Maniac Magee

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Maniac Magee
Maniac Magee cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorJerry Spinelli
Cover artistAlyssa Morris
CountryUnited States
Published1990 (Little, Brown)
Pages184 pp
LC ClassPZ7.S75663 Man 1990
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This article is about the book. For the film adaptation, see Maniac Magee (film).
Maniac Magee
Maniac Magee cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorJerry Spinelli
Cover artistAlyssa Morris
CountryUnited States
Published1990 (Little, Brown)
Pages184 pp
LC ClassPZ7.S75663 Man 1990

Maniac Magee is a novel written by an American author Jerry Spinelli and published in 1990. Exploring themes of racism and homelessness, it follows the story of an orphaned boy looking for a home in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Two Mills. He becomes a local legend for feats of athleticism and fearlessness, and his ignorance of sharp racial boundaries in the town. The book is popular in elementary school curricula, and has been used in scholarly studies on the relationship of children to racial identity and reading. A film adaptation of Maniac Magee was released in 2003.

Major characters[edit]

Plot Summary[edit]

Maniac Magee's parents were in a trolley when a drunk driver crashed and sunk the trolley (P and W trolley) into the Schuylkill River in Bridgeport, PA, orphaning him at age three. After living with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan in another town and enduring their mutual hatred and silence for eight years, he runs away during a school musical performance. One year (The Lost Year) and 200 miles later, Jeffrey finds himself across the river from Bridgeport in Two Mills, PA, where Hector Street sharply divides black East Enders from white West Enders. Maniac (Jeffrey) is unknown of the hatred between the west and east sides.

He meets Amanda Beale, an East Ender [who carries her suitcase full of books to keep them away from her little brother and sister (Hester and Lester) who crayon everything in sight], and borrows a book before continuing his dash through town. Along the way, he intercepts a football pass made to local football star James "Hands" Down, infuriates gigantic little-leaguer, John McNab, by hitting home runs off his fastball, and saves an unlucky child from Finsterwald’s backyard. Finsterwald's house is a house dreaded by everyone and has a very bad reputation. Because of these acts, he earned the nickname "Maniac" and started a local legend.

When East Ender "Mars Bar" Thompson corners Maniac and rips a page from Amanda's book, Maniac is rescued by Amanda herself, who takes him home to her chaotic but loving household. Maniac finds a temporary home there, helping Mr. and Mrs. Beale with the chores and pacifying Amanda's little brother and sister, Hester and Lester. Soon though, a few East End residents make it clear to Maniac that they don't want him in the East End anymore by writing racist graffiti on the Beale's front door. His final effort to gain acceptance is by untying the famous Cobble’s Knot (a huge, grimy ball of string with a year's supply of pizza waiting for its vanquisher.) After finishing the task he is praised by everyone as confetti is thrown into the air. Amanda Beale realizes, too late, that the confetti was made from the pages of her favorite book. Maniac runs away again so he won't hurt the Beales anymore. But he comes back because he realizes that he'll miss the Beales. He takes shelter in the buffalo pen at the zoo and occasionally eats with the Pickwells—West Enders who kindly provide spaghetti dinners for anyone who shows up at their dinner table.

At the zoo, Maniac meets Earl Grayson, a washed up minor-league baseball pitcher who turns out to be a groundskeeper, who hasn't ever learned to read, and who insists he has no stories to tell. For a few months Maniac has a home again with Grayson, helping him at work, celebrating holidays with him, and teaching Grayson to read. When Grayson dies in his sleep, Maniac wanders off aimlessly. He left in the middle of Grayson's funeral because he couldn't take it.

On the verge of frozen starvation he encounters Piper and Russell, child-ruffians who are running away to Mexico, and who turn out to be John McNab's little brothers. Maniac leads them back home, bribing them with free pizza, and stays at their cockroach-infested, waste filled, decrepit house. Here, Maniac finds the worst that the West End has to offer, as he learns that the McNabs are making a bunker because they believe the East End is planning a rebellion. He endures the coarseness and squalor of the McNab home in hopes of keeping Piper and Russell in school and under control, but eventually gives up.

After beating Mars Bar in a foot race and goading him into crashing a birthday party at the McNab's, Maniac is homeless again. He moves back into the buffalo pen, and runs for miles every morning before Two Mills wakes up. Before long, Mars Bar Thompson starts running with him as if by coincidence, and the two never say a word to each other. One day they come across a hysterical Piper McNab, who frantically leads them to Russell, stuck on the trolley trestle where Maniac's parents died. Maniac walks away silently, nearly unconscious and stunned by fear, while Mars Bar rescues Russell, becoming a hero in the child’s eyes. Maniac retreats once again to the buffalo pen, where Mars Bar leads Amanda Beale to persuade Maniac once and for all to come and live with her family again.

Two Mills and Norristown[edit]

The imaginary town of Two Mills is based on Jerry Spinelli’s childhood town of Norristown, PA.[1] Spinelli has said that material from the story was inspired by his childhood experiences there,[2] and a number of geographical correspondences confirm this. Norristown, like Two Mills, is across the Schuylkill River from Bridgeport, and neighboring towns include Conshohocken, Jeffersonville and Worcester, all of which are mentioned in the novel.[3] The Elmwood Park Zoo is in Norristown, and Valley Forge, where Maniac wanders,[3] is nearby as well.


Critical reviews[edit]

Maniac Magee was well-received upon publication, variously lauded in reviews as "always affecting," [4] having "broad appeal," and being full of "pathos and compassion." [5] Booklist reviewer Deborah Abbot says, "...this unusual novel magically weaves timely issues of homelessness, racial prejudice, and illiteracy into a complicated story rich in characters and energetic piece of writing that bursts with creativity, enthusiasm, and hope." [6]

Reviewers noted that the theme of racism was uncommon for "middle readers".[7] Criticism concentrated on Spinelli's choice of framing the novel as a legend, which Shoemaker calls a "cop-out," [5] which frees him from having to make it real or possible. It has also been called "long-winded," and seeming like a "chalkboard lesson." [4]

Awards and honors[edit]

Awards and honors for the book include:

Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[24] It was one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.[25]

Use in education and research[edit]

Maniac Magee is popular in elementary schools as a historical-fiction novel. Many study units and teaching guides are available.[26] including a study guide by the author.[27] The novel has been used as a tool in scholarly work on childhood education and development. Fondrie cites it as an example in a discussion of how to bring up and discuss issues of race and class among young students.[28] McGinley and Kamberlis use it in a study of how children use reading and writing as “vehicles for personal, social, and political exploration.” [29] Along the same lines, Lehr and Thompson examine classroom discussions as a reflection of the teacher’s role as cultural mediator and the response of children to moral dilemmas,[30] and Enciso studies expressions of social identity in the responses of children to Maniac Magee.[31]

In a less pedagogical vein, Roberts uses the character of Amanda Beale as an archetypical "female rescuer" in a study of Newbery books,[32] and Sullivan suggests the book as being useful in discussions of reading attitudes and difficulties.[33]


Maniac Magee was adapted as an audiobook by Listening Library in 2005 (ISBN 0307243188) [34] and as a TV movie in 2003,[35] which was nominated for the Humanitas prize in the children’s live action category.[36]


  1. ^ Long Bostrom, Kathleen (June 2003). Winning Authors: Profiles of the Newbery Medalists. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 247–251. ISBN 1-56308-877-0. 
  2. ^ Spinelli, Jerry (2001). Literature Circle Guides: Maniac Magee (Grades 4-8). p. 9. ISBN 0-439-16362-5. 
  3. ^ a b Spinelli, Jerry (1990). Maniac Magee. p. 122. ISBN 1-55999-387-1. 
  4. ^ a b Kirkus. May 1, 1990. 
  5. ^ a b Shoemaker, Joel (June 1, 1990). School Library Journal. 
  6. ^ Abbot, Deborah (April 21, 1991). "Review of Maniac Magee". Booklist. p. 33. 
  7. ^ Publishers’ Weekly. May 11, 1990. 
  8. ^ "Boston Globe - Horn Book Award, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  9. ^ "Carolyn Field Award, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  10. ^ "Newbery Medal, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  11. ^ "Charlotte Award, past winners" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  12. ^ "Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  13. ^ "NDCBA, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  14. ^ "Indian Paintbrush Award, past nominees and winners" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  15. ^ "Rhode Island Children’s Book Award, past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  16. ^ "Buckeye Children's book award/winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  17. ^ "Land of Enchantment book award past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  18. ^ "Mark Twain Award Previous Winners". Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL). Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  19. ^ a b "JRank Biographies: Jerry Spinelli/Sidelights". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  20. ^ "Nevada Young Readers award: Past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  21. ^ "PNLA children's choice past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  22. ^ "Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award, past winners/winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  23. ^ "William Allen White Award: Past winners". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  24. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  25. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". School Library Journal "A Fuse #8 Production" blog. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  26. ^ ", search results for "Maniac Magee guide"". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  27. ^ Spinelli, Jerry (2001). Literature Circle Guides: Maniac Magee (Grades 4-8). ISBN 0-439-16362-5. 
  28. ^ Fondrie, Suzanne (2001). "Gentle doses of racism: Whiteness and children’s literature". Journal of Children's Literature (fall). pp. 9–13. 
  29. ^ McGinley, William; Kamberlis, George (December 1993). "Maniac Magee and Ragtime Tumpie: Children negotiating self and world through reading and writing". 43rd Annual meeting of the national reading conference. Charlston, SC. 
  30. ^ Lehr, Susan; Thompson, Deborah (March 2000). "The Dynamic Nature of Response: Children Reading and Responding to Maniac Magee and The Friendship". Reading Teacher 53 (6). pp. 480–493. 
  31. ^ Enisco, Patricia (1994). "Cultural Identity and Response to Literature: Running Lessons from Maniac Magee". Language Arts 71 (November). pp. 524–533. 
  32. ^ Roberts, Sherron (April 1998). "The female rescuer in Newbery books: Who is she?". Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA. 
  33. ^ Sullivan, Emilie (September 1994). "Three Good Juvenile Books with Literacy Models". Journal of Reading. p. 55. 
  34. ^ "Random House". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  35. ^ "IMDb: Maniac Magee". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 
  36. ^ "IMDb: Humanitas Prize 2003". Retrieved 18 August 2009. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Number the Stars
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Preceded by
The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

Succeeded by