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Maniac Magee (1990)
by Jerry Spinelli
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Best Young Adult (140)
Sonlight Books (160)
Books Read in 2018 (3,439)
I just remember this book being mind-blowingly good in 4th grade.
Star and a half. I liked Amanda's family a lot, and the Pick-people (sorry, I thought the name was cute). (sighs) Fellow lovers of reading, I was so excited to hopefully rate this book five stars and explain the roots of my hoped-for adoration of this book, and delve briefly into a fond childhood memory. I hoped to remember most of the book, and draw praise, and sniffle a little. None of that happened. We read this book in fifth grade, in 1999. My widely-adored teacher read parts of this out loud to us on Fridays as a treat. This was during the fierce rivalry between the LA Lakers and the Pacers, and our homework was to go home and watch the games, or watch with friends if we didn't own a TV. Our class split into two competitive groups, driven not by the love of basketball, but of our teacher, who was born and raised in Indiana, but came to Seattle anyway. We placed bets fit for ten-year-olds and sniped at one another before school. R, a friend, slipped a note into one of my schoolbooks that read, "A loves the Pacers." I snickered and kept the note for decades, right in its original position. I was a Pacers fan but liked insults like that. So, I do have some normal childhood memories kind of.
This book was unquestionably written for children, and in a way that celebrates childhood in some ways, and it doesn't make children feel stupid. Spinelli doesn't talk down to children at all, which can be common in some kid lit. I thought for decades that this book took place in upstate New York and nope, small town. That's--got unfortunate implications, as does most of this book. In a sentence: this is about a white savior who's a young homeless kid. When I think of small towns that have a sizeable white population that's low-income, I think of sundown towns. I am still learning about it, so this may not be accurate at all. But for a town so deeply divided--sundown town. The racial dynamics are so weird. It's a white savior fantasy, so that's to be expected, but it was weird. When does this take place? How is Maniac continually able to literally outrun social service people? He's a ward of the state. How is he able to cut school constantly? How did he fall through the cracks? How on earth did he break into the zoo constantly, -climb into animal enclosures-, and do so -without getting attacked-? The world-building left a lot to be desired, but it's also magical realism that wasn't properly introduced or developed.
His aunt and uncle in the beginning, with their strict views on how they should live separately--um, until 1996, divorce and separation were illegal in Ireland, and even after a new law was passed, it was still hard to get. So, Mum often lived upstairs, with Dad downstairs, and kids did eat with different parents at different times. That was totally a thing. But here, Spinelli's twisting it and making it seem bizarre and stressful in unrealistic ways, and adding a strange American twist. I did not approve. I also frowned at chapter transitions and passages of time so frequently being marked with Maniac running away, performing a fantastical feat, or character introductions of yet another person who would be changed by a young, homeless boy who was new in town. Months and seasons were anthromorphized in ways they didn't need to be, the Sledgehammer of Symbology (thanks to Das Mervin for the term) was wielded with alarming regularity, and wow, there's lots of broad caricatures and stereotypes in this book.
But--it's helped kids read. But I didn't like what it had to say, to be honest. And what makes my childhood memories viewed through such a filter--what a strange choice of book to read to fifth graders. Our class was over half Latinx kids, with the rest white kids. And -this- was the cherished and adored book? A white savior magical realism with cliche and unrealistic messages about race relations? By the time my younger brother entered the class two years later, this book was no longer assigned. I'm glad I reread it now, though, and with more life experience and social knowledge..
Maniac Magee is a popular story about racism and segregation that is often taught at the middle school level. The main character is Jeffery Magee, a young , white, orphan boy who becomes a local hero in his very divided town due to his severe lack of care about race, something that is completely unlike everyone else in Two Mills. This book won several awards in the years following its publication in 1990, and I actually read this book in 6th grade ELAR and still remember details about it to this day because it was so impactful. A cross content aspect of this book is in Social Studies due to its focus on race, racism, and segregation, but it could be kept on any classroom bookshelf or read aloud to any class.
Who should read it?
This book is considered a "classic" by many of the students and teachers I've talked to, and I can see what. There are important lessons about independence, racism, determination, death, poverty, and role models embedded in a craftily narrated story of a local legend, Maniac Magee. Due to the vocabulary and writing style, I would recommend this book for younger young adult readers, like upper elementary or early middle school, depending on the student’s maturity, but if a high schooler was looking for a fun, quick read, I would recommend it to them as well. It would make a fun read-aloud for as young as third grade, I feel.
The version I read is the 25th-anniversary edition pictured above.
Curious why Maniac Magee is still popular over 25 years after its original publication? Check out this article "25 Years On, 'Maniac Magee' Is Still Running By Shannon Maughan: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/artic...
Adrian Jackson (Books for Keeps No. 96, January 1996)
A marvellous and special book (a Newbery winner) - worth having as a set. It's the part mythic story of Maniac, always running, looking for, a home, how he got his name and how he became a legend. In between the stories of his untying the legendary Cobble's Knot, the baseball game involving a frog, sleeping alongside the buffalo at the-zoo and beating an ace sprinter by running backwards, is the racial, divide of the town. Maniac runs between the two, fighting his own battles, but also battling to bring people together. A wonderful read and read-aloud. Category: Middle/Secondary. . ...., Hippo, D3.50. Ages 10 to 14.
Fran Lantz (KLIATT Review, September 1992 (Vol. 26, No. 6))
Jeffrey "Maniac" Magee is a scruffy 12-year-old runaway orphan with some exceptional powers--he can run faster than anyone, he can hit an inside-the-park homerun bunt, and he can untie any knot. One day he wanders into Two Mills, a highly segregated town. But Jeffrey is an innocent who makes friends with both black kids from the East Side and white kids from the West Side, and eventually--with only the force of his personality and unusual talents to help him--manages to unite the town. Spinelli has written an unusual and moving story. He presents Maniac as a legendary figure, and leaves it to the reader to decide what is true and what is myth. Although the book is a bit difficult to get into, the persistent reader will be well rewarded. Winner of the 1991 Newbery Medal. KLIATT Codes: J*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1990, Harper-Trophy, $3.95. Ages 12 to 15.
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After his parents die, Jeffrey Lionel Magee's life becomes legendary, as he accomplishes athletic and other feats which awe his contemporaries.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)371Social sciences Education Teachers, Methods, and Discipline
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Hachette Book Group
2 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.
Editions: 0316809063, 0316807222
Awards/Honors: Newbery Medal ( )