Maniac Magee

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Maniac Magee Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Kid bridges racial divide in exciting, moving story.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 23 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 59 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Maniac Magee is an excellent teaching tool, as a point of departure for children to discuss race and what feeds people's prejudices. 

Positive Messages

People of all colors have the same need for -- and same capacity to give -- love, acceptance, and a home.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maniac isn't an activist or a crusader. He's just a kind, honorable kid who wants to feel a sense of belonging and thinks people should get along. The wonderful Beales show him that family has no color, and Grayson shows him that you don't need a lot to feel the warmth of home. Almost unintentionally, Maniac helps some of the White West Enders and Black East Enders open their hearts to each other.




A mom slaps Maniac when he trash-talks, but then both of them are sorry for the incident and he hugs her. References to Maniac's parents dying in an accident when he was three. Mr. McNab irrationally prepares to defend his home from Black people, and the McNab children pretend-play that Black and White people are at war. 


Racial name-calling: Maniac is called "fishbelly" and "honky." Rude words like "belch" and "fart."


Mars Bar Thompson is named after the candy he's always chewing. Late in the book, Amanda starts calling him "Snickers" instead. Other brands mentioned include Quaker Oats and Whoppers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A drunk trolley driver causes a fatal accident. At the McNab house, children as well as adults smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Cigarette smoking at a funeral.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jerry Spinelli's Newbery Medal-winning novel Maniac Magee tells the story of an orphaned White boy who becomes a local legend in a racially divided town. The book is by turns exciting, heartwarming, and funny, with some tall tales added, enhancing the boy's reputation: Eight-year-old Jeffrey "Maniac" Magee can run and swing a baseball bat faster than kids twice his age. The story is also at least as relevant as it was when the book was published, in 1991. Black and White families are segregated in the story, and there's a lot of fear and resentment between them. One family is gearing up for an imagined race war, and the children pretend they are fighting off Black "invaders." Those kids also smoke and drink, and the novel generally explores the right (and wrong) ways to make children feel secure and happy at home.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHunter67 April 21, 2016


What this book could do to your child's sub conscience is horrible- it deals heavily with segregation, death, and unfounded fears. Find a better book for... Continue reading
Adult Written bytheawesomeamaya August 23, 2011

Maniac Magee REVIEW

Its not that much drinking,drugs,smoking,or bad language but i would not let a child under 10 to read it. And if they are 10 and under you would have to probabl... 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, 9 years old May 4, 2020

A good story bad words and racism.

I was assigned to read this book. The plot was interesting but i read this in 4th grade. I think it is for middle-scholars. they had word like _ish-bely and... Continue reading

What's the story?

The book title MANIAC MAGEE refers to a boy (really named Jeffrey), who is such a fast and impressive athlete that people start referring to him as a "maniac." When the story begins, Jeffrey, who's White, is living with his aunt and uncle because his parents died in an accident when the boy was only 3. Jeffrey's guardians don't get along with each other, though. In fact, they don't even speak to each other. One day, Jeffrey runs out of patience with them and literally takes off running. He winds up in Two Mills, a town that is divided between East Enders (Black residents) and West Enders (White ones). Both Black and White kids soon learn that Maniac can run and swing a bat faster than anyone. He makes friends on both sides of town, and is taken in by the Beale family, who are Black, where the household includes two loving parents, a girl named Amanda, who's Maniac's age, and her little brother and sister, Hester and Lester. Not all of the East Enders approve of Maniac living with the Beales, however, and Maniac feels terrible about bringing trouble to their door, so he runs away again, this time finding a home with an older man who warms to Maniac. Eventually, Maniac is on his own again, but a couple of needy children lead him back to Two Mills, and he tries to make sense, and peace, of the racial divide.

Is it any good?

Jerry Spinelli's wonderful novel addresses essential issues of race and child raising, but it's never preachy. Instead, the author tells an engrossing and amusing story that makes kids think about their world, and it serves as a great discussion starter. Likewise, Spinelli offers hope that individual hearts and minds can change, but he doesn't guarantee universal peace and harmony. The author's approach is engaging, not only because he doesn't make any unrealistic promises, but also because he creates such winning and rich characters, with relatable quirks and problems. Maniac Magee is a legend to kids in Two Mills because he seems first and foremost like a real kid with an extraordinary story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about families in Maniac Magee. Which families are happy? What is the author saying about what makes a loving family? 

  • In the book, the town is literally divided along racial lines. Do you think there are places like this today? How does Maniac change the town?

  • Author Jerry Spinelli uses exaggeration and tall tales to embellish the legend of Maniac Magee, but other parts of the book are very realistic. Have you read any other books that have that kind of mix? How does it affect the way you feel about the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of racism and social justice

Themes & Topics

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