We caught up with Gantos before he caught a plane to Bangladesh, on his way to teach at the American International School. Gantos, 60, received the Newbery Medal in January for his novel Dead End in Norvelt. In the book, written for kids age 10 and older, Gantos mixes some real incidents from his childhood in this town (named for former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt) with fantastical adventures. Gantos is also known for the popular Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza series of books, as well as his autobiographical read, Hole in My Life. That book details the author's experience sailing a boat full of hashish from St. Croix to New York City, and how it landed him in jail.
What's on your nightstand?
Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. You can always learn something new about him. In this one, I'm feeling especially intrigued about his extended family and environments.
Do you have a favorite Dickens book?
David Copperfield. I was completely absorbed and captivated. It was thrilling. There seemed to be no exit door. I read it in ninth grade in Mr. Swarble's English in between diagramming sentences.
What do you recommend for that reluctant group of readers, say 12-year-old boys in sixth or seventh grade?
I don't see 12-year-olds as a tough audience, not by a long shot. I think 12-year-olds are fairly articulate. I am concerned with the next age group. Teenagers are traditionally the bigger challenge. You've got their growth going on, and they're naturally stepping back from family who perhaps is where the reading has been encouraged. But there's Gary Schmidt, Carl Hiaasen and the Guys Read series.
When it comes to the Newbery Award, who of your peers would you like to have seen receive more honor?
I read the books, and right now, there is not one in particular that jumps out. But I can tell you that Tobin (M.T.) Anderson is always a great one. Look at his range. He goes from silly to a book like Feed and then to the Octavian Nothing books. He's got incredible depth line by line and in each scene. He is able to present the internal life of characters so well that it is completely satisfying.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer