A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Susan Bonners (Edwina Victorious), Linda Crew (Children of the River), and Steven Schnur (The Koufax Dilemma).
- Itâ€™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 couldnâ€™t think of a book that I might bring over to them. Although I displayed Jack Gantosâ€™s Rotten Ralph picture books that day, his Newbery winner, Dead End in Norvelt, had not yet been written.
Jack Gantosâ€™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 Gantosâ€™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 â€śgrounded for lifeâ€ť for shooting his fatherâ€™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 Teacherâ€™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 Gantosâ€™s segment on Wait, Wait, Donâ€™t Tell Me after he won the Newbery is one of the most delightful interviews of any childrenâ€™s author. Had Jack not pursued a career writing childrenâ€™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.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Dead End in Norvelt:
â€śDo 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.
â€śI know,â€ť I said to her, and instinctively swiped a finger under my nose to check for blood. â€śYou remind me of my little problem all day long.â€ť
â€śYou know the doctor thinks itâ€™s the sign of a bigger problem,â€ť she said seriously. â€śIf you have iron-poor blood you may not be betting enough oxygen to your brain.â€ť
Originally posted April 8, 2013. Updated for .