Maniac Magee

This article is about the book. For the film adaptation, see Maniac Magee (film).
Maniac Magee

First edition
Author Jerry Spinelli
Cover artist Alyssa Morris
Country United States
Language English

1990 ([[Little, Brown

Pages 184pp
ISBN 0-316-80722-2
LC Class PZ7.S75663 Man 1990

Maniac Magee is a novel written by American author Jerry Spinelli and published in 1990. Exploring themes of racism and homelessness, it follows the story of an orphan 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. It 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 was released in 2003.

Major characters

Plot summary

Jeffrey Magee's parents were in a trolley when a drunk driver crashed and sunk it into the Schuylkill River in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, 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 and 200 miles later, he finds himself across the river from Bridgeport in Two Mills, where Hector Street divides the East End from the West End.

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 one 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, which is full of negative energy. Because of these acts, he earned the nickname "Maniac" and started a local legend.

When "Mars Bar" Thompson corners Jeffrey and rips a page from Amanda's book, he is rescued by Amanda. He finds a home there, helping Mr. and Mrs. Beale with the chores and pacifying Hester and Lester. Soon though, a few East Enders make it clear to him that they don't want him in there anymore by writing racist graffiti on the Beales' front door, "Fishbelly go home" to be exact. His final effort to gain acceptance is by untying the famous Cobble’s Knot. After finishing the task he is praised by everyone as confetti is thrown into the air. Amanda realizes, too late, that it was made from the pages of her favorite book, an encyclopedia A Edition. Jeffrey runs away, taking shelter at the buffalo pen at the zoo.

At the zoo, Jeffrey meets Earl Grayson, a minor-league baseball pitcher who turns out to be a groundskeeper, who never learned to read, and who insists he has no stories to tell. For a few months Jeffrey has a home again with him, helping him at work, celebrating holidays with him, and teaching him to read. Grayson winds up dying 5 days after Christmas, and Jeffery runs off again.

On the verge of death he encounters Piper and Russell, child ruffians that turn out to be John McNab's brothers. He leads them back home, bribing them with free pizza, and stays at their cockroach-infested, waste filled house. Here, he 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 their home in hopes of keeping Piper and Russell in school and under control, but he is kicked out when he crushes Piper and Russell's toy guns.

After beating Mars Bar in a foot race and goading him into crashing Piper's birthday party at the McNabs' house, Jeffrey 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 starts running with him as if by coincidence, and they 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 Jeffrey's parents died. He walks away silently, nearly unconscious and stunned by fear, while Mars Bar rescues Russell, becoming a hero in his eyes. Jeffrey retreats once again to the buffalo pen, where Mars Bar leads Amanda to it. She brings him to her house in a huff, with Jeffery and Mars Bar following her.

Two Mills and Norristown

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

The book 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 it 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

Awards and honors for the book include:

The U.S. National Education Association named Maniac Magee one of "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children" based on a 2007 online poll.[24] In 2012 it was ranked number 40 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarilyi U.S. audience.[25]

Use for educational and research purposes

The book 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] It 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]


The book was adapted as an audiobook by Listening Library in 2005 (ISBN 978-0-307-24318-8) [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. 1 2 Spinelli, Jerry (1990). Maniac Magee. p. 122. ISBN 1-55999-387-1.
  4. 1 2 "Maniac Magee". Kirkus. May 1, 1990.
  5. 1 2 Shoemaker, Joel (June 1, 1990). "Maniac Magee". School Library Journal.
  6. Abbot, Deborah (April 21, 1991). "Review of Maniac Magee". Booklist. p. 33.
  7. "Maniac Magee". 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. 1 2 "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". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( 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

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
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