Maniac MaGee by Jerry Spinelli
Interest Level Grade 4
Grade Level Equivalent 5.4
Genre Classics, Realistic Fiction

12 year old Jeffrey MaGee was orphaned twice: once by default and once by choice. His parent’s railcar careened off the P&W trestle bridge into the river below when he was three. He was left to his aunt and uncle who fought so terribly that one day eight years later, Jeffrey took off running. In a year, he ran more than 200 miles, back to where he was born, saying “hi” to those he passed. He ran everywhere, catching footballs, hitting home-run frog balls, and doing other spectacular stunts until someone started calling him a maniac. Maniac MaGee was born. But what Jeffrey wants more than anything is a home with actual address numbers on the outside. He finds temporary homes. His first home is with the Beales, a family from the East End, the segregated black side of town. In the simple act of befriending Amanda Beale, a black girl, MaGee causes both sides of town to question themselves about race.

This is another book my sons didn’t like. It was required reading in their 4/5 class as a read-aloud book. It may be because our lives are completely the opposite of Jeffery’s. We have built ourselves a beautiful cocoon in which we can grow safely. But there comes a time where it is important to know that race relations were not always as they are now, that there are adults who can’t read, and that there are homeless children. The tween years are a time to become less of an innocent child, and to learn what we can each do to make the world a better place. There was tragedy and hardship for Jeffrey, but there was also a great deal of love and kindness both from families taking him in to be fed and housed and also from Jeffrey caring for other children. Unlike in Freak the Mighty, the character you grow to care for has a better life in the end. We are left satisfied that Jeffrey is loved and cared for in a home with an actual number on the outside. This book is a gentle introduction to others less fortunate than ourselves and a time when races were not equal. My boys are flabbergasted when they are presented with the idea of treating different races, or even sexes differently in law or merit. I respect when race tensions are presented as they were in Magee: historical and with kindness and ignorance on both sides.

I appreciated how Jeffrey and Mars Bar diffused anger. Here were two people that were culturally supposed to hate each other. But instead of fighting or becoming angry, they poked fun at themselves when things were becoming tense. We are trying to teach our boys how to deflect teasing and how to laugh at themselves. Mars Bar didn’t lose the race against a white boy running backwards. It must have been his brother, Milky Way.

Manic MaGee was been made into a tv film by Nickelodeon in 2003.

Awards and honors for the book include (wiki):
• 1990: Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
• 1991: Carolyn Field Award,Newbery Medal (American Library Association)
• 1992: Charlotte Award, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Flicker Tale Award, Indian Paintbrush Book Award, Rhode Island Children’s Book Award.
• 1993: Buckeye Children’s Book Award, Land of Enchantment Award,Mark Twain Award, Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, Nevada Young Readers’ Award, Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award,Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award, West Virginia Children’s Book Award, William Allen White Award.
• Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.”
• It was one of the “Top 100 Chapter Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal

Spinelli, J. (1990). Maniac MaGee (1st ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown, and Co.