Common Sense Media says

A moving, funny, lyrical tale with big appeal.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Jerry Spinelli gives his readers a careful, at times humorous, portrait
of a kid who is only special to his family, and scatters penetrating
insights into growing up along the way.

Positive role models

The main character is a good-hearted kid who endures cruel treatment from his classmates for being a "loser.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the main character is a good-hearted kid who endures cruel treatment from his classmates for being a "loser." The upside is that he's an utterly loveable hero, and there's so much to discuss here that a family, or a class, could spend days talking it over, which is why it's already a favorite with discussion groups.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Donald Zinkoff is Below Average, a condition that most adults would like to pretend doesn't exist, and that far too many children think applies most especially to themselves. He's not disabled, in danger, or orphaned; just clumsy, sloppy, not overly bright, and cheerfully clueless. He is, in the callous summation of his classmates, a Loser.

Spinelli follows him from early childhood through middle school. It is a story made up of small moments: going to work with his dad, trying (and failing) to make a best friend, answering questions in class, working up the nerve to go into the darkened basement. It's the story, in short, of a perfectly ordinary child.

Is it any good?


Few writers could pull this off -- a book with no villains, no heroes, and little real conflict, which is basically a child development text turned into a novel. Yet it's moving, funny, lyrical, and has powerful appeal for both children and adults. Jerry Spinelli gives his readers a careful, at times humorous, portrait of a kid who is only special to his family, and scatters penetrating insights into growing up along the way. Zinkoff's (no one calls him Donald except his teachers) mistakes and quirks are endearing, since we're seeing them from the inside. And his one real talent, a sunny disposition, keeps his life from seeming cruel when he's not picked for teams, when he's ridiculed and taunted, when he, in short, loses, again and again.

This type of story, of course, has been done often before, though rarely with Spinelli's wit and craft. And we all know the formula -- eventually there will be some great dramatic event, the hero will have his moment to shine, and everyone will realize that he's not a loser at all. But that doesn't happen here. There's a moment when it might, but it's not something a Zinkoff, or a real child, can pull off. And therein lies Spinelli's unusual point -- not that losers are really winners, or I'm ok, you're ok, but that the measuring sticks we chose may not be the only ones there are. And Spinelli has the courage to stick to his point right to the end -- no losers or winners, no heroes or villains, no happy endings or sad ones, just children, and their confusing ability occasionally to connect.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be human, and what it means to grow up. 

  • It might also be fun to combine a discussion about the book with the screening of a movie about growing up, such as Wide Awake, or one about not growing up, such as Peter Pan.

Book details

Author:Jerry Spinelli
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:December 28, 2003
Number of pages:218
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12

This review of Loser was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 9 years old May 10, 2011

good for losers and nonlosers

i love it because it relates to me. i am doing it for a book report and i think it will be easy to get other people to read it. i am reading another book by him. it is wringer. going to see its ratings.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
Teen, 14 years old Written bygsxr100 April 3, 2012

Very Good And Easy Read

Really good book. I used it for doing my 8th grade language arts project. was a fairly easy book to read for me, even though I read at a very low level was easy for me. I really suggest reading this book because it shows a boy how he starts from his first day of school, from then on and showing what he learned and easy way to learn things.
What other families should know
Educational value


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass