Mt. Pleasant native Jack Gantos authors a new 'Norvelt' book
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 8:45 p.m.
Talk around the Thanksgiving Day table at the home of Norvelt's Bill and Doris Weaver will likely center on one particular family update — the recent publication of “From Norvelt to Nowhere,” a book by Jack Gantos.
Gantos, a renowned children's fiction author and Mt. Pleasant native, is also Bill Weaver's nephew.
“I just finished reading it, and I have to say I do enjoy Jack's books,” said Weaver, 67.
The work is a sequel to Gantos' “Dead End in Norvelt” for which he was awarded the 2012 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature.
“‘From Norvelt to Nowhere' is a companion to that,” said Gantos, 62, a resident of Boston, in an email message while the author was taking part in a recent tour through Texas to promote his new book.
“Dead End in Norvelt” followed the humorous adventures of a boy named Jack Gantos, grounded “for life” by his parents, but restored by the stories he learns about his hometown, Norvelt, a planned community founded during the Great Depression.
“From Norvelt to Nowhere” finds a 12-year-old Jack on a mission that takes him hundreds of miles from the town during an off-the-wall adventure.
At the heart of the book remains the author's fervent regard for Norvelt, a tiny, coal patch village founded in 1934 by then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to help provide a better quality of life for coal miners and their family's during some of the nation's darkest economic days.
“Though I was born in Mt. Pleasant, my mother (Betty Gantos) is from Norvelt, and I spent many years in Norvelt, especially with my grandparents — James and Imogene Weaver,” Gantos said. “I went to the Norvelt Elementary School and, given this background, I have always had a strong affinity with the town and its people and with its inspirational history.”
Gantos added that he tries to return to Norvelt “every few years” to visit.
“My mother still lives in Greensburg, and each time I visit her we always take a trip to Norvelt and drive around, and look at our old house and the charming cottages, which are so graceful and well kept up,” he said.
With the nationwide attention the books have drawn, Gantos said he always takes the opportunity to educate interviewers and the like about the history of Norvelt.
“I think people are especially impressed with the community-minded ethic of the town — a town of people-helping-people — just as Eleanor Roosevelt had wanted as she believed in strong communities where generous minded neighbors bonded together to form extended families,” he said. “I speak across the nation and around the world and I always talk about Norvelt with great admiration.”
When he won the Newbery Medal, Gantos said one of the things he was most excited about was the fact it would “bring tens of thousands of more young readers to the book (Dead End in Norvelt).”
With the publication of “From Norvelt to Nowhere,” Gantos said hundreds of thousands of new readers reach out to him regularly.
“I receive photographs of people who visit Norvelt, and have their photos taken at the Roosevelt Community Center and other civic sites in the town which are mentioned in the books,” he said. “And now people are keen to do research on the Federal Homestead program which created towns like Norvelt across the country.”
Gantos said he only hopes children surrounding Norvelt are made to understand its historical significance.
“Norvelt has a very proud history, a history which should always be taught in the school,” he said.
Weaver said he has attended several of Gantos' occasional book signings in the area to reconnect with the much-traveled scribe.
“Jack travels all the time, so he's hard to get a hold of, but Jack is an ordinary guy. He doesn't give you that feeling that ‘I know more than you, or I'm better than you.' I always enjoy talking with him, and we're all very proud of him,” Weaver said.
Gantos said not to expect any more books from him in the “Norvelt” series.
“I do not have plans for a third Norvelt book. I think two are sufficient,” he said.
However, the Rev. David L. Greer, pastor of Norvelt Union Church and president of the Westmoreland Homesteads/Norvelt Historical Society, would not mind seeing more, he said.
“I look forward to not only this current book, but any book (Gantos) would choose to write about Norvelt in the future,” Greer said. “We're very pleased that Norvelt is getting this attention, and I'm glad he loves Norvelt as much as we do. We share his pride.”
Editor's note: “From Norvelt to Nowhere” is available as an audiobook from Macmillan Audio, read by Gantos himself, at https://soundcloud.com/macaudio-2/from-nowhere-to-norvelt.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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