Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue: A Jack Henry Adventure

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9780374437183: Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue: A Jack Henry Adventure

From the Newbery Medal–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt, eight side-splitting stories about a boy who is doing his best to keep his head above water

As the Henry family sets sail for a new life on Cape Hatteras, fourth-grader Jack is struggling to chart a course between his parents' contradictory advice on making friends and influencing people. Just tell people what they want to hear, Dad advises. Just tell the truth, Mom cautions. Jack finds there are no easy answers as he drifts through his crazy school year, falling desperately in love with his young teacher, getting suckered into becoming a bad-behavior spy for the principal, and being forced to make a presentable pet out of a duck with backward feet. Indeed, with an airheaded, air-guitar-playing neighbor the closest thing to a friend, and a judgmental older sister his relentless enemy, it's all he can do to stay afloat.

This colorful and comic new collection of interrelated stories featuring the author's hapless alter ego is the first of five books in the Jack Henry series, praised by Booklist for their "hilarious, exquisitely painful, and utterly on-target depiction" of a boy's life.

This title has Common Core connections.

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About the Author:

Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert Honors, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Jack was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and when he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing, and teachers made learning a lot of fun. When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. The seeds for Jack's writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister's diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers' lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories.

While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack's career as a professional writer. Jack continued to write children's books and began to teach courses in children's book writing and children's literature. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children's book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Flotsam and JetsamThe whole family was in the big white Buick Roadmaster convertible, which was as round and long as a whale out of water. My older sister, Betsy, named it Moby Dick and after twenty hours on the road Dad looked as bug-eyed behind the wheel as Captain Ahab. Dad had just bought it with bonus money the Navy gave him for enlisting in the Seabees, which was the branch of the Navy that built anything ships and sailors needed at their home base or when they docked at a port. Back in our small hometown he was a house builder and he thought this Navy stint would give us all a fresh start because, as he explained it to us one night over dinner, “We don’t stand a snowball’s chance of ever getting ahead while living out here in the sticks where people dig coal, eat squirrels, and build more outhouses than people houses.”He was right. If we stayed out in the sticks we’d just be stuck there forever. But Mom had always lived out in the sticks and she didn’t want to leave her family behind. Still, Dad had a point. He looked Mom in the eye and waved his fork at us kids. “Do you want Betsy to have to clean other people’s houses for a living? Or Pete to be a fruit picker? Or have Jack junior here grow up like your brother Jim, who has to shoot coal-mine rats for a living?”I wouldn’t have minded shooting rats for a living, but Mom agreed with Dad that our futures would be brighter elsewhere, so they decided we should become a Navy family and make the move to Cape Hatteras. We sold all our furniture and just brought Dad’s tools, the kitchen and bathroom stuff, and our clothes. It all fit easily into the Roadmaster’s trunk, which was as roomy as a walk-in closet.On the AAA map, North Carolina didn’t seem far away from our town south of Pittsburgh. But on the road, we ran into a lot of construction and it was slow going. Still, the car was comfortable, and with the top up it smelled just like when you open a book for the first time, which kept the trip fresh and full of hope. In the backseat we played cards and travel games and did a lot of singing and then gradually we all started to fade. We got tired and pasty and worn-out and we flopped around and squabbled over pillows and kicked at each other for more space. The Roadmaster no longer felt roomy as we fell into a long period of grumpy silence.Then, after a catnap, I thought I’d start a little conversation and perk everyone up again. But my conversational effort turned into a disaster. All I said was, “I’m a little concerned about how to make friends in a new place. Does anyone have any advice?” Well, that opened the floodgates to a nose-to-nose disagreement between Mom and Dad.At first, all Dad said was, “The secret to making new friends is exactly the same secret as how to be a success in life—you just look people right in the eye and tell them what they want to hear. You’ll make all the friends you want and cut through life like a hot knife through butter.”“I disagree entirely,” Mom said, alarmed. She turned toward me. “The best way to make friends and sail through life is to always be yourself. And that is not a secret. Everybody knows honesty is the best policy.”“You mean a policy for people who don’t have any ambition,” Dad said. Lately he worked the word ambition into every conversation.“No,” she said, raising her voice, “ambition is no excuse to turn your back on honesty and self-respect.”Betsy groaned. “See what you started,” she hissed, then slumped down in her seat and looked miserable.“Self-respect is overrated,” Dad shot back. “I always feel a lot better when I get exactly what I want. Only whiners sit around worrying about self-respect.”“Well, that is one of the fundamental differences between us,” Mom declared. “You have no respect for the truth. You’ll say anything to get what you want and I won’t stoop to such low-life tricks.” Then she turned back to me. “My dad never told a lie in his life,” she said with great pride.“And where’d that get him?” Dad asked.“He’s a pillar of the community,” Mom said proudly. “And people want to be his friend because they know he won’t lie to them, and feed them a load of you know what ...”“The only load of you know what is what you are telling Jack—”Mom cut him off. “I don’t want to talk about this nonsense anymore,” she said, dicing the air with her words.Suddenly, instead of feeling like I was riding a whale, I felt swallowed by it. But I did start thinking about what they had said. I had seen both of them tell stories, and they each had a different style. Dad would say anything to keep people on the edge of their seats. Every time he went to the Elks Club he’d draw a crowd, tell wild stories, and drink for free. Once in a while he’d take me, so I got to see him in action. When we’d enter the club he’d give me a dollar in quarters and send me to a far corner to play the pinball machines. He’d lean on the bar and tell a story to the bartender. Then the bartender would start to gather a crowd. “Get over here,” he’d holler to a few guys who were bored and staring down into their beers. “You gotta hear this story. Go ahead, Jack,” he’d say as the men moved closer to Dad, “tell it again.” And with each good laugh a few more guys pulled up chairs and drinks and Dad jumped into action again, telling more outrageous stories and giving the crowd just what they wanted—a thrill. They didn’t seem to care if the stories were true or not.On the other hand I had been with Mom when she was telling a story about her Mayflower relatives to the well-dressed ladies down at the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters. It was all I could do to keep from falling asleep as she went on and on about every little family-tree detail, and then she would pause for a minute and roll her eyes up into her head to sort out some fact in her mind until she got it all straight and then would inch forward again. And even though the D.A.R. ladies were polite, I could spot their necks flexing and faces swelling out from stifled yawns ...After a while the road began to dip down, then rise up, and then dip down as if we were driving across the ocean. Suddenly my little brother, Pete, bleated, “I don’t feel too good.” I heard something surging up his throat and quickly grabbed him by the hair and yanked his face toward his sneakers. He missed me but sprayed his shoes, and with a follow-up blast he made a chocolate brown puddle, colorfully speckled with some undigested M&M’s, on the floor behind Dad’s seat. Even though it was kind of pretty puke, it smelled toxic.Dad smoothly pulled over to the side of the road. He hopped out of the car and opened the trunk. Mom leaned way over her seat and patted Pete on his sweaty head.“You’ll be fine,” she said. “It was just a little motion sickness, but now it’s over with. Happens to the best of us.”I wondered if Mom was telling Pete what he wanted to hear, or if she was telling the truth. If he threw up again would he think she was lying? Because I already knew that part of what she said was a lie—I never had motion sickness and I was better than he was, so it didn’t always happen to “the best of us.”Dad opened Pete’s door and caught a fresh whiff of the puke. “Holy mackerel!” he cried out, and took a deep breath before leaning in and sopping it up with a car rag. When he finished cleaning up, he tossed the rag in a ditch by the side of the road and wiped his hands on the grass.“Time to lower the roof and air this big boy out,” he said to no one in particular. He unhooked the chrome clamps above the sun visors and lifted the stiff top. It folded back like an accordion and Dad stuffed it down into a gap behind the backseat and snapped it into place under a white vinyl cover. It was so cool.When he got back into his seat, he put the car in gear and we merged with the ongoing traffic. The road construction was behind us and he hit the gas. It felt like we were in a wind tunnel. Mom had one hand holding down her plaid floppy summer hat while the fingers of her other hand dug into Dad’s shoulder. Betsy sat squinting unhappily, fighting a desperate battle to keep her long black hair from constantly whipping across her eyes. A hurricane had swept the coast two days before and the trailing clouds were still bloated and low, and it was threatening to rain. Lightning slashed above the distant trees. Wet leaves flattened against the windshield. Still, it was thrilling to see everything so clearly with the top down. Then, just when I thought no one would ever speak again, Dad cleared the air with an upbeat remark.“This baby has a nose for the ocean,” he said proudly, steering toward Cape Hatteras with one hand on the wheel and the other loosely hanging down over the outside of the door like shark bait. He was eager to get over the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge and to the Outer Banks before nightfall.When we reached the bridge there was a Coast Guard sailor on sentry duty. A black-and-white-striped sawhorse blocked the road and the sailor lazily waved a long flashlight with a glowing orange rim over his head. Dad slowed down and pulled toward him.“The bridge is closed,” the sailor a...

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