Joey Pigza Swallowed the Keyby Jack Gantos
"They say I'm wired bad, or wired sad, but there's no doubt about it -- I'm wired."
Joey Pigza's got heart, he's got a mom who loves him, and he's got "dud meds," which is what he calls the Ritalin pills that are supposed to even out his wild mood swings. Sometimes Joey makes bad choices. He learns the hard way that he shouldn't stick his finger in the/p>/b>… See more details below
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"They say I'm wired bad, or wired sad, but there's no doubt about it -- I'm wired."
Joey Pigza's got heart, he's got a mom who loves him, and he's got "dud meds," which is what he calls the Ritalin pills that are supposed to even out his wild mood swings. Sometimes Joey makes bad choices. He learns the hard way that he shouldn't stick his finger in the pencil sharpener, or swallow his house key, or run with scissors. Joey ends up bouncing around a lot - and eventually he bounces himself all the way downown, into the district special-ed program, which could be the end of the line. As Joey knows, if he keeps making bad choices, he could just fall between the cracks for good. But he is determined not to let that happen.
In this antic yet poignant new novel, Jack Gantos has perfect pitch in capturing the humor, the off-the-wall intensity, and the serious challenges that life presents to a kid dealing with hyper-activity and related disorders.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is a 1998 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.
In this rollercoaster of a ride, ingenuously and breathlessly narrated by Joey himself, readers are treated to an up-close introduction to life with attention deficit disorder-or being wired, as Joey puts it. . . . Readers of this compelling tragicomedy will know almost from the start that Joey's not just a good kid-he's a great kid.
Meet the Author
Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert Honors, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
Jack was raised in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, and when he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing, and teachers made learning a lot of fun. When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. The seeds for Jack's writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister's diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers' lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories.
While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack's career as a professional writer. Jack continued to write children's books and began to teach courses in children's book writing and children's literature. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.
Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert Honors, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, and Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book. Jack was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and when he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing, and teachers made learning a lot of fun. When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. The seeds for Jack's writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister's diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers' lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories. While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack's career as a professional writer. Jack continued to write children's books and began to teach courses in children's book writing and children's literature. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt
Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key
By Jack Gantos
Farrar, Straus, and GirouxCopyright © 1998 Jack Gantos
All rights reserved.
Off the Wall
At school they say I'm wired bad, or wired mad, or wired sad, or wired glad, depending on my mood and what teacher has ended up with me. But there is no doubt about it, I'm wired.
This year was no different. When I started out all the days there looked about the same. In the morning I'd be okay and follow along in class. But after lunch, when my meds had worn down, it was nothing but trouble for me.
One day, we were doing math drills in class and every time Mrs. Maxy asked a question, like "What's nine times nine?" I'd raise my hand because I'm really quick at math. But each time she called on me, even though I knew the answer, I'd just blurt out, "Can I get back to you on that?" Then I'd nearly fall out of my chair from laughing. And she'd give me that white-lipped look which meant, "Settle down." But I didn't and kept raising my hand each time she asked a question until finally no other kid would raise their hand because they knew what was coming between me and Mrs. Maxy.
"Okay, Joey," she'd say, calling on me and staring hard at my face as if her eyes were long fingers that could grip me by the chin. I'd stare right back and hesitate a second as if I was planning to answer the question and then I'd holler out really loud, "Can I get back to you on that?" Finally, after a bunch of times of me doing that in a row, she jerked her thumb toward the door. "Out in the hall," she said. And the class cracked up.
So I went and stood in the hall for about a second until I remembered the mini-Superball in my pocket and started to bounce it off the lockers and ceiling and after Mrs. Deebs in the next class stuck her head out her door and yelled, "Hey, cut the racket," like she was yelling at a stray cat, I remembered something I wanted to try. I had seen the Tasmanian Devil on TV whirling around like a top so I unbuckled my belt and pulled on the end really hard, as if I was trying to start a lawn mower. But that didn't get me spinning very fast. So I took out my high-top shoelaces and tied them together and then to the belt and wrapped it all around my waist. Then I grabbed one end and yanked on it and sort of got myself spinning. I kept doing it until I got better and better and before long I was bouncing off the lockers because I was dizzy too. Then I gave myself one more really good pull on the belt and because I was already dizzy I got going really fast and began to snort and grunt like the Tasmanian Devil until Mrs. Maxy came out and clamped her hands down on my shoulders. She stopped me so fast I spun right out of my shoes and they went shooting up the hall.
"You glue your feet to the floor for five whole minutes or you can just spin yourself down to the principal's office," she said. "Now, what is your choice going to be?"
"Can I get back to you on that?" I asked.
Her face turned all red. "Five minutes," she said. "Settle down for five, and you can rejoin the class."
I nodded, and when she was gone I wrapped the belt and laces around my middle and gave it a good tug and began to spin and spin and slam into the lockers and I got going so good the gum I had under my tongue flew out and my Superball slipped out of my hand and went bouncing down the hall and I kept going and going like when you roll down a steep hill and before long I was bumping on the glass walls around the principal's office like a dizzy fish in a tank. Then the principal came out and pinned me against the wall and we had a little talk about my behavior goals and I spent the rest of the day on her office floor sorting out all the used crayons that the kindergartners kept in big plastic tubs until I had separate piles of blue and green and red and yellow and you know the rest.CHAPTER 2
My dad ran off when I was in kindergarten and my mom went after him. My grandmother raised me until this past summer. That's when my mom finally stopped trying to get my dad turned around and remembered about me. One morning she rang the doorbell.
"Who's there!" I yelled, and when Grandma and I yanked open the door a stranger was standing on the porch mat, like one of those church ladies dressed in shiny shoes and a Sunday hat.
"I'm sorry for being gone so long," she said.
"I'm sorry you're back," Grandma snapped, and shoved me out of the way with her elbow, which nearly jammed my Tootsie Pop down my throat.
"I just want to smooth things out," said the lady who was my mom.
"I've heard this all before," Grandma shouted, and shoved me back again because I kept sticking my head around her hips so I could see what was going on.
I really wasn't sure what either of them was talking about because I didn't recognize the lady. Then she pushed the door open and took one big giant step right into the living room before anyone told her she could. "Hi, Joey," she said. "I'm your mom."
When she reached out and tried to touch my head I ducked away and said I wasn't sure she was my mom because I didn't even remember what she looked like. She got an awful pain across her face and I figured she must be my mom because no stranger would have been so hurt by what I'd said. But she didn't crumble. Instead she started walking all through the rooms, just shaking her head at the way Grandma and I kept things.
"Now that I'm back," she said, "things are going to change around here. No more living in a pigpen." Then right away she started making up new rules and trying to take control of me and Grandma and the house. I didn't like her at all, and during those first weeks she was back we all fought pretty good.
I was a wired-up mess by the time Mom came back to live with me and Grandma. By then everyone thought my grandma was the nutty old lady responsible for my bad behavior. But I am how I am because Grandma was born wired, and my dad, Carter Pigza, was born wired, and I followed right behind them. It's as if our family tree looks like a set of high-voltage wires strung across a field from one steel tower to the next. Grandma all the time said I was just like my dad, "bouncing off the walls twenty-four hours a day." But he hasn't yet bounced in our direction so I guess he is still bouncing around somewhere else. Grandma said he bounced over to Pittsburgh. But someday he might spring back and just bounce right through our front door. I wish he would because I only just hear about him now, and I'd like to see for myself what he is like. I have one of those windup cars with twisty wheels that when it bumps into things can change direction and bump into something else over and over. When I play with it I always think my dad is steering, eyes spinning in his head and his foot all the way down on the gas. My toy car gets drained and stops, but I'm guessing that he never winds down. He just keeps on smashing into buildings and signs and parked cars.
I figure we got a lot in common because once when Grandma was in a sudden good mood she said to me as a helpful warning, "Joey, I want you to pull your act together. You don't want to turn out like your father, do you?"
"Can I get back to you on that?" I yelled as I tried to run off.
"Listen to me," she said, grabbing me as I ran by. "Your dad's such a nervous wreck he couldn't stand still long enough to line up for free medicine down at the clinic."
Then Grandma held me by the ears and I lifted my feet off the floor until I wiggled like a snake and screamed and she let go.
People who blame Grandma for my behavior are unfair to think that she was really the crazy one and I was innocent. It was more that we were whacked-out partners. We zipped around the house and slapped at each other like one of those World Wrestling tag teams. I'd be the Hulk and she'd be Doctor Doom and when the phone rang we'd run at it screaming and yelling and slam into each other, and by the time one of us got the upper hand the person on the other end had freaked out and hung up. And nothing in the house was ever finished or cleaned up right. A jigsaw puzzle of ancient Egypt outlined the dining room table with the extra pieces piled up like pyramids spilling over onto the floor. I had stacks of homework I had forgotten and drawings of my grandmother's face on big locust bug bodies all taped to the floors as if she'd been squashed by a truck. I stuck wet leaves over the Windows, glued my stuffed animals to the chairs, hid all the oven knobs in the dead plant pots, and made huge string spider webs between the door knobs and ceiling lights and floor vents. Every now and again I'd catch Grandma in a web and she'd get tangled up.
"Help meeee. Help meeee," she'd squeak like the fly with the human face in that crazy bug movie. Sometimes she could be funny. But not often.
Most times she'd just get mad and keep after me nonstop and complain about everything I did.
"Don't touch. Don't wiggle. Don't run. Don't yell," she'd bark out.
No matter what I touched or said or did, I felt like I was in cartoon hell standing on hot coals with little red devils poking me in the bottom with pitchforks as I jumped from one fiery place to another. Even the words I spoke scalded my tongue. And if by accident I'd sit still for a minute and just vibrate, she'd complain anyway. She could yell at me and knit at the same time. She'd get those needles going as if she were fighting off the Three Musketeers all at once, and before long she'd have a strip of wool that could reach around our block of row houses and be tied in a bow. But it never amounted to anything. Everything started became nothing finished, and all her projects and my homework and hobbies just ended up in piles collecting dust.
Even now my bedroom still has the walls painted in Placid Pink where she had got going on the bottom but didn't finish at the top. Someone told her the color pink would calm me down. But it didn't work.
Until Mom returned my bed was pushed over in the corner along with the chair and splintered dresser drawers with the peeled-off fake wood grain. Old newspapers were spread over the sheets to keep off paint but I'd been using them as a blanket. Sometimes I think if Grandma had finished painting that pink on everything I might have calmed down. I used to sit in my closet and pry open the paint can and stare into the shiny pink circle and was mesmerized for hours. Or maybe just minutes, I could never tell. But if you believe a color gave off a feeling then I think it is true that pink gives off lots of calm. Maybe that pink just wasn't pink enough because before long I'd turn into my wired self again.
After Mom came back this past summer and started to organize things Grandma got worse. She got meaner and I think it was because she didn't like rules either. I had to stay with her when Mom was at work, and she began to scare me. About a month before school started she was mean all morning as usual and in the afternoon, instead of settling down to knit, she kept getting meaner and meaner. Finally, she got so mad at me for bouncing around she threw everything out of the refrigerator and yanked out the shelves and flung them across the floor.
"Now get inside and stay inside," she said with the ketchup bottle still spinning around her feet like a bowling pin.
That slowed me down. I looked at her, and her dentures were pulled over to one side and snapping like she couldn't control them, like they could climb up the side of her face and bite her own ear off.
"In!" she shouted. "Get in before I blow a fuse." A hot steamy sound came out with each word.
"Don't make me," I said, hopping from foot to foot. "Don't."
"In," she said and her body snapped like a whip. "I said get in or I'll tell your mom you won't listen to my rules."
But I wouldn't get in. I knew there were good rules and bad rules, and having a time-out inside a refrigerator was a bad rule.
"Lousy no good kid," she said, slamming the door. "I need a break." She turned and marched outside to smoke a cigarette while sitting in the porch rocker. In a minute I heard her get after someone about throwing trash in our yard and then she stomped off. When my mom came home that night from work I was alone and scared. She saw the kitchen all a mess and I told her what had happened.
"No wonder you're a nervous wreck," Mom said. And she was angry. We went looking for Grandma and found one scuffed-up shoe down by the corner sewer grate and that was all. After Mom thought about it she said, "Grandma was probably so wired she slipped right down into the sewer and was washed away for good."
We never did call the police, and for a couple of days I kept bending down over the iron grate and cupping my hands and shouting into the dark hole, "Grandma! Grandma! I forgive you! Come back!"
She never answered and I was sorry because I was the same as her at times when I lost it.
"Grandma isn't exactly like you," Mom said to me after I told her I was sad. "The difference is she's more active in the mouth, and you are more active in the feet." Grandma was always saying the wrong hurtful things for half the day, then she spent the other half of the day apologizing. "She has a hyperactive mouth," my mother said. "You know how sometimes you can't stop moving your feet or swinging on the doors or jumping on the bed?"
"Yes," I said, hanging my head and scratching at the dry patch on my scalp that I had already rubbed bald and a little bloody.
Mom pulled my hand away and held it between hers. "Well, your grandmother can't help but say things like, 'You don't know what you're doing. You're ruining everything. You never listen to me. I always said you were as dumb as dirt.'" Mom was right. Grandma would just get so excited about being mean that one thing would lead to another and another, and before long she didn't know what she was saying but her lips were flapping a mile a minute. Then when she finally settled down she would feel bad.
"I'm so sorry," she'd begin. "I never knew anything I said upset anyone. You all shouldn't listen to me. You know I'm just a nasty trash-talking old fool."
She'd say the same thing over and over again. She should have been on meds too. Big-time Grandma-sized meds. But because she was a grandma, people didn't think she was sick. They just called her a batty old bird. But she was sick like me, only old, so her sickness was different.
Now all that's changed since Mom came back, and I couldn't live without her because she's really the one who understands how I am when I get worked up into a wild spell. Like yesterday before school when I was playing Stuntman in the early morning. I was diving from the top of the stepladder Mom had left up to change the burned-out ceiling lights. I belly flopped onto the couch, then bounced onto the floor. She woke up and in seconds pinned me down and pressed her face to mine and said, "So what's up, Doc? You gonna be even or odd today?"
"Can I get back to you on that?" I said, trying to squirm away. Then suddenly she held out both fists in front of me. "Pick one," she said. I did, and my pill was in her hand. It is always in her hand, like she is some kind of magic Pez meds dispenser.
"See," she said calmly, and stroked my head. "You know how to choose what's good for you. So, are you going to put the ladder away?"
"Yeah," I said, laughing, and got to my feet. I swallowed my pill without water and could feel it roll, then stumble, then roll a little more, then stumble all the way down my throat and vanish into my belly. Then I picked the ladder up and darted across the room, but my aim was off and I slammed into the doorjamb. That jarred me. Then I tried it again and again until I nearly had all the paint chipped off around the dented woodwork, and she just let me keep on trying until finally I got the ladder and the opening lined up just right and stumbled through and plowed into the kitchen table and knocked the plastic rooster salt and pepper shakers to the floor.
"Even when you were a baby you had a hard time getting a square peg into a square hole," she called out from behind me. "Remember rule number one: Slow down and think about what you're doing."
Mom is big on rules for me.CHAPTER 3
Over the summer, there was a big meeting about me at school. Mom came home very serious and sent me to my room while she read my file. After she read it she opened my door and sat down on the edge of my bed. She said I should have been kept behind and given extra help, but no teacher wanted to risk getting me two years in a row.
"I guess I can't blame them." She sighed. "You are a handful at times."
"I don't get how they think I'm such a pain," I said to her. And I didn't, because most of the time I wasn't even in the classroom. I was in the principal's office, or with the nurse, or I was helping out in the library or cafeteria, or running laps out on the playground. It wasn't like I was a pain all day long. Like when it rained the teachers all asked me to run out to the parking lot and roll up their windows. I didn't hear them complain when I came back dripping wet. Or if a stack of new supplies was dropped off and I was in the office then I always helped move them into the storeroom and received an "awesome kid" stamp on my hand, not a "pain-in-the-neck kid" stamp. Plus I was famous for snatching flies right out of the air, killing all the classroom spiders, and making sure the white mice were always in their cage. I'll bet helpful things like that were not written down in my file. I know I'm not perfect, but I didn't think it was fair that they told me one thing and wrote down another.
Excerpted from Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key by Jack Gantos. Copyright © 1998 Jack Gantos. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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