jack's Black Book Jack is back in Florida after the end of his seventh-grade year. Deciding that he wants to be a serious writer, he buys a black book in which to write a novel. His junior high, a former detention center, is a magnet school for students training in shop; consequently, the pressure is on him to do well in this subject. Jack makes a dog coffin for his class project, and then has to dig out his dead dog in order to pass the seventh grade. When he tries to make a summer business by writing postcards for hire, Jack loses out when a client, a prisoner out on furlough, does not like his work and tosses the boy's typewriter into the ocean. Hanging out with his next-door neighbor, juvenile delinquent Gary Pagoda, Jack gets a tattoo of his dead dog on his big toe, and ultimately decides to give up his schemes to concentrate on just being himself. While a critic for Kirkus Reviews noted that Gantos "trots out one disgusting and dangerous event after another to give his morose protagonist material for jokes," a Horn Book reviewer wrote: "There's enough descriptive disaster, some good solid writing, and a bizarre plot that even reluctant adults can't help but appreciate."

Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade without a Clue and Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade serve as prequels to the first volume in the "Jack Henry" series. Jack Adrift finds the preteen moving with his family to the coast of North Carolina, where teachers and fellow students present unusual challenges. In Jack on the Tracks Jack bonds with his father when the man eats a fifty-pound steak, accidentally kills his cat, writes a gross story that appalls his teacher, is punished by being locked out of the house naked after putting a live roach in his sister's mouth, and hides from what he thinks are two escaped convicts (actually two of his friends) by lying in a shallow hole along the railroad tracks as a train passes overhead. Jack also wonders why he cries all the time, tries to exercise more self-control, and resolves to do the adult thing rather than the childish one. Writing in Booklist, Susan Dove Lempke stated that Gantos's "books about Jack Henry … succeed precisely because they present a hilarious, exquisitely painful, and utterly on-target depiction of the life of an adolescent and preadolescent boy." "Jack's realistic struggle with the pull between childhood and the world of adults will resonate with the book's audience."

While Gantos draws on the ups and downs of his own childhood in his "Jack" novels, in Hole in My Life he moves to out-and-out autobiography, describing his senior year in high school and recounting the juvenile criminal activity that landed him in jail. More serious in tone than the author's fiction, Hole in My Life finds Gantos leaving his family, which is now living in Puerto Rico, and returning to Florida to complete high school. Living in a run-down motel, he begins dealing drugs, and soon goes through his savings. Offered thousands of dollars to sail a load of hashish into the United States, Gantos is arrested, and readers follow him into the federal prison where he spent the early 1970s. Noting that parts of the novel are "quite raw and harsh," School Library Journal contributor Barbara Scotto called Hole in My Life "compelling," while in Horn Book Christine M. Heppermann described Gantos's tale as "laced with edgy anecdotes, some comic and some not." Noting the author's focus on his growing self-awareness and desire to communicate, Cart wrote in Booklist that the author's "spare narrative" is "more than a harrowing, scared-straight confession: it is a beautifully realized story about the making of a writer."

Taking a break from children's books, in 1996 Gantos produced the adult novel Zip Six. In this novel a drug dealer meets an Elvis impersonator in prison, becomes his manager on the prison circuit, and is betrayed by him on the outside. Desire Lines, published the following year, is a young-adult novel about sixteen-year-old Walker, a loner who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and spends much of his time alone on a golf course. Walker has been spying on two classmates, Karen and Jennifer, who have been making love at a duck pond on the course. When an anonymous teenage preacher comes to the school to enlist students for the hate group headed by his minister father, Walker refuses to participate. The teen preacher then tries to blackmail Walker, accusing the teen of being gay, and in order to prove his masculinity Walker forms an alliance with three tough classmates in a gang they call the Box. When the Box members desecrate the preacher's family church and Walker is caught, the boys in the Box turn on him. Pressured to identify gays at school, Walker outs Karen and Jennifer to save himself, thus propelling the novel's tragic end. A critic noted in Publishers Weekly that "Gantos projects an unsettling image of cowardice and survival of the toughest," and "transmits a one-sided (and pessimistic) view of humanity." A critic in Kirkus Reviews called the author's approach "explicit when demonstrating how a climate of fear and suspicion can be concocted in a community, and how insecure young people—gay, straight—can be tormented by it."

In 1998 Gantos introduced another popular character in the middle-grade novel Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. In this book readers meet elementary schooler Joey, a boy who has ADHD. Joey inadvertently does things like swallowing his house key, cutting off his fingernail in a pencil sharpener, and slicing off the tip of his classmate's nose while running with a pair of scissors. Sent to a special education center for six weeks, he is given regulated medication and learns how to manage his behavior. Joey feels strong and hopeful when his treatment is completed. At the end of the story, he returns to his old school, where he is allowed to sit and read in the Big Quiet Chair. Throughout the book, which is narrated by Joey with flashes of humor, readers learn that the boy has been emotionally abused by his grandmother, who, like Joey, is hyperactive. Horn Book critic Jennifer M. Brabander noted that Joey's "own brand of goodness has an unaffected charm and an uncloying sweetness," while Susan Dove Lempke added in Booklist that "most teachers and students know at least one child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and this book will surely help them become more understanding, even as they enjoy Gantos's fresh writing style and tart sense of humor." Writing in School Library Journal, Shawn Brommer commented that, "from the powerful opening lines and fast-moving plot to the thoughtful inner dialogue and satisfying conclusions, readers will cheer for Joey, and for the champion in each of us."

Joey returns for a third go-round in What Would Joey Do? Bolstered by medication to control his ADHD, Joey now takes an altruistic tact in an effort to stabilize his off-kilter world, but his helpfulness soon makes the preteen exhausted and overwhelmed. His parents' relationship continues to erupt in yelling matches, fights, and legal action, while on the education front his home-schooling is taken over by a religious fundamentalist whose daughter Olivia is the study partner from Hell. Meanwhile, Joey's beloved Grandma had emphysema and is entering the last days of life. Noting that Joey "turns out to be terrifically perceptive" in his helper role, Steven Engelfried wrote in School Library Journal that the boy's "ability to connect with several diversely troubled personalities sets up many humorous scenes." Noting the humor in Gantos's book, a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed What Would Joey Do? "a poignant story of family, loss, [and] lessons learned," and in Horn Book Jennifer M. Brabander called the young protagonist "a distinctive antihero who makes an … entertaining, remarkably lucid narrator." Crafting tidy resolutions "isn't Gantos' style," concluded Susan Dove Lempke in Booklist, noting that Joey is given "the perseverance to keep aiming in the right direction—no matter what."

A frequent speaker at schools and other groups, Gantos has facilitated writing workshops on children's literature for both students and teachers. Regarding his literary career, he once noted: "I write for children because they are sincere and authentic in their reactions. I write for adults because I am an adult and I need to write about subjects, dreams, and characters outside the lim-As everything spirals out of control around him, Joey Pigza is determined to try to make things better in Gantos's award-winning novel for middle-graders. (Cover illustration by Brian Selznick.)ited scope of the children's genre. I enjoy my work as much as possible. I read good books and I want to write good books."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Literature Review, Volume 18, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 140-143.


Booklist, October 1, 1976, Betsy Hearne, review of Sleepy Ronald, p. 251; October 15, 1979, Denise M. Wilms, review of Greedy Greeny, p. 351; December 1, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Jack's New Power, p. 616; November 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, p. 593; August, 1998, Michael Cart, review of Back to School for Rotten Ralph, p. 201; December 15, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, p. 752; June 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph; September 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade, p. 132; March 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 1136; April 1, 2002, Michael Cart, review of Hole in My Life, p. 1336; October 1, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 323; April 1, 2003, Lolly Gepson, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 1414; August, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade without a Clue, p. 1983; July, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, p. 1850; September 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, p. 72.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1976, Zena Sutherland, review of Rotten Ralph, p. 174.

Children's Book Review Service, November, 1978, review of Worse than Rotten, Ralph, p. 22; December, 1980, review of The Werewolf Family, p. 24.

Emergency Librarian, November 1, 1997.

Horn Book, November-December, 1984, Ann A. Flowers, review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, p. 740; March-April, 1996, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Jack's New Power, p. 231; November-December, 1996, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, p. 723; January, 1998, review of Jack's Black Book, p. 70; September, 1998, review of Back to School for Rotten Ralph, p. 598; November-December, 1998, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, pp. 729-730; May-June, 2002, Betty Carter, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 330, and Christine M. Heppermann, review of Hole in My Life, p. 345; November-December, 2002, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 757; November-December, 2003, Kitty Flynn, review of Jack Adrift, p. 745; September-October, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, p. 583; September-October, 2005, Betty Carter, review of Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, p. 576.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, September, 2002, Alleen Pace, review of Hole in My Life, p. 82, and James Blasingame, interview with Gantos, p. 85; February, 2003, Elizabeth Inchbald, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 446.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1976, review of Sleepy Ronald, p. 903; February 15, 1978, review of Aunt Bernice, pp. 173-174; February 1, 1980, review of Greedy Greeny, pp. 120-121; October 1, 1980, review of The Werewolf Family, p. 1293; February 15, 1997, review of Desire Lines; August 1, 1997, review of Jack's Black Book, p. 1221; September 15, 2002, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 1390; July 1, 2003, review of Jack Adrift, p. 910.

Kliatt, July, 2004, Jennifer Baldwin, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 17.

Language Arts, May, 1977, Ruth M. Stein, review of Rotten Ralph, p. 582.

Publishers Weekly, February 6, 1978, review of Aunt Bernice, p. 101; August 22, 1988, review of Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat, p. 95; June 6, 1994, review of Heads or Tails, p. 66; February 24, 1997, review of Desire Lines, p. 92; August 14, 2000, review of Joey Pigza Loses Control, p. 356; March 25, 2002, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 66; January 27, 2003, "News from Philadelphia: Hyperion, Roaring Brook Win Newbery, Caldecott Medals."

School Library Journal, October, 1976, Allene Stuart Phy, review of Sleepy Ronald, p. 97; October, 1978, Mary B. Nickerson, review of Worse than Rotten, Ralph, p. 132; October, 1980, Patricia Homer, review of The Werewolf Family, p. 134; October, 1986, John Peters, review of Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat, p. 160; June, 1994, Michael Cart, review of Heads or Tails, p. 128; November, 1995, p. 119; December, 1998, Shawn Brommer, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, p. 124; February, 2000, Jo-Ann Carhart, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, p. 68; May, 2002, Barbara Scotto, review of Hole in My Life, p. 170; September, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 225; May, 2003, B. Allison Gray, review of What Would Joey Say?, p. 79; September, 2003, Vicki Reutter, review of Jack Adrift, p. 210; September, 2004, Sandra Welzenbach, review of Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, p. 160; November, 2004, Alison Follos, review of Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year, p. 65; June, 2005, Steven Engelfried, review of Jack Adrift, p. 55; August, 2005, Carol L. MacKay, review of Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, p. 94.

Teaching Pre-K-8, March, 1996.

Washington Post Book World, June 13, 1976, Brigitte Weeks, review of Rotten Ralph, p. 112.

Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1985, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, p. 404.


Book Nuts Reading Club, http://www.booknutsreadingclub.com/ (October 1, 2003), "Jack Gantos."

Jack Gantos Home Page, http://www.jackgantos.com (March 28, 2006).

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