Maniac Magee

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Maniac Magee Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Exciting, moving story explores racism, myth making.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 24 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 57 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

 Examines the issue of racism and how it affects a town, families, and kids. 

Positive Messages

Sometimes you have to find your own home and create your own family. Judge people by their character, not the color of their skin.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maniac is resilient and athletic and tries to bridge the racial divide in his adopted town. The Beales, an African American family, take Maniac in, and a park groundskeeper also cares for him awhile. The McNabs espouse a virulent racism and prepare for a race war. The McNab children steal, swear, cut school, smoke, and drink.


Several racial standoffs are chilling. A mom slaps Maniac when he trash talks, but then both of them a sorry for the incident, and he hugs her. References to Maniac's parents dying in an accident when he was an infant. A man dies. Maniac loses nearly everyone who matters to him and at one point loses interest in living.


Some mild bathroom-oriented words. Both anti-White and anti-Black slurs. Maniac is called "Fishbelly" and "honky donkey."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The McNab children smoke and drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee is an exciting, moving, and sometimes funny story, brilliantly told, about an orphan boy who runs away from his feuding aunt and uncle at age 8 and makes a name (and legend) for himself in a racially divided town. It won the 1991 Newbery Medal and remains a vital, relevant classic. Several racial standoffs are chilling. Some kids smoke and drink. One man dies. And there are references to Maniac's parents dying in an accident when he was an infant.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 11-year-old Written bylitmom123 January 28, 2011

Perfect book

Could possibly be the closest thing to the perfect child's novel, ever.
Jeffrey if forced to run away from the worst kind of unfeeling people this world pr... Continue reading
Adult Written byLanaJasper December 17, 2018

Amazing Book! A Must Read!

I teach 4th grade and read this book for the first time this year. Jerry Spinelli does a magnificent job taking a true world issue and explaining it through a... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old September 10, 2015

Love this book

My fifth grade teacher read this book to us at the beginning of the year, that introduced me to my favorite author jerry Spinelli.
This book is one of my top fi... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old November 6, 2014

Unexpected, emotional, wonderful!!!

Written with amazing skill, Jerry Spinelli catches you in this book when he tells the tale of an amazing boy looking for home. Maniac Magee observes things arou... Continue reading

What's the story?

A homeless orphan becomes a legend in a town divided by racism in this sometimes funny, sometimes moving, always exciting story. Jeffrey Magee's exploits may have made him famous, but reconciling a town filled with hate and finding a decent life for himself may be more than even he can manage.

Is it any good?

One of the greatest Newbery winners ever, Jerry Spinelli's book is a riveting story, swinging between joy and sorrow, that works on many levels. It's a realistic novel, the recounting of a legend, and a no-easy-answers statement on race relations. The ending shows the possibility of some personal happiness for Jeffrey but offers no pat answers to the town's racial problems. There are heroes and monsters on both sides, and Jeffrey is able to find, even in the most hate-filled among them, redeeming qualities and humanity.

But though Jeffrey makes a difference in the lives of many, the reader is forced to realize that the idea that he can somehow bring about a reconciliation between the races is naive. The secondary characters are well drawn and appealing, the story is exciting, and the ideas are thought-provoking. And the book offers little moments that, though understated, are sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartrending, but always involving. This book should not be missed.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about legends. Are there "legendary" stories about your family members or classmates?

  • What do you think about how racism is portrayed in Maniac Magee? Does it seem realistic? How does the book help you understand how a town could be divided along racial lines? How does Maniac Magee compare with other books you've read that deal with race?

  • How much truth is there in the stories told about Maniac Magee? Which do you find more interesting: what really happened, or the embellished tales?

Book details

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