The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza
This is the only book on our shortlist that we have not previously discussed, and while that may have made it something of a surprise, it really shouldn’t have been: the book got five starred reviews and was a Kirkus Prize finalist. This is the fifth and final book in the Joey Pigza series and by including this one, we allow ourselves the opportunity to revisit the annual sequel issue. I read the first and second book, but missed the third and fourth, so it’s been awhile. I felt like I never missed a beat. Gantos did weave some back story into the narrative, but it was seamlessly done.
The plot here is minimal–Mom checks into the hospital with postpartum despression, leaving Joey to care for the baby alone with his crazy father probably lurking in the shadows–indeed, some might find it a bit far-fetched in places. I wouldn’t quibble with that, necessarily, but I think it’s emotionally true. Joey’s voice which is a combination of heart and humor is ultimately what the reader tunes in for.
I have to tell you that I am a little disappointed because after my parents homeschooled me last year I now have to repeat a grade. I guess they used the wrong book to teach me. It was titled Homeschooling for Dummies and it must have worked pretty good because I feel like one.
I like how the title of the fifth book is a play on the very first one, JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY. It suggests that Joey’s problems are insurmountable, that he cannot overcome his ADHD, his dysfunctional parents, or the culture of welfare and poverty. But, of course, Joey does triumph, and appears, by book’s end, to be in a place where he can rise above it all. We know it won’t be easy, but we know he can thrive.
Is this the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children? Well, I already have my top two spots locked up, but I’m shopping for a third place vote. This is more character-driven than my taste, but I can’t deny the charm of the book. Maybe . . .
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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