Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key
published in 2011


Appropriate age:
Older Kid (age 8-11)
Reading level:
Grade 5
Genres: Fiction, Humor, Realistic Fiction
Subjects: Family, Fish, Parents, School, Social Issues, Cats, Humor, Mental Health


Joey Pigza has problems. Big problems. He was emotionally abused by his grandmother. He has never met his dad. He can't get along in his elementary school classroom because of his mood swings and his "dud meds." We gradually see that Joey must have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is not being effectively controlled with his current medication. Joey's life is a terrifying roller-coaster ride, and Jack Gantos, author of the Rotten Ralph books, drags the reader along to see what life is like with ADD. The story is written from the boy's point of view in a sharp, worried style that veers out of control when Joey does. Joey's control of his own behavior slips away as we read, horrified to see this boy trying to get a grip on his life and failing. He disrupts the class field trip; he puts his finger in a pencil sharpener and injures himself; he swallows his house key. Then he runs through the classroom holding open sharp scissors. When he trips and falls, seriously injuring a classmate, he is transferred to a special-education program in another school. Here, thankfully, he encounters a caring teacher who recommends further medical evaluation, and Joey is eventually able to return to his former school. There is hope for Joey on the last page--he sits in the Big Quiet Chair to read. Gantos has achieved an unusual feat with this book. We want to turn away from Joey's shifting prison of emotions. But for those who stick with him, he shows us what his life is like. We walk a mile in his shoes, our feet hurting all the way. For young readers touched by ADD--and for their teachers and parents--Joey gives us the key to his world. (Ages 10 and older) --Marcie Bovetz