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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key | Class #3, 2015

joey pigzaThe Joey Pigza books are hugely popular with upper elementary kids. Joey Pigza is the first of the series and while it’s not spelled out, I think it’s pretty obvious that Joey has ADHD.

I like sharing this book with teachers because they tend to look at the situations described in the book completely differently from the way Joey’s contemporaries — the real target audience — would. As you react to this book, it’s important to allow yourself to read it as two different people: you as a critical adult who is allowed to be horrified by the adults in the book (and maybe a little sympathetic, too?) AND as a child who is Joey’s age. If you allow yourself to read this through your student’s eyes, do you find that your reaction to the book changes?

Note that we are also reading an interview with Jack Gantos this week from the Embracing the Child website.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Gek Keng says:

    I really enjoyed this book! One of the most emotional moments for me was reading Chapter 8 where Joey and his mother discuss his temporary enrollment into the special-ed school, and he mentions the names other kids call him. The entire exchange felt very raw, honest, and heartbreaking. Joey Pigza is an endearing boy who grew on me (I was initially somewhat horrified by his antics, especially the pencil sharpening scene) because he feels so genuine, earnest, and “has a good heart”. I think many older children can definitely empathize with him. However, I also wonder if this book will be as suitable for younger readers, keeping in mind the slightly graphic injury scenes and the potential that Joey’s actions might be misconstrued as positive/acceptable behavior.

  2. Annie Thomas says:

    This book was really interesting to me as I wonder how later elementary students would respond to some of the scenarios in the book. How do teachers manage some of the things that happen- like the scissors injury scene, or the grandmother leaving?

    Thinking about this book through the lens of a chid, especially one who might suffer from ADHD, I am almost comforted in way– knowing that these students have a representation in children’s lit. I think its interesting that we read about Joey’s trip to the doctor- as I am sure many parents and students who have many doctors appointments to attend could relate to.

  3. Geri Low says:

    I have never heard of Joey Pigza books before, and I didn’t read the blurb so it was an interesting experience discovering that he had ADHD. What I liked about this book is that it manages to capture two opposing points of view very well – the way the school administrators view Joey and Joey’s perspective on things. At many times, I felt sorry that he was so wronged! It made me think about how children would feel reading it, and if this would help them to empathize better with children who are similar to Joey.

    It is amazing how the book is written in a simple manner, but it somehow manages to convey difficult themes with such depth!

  4. Stacey Kahn says:

    Joey Pigza totally surprised me – I didn’t know much about the series until this assignment, and I thought with a goofy kind of name like Joey Pigza, that I was in for a barrel of laughs. But I found that I didn’t laugh that much at all—in fact, there were several moments where I teared up. It was really effective to give us indirect clues about Joey’s life through his childlike perception—his innocence and naivety made some of the things we learned more heartbreaking (how his grandmother treated him while his mom was away, for example, or his mother’s drinking problem). I think this book presents a wonderful opportunity for kids to start grappling with these bigger life issues they will (or possibly already are) inevitably face.

  5. Hannah Hanssens-Reed says:

    I was glad to read the positive comments of my classmates, and want to echo my love for this book. Coming from a family with two parents that work in schools for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities, “Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key” felt like a touching, real, and honest story of a kid, told beautifully through his unique perspective. This book is one that I would recommend not only to children, but also to teachers, especially because it is an individual narrative that is sometimes lost in teachers frustrated with students that can’t sit still. But looking at this book through my childhood eyes, I would have felt a real connection to the struggles of Joey and sympathetic to the dynamic of adult-relationships surrounding him. And in the interview with Jack Gantos, it is evident that kids either attach to Joey through their personal ADD/ADHD diagnoses or become more aware of misunderstood classmates.

  6. Kasey Michel says:

    Oh goodness, as someone passionate about inclusive education and with a background in special recreation, this book really resonated with me! I think it is so important to represent diversity of characters both in their abilities, their family structure, and their daily lives. I think Joey Pigza did a nice job of depicting some tough scenarios that are all too real for some kids without over normalizing. And having these depicted by an admittedly confused, yet really rather ingenious narrator, would allow for ample opportunities for reflection and discussion that I think could aid in elementary school students’ understanding of themselves and their peers.

  7. Kara Brady says:

    I was surprised to see ADHD from such a different perspective in this book, and happily so. As a previous teacher, I felt immensely under-prepared for working with children with attention disorders. I think even reading this book then would have helped, to see the struggles from the child’s eyes and mind. As someone stated in a previous comment, it’s easy for teachers to lose sight of the individual when they’re trying to manage a whole class. It’s interesting how strongly I feel that this children’s book could be so helpful for adults. I was also surprised how well this book dealt with really heavy issues such as parents leaving their children and home lives that fall outside of the social norm. This is where I thought like a child and I think I would feel comforted knowing that not all homes are perfect. This is a great book that touches on a lot of meaningful topics!

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