Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County
Award-winning children's book author Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant.
Awards: Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, Sibert Honor, National Book Award, Newbery Medal, Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Award-winning children's book author Jack Gantos, known for his Joey Pigza and Jack Henry series, was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Read more here.
Gantos, Jack. Jack Gantos website. 6 November 2018.
John Byran Jr. Gantos, better known as Jack Gantos, was born on July 2, 1951, in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, to Jon and Elizabeth Gantos. After moving to Barbados, then southern Florida, Gantos began to find solace in books, spending most of his days reading. His interest in writing began while in the sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and believed he could write better than she could. He filled his diary with anecdotes and personal experiences and, in high school, decided to become a writer.
Gantos attended Emerson College in Boston, and there began working on picture books with illustrator friend Nicole Rubel. Their first book, Rotten Ralph, was published in 1976, the same year Gantos received his BFA in creative writing. The book, which led to a series, followed a mischievous red cat who played jokes on his family. His inspiration for the book came from his own cat who “loved to scratch [his] ankles, throw fur around the house, and shred the clothes in [the] closet.” In later volumes of the series, Ralph continues to be naughty and gets away with it. Readers watch as he ruins Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween, and spoils birthday parties and even a wedding. The Rotten Ralph series has been wildly popular among children, who love his trickery but appreciate the morals of each of the eighteen tales.
Gantos and Rubel collaborated for many other children’s picture books, and while doing so, Gantos began teaching creative writing and literature at Emerson College. In 1989, Gantos married art dealer Anne Lower and soon had a daughter, Mabel Grace. Gantos later became the coordinator of the MA degree in creative writing at Emerson and built the program’s concentration on children’s book writing and children’s literature.
Soon after, Gantos introduced Jack Henry to the world. This series, consisting of autobiographical and semi-autobiographical vignettes, is written in diary form and tells the comical stories of Jack’s life over a span of five books. Writing in Booklist, Susan Dove Lempke states 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’ most critically acclaimed series is Joey Pigza, introduced in 1998. These books are targeted to middle school-aged children and feature a young boy who suffers from an attention disorder and hyperactivity. Susan Dove Lempke writes 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' fresh writing style and tart sense of humor. In 2001, Gantos received a Newbery Honor medal for Joey Pigza Loses Control, where Joey meets his dad for the first time. The series totals at five books, all of which are inspiring as well as comical.
Gantos is not limited to children’s books, however. He encompasses a wide range of writing, including young adult and adult novels. His 2001 young autobiographical novel, Hole in My Life (2001), recounts his last year in high school and his run-in with the law when he was caught selling hashish in New York and faced six years in prison. In the book, Gantos reflects on his time spent in confinement as a youth and the struggles as a result. He has also written the novels Desire Lines (2006), The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (2008), Dead End in Norvelt (2011), which won both the 2012 Newbery Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and From Norvelt to Nowhere (2013), a continuation of the Dead End in Norvelt story.
In the Norvelt books, Gantos mixes some real stories from his childhood with some fantastical adventures to create this funny novel for middle school children. The book is set in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, a real-life town close to Gantos’ birthplace of Mount Pleasant. Portions of the story are factually based and reflect Gantos’ years living in the town as a child. Viki Ash, the chairwoman of the Newbery committee, says Gantos’ book first stood out for its humor and charm. “On the surface it’s a book that is hilariously funny. But there’s a depth to the book as well. The voice of the narrator, the setting, which is just so vivid, and the unexpected tenderness in this boy, who is kind of geeky. It was the difference between a slapstick comedy and a comedy that has depth and character.” After a year and a half of research, Gantos put forth a book that proved a major success.
His most recent work, The Trouble in Me (2015), is an autobiographicl novel that serves as a prequel to Hole in My Life and follows a fourteen-year-old Gantos through the formative experiences that contribute to his future trouble with the law as a teen.
Today, Gantos lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter. He spends most of his time writing books and doing educational speaking. He continues to teach children’s book writing and children’s literature courses and speaks at schools, libraries, conferences, and writing workshops.
Rotten Ralph. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
Worse than Rotten, Ralph. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978.
Not So Rotten Ralph. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 2004.
Heads or Tails: Stories from the Sixth Grade. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1994.
Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1995.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1998.
Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2000.
What Would Joey Do?New York: Farrar, Straus, 2002.
I Am Not Joey Pigza. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2007.
Hole in My Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2001.
Dead End in Norvelt. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2011.
Association, American Library. American Library Association Announces 2012 Youth Media Award Winners - PR Newswire - Sacbee.com. The Sacramento Bee - California News, Local News - Sacramento CA. 23 January 2012. 5 February 2012. <http://www.sacbee.com/>.