Punch with Judy


The boy is a starving orphan living on the streets when Mr. McSneed puts him in a traveling medicine show and calls him "Punch." Now he's Punch with Judy and, it turns out, that's all that matters -- if only he can make it last, when everyone around them is against them.

An outcast eight-year-old boy, orphaned by the Civil War, is taken in by the owner of a traveling medicine show and, despite the doubts of others, years later he ...

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The boy is a starving orphan living on the streets when Mr. McSneed puts him in a traveling medicine show and calls him "Punch." Now he's Punch with Judy and, it turns out, that's all that matters -- if only he can make it last, when everyone around them is against them.

An outcast eight-year-old boy, orphaned by the Civil War, is taken in by the owner of a traveling medicine show and, despite the doubts of others, years later he confirms the man's faith in him.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380729807
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 10 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 700L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.53 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author


Avi is the author of more than sixty books, including Crispin: The Cross of Lead, a Newbery Medal winner, and Crispin: At the Edge of the World. His other acclaimed titles include The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth, both Newbery Honor Books, and most recently The Seer of Shadows. He lives with his family in Colorado.


Born in Manhattan in 1937, Avi Wortis grew up in Brooklyn in a family of artists and writers. Despite his bright and inquisitive nature, he did poorly in school. After several academic failures, he was diagnosed with a writing impairment called dysgraphia which caused him to reverse letters and misspell words. The few writing and spelling skills he possessed he had gleaned from his favorite hobby, reading -- a pursuit enthusiastically encouraged in his household.

Following junior high school, Avi was assigned to a wonderful tutor whose taught him basic skills and encouraged in him a real desire to write. "Perhaps it was stubbornness," he recalled in an essay appearing on the Educational Paperback Association's website, "but from that time forward I wanted to write in some way, some form. It was the one thing everybody said I could not do."

Avi finally learned to write, and well! He attended Antioch University, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and received a master's degree in library science from Columbia in 1964. He worked as a librarian for the New York Public Library's theater collection and for Trenton State College, and taught college courses in children's literature, while continuing to write -- mostly plays -- on the side. In the 1970s, with two sons of his own, he began to craft stories for children. "[My] two boys loved to hear stories," he recalled. "We played a game in which they would give me a subject ('a glass of water') and I would have to make up the story right then. Out of that game came my first children's book, Things That Sometimes Happen." A collection of "Very Short Stories for Little Listeners," Avi's winning debut received very positive reviews. "Sounding very much like the stories that children would make up themselves," raved Kirkus Reviews, "these are daffy and nonsensical, starting and ending in odd places and going sort of nowhere in the middle. The result, however, is inevitably a sly grin."

Avi has gone on to write dozens of books for kids of all ages. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1991) and Nothing but the Truth (1992) were named Newbery Honor Books, and in 2003, he won the prestigious Newbery Medal for his 14th-century adventure tale, Crispin: The Cross of Lead. His books range from mysteries and adventure stories to historical novels and coming-of-age tales; and although there is often a strong moral core to his work, he leavens his message with appealing warmth and humor. Perhaps his philosophy is summed up best in this quote from his author profile on Scholastic's website: "I want my readers to feel, to think, sometimes to laugh. But most of all I want them to enjoy a good read."

Good To Know

In a Q&A with his publisher, Avi named Robert Louis Stevenson as one of his greatest inspirations, noting that "he epitomizes a kind of storytelling that I dearly love and still read because it is true, it has validity, and beyond all, it is an adventure."

When he's not writing, Avi enjoys photography as one of his favorite hobbies.

Avi got his unique nickname from his twin sister, Emily..

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    1. Also Known As:
      Avi Wortis (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 23, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One raw day in 1870 -- five years after the Civil War--a man came upon a boy. The man's face was round and ruddy, with blue eyes which fairly sparked laughs upon the world. The boy was pale and scrawny, with eyes barely able to steal glances. The man wore new boots. They boy's bare feet were caked with mud. The man's purple coat was warm. The boy shivered in rags. And it was a rakish top hat which sat on the man's head, whereas the boy had placed his hat -- an old cloth one -- on the muddy ground before him. For he was begging pennies by performing a shuffle of timid twists, jittery jumps, and sudden stops. The cap, however, was empty.

Looking on, the man suppressed a laugh; he'd seen puppets show more life than this boy. At the same time, he felt inclined to hoot at a performance he considered an insult to the arts be served.

The boy did have another audience: three loafers with slack faces who watched, chewed tobacco, and spat. It was only when the boy attempted a grand finale -- a kicking up of his heels which served to lay him out, facedown in the mud -- that the three laughed so long and loud they had to hug themselves to keep together. And when they realized the boy was not going to dance anymore, they went off -- though still they laughed.

As for the purple-coated man, he shrugged and began to go too, only to stop and -- thinking about the way those loafers laughed -- glance back. The boy was sitting in the mud, pawing his eyes like a half-drowned cat.

What, the man asked himself, had the boy done to make those loafers laugh so?

Feeling a mix of contempt and pity, the man started off, only to pause and study the boy yet again. Then,casually, he strolled back and dropped a coin into the boy's cap. The boy, taken by surprise, looked up.

"Sure, it's yours," the man said, with an accent which marked him as raised in Ireland. "You worked hard enough for it." He judged the boy to be no more than eight years of age.

The boy snapped the coin up with a dirty hand, then scrambled to his feet and stood with a bowed head.

"Is this the place you call your home?" the man demanded, gesturing to the snarl of shacks and shanties that stood beyond.

The boy, who wasn't sure where he came from, said nothing.

"Where do you hail from, then?"

The boy had no more notion regarding that question than he did the first, so again he gave no response.

"Well then," the man persisted, "what about the folks who feed you the odd bit of bread?"

The boy only shrugged.

Increasingly bemused, the man went on. "Well, surely now," he asked, "you own a name, don't you?"

Since, other than "Hey, you!" or "You, fool!" the boy had no name, he remained mute.

At this the man grew thoughtful. Then he said, "Per form that thing-a-ding again. The same as you done before."

"The what?" the boy replied at last.

"Your bit of a turvy jig. The turn that made those men go double daft with laughter."

When the boy did not move, the man jangled some coins within his pocket. "Yours," he coaxed, "if you dance."

The boy knew there was only one way to get the coins. So, though exhausted, he danced like he'd done before, but soon ran down like a windup toy with a broken spring.

The man grinned and offered up his coin. The boy--though he dared not check the value--grabbed it with such clumsy haste that the man laughed out loud.

"And you're absolutely sure you have neither kith nor kin?" he wanted to know.

Ashamed to acknowledge the truth of it all, the boy gazed at his toes.

"All right then," the man said, "you might as well come with me.

Now the boy looked up, his face a mix of hope and fear.

"I've got a traveling medicine show," the man explained. " 'Joe McSneed and His Merry Men,' it's called. I'm Mr. McSneed himself, the grand boss of it all. If you want yourself a place, it's yours."

"A place?"

"You can be my insurance policy."

The boy had no idea what the t meant.

"Mind," Mr. McSneed said, "if you don't want the job, you needn't bother yourself a moment to excess." So saying, he wheeled about on his fine heeled boots and marched off like a proud rooster.

The boy, uncertain if he should believe the man or not, watched him go. Then he looked at the new coin. It was a whole dollar, more money than he'd ever beheld before.

Now the truth is, the boy had no place to live. Nor had he eaten for two entire days. No doubt that was why, limping, as was his way, he began to follow after Mr. Joe McSneed.

Punch with Judy. Copyright © by John Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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