Author Jack Gantos visits PRES

It’s not every day that a Newbery Medal-winning author visits a local school—which made Wednesday, December 12, 2012 a very special day at Pound Ridge Elementary School.

Jack Gantos was named the 2012 Newbery Medal winner for Dead End in Norvelt, a semiautobiographical middle-grade novel that takes place during the summer of 1962, when narrator Jack Gantos turns 12 and spends most of his days grounded until he is assigned to help an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore. Mr. Gantos has written book favorites, such as the Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza series and many other novels and picture books. His books reach all ages, which made him a perfect fit for this K-5 school visit. Mr. Gantos appropriately matched his presentation to the captivated audience.

During the grade 3-5 presentation, Mr. Gantos worked with the children on journaling—how to set up a journal, map out and brainstorm ideas, and then pull ideas from a journal to work on a short story. Students and staff were impressed as the author held up his journal from when he was a child.

Jack Gantos gave the students the sense of how to get started in writing. He displayed a “story map” on a projection screen that showed rooms in a house with various details from his childhood like “sister’s room,” “mean dog,” and “exploding hot dogs.” His goal was to help students realize that they also have great things in their lives to write about. Then he told them how to take that content and give it structure and form. He held the attention of all students while he narrated portions of his story map, recalling funny childhood experiences, including the time he ate too much spaghetti to get out of doing the dishes. Gantos encouraged the students to get a journal and write in it for 10 minutes a day so that in a short time they would have a story to write and its readers would be able to see, feel and experience the same story.

During the grade K-2 presentation, the author focused on the development of a picture book. Using Rotten Ralph as the main character, Jack took the children through the literary elements of storyboarding.

Jack Gantos lit up the room at Pound Ridge Elementary School with his storytelling expertise and enthusiasm for writing. Teachers were given copies of his story map and writing process ideas so that they could do follow up lessons with students in the classroom.

Students were able to purchase books autographed by the author as a reminder of this special visit. Also, the school library purchased Jack Gantos books (even those out of print) for students to check out. These books have been in high demand and hard to keep on the library shelves!

It is obvious that Jack Gantos made writing exciting and motivating for students. After his visit, one parent spoke about the new journal her daughter received. In it she wrote an inscription thanking Jack Gantos for inspiring her new journal. This visit was planned by the school Reading Committee, made up of the school librarian, Mrs. Baldo, and several parents.