Sunday, February 4, 2007

Maniac Magee

Maniac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli

This novel is set in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, and is a tall tale based on 12-year-old Jeffery Lionel "Maniac" Magee, an orphan who is homeless and is a baseball superstar, can run very fast on railroad tracks, and is able to soothe racial tensions in his town of Two Mills. Two Mills is divided between blacks and whites by Hector Street (blacks on East End, white on West End). The racial tensions in this book are very strong. Maniac is very confused by the racial biases - to him, the people are simply people - heterogeneous but having much in common, such as kindness and cruelty.

Having read this book in elementary school, I can speak about the impact this novel's message had on my psyche. For the longest time, I considered Maniac Magee my favorite book, which indicates that Spinelli is a great children's author. More than that, however, this book dealt with important issues and left me with new ideas about race. Something that has stayed with me is the mention of skin color as more than just black or white - I remember descriptions of skin color as caramel and chocolate, and it made me appreciate my own skin color and that of others.

Character Traits Chart
There are many notable characters in this story who possess exceptional traits. Construct a chart that lists the traits of the main characters in Maniac Magee: Amanda Beale, Maniac Magee, John McNab, Earl Grayson, Mars Bar Thompson, Russell and Piper McNab.
Home Sweet Home
Maniac is searching for a home. Explore the meaning of "home" with your students. Have them create a shape poem, a recycled poem, a poem of alliterations, an acrostic poem, a limerick, a limerick, or other type of poem that reflects how they feel about their home.
Oral History
Maniac Magee learns about Earl Grayson from the tales the old man tells. Have your students learn more about a significant elderly person in his/her life. Use this list of questions to help the students and the interviewed person get started.
(adapted from

Social Justice:
This book addresses all levels of social justice, especially social change, as Maniac's ability to bring people together in Two Mills is transformative.

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