A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 8:

  • Happy birthday Susan Bonners (Edwina Victorious), Linda Crew (Children of the River), and Steven Schnur (The Koufax Dilemma).
  • It’s the birth date of Harold Keith (1903-1998), Rifles for Watie, Ruth Chew (1920-2010), The Wednesday Witch, and Trina Schart Hyman (1939-2004), Saint George and the Dragon, King Stork.
  • In 1904 Longacre Square in Manhattan was renamed Times Square. Reread The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon, illustrated by Garth Williams.

This week the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association holds its annual convention. I once took care of the Houghton Mifflin booth during a convention held in a small hotel complex where funeral directors took up the other half of the hall. I couldn’t think of a book that I might bring over to them. Although I displayed Jack Gantos’s Rotten Ralph picture books that day, his Newbery winner, Dead End in Norvelt, had not yet been written.

Jack Gantos’s career still amazes me. I first met him when he was a young man who had teamed up with Nicole Rubel to create the Rotten Ralph books. Even in the early days Jack quite honestly admitted to having spent time in a maximum security prison before being released to pursue his dream of writing. Later he would tell his story in Hole in My Life. Eventually Jack began to write spirited novels, all with bad boys as their stars. All his protagonists, from Jack Henry to Joey Pigza, resemble Jack Gantos as a young boy, in one way or another. His protagonist in Dead End in Norvelt is simply called Jack Gantos.

A fictionalized account of two months in author Jack Gantos’s life in the summer of 1962 when he is living in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, Dead End in Norvelt keeps young readers laughing for over three hundred pages. Although young Jack had thought he was going to have a wonderful summer vacation, he gets “grounded for life” for shooting his father’s WWII Japanese rifle. However, Jack is still allowed to help an arthritic neighbor type up her obituaries about the founders of this coal-mining town, who are dropping like flies. As the book launches from one funny episode to another, the reader gradually begins to comprehend that these people may have been helped along to their heavenly reward. Norvelt weds slapstick comedy to historical fiction and a mystery novel, an unsual blend of elements that keeps readers guessing about what is really happening in town until the final pages.

With a paperback being published in May and a free Teacher’s Guide available, the book is attractive for classroom use. Teacher extraordinaire Mike Lewis has read this book for the last two years to fifth-graders in Hingham, Massachusetts; it was a favorite of his students both times and even funnier to read aloud the second time around. Jack Gantos’s segment on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me after he won the Newbery is one of the most delightful interviews of any children’s author. Had Jack not pursued a career writing children’s book, he could have become a stand-up comedian.

But I am grateful that he decided to write for children and teens. For Dead End in Norvelt, Jack won a long-overdue Newbery Award, one that recognizes his singular voice and contribution. In the end Jack has always kept faith with children like himself; boys and girls who want to read something funny, bizarre, and unusual. He understands those readers need to encounter both children and cats who misbehave from time to time.

Here’s a passage from Dead End in Norvelt:

“Do I need to remind you of your little problem? she asked.

How could I forget. I was a nosebleeder. The minute something startled me or whenever I got over-excited or spooked about any little thing blood would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames.

“I know,” I said to her, and instinctively swiped a finger under my nose to check for blood. “You remind me of my little problem all day long.”

“You know the doctor thinks it’s the sign of a bigger problem,” she said seriously. “If you have iron-poor blood you may not be betting enough oxygen to your brain.”

Share

Originally posted April 8, 2013. Updated for .

Tags: 20th Century, Award Winning, History, Newbery, Summer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Dead End in Norvelt
Share

COMMENTS

  1. G. Perry says:

    I’ve just got round to this one. it got more laughs out of me per page than any other book I’ve read.

    It has some material that some might find uncomfortable, with dead body talk and spewing nose blood, but you can’t get put off by that, as I almost was. Stay with it, you’ll have a lot of fun, and the humor far outweighs the gore.

    Gotta catch the sequel. Can’t wait.

  2. Anita says:

    Gordon: Jack Gantos is one of the funniest writers around — everything a bit larger than life. And, as you say, a new Norvelt novel has just become available.

  3. G. Perry says:

    And indeed, I read the next one. From Norvelt to Nowhere.

    Both fantastic!

  4. McCourt says:

    I actually just finished listening to the audiobook version of this in the car just minutes ago! I came in the house, turned on my computer, and (of course) checked out today’s almanac. Perfect timing!

    I so enjoyed this book. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the story – I winced through some of the crazy situations mentioned above. But the winning voice, characters, and storytelling won me over. And I laughed out loud a lot – which is my absolute favorite thing to do when reading a book.

    The audiobook is narrated by Jack Gantos himself and it is excellent. He definitely brings the story to life.

  5. S.Matt Read says:

    Very funny book. I also just reread Gantos’s Newbery acceptance speech for this. He’s got a knack for keeping his audience informed and entertained.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.