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Jack Gantos, Skyler Kardell, and How a Book Can Change Your Life

May 5, 2018 by Nantucket Book Festival
Jack Gantos 2
It is through the richness of language that writers stimulate and steer the imagination of readers, and it is language and imagination that allows readers to steer themselves into and out of deep water. — Jack Gantos

Ever since our beginnings in 2012, the Nantucket Book Foundation has brought award-winning authors to our island to inspire, encourage, and ignite the imaginations of our students. Jack Gantos was the first author we hosted; Skyler Kardell was in elementary school, preparing for Jack’s visit by reading Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Here’s why Jack wrote the book, and how it made a difference in Skyler’s life.

"When I meet young readers and writers, I always pitch my creative writing and literature talks to give them encouragement and the basic tools for writing well—plus the tools for writing well with depth. My intent is to enthuse them to start writing immediately and to learn the craft, which anyone can do (the beginning, middle, end, and the problem, action, solution). But the greatest writers, I promise them, are those who are also 'furious readers'. Of course the great writers have craft, but writing with depth is defined by the endless and complex well of humanity the writer infuses into the characters—and that skill is inspired and strengthened through reading.

It is reading that gives the writer the words to drill down and define with depth and nuance his or her own humanity. I published a book titled Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, about a young boy with ADHD who is often out of control. He is far more active than articulate, and through his up and down journey to gain self-control he has to use language to fully define who he is within himself—which, heroically, he does. I single out this book because I receive hundreds of letters each year from readers—boys and girls--who like the story—but love the character—and have found through the reading a greater understanding of characters like 'Joey' and thus a greater understanding of their own humanity toward others.

It is through the richness of language that writers stimulate and steer the imagination of readers, and it is language and imagination that allows readers to steer themselves into and out of deep water. " – Jack

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"I can remember well the day that would forever be a 'spark moment' in my life as a reader and as a writer -- the day I met Jack Gantos. My class walked from our elementary school to the high school auditorium to see him. I had read only one of his books prior to actually going up on the stage and shaking the man’s hand: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

I never was much of a reader in elementary school. Yes, I read the books assigned to me in class, but I didn’t do much more than that, and definitely did not read in my free time. Reading was foreign to me in a lot of ways. The curtains are blue because the curtains are blue, why should that mean the house is sad? There was still a lot I didn’t know about reading for pleasure, and more importantly, reading to learn something.

I would consider this book (which I had read only because I would be meeting the author) the sole reason why I am a reader and writer today. Something about Joey Pigza’s crazy antics or his outlandish behaviors connected with me. Maybe not because I was a child suffering from ADHD, but because I knew how it felt to be different.

I went into books head-first after that, looking for something I could connect with again. The world wasn’t so lonely of a place when I picked up a book. After Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key I went on to read Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta, and then from there to read I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. I’ve read plenty of books since that day in elementary school -- nothing has stopped me. In the end, I look back to Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key as the catalyst in this chain of reactions that has helped make me who I am today." – Skyler

Skyler’s new-found appreciation for reading, thanks to Jack’s visit, changed his life. Last year we were proud to present Skyler with the Nantucket Book Foundation’s Young Writer Award, and thrilled to see our work come full circle. We share Skyler’s passion for books, to better connect with and understand our place in this world.

Inspiring the imaginations of our students is just one way that the Nantucket Book Foundation enriches our community year-round. So whether you’re planning to enjoy the 7th annual Nantucket Book Festival in June (where over 75% of the events are free), or you are as excited as we are to herald the next generation of readers and writers, we hope you will support us with your donation today.
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