Author: Jerry Spinelli
Length: 184 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content appropriate for: Grades 4-7
Format: Audiobook narrated by S. Epatha Merkerson
Three adjectives that describe this book: complex, fun, memorable
I read this book as part of the Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics books in 5 years. My list is comprised entirely of children's books.
Much of the novel was written as a tall tale. For instance, at one point he faces a pitcher who has struck out every single batter. Yet Maniac hits the first pitch, and continues to hit every single one afterward - even when the pitcher hurls a frog instead of a baseball.
This narrative style makes the story fun, but it also raises the complexity of the text. When my 5th grade students discuss Maniac Magee, it's clear that they see these events as actual, rather than exaggerated. I wish Spinelli had made the tall tale aspect more explicit.
As the story progresses, some great things emerge. Maniac spends time with wonderful families, and some that are struggling. I love that Jerry Spinelli explored both ends of this spectrum.
Some other things I loved:
* Explicit discussion of racial issues
* Both positive and negative figures that are both black and white
* A fascinating father-figure who is homeless
* Learning is highly valued both in and out of school
Overall, I can see why Maniac Magee is loved by teachers everywhere. Many students love it too, but others find it lacking in action.