Gantos, Jack 1951- (John Bryan Gantos, Jr.)
Gantos, Jack 1951- (John Bryan Gantos, Jr.)
Born July 2, 1951, in Mount Pleasant, PA; son of John (a construction superintendent) and Elizabeth (a banker) Gantos; married Anne A. Lower (an art dealer), November 11, 1989; children: Mabel Grace. Education: Emerson College, B.F.A., 1976, M.A., 1984. Politics: Liberal Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Home—Boston, MA. Office—Emerson College, Division of Writing, Literature and Publishing, 1001 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02116. Agent—Fran Leibowitz, Writers House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010.
Writer and educator. Emerson College, Boston, MA, part-time writing instructor, 1978-80, adjunct instructor, 1980-86, assistant professor, 1986-92, associate professor of creative writing and literature, 1992-95, former professor of creative writing and literature, beginning in 1995. Visiting professor at Brown University, 1986, University of New Mexico, 1993, and Vermont College, 1996. Frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and educational conferences, and facilitator of writing workshops.
American Association of University Professors, National Council of Teachers of English, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writer's Guild.
Best Books for Young Readers citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1976-93, for the "Rotten Ralph" series; Children's Book Showcase Award, 1977, for Rotten Ralph; Emerson Alumni Award, Emerson College, 1979, for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing; Massachusetts Council for the Arts Awards finalist, 1983, 1988; Gold Key Honor Society Award, 1985, for Creative Excellence; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1987; Quarterly West Novella Award, 1989, for X-Rays; Children's Choice citation, International Reading Association, 1990, for Rotten Ralph's Show and Tell; Batavia Educational Foundation grant, 1991; West Springfield Arts Council (WESPAC) grant, 1991; Parents' Choice citation, 1994, for Not So Rotten Ralph; New York Public Library Books for the Teenage, 1997, for Jack's Black Book; 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, NCSS and CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction, and New York Public Library "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing," 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. National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Creative Writing, fiction; Printz Honors and Sibert Honors, both for Hole in My Life, both c. 2003; other regional and child-selected awards.
"ROTTEN RALPH" PICTURE BOOK SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY NICOLE RUBEL
Rotten Ralph, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.
Worse than Rotten, Ralph, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.
Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984.
Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.
Rotten Ralph's Show and Tell, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.
Happy Birthday Rotten Ralph, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1990.
Not So Rotten Ralph, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.
Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
The Christmas Spirit Attacks Rotten Ralph, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Rotten Ralph's Halloween Howl, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Back to School for Rotten Ralph, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Rotten Ralph's Thanksgiving Wish, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1999.
Rotten Ralph Helps Out, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2001.
Rotten Ralph Plays Fair, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2002.
Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2002.
Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2004.
Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
The "Rotten Ralph" books have been translated into other languages, including Hebrew and Japanese.
PICTURE BOOKS; ILLUSTRATED BY NICOLE RUBEL
Sleepy Ronald, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.
Fair-weather Friends, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1977.
Aunt Bernice, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.
The Perfect Pal, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1979.
(With Nicole Rubel) Greedy Greeny, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
Swampy Alligator, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
The Werewolf Family, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1980.
Willy's Raiders, Parents Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1981.
Red's Fib, Jim Henson Associates, 1985.
"JACK HENRY" SERIES; AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION FOR MIDDLE-GRADE READERS
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" SERIES FOR MIDDLE GRADERS
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 (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.
The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (novel), Farrar (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of novella X-Rays. Contributor of short story "Cradle Hold," included in No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte, 1997, and "Muzak for Prozac" included in On the Fringe, edited by Gallo, 2001. Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Storyworks magazine.
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 has also been released on audio cassette. Other audio releases include A Hole in My Life, Listening Library, 2003, and The Love Curse of the Rum-baughs, Listening Library, 2006. 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 European and Asian markets; Fox Family Channel planned on broadcasting the programs in the United States.
A popular and prolific author of books for readers ranging from the early primary grades through high school, as well as for adults, Jack Gantos is considered by many critics and readers to be both a gifted humorist and an insightful observer of childhood feelings and behavior. Gantos has written witty cautionary tales, middle-grade fiction that presents bittersweet reflections on the pains and pleasures of growing up, and young adult fiction that deals frankly with serious themes. However, he is perhaps best known as the creator of Rotten Ralph, a large, anthropomorphic, red cat whose devilish, mostly unrepentant behavior is always forgiven by his owner, Sarah, a patient and loving little girl. Gantos has collaborated on the multivolume series of picture books that feature the rascally feline with illustrator Nicole Rubel, an artist whose bright colors and bold designs are generally thought to complement the author's brisk, droll prose style well and to add to the huge popularity of the character.
Gantos is also well known for creating the "Jack Henry" series of books, autobiographical fiction that describes the experiences of the author's alter ego as a fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grader. Other popular books by Gantos include Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a story about a boy with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Desire Lines, a young adult novel about how a teenage boy outs two lesbian classmates in order to save his own reputation. Throughout his works, Gantos has addressed issues that are meaningful to young people, 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 author's works are considered exaggerated, irreverent, and unsubtle and include elements that are considered gross or unsettling, many critics have noted the positive values in his books, as well as their outrageous humor and underlying poignancy. Gantos is generally regarded as a talented, imaginative writer who understands children and what appeals to them.
Born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, Gantos is the eldest son of John Gantos, Sr., a construction superintendent and salesman of Lebanese descent, and Elizabeth Weaver Gantos. As a first grader, Gantos was in the Bluebird reading group, which he later discovered was for slow readers. He began expressing his creativity at an early age, and when he was in the second grade, he received his first diary.
As a second grader, Gantos moved with his family from Pennsylvania to Barbados, where his father felt he could find more work. Young Jack was able to move all of his collections by putting 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 as he began to write about all aspects of his life. 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 moved from Barbados to south Florida, Gantos found that his new classmates were disinterested in their studies, and teachers generally acted more like disciplinarians than instructors. Consequently, he retreated to an unfrequented bookmobile and read. Gantos began collecting anecdotes—many of which he overheard standing outside of the teacher's lounge—in the sixth grade. Many of these stories were later to provide the inspiration for the author's "Jack Henry" series. In addition, he began writing down his own thoughts and feelings.
In junior high, Gantos went to a school that had once been a state prison. Once again, he spent most of his time reading outside of the classroom. Gantos decided to become a professional writer when he was in high school. After graduating from high school, Gantos left Florida to attend Emerson College in Boston. While at Emerson, Gantos met art student Nicole Rubel; the pair became friends and decided to work together on picture books for children. After Gantos received his first rejection letters, he grew frustrated. "Then," he once 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." His cat became Rotten Ralph, and a new antihero was born. Gantos's first book, Rotten Ralph, was published in 1976, the year that he received his B.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College and decided to become a freelance writer. 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 him to the circus, but Ralph misbehaves so badly that he is left there as punishment. While in the circus, Ralph becomes unhappy as a performer, and he runs away. He is found, ill and underfed, by Sarah, who welcomes him back home. It appears that Ralph has learned his lesson and will become less rotten, but Gantos gives indications that Ralph will revert to his impish self. Writing in Language Arts, Ruth M. Stein called Rotten Ralph a "successful first book by both author and illustrator." Zena Sutherland of Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books noted: "There's some humor in the situation, but it seems overworked," but Washington Post Book World critic Brigitte Weeks called Rotten Ralph "a moral tale" that children will "highly appreciate" for seeing a cat in trouble instead of a child.
In subsequent volumes of the series, Ralph continues to be naughty and to get away with it. He ruins Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine's Day, Show and Tell, birthday parties, and even a wedding. Ralph engages in such activities as teasing his cousin Percy, a sweet, well-mannered cat of whom he is jealous; rubbing garbage and dog food on himself so as not to have to kiss Petunia, the host of a Valentine's Day party he does not want to attend; leading a trio of neighborhood alley cats on a day-long spree in order to prove he is not a softy because he is a house cat; trying to prevent Sarah from making new friends at school; clawing his way into Santa Claus's sack on Christmas Eve; and stealing Aunt Martha's wedding bouquet, which he presents to Sarah as a peace offering. In Not So Rotten Ralph, Sarah—who, at her most exasperated, simply chastises Ralph mildly—takes him to Mr. Fred's Feline Finishing School, where he is hypnotized into good behavior; however, Sarah misses the old, mischievous Ralph, and successfully lures him back into his natural state. In all of the books in the series, Sarah always gives Ralph her unconditional love, no matter how many stunts he pulls.
Critics have noted that Ralph, with his tricks, ploys, and demands for attention, is very much like a child, and that children are attracted to his gleeful overindulgence. In addition, reviewers have acknowledged that Ralph is popular with children because he ultimately gets away with his crimes and is still accepted by Sarah, who is described as having "the patience of a saint" by one Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat!. In their review of Rotten Ralph's Rotten Christmas, Wilson Library Bulletin contributors 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." Ann A. Flowers of Horn Book noted: "It is a pleasure to see big, red, devilish Ralph up to his old tricks and acting like a jealous child; he is convincing and might even bring some understanding to children with the same problem." Writing in the Horn Book about Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance, Elizabeth S. Watson commented, "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 wrote 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."
Not all commentators have been fond of Rotten Ralph. For example, a reviewer in Children's Book Review Service called Worse than Rotten, Ralph a "do-it-yourself guide to mayhem which can be summed up in a few phrases—ridiculous, garish, and makes no sense," while School Library Journal contributor Mary B. Nickerson noted: "The unrelieved, gratuitous mayhem is, depending on one's age, either boring or threatening." John Peters, writing about Rotten Ralph's Trick or Treat! in School Library Journal, commented that "the humor has worn too thin, and Ralph has no redeeming qualities." However, most reviewers find Ralph's adventures both amusing and appealing and extol Gantos's slyly written texts and Rubel's psychedelic line drawings. 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 noted: "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." Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist about Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph, put it succinctly: "Wow, is this cat rotten!"
In addition to their works about Rotten Ralph, Gantos and Rubel have collaborated on several other picture books. They began with Sleepy Ronald, a book about 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. A critic in Kirkus Reviews wrote: "A limp ending if ever we heard one, especially since Rubel's … palette is bright enough to wake the dead." However, School Library Journal contributor Allene Stuart Phy called Ronald "the funniest rabbit to appear in some time," and Betsy Hearne of Booklist called the book "pretty farfetched, but … pretty funny, too." 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 writing in Publishers Weekly commented: "The spiffy nonsense of Gantos is perfectly complemented, once more, by Rubel's nutty, brashly colored cartoons. Like Rotten Ralph and their other books, their new one is a comic masterpiece." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews similarly stated that "for the first time since Rotten Ralph, Gantos's story provides a suitable outlet for Rubel's manic energy."
Besides children and anthropomorphic animals, Gantos and Rubel also use supernatural figures as the main characters in their picture books. In Greedy Greeny, a little green monster has a nightmare after eating the watermelon that his mother was saving for dinner—as well as everything else in the refrigerator. Greeny dreams that he has become the watermelon and that he is going to be served to his family; his shouts awaken his mother, who calms and forgives him. Writing in Booklist, Denise M. Wilms stated: "Humorously didactic, this picture book has the kind of tight, well-placed plot and comic elements that make it a good, working story." Wilms went on to write that the book is "appealing, even if the off-beat isn't your cup of tea." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called Greedy Greeny a "holy terror of a guilt dream" and a "close-to-home fantasy" before concluding that the book is "far-out fun with a firm base." In The Werewolf Family two werewolf parents and their two werewolf children come to a party on the night of the full moon. The family is the picture of decorum before their transformations. However, after they become werewolves, the family dispenses spiders and snakes to babies and puts the other guests in medieval torture instruments such as racks and hanging manacles before returning home. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted: "If you can accept a sort of Rocky Horror Show equivalent for the picturebook set, Gantos and Rubel are the pair to give it punch." Patricia Homer wrote in School Library Journal that The Werewolf Family "really does take advantage of the immense popularity of monsters and the macabre, but children are bound to be attracted."
While writing his picture books in collaboration with Rubel, Gantos began working part-time at Emerson College as a writing instructor. After receiving his master's degree in creative writing from Emerson, Gantos became an associate professor of creative writing and literature there. He married art dealer Anne A. Lower in 1989; the couple have a daughter, Mabel Grace. In 1993, Gantos became graduate coordinator for the M.A. degree in creative and professional writing at Emerson and also built the M.A./M.F.A. degree concentration in children's book writing and literature.
In 1994, Gantos 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, which is 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. However, Jack bounces back, and in the process performs what Michael Cart called in School Library Journal "acts of unself-conscious kindness." Cart continued: "Jack's a survivor, an ‘everyboy’ whose world may be wacko but whose heart and spirit are eminently sane and generous." In his conclusion, 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 contributor commented that the author "makes an auspicious foray into new ground" and concluded that a "bittersweet resonance filters the humor in these stories and lingers most welcomely."
In the second volume of the series, Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year, Jack and his family have moved from Florida to Barbados. Among his other adventures, 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 commented that "the eight stories here convey with sharp humor Jack's uncomfortable yet exhilarating early adolescence." Lempke wrote in the same review that readers will "anxiously await the next installment of Jack's life." Elizabeth S. Watson wrote 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, Jack buys a black book in which to write a novel. His junior high, a former detention center, is a magnet school for 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 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, doesn't like his work and tosses his 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. He decides to give up his schemes to concentrate on just being himself. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted that Gantos "trots out one disgusting and dangerous event after another to give his morose protagonist material for jokes." The reviewer added: "With a mean-spirited reliance on shock and cheap laughs, the book gets some tacked-on introspection at the end." Writing in Horn Book, a reviewer noted: "There's enough descriptive disaster, some good solid writing, and a bizarre plot that even reluctant adults can't help but appreciate."
Gantos is also the author of Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade, a prequel to the other volumes in the "Jack Henry" series. In this book, Jack bonds with his father when he eats a fifty-pound steak, accidentally kills his cat, writes a gross story that appalls his teacher, is locked out of the house naked for 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 the author'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."
Gantos became a full professor at Emerson College in 1995. The next year he went to Vermont College, where he became a core faculty member, designed the M.F.A. program, and taught a class on writing for children before returning to Emerson. He has also been a visiting professor at other universities. Gantos produced Zip Six, an adult novel, in 1996. In this work, a drug dealer meets an Elvis impersonator in prison, becomes his manager on the prison circuit, and is betrayed by him on the outside. In 1997 Gantos published Desire Lines, 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 trying to enlist students for the hate group headed by his father, a minister who builds a church in the town, the boy tries to entice Walker, who refuses to participate. The boy then tries to blackmail Walker by accusing him of being gay. 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 new church and Walker is caught, the boys in the Box turn on him and pressure him to identify gays at their school. Walker outs Karen and Jennifer to save himself. When Karen confronts him at school, she asks Walker if he was the person who identified her and her lover, but he refuses to admit the truth. At the duck pond, Walker watches while Karen shoots Jennifer, then herself, in a suicide pact. Jennifer dies, but Karen survives to come back to school, where she again confronts Walker. Walker learns that the Box ratted him out. However, he still refuses to acknowledge his act to Karen. At the end of the novel, Walker is left alone with his guilt. A reviewer noted in Publishers Weekly: "Gantos projects an unsettling image of cowardice and survival of the toughest." The Publishers Weekly contributor went on to write in the same review: "The author reduces the players of this drama to near-stereotypes whose ‘desire lines’ (chosen paths) are not all that different; in doing so he transmits a one-sided (and pessimistic) view of humanity." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews stated that Gantos "is 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."
One of the author's most critically acclaimed works was published in 1998. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is directed at middle graders. Joey, a boy in the early primary grades, has attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity. He 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 he has been emotionally abused by his grandmother, who, like Joey, is hyperactive. Horn Book contributor Jennifer M. Brabandee noted that Joey's "own brand of goodness has an unaffected charm and an uncloying sweetness. Joey is always explaining to people that he's a good kid; readers of this compelling tragicomedy will know almost from the start that Joey's not just a good kid—he's a great kid." Susan Dove Lempke wrote in Booklist: "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: "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."
A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, conferences, and festivals, Gantos is also the facilitator of writing workshops on children's literature for students and teachers.
Gantos has continued his wide range of writing, from children's picture books to young adult and adult novels. For example, the author has continued his story of Joey Pigza with the books Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, and I Am Not Joey Pigza. What Would Joey Do? finds Joey's life in further turmoil as his dad shows up back in town only to be chased from the house by Joey's mother wielding a broomstick. Meanwhile, Joey's Chihuahua has been stolen, and Joey finds himself being homeschooled by a religious zealot. Furthermore, Joey has to deal with his teacher's daughter, a mean blind girl. Despite the difficulties, Joey sets out to be "Mr. Helpful" and to make life better for everyone. Referring to the novel as "heart-wrenching," Susan Dove Lempke went on to write in her review in Booklist: "No need to read the prequels to enjoy this one." School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried commented that readers "will enjoy the way ‘Mr. Helpful’ tries to set things right in a chaotic and uniquely amusing world."
In I Am Not Joey Pigza, Joey seems to have everything under control only to have his dad show up again. This time, however, his dad has some good news. He's won the lottery and wants to change everyone's lives, including their names. However, when Joey's mom becomes pregnant, Joey's dad once again leaves his family behind. "Gantos tells the tale with unfailing humor, delicious wordplay, and many hilarious scenes," wrote Marie Orlando in the School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "This is Gantos at his best, and that's saying a lot."
In his 2001 young adult autobiography, Hole in My Life, the author recounts the story of his life during his final year in high school and the summer after he graduates, when he has a run-in with the law. While his family is living in Puerto Rico, Gantos returns to Florida to finish his final year in high school. He lives in a seedy hotel but upon graduation finds that his prospects for the future and college don't seem to be too promising. He needs money and agrees to help sail a yacht loaded with hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City. Once in the city, he and his partners are busted at the Chelsea Hotel after selling their contraband to federal agents. Gantos ends up getting sentenced to six years in a federal prison. He goes on to write his struggles as he faces confinement and the end of his youth. In the meantime, he uses his jail time to embark on his career as a writer. "Much of the action in this memoir—some of it quite raw and harsh—will be riveting to teen readers," wrote Barbara Scotto in the School Library Journal. Heather Lisowski noted in Kliatt: "Every aspiring writer should read Gantos' book. It is a testament to the creative potential that exists in everyone's life."
The author's 2003 contribution to the "Jack Henry" series, titled Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade without a Clue, is a prequel that finds the Henry family moving to Cape Hatteras and Jack trying to make new friends based on his parents' confusing and contradictory advice. "A fun and refreshing read," commented Vicki Reutter in the School Library Journal. Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, noted the author's "wonderful writing, which is witty, smart, and unafraid to tackle tough topics."
The author continues his "Rotten Ralph" series with books such as Rotten Ralph Helps Out and Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph. The latter tale features the rotten cat out to play games at the fair and win prizes. "A true prize for newly independent readers," wrote Betty Carter in a review in Horn Book. In Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, Ralph wakes up feeling sick after a night picking through the neighborhood's trash cans. "Beginning readers will gobble up this third installment," wrote Jennifer Mattson in Booklist.
Best in Show for Rotten Ralph, published in 2005, continues the series with the often despicable cat preparing to defeat his perfect cousin Percy in the upcoming cat show. Ralph tries hard to win by pretending to be something he isn't only to find that being who he really is may finally win him the glory he craves. Hazel Rochman wrote in Booklist that readers will appreciate "the hilarious antics of the individual who stays true to his irrepressible self." School Library Journal contributor Carol L. Mckay wrote that the book is "perfect for beginning readers who are itching for, but not quite ready to make, the transition to lengthier chapter books."
According to BookPage Web site contributor Deborah Hopkinson, the author's 2006 novel, The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, is "a darkly delicious tale that will both challenge and appeal to teen readers." This time the author presents a Gothic tale revolving around Abner and Adolph Rumbaugh, who run a pharmacy in a small Pennsylvania town. When young Ivy, who lives with her mother in a nearby hotel, discovers a secret in the Rumbaugh's basement, it becomes apparent that the Rumbaughs have a troubling, eccentric life: The Rumbaugh's mutual love for their mother has led them to try to bridge the gap between the living the dead. In addition, Ivy's discovery reveals that the Rumbaughs are living under a family curse that will also affect Ivy for years to come as she develops an overriding fear that she too will lose the mother that she loves so much.
Noting that the book "has a very Victorian feel to it," Teen Reads Web site contributor Carlie Webber added that the book should attract readers who "love Edgar Allan Poe and things that make you shudder." Myrna Marler wrote in Kliatt that the book is "beautifully, almost lyrically written."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 18, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 140-143.
Gantos, Jack, Hole in My Life, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 2001.
Book, May-June, 2003, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 30.
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: Stories from a Caribbean Year, 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; January 1, 2003, review of Hole in My Life, p. 795; 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; May 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 80; August 2007, Kristen McKulski, review of I Am Not Joey Pigza, p. 69.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1976, Zena Sutherland, review of Rotten Ralph, p. 174.
Childhood Education, spring, 2003, Maura Daly, review of What Would Joey Do?.
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-December, 1997, "True Meanings, True Feelings, True Choices," interview with author, pp. 61-64.
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. Brabandee, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, pp. 729-730; September, 2001, review of Rotten Ralph Helps Out, p. 582; May-June, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Hole in My Life, p. 345; May-June, 2002, Betty Carter, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 330; 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; July-August, 2006, Christine M. Heppermann, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 441; September-October, 2007, Kitty Flynn, review of I Am Not Joey Pigza, p. 576.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, September, 2002, Alleen Pace, review of Hole in My Life, p. 82; September, 2002, "An Interview with Jack Gantos," p. 85; February, 2003, Elizabeth Inchbald, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 446; April, 2006, David M. Pegram, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 633.
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; February 1, 2002, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 180; February 15, 2002, review of Hole in My Life, p. 255; September 15, 2002, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 1390; July 1, 2003, review of Jack Adrift, p. 910; April 1, 2006, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 346; July 1, 2007, review of I Am Not Joey Pigza.
Kliatt, July, 2004, Jennifer Baldwin, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 17; November, 2004, Heather Lisowski, review of Hole in My Life, p. 32; May, 2006, Myrna Marler, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 8.
Language Arts, May, 1977, Ruth M. Stein, review of Rotten Ralph, p. 582.
MBR Bookwatch, March, 2005, Diane C. Donovan, review of Hole in My Life.
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: Stories from the Sixth Grade, p. 66; February 24, 1997, review of Desire Lines, p. 92; August 14, 2000, review of Joey Pigza Loses Control, p. 356; July 2, 2001, review of Rotten Ralph Helps Out, p. 76; February 25, 2002, review of Hole in My Life, p. 68; May 1, 2006, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 64; July 23, 2007, review of I Am Not Joey Pigza, p. 69.
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, John Sigwald, review of Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year, p. 119; December, 1998, Shawn Brommer, review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, p. 124; August, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Rotten Ralph Helps Out, p. 146; March, 2002, Maryann H. Owen, review of Practice Makes Perfect for Rotten Ralph, p. 187; May, 2002, Barbara Scotto, review of Hole in My Life, p. 170; September, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 225; September, 2003, Vicki Reutter, review of Jack Adrift, p. 210; October, 2003, review of What Would Joey Do?, p. 54; November, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Hole in My Life, p. 84; September, 2004, Sandra Welzenbach, review of Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten, p. 160; November, 2004, Alison Follos, review of Hole in My Life, p. 67; 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; May, 2006, Hillias J. Martin, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, p. 123; September, 2006, Ann Crewdson, review of Rotten Ralph Helps Out, p. 72; September, 2007, Marie Orlando, review of I Am Not Joey Pigza, p. 196.
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.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (April 6, 2008), Hilary Williamson, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs.
Book Nuts Reading Club,http://www.booknutsreadingclub.com/ (April 5, 2008), biography of author.
Jack Gantos Home Page,http://www.jackgantos.com (April 6, 2008).
Teen Reads,http://www.teenreads.com (April 6, 2008), Carlie Webber, review of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs.