Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos. 1993.
Ms. Martha had a long car-ride ahead of her yesterday evening, and decided Joey Pigza, with all of its acclaim and National Book Award Finalist title, would be the perfect companion. While I can’t comment on what the experience of reading the book was like, I was incredibly impressed with the audio version, read by Jack Gantos himself. Joey Pigza is a boy with ADHD (with hyperactivity), trying to keep his head above water with crummy meds and a dysfunctional family. Eventually, Joey is sent to the special education center downtown, where he finally gets the support he needs to realize something he really knew all along- he’s a good kid.
I can’t say enough about this book. Any person that comes into contact with any child or adult with ADHD must read this book- it should be a required read for teachers. Thanks to Jack Gantos, readers get a glimpse into the life of a kid with a disorder that consumes him and the frustration that comes along with it. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Joey meets “Special Ed,” his aptly named case manager at the special education center. Special Ed reinforces to Joey that he’s a good kid who is in need of strategies to make better decisions- these decisions, the reader learns, are his downfall- NOT his disorder. There were parts of this book that made me want to cry (and parents be warned- Joey’s parents are alcoholics- his father left and his mother abandoned him for what seems to be the first ten years of his life. When she comes back- he doesn’t recognize her. Nothing that is too intense, but should be discussed) because they were so heartbreaking, and others that inspired and encouraged me as a teacher. There is a lot of talk about medication- Joey ends up receiving his ADHD meds through a patch which is highly effective for him- but I think Gantos does a good job making sure that the reader understands that this is what works for Joey- Joey Pigza is not a self-help book. What the reader ends up walking away with is that children really can be in charge of their behavior, but they need to believe they are good people first and that they are capable of change.