Jack Gantos

A Letter To Young Writers

Dear Readers and Writers,

I am no different than any other writer. My desire to write came to me after I started to read great books. It is the reading that stimulates the imagination and makes you realize you have great stories of your own to tell. Plus, just imagine how proud you will feel when you hold a book in your hand that has your name printed on the cover.

In school I was a library helper. I shelved books and you can probably guess that the G section was my favorite. I would walk my fingers across the spines of the G authors until I came to the slot with GALDONE on one side and GEORGE on the other. I could imagine my book, with my last name fitting on the shelf between those two authors. Every school day I would pass that G shelf and imagine my book, with my name on it, proudly reaching out at me like a secret friend.

Of course, when you are young, it is easy to imagine a book with your name on it, but as I grew older I realized a bit of effort was going to go into the construction of a book. So, I bought a small black writing journal, and on the spine, I took a pen knife and carved my last name into the black cover. I wasn’t sure what to title the book and so I didn’t. After a while I just called it my “Black Book.” I took that book everywhere. I wrote very unorganized stories in it. But I did have an eye for the odd moment. I saw my dog eaten by an alligator. I wrote about it in my Black Book. I saw an airplane crash in my neighborhood. I wrote it down. I broke my brother’s arm—three times! I wrote it all down. And I kept filling up the Black Book. And when it was full of odds and ends and bits and pieces of stories, I made a fake library call number and pasted it on the spine of my book. I glued a card pocket on the inside back cover and slipped a Date Due card inside. Then I carved my title on the spine: “JACK’S BLACK BOOK”. When no one was looking I went to the bookshelf and slipped it between GALDONE and GEORGE.

Each day I would pass it in the library. Weeks went by. It didn’t move. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed—even dejected. I almost pulled it from the shelf, but I knew I would despise myself for giving up. So, I kept waiting and then one day it was gone! I was thrilled.

But after many long weeks went by, I thought maybe it was foolish of me to put the only copy of my book on the shelf. Whoever checked it out was probably laughing at me before dumping it in the trash. I was feeling pretty ridiculous. The empty gap on the shelf where my book had been now looked like a sad missing tooth.

Then it came back! I was working in the library and found it in the BOOK RETURN bin. I quickly flipped to the back where I had written a note on the last page asking the reader if he or she liked the book. They had responded. Eagerly I read what I had hoped for: “Whoever wrote this book should seek help.”

I did. But it wasn’t a doctor. I went to my teacher and told him what I had done and asked for help on how to organize my stories. He did help me. He and other teachers, and reading more books made me a better writer. And that is how I got started—that little journal was inspirational!

I went to college for creative writing. I have published over fifty books from the “ROTTEN RALPH” series to the “JACK HENRY” series to the “JOEY PIGZA” series to HOLE IN MY LIFE and THE TROUBLE IN ME and more—all the way to DEAD END IN NORVELT, the 2012 Newbery Medal winner and its sequel, FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE. I have won many awards, but the Newbery Medal tops them all.

THE TROUBLE IN ME is a middle school book about my life a few years before HOLE IN MY LIFE—and it is about trouble—the trouble inside of me, and outside of me. I don’t know about you, but for me reading about trouble always makes the pages turn twice as fast.

When I am not writing, I travel the globe teaching students how to tell their own stories. I’ve now given over 1,000 presentations worldwide. In the fall of 2018 my book on how to write stories was released, compiling all of my best story writing tips! It is titled: WRITING RADAR: Using your Journal to Snoop out and Craft Great Stories. I think this book will give you a head start to find your book on a shelf.

All Best with Your Writing,

Jack Gantos

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