Monday, May 9, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli (1990)

Since confession is good for the soul, I have to admit I'd never read this Newbery winner until last week, when I took it with me to a beach retreat. The impetus for giving it a look was the book club I heard about, started by Andrew Luck, who is the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts football team. (The mere fact of a quarterback starting an online book club was so intriguing that the Don and I were sold. The Don's reading this month's adult selection, which is The Boys in the Boat. I can see a lot of sailing in our future.)

I flew through the book, and I have to say: what took me so long?!

What It's About: 
Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn't made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run--and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

Opening Lines (Prologue): 
"They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring."

Things To Love:
This has the feel of a fable to it. It is swift-moving, and deals with important issues (race, neglect, bullying, and loneliness) in a clear-eyed yet humorous fashion. As you can see from the opening lines of the prologue, the sentences sing with a giddy inventiveness. You can open any page of this novel and find wondrous descriptions--Maniac's sneakers are said to be "hanging by their hinges and flopping like dog tongues." The novel also shouts its Americanness unabashedly, with scenes of football and baseball, prizes like a weekly pizza, and a zoo which includes buffalo. I think it would make an exuberant read-aloud, and I can't wait to read it to my soon-to-be 4th grader. I can see why this is considered a modern-day classic.

About the Author:
When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children's book author, live in Pennsylvania. WEBSITE

What other Jerry Spinelli books should I read? (I've read EGGS, but that's it.)


  1. I've heard great things about this too. But I'll confess too that I have never read this. It just wasn't the type of story I thought my daughter would like at that age. Glad you really liked it.

  2. One of my favorites. A great read-aloud and discussion starter too. Reminds me I need to re-read this one some day.

  3. great book!Others: Stargirl, Library Card, Wringer, Knots in my Yo Yo string,There's a girl in my hammerlock....

  4. One of my top ten all-time favorite MG reads! So glad you finally read it and loved it. It's a modern classic. I also love Dump Days (which I think is now out of print) and Space Station Seventh Grade (his first published novel) plus Jason and Marceline and There's a Girl in my Hammerlock. Oh, and Hokey Pokey, which is a bit different from anything else he's written.

  5. I have read this one a couple times. It is a fantastic story!


Youse got something to say? Well, say it then. (The Don and I will shoot you... a personal reply, that is. But if we can't find your e-mail, we'll just reply in the comment box.)