It’s 1962 and twelve-year-old Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer in his hometown of Norvelt, Pennsylvania.
Nonetheless, Jack manages to have many escapades including shooting a loaded souvenir Japanese army rifle, driving a car, inspecting dead bodies, flying in an army surplus airplane, running from an irate member of the Hells Angels and more!
In this humorous fictionalized autobiography, Jack Gantos not only creates a feeling of life in small-town America in 1962, but draws in stories from a variety of historical periods and places such as JFK’s heroism during WWII, King Arthur’s round table, and the bloody conquests of Cortes and Pizarro.
This 2012 Newbery Medal winner abounds with colorful characters, quick wit and fascinating historical vignettes.
To his credit, Jack Gantos is not afraid to create flawed characters in less-than-perfect families. However, the dynamics in Jack’s family are unhealthy with Jack’s father lying to his wife and both of his parents putting Jack in the middle of marital conflict.
An elderly neighbor explains to Jack, “History began when the universe began with a ‘Big Bang,’ (p.259).
Jack does a considerable amount of fake swearing (“cheese-us-crust”), but his mother does call him on it and tells him that it is as offensive as the real thing. Unfortunately, other characters let loose with a handful of real swear words, too.
For sure, Jack Gantos wants to impress upon his young readers the truth that history is everywhere and “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“ (George Santayana). He sugarcoats that pill with stand-out characters, humor, and daring adventure.
Will middle school readers swallow the pill and enjoy it?Will they be more intrigued by their history lessons at school or motivated to read nonfiction books about history? I’m not sure. However, I do know boys who devour history books but shun fiction. This book might satisfy those boys who are required to read fiction for a book report.
Awards/Lists: Newbery Medal 2012, Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012, Children’s Books of the Year 2012, Notable Children’s Books 2012, Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books 2011.