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Julie Kraft
Professor Anne McLaughlin
EDTR 107
20 June 2015
Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key Novel Paper
1. Summary
Jack Gantos Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key is written through the eyes of
middle-school student Joey Pigza. Its a very fast-paced book because Joey has ADHD:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the first sentence, he describes himself as
wired; he knew that his mind worked in a different way then other kids (Gantos 3).
Joey grew up with his grandmother because both his mother and father left when he was
younger. According to Joey, his grandmother was also wired and tried her best to raise
him until his mother came back in the picture to raise him.
To give us some background, Joey begins by explaining a typical day: when he
wakes up, to when he is at school, to when he gets home, to when he goes to bed. His
condition makes reading the beginning of the story very difficult. It was hard for me to
keep up with the way his mind changes pace so quickly. Joey is having a difficult time
concentrating in the classroom; because of that, hes sent to the principals office daily.
Things begin to get better when his mother shows up unannounced to raise him and,
discovering his difficulties, begins to change his world at home and school. She has a
meeting with the school to find out more about his behavior issues, and takes Joey to a
clinic where he gets medication for his ADHD.

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At first, the medication has no effect and even leads Joey to make some damaging
decisions. Joey has difficulty making good and safe choices, and many of his bad choices
have serious consequences. Because of his concentration issues, his teacher Mrs. Maxy
had Joey sharpen pencils to keep him entertained while the other students worked on a
worksheet. Joey went from sharpening pencils, to sharpening chalk, which looked like
vampire fangs, to sharpening his pinky finger in order to make himself have sharp
vampire fingers. As you can imagine, this was very painful and resulted in him losing his
fingernail.
Joey went back to class and remained in the classroom. When he got home, his
mom only laughed it off and never really disciplined him nor discussed the seriousness of
his decision. A little later in the story, Joey begins to play with his house key. His house
key is attached to a string around his neck so he doesnt lose it. Joey begins to swallow
the key and pull it back up using the string; when his teacher Mrs. Maxy sees him doing
it, she cuts the key off the string and places it into his shirt pocket. Joeys ADHD makes
him forget that the key is no longer on the string: he swallows it yet again and this time
he has no string to pull it back up. He is then rushed to the nurse, and met by the
principal, Mrs. Jarzap. Mrs. Jarzap takes Joey to a special education classroom to be
evaluated by Mrs. Howard.
Mrs. Howard introduces Joey to the class and only asks one task of Joey
throughout the whole day. She puts him in a quiet chair with a book and wanted to see
him read it. Joey sat and skimmed the book quickly, then began to fidget. Joey begins to
climb all over the chair and tries to scoot the chair; however, the chair is bolted to the
floor. That makes Joey kick the legs of the chair to try and get it loose, causing bruising

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on his heels. After all of that Joey ends up falling asleep in the chair. When he wakes up,
it is the end of the day.
Later in the book Mrs. Maxy, Joeys classroom teacher, becomes increasingly
concerned with Joeys decisions and actions. When the class is on a field trip to an Amish
farm, she watches Joey carefully in an effort to keep him calm and safe. In doing so,
though, she singles him out from the other children on the trip. Joey realizes this special
treatment, and becomes upset. He runs off, steals a pie from the Amish family, eats the
whole pie, and then climbs up onto the rafters in the barn. Once up there, he leaps down
to the ground causing an injury to his ankle.
A few days later, Joey is in school and skips class to view an assembly. There, he
learns that helping those less fortunate makes you special. Joey concocts a plan to make
bumper stickers saying: Hate Is Not a Family Value. He begins working on them while
the rest of the class is at recess. Joey finishes but realizes that his scissors arent sharp
enough to cut through the poster board. He knows that Mrs. Maxy has sharp scissors in
her desk; when she walks out of the room, he grabs them. Not thinking, Joey runs with
the scissors back to his poster board; en route, he trips and cuts off a childs nose. The
young girl is extremely hurt and is taken away in an ambulance. Joey is sent to the office
where he is suspended for six weeks and must attend a special education center.
Joey begins at the special education center and is very worried throughout the first
day. Mr. Ed Vanness is his caseworker at the center. Mr. Vanness works diligently to get
to know Joey and understand him, and takes Joey to the centers mental health doctor.
The doctor tells Joey that he needs to go to a hospital and have scans done of his brain in
order to rule out any obvious conditions.

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After finding that the scans show that everything is normal, they begin treating
Joey using special patches that he wears everyday, delivering a constant small dose of
medication. With the new medicine, Joey shows an extreme improvement and is allowed
to come back to his old school, back to the special education room with Mrs. Howard.
When Joey returns he is greeted kindly by all of the staff, volunteers, and children at the
school. In Mrs. Howards class, she welcomes him and one of the moms takes Joey aside
and welcomes him back along with telling him that he has a good heart. Thats when Joey
walks to the back of the classroom, grabs a book, then sits in the quiet chair and reads the
whole book quietly.
2. A Brief Summary of ADHD, as it Relates to the Novel
Joey has a severe case of ADHD, which stands for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder. ADHD is a condition that can make it hard for a person to sit still, control
behavior and pay attention. (Attention) Joey comes from a lower-class family that relies
on state-paid doctors and clinics to treat him. The medication that he receives does not
always work, and with an unstructured schedule an oral medication will not effectively
help Joey to concentrate or make good choices. According to the textbook Introduction to
Contemporary Special Education: Symptoms of the condition must have been present
before age 12 (Smith 168). In the novel, Joey describes himself as wired (Gantos 3)
and has been since he was a toddler. With no structure or suitable discipline, Joey was
spinning out of control until his mom came back into the picture.
Joey was taken to a clinic where they got free medication for his ADHD, however
the medication continued to give out (Gantos 19). The nurse at the school said that the
medication that they received was cheap medication and some worked and some were

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duds. (Gantos 29) Joey certainly is hyperactive: teachers tend to describe him as
fidgety, squirmy, or continually off task. (Smith 170) Joey also is impulsive, which
can be described as an inability to control ones actions or reactions, (Smith 171) and is
a classic symptom of ADHD. Joey loves the phrase Can I get back to you on that?
(Gantos 3) and throughout the book he shouts that at teachers one of the many
examples of his impulsivity.
Throughout the book, Joeys ADHD causes both academic and behavioral
challenges that hold him back from learning with his classmates. The teachers do not
seem to know how to completely deal with these problems and ship him off to the nurse,
office, or special education room. The teachers should have known to use hands on
activities, set a standard for acceptable work, assign a peer assistant, or alternate
instructional activities frequently. (Smith 175)
Joey attends a special education center for six weeks, where he finally receives
proper medical care. The centers doctor gives Joey a new medication, as a patch, which
has to be left on for twenty-four hours. (Gantos 141) Based on my research, it is possible
that Joey was given Clonidine which works on children six and older and is also kept on
constantly. (Smith 187)
By comparing my research to Joeys descriptions and examples, I can affirm that
Jack Gantos book is a completely accurate depiction of ADHD. In fact, I understand the
condition much easier, because I can relate the textbook examples to Joeys real-life
experiences.

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3. Learnings and Future Perspectives in the Classroom
ADHD is a very time-demanding condition that requires constant attention from
all those in contact with the individual. My goal is to become an elementary school
teacher and teach first through fifth grade. With the myriad of students Ill encounter, Im
sure I will have at least a few students with ADHD. Reading and learning about this
disability has given me a lot of knowledge on how I can best help that child and their
family.
I will incorporate a daily schedule that the child with ADHD will have to
continuously live by in my classroom. I will have a specific time for that child to spend
some time just one on one to go over classroom objectives and work. According to the
Mayo Clinic, Children with ADHD have a hard time accepting and adjusting to change.
It makes sense to then keep that child to a schedule with as little change as possible.
Taking time to reach out to the parents or guardian of a child with ADHD will
also improve the childs daily school routine. Keeping in contact with the parents and
continuing to keep a schedule at home will help the child succeed in the classroom
setting. Helping the parents to keep organization with homework times and organization
will also help the child in their studies.
Having a positive reward system in the classroom will also help keep the child on
track. According to the Mayo Clinic, Children need to hear that they're loved and
appreciated. Focusing only on the negative aspects of your child's behavior can harm
your relationship and affect self-confidence and self-esteem. Keeping the childs self
esteem and confidence up will be my goal in the classroom to help the child succeed in
their learning environment.

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I am a certified school bus driver in Harford County and I have driven many
children with ADHD. Although on a school bus I have limited contact with the students,
it helps to be personable and have a reward system. On my school bus I have a check
sheet, and if the student is good the whole day on the bus they get a check. If they get five
checks for the whole week they get a sticker. If the child gets a whole month of checks
they get a small prize, and finally if they make it three months with all checks they get
candy at the end of the day.
Im sure my newfound knowledge of ADHD, and real-life examples from Joey
Pigza, will not only help me on the school bus, but also when Im a teacher in the
classroom.

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Works Cited
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Kennedy Krieger Institute, n.d.
Web. 20 June 2015.
Gantos, Jack. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Print.
Mayo Clinic Staff. ADHD in Children: Lifestyle and Home Remedies. MayoClinic.org.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 20
June 2015.
Smith, Deborah Deutsch., and Naomi Chowdhuri, Tyler. Introduction to Contemporary
Special Education: New Horizons. Boston: Pearson Education, 2014. Print.