A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.