where all things literacy come full circle…

Jack, Joey, and Me

I love these books!

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

I love this author!!

Newbery Award winning author Jack Gantos

Newbery Award winning author Jack Gantos

The Joey Pigza series is one of my favorites. Joey, who has ADHD is wired…and he has one of the most dysfunctional families written. Secretly, my favorite is the chain-smoking, emphysema-stricken grandma. The characters and situations are so real. I can picture every room of the house in my mind. I love these books and I feel so bad for Joey. Many of our students can connect with Joey, his wiredness, his family life, and his relationships with his mother, father, and grandmother. Of course we can’t forget Pablo!

I have read this book many times.


I am glad that at NCTE in Boston, I was able to purchase the last volume of the series.

During my first year of teaching, I read Joey Pigza Loses Control aloud to my class.

They loved it. I really connected with the story. I constantly thought about Joey and felt so bad for him. He really did become real to me…and so did his family.

After we were finished, I asked the class if they would like to write to the author. They said yes. So, we wrote letters describing why we enjoyed the book using specific examples from the text. I bought a big envelope, found his publisher’s address, and mailed it off.

It would be a long shot to get a reply, I thought.

Fast forward three months…

I looked in my school mailbox and found a white envelope.

I picked it up and looked at the front. It was addressed to me in neat, unique, cursive handwriting. I looked at who it was from and it said “Jack Gantos” at the top left-hand side.

Oh my gosh.

I was excited. It was needed for me at that time. That feeling of should I continue to do this…teaching. The first year of teaching contain some of the hardest moments of your career: from no curriculum, oversized classes (my first period I didn’t have enough desks for all of the students), to disagreements from colleagues, and classroom management. It’s hard.

I carefully opened the envelope. I didn’t want to ruin the handwriting addressed to me.

I pulled out the letter, unfolded it, and read it.

It was personal. It was genuine. It was filled with encouragement to my writers. And to the writer in me.

After school was over, I took the letter and the envelope to the nearest frame shop. I paid to have the letter and envelope custom framed so that I could hang it up in my classroom. To show off the personal connection that an author and a classroom of seventh graders in southern Arizona could have.

Eleven years ago!


Eleven years later, I was in Boston, Massachusetts attending the National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference. The great thing about this conference is the authors that you meet. It really feels like your meeting celebrities, the Oh My Gosh…did you just see Laurie Halse Anderson!? Did you just see Gae Polisner?! Lindsey Leavitt?! Judy BLUME?! Patricia Maclachlan?! Jo Knowles?! Kirby Larson?! Linda Urban?! Geoff Herbach?! Anne Ursu?!

Literally too many authors to write…but I hope you get the idea.

It is something like no other. To book nerds…or members of the Nerdy Book Club…all these guys and gals are our rock stars!

Jack Gantos was going to be there. Signing. And meeting his readers.

After standing in line at Starbucks with my friend Gae Polisner to get breakfast, I told her that I wanted to meet Jack and would possibly be late. She told me to get to the convention hall to meet him. I said good-bye, gave her a hug (it was Sunday, the last day of the convention, and I wouldn’t see her again), and ran towards the convention hall. I found the line and stood at the back. The publisher told me that I was too late and that I would have to go to his other signing. I told her that I had to meet him because eleven years ago he wrote to my class. It must have worked, my story, because she allowed me to get in line. I picked up a few books and finally made it to the table where he was signing.

Jack Gantos and me.

Jack Gantos and me.

I told him that he wrote to my class eleven years ago and that it really meant a lot to a young first year teacher who was really thinking about quitting. He told me that he was glad that he wrote and that he still tries to write to classes. I thought that was awesome. A Newbery Award winning author still trying to write to classrooms. To students. To teachers. To readers and writers.

It took eleven years to have this story come full-circle.

Eleven years.


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