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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key Book Poster Image
Sympathetic, realistic portrait of boy with ADHD.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 22 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

This sympathetic but realistic portrait of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) helps children and adults understand the syndrome better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joey misbehaves constantly but never intentionally. Joey's mother is an alcoholic, his parents abandon him, his grandmother is mean, and he feels he's no good.


A boy accidentally trips with scissors and cuts a girl's nose tip off.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Joey's mom is an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos, is an entertaining, sympathetic, and accurate depiction of a child with ADHD. HIs mother's alcoholism figures in the story. Sequels are Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, I Am Not Joey Pigza, and the series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCBarr February 27, 2012

Language issue not shown in the initial review.

My daughter who is 13 chose not to read it. The language bothered her. I did not read the book myself.
Adult Written bylauriklark November 16, 2014

Inappropriate for elm age children

Stereotyping of ADHD spectrum disorders. Dysfunctional and alcoholic care givers. Young children will likely be very confused or even scared by the messages in... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRosebud381220 October 15, 2009
Teen, 15 years old Written byGraceGurl14 September 17, 2011

teaching lessons

it teches you lessons like always stay in a group when you go on field trips and never run with scissors

What's the story?

Joey whirls through life like the Tasmanian Devil, his body's uncontrollable impulses running far ahead of his ability to control them. This sympathetic but realistic portrait of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) helps children and adults understand the syndrome better.

Is it any good?

Told in the first person, the harrowing but ultimately hopeful story of JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Joey's behavior. Even for the reader who knows what's going on inside Joey, this is a hard kid to like. Nonetheless, author Jack Gantos succeeds in making him sympathetic and bringing out his inherent goodness. The teachers, the principal, and even his alcoholic mother all are portrayed as kind -- if worn out -- people who are doing the best they can.

Though much of the story is realistic, in the end the solutions come a bit too easily. And given that medicating children with this syndrome is controversial, some readers may be bothered that the solution is almost entirely a matter of giving Joey the right medication. This novel, one of the best about this common disorder, will be interesting to most children and adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ADHD. What are the challenges it poses for kids in school?

  • Do you know someone who acts like Joey? Do you ever feel like he does?

  • Do you think his family could do a better job helping him? 

Book details

For kids who love great stories

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