March 17, 2014

IMWAYR: Maniac Magee

Last week, our ELA classes finally finished reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. This is probably shocking, but I never read the book until now, although I've heard great things over the years. I think this is just part of life as an ELA teacher that my reading list is always a mile long, and sometimes I miss out on some great books because they just haven't risen to the top of the list yet.

I'm definitely glad I finally read this novel. We chose it as an alternative to Phineas Gage, which is a very engaging story but too hard for our sixth graders (though other classes did it). They did wonderful, though, with this text and were able to make many connections to the themes of friendship, racism, and homelessness.

What was harder for my students to understand (and I think this is probably a good thing) was the segregation. In fact, when asked, some of the students thought the book took place in the 50s because of said segregation. Their knowledge of this part of history (and, let's face it, present in some parts of our country) is very limited, and my students live in a very diverse community. One of the other ELA teachers told me she prepared her students for this before reading the novel by giving them texts about segregation in Chicago to help them make connections.

This book is an incredible mentor text. There are endless examples of literary devices and vivid descriptions that make the story come alive. Maniac's story provides plentiful opportunities for class discussions around homelessness, racism, and friendship, which challenged our students to consider situations they've never experienced. Above all, I applaud this text for teaching compassion and empathy, two character traits we want to instill in our children.

I honestly don't think there was a single student in the room who didn't love this book. Today, after the test, we watched the Nickelodeon movie, and all day long, my students commented how much more they enjoyed the book. To be fair, the movie is pretty terrible, and they were really upset that one of their favorite characters wasn't even included.

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.


  1. That's a pretty good description of what it is ... so many good books out there with a list a mile long it's hard to decide which comes first. Pretty sure I did read it but I can't remember much. I love sharing the experience of historical fic with kids. It can be so awesome and relate so much to what they experience now ... they just need a lot more help SEEING that.

  2. I have over FIVE HUNDRED BOOKS on my Kindle...since I started blogging I haven't read hardly anything at all. I'm ashamed of myself. I suppose I could stop playing Candy Blast Mania and quit watching trash TV, but I have priorities you!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  3. Maniac Magee is one of those titles I had somehow skipped for years too--remedied that a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it! Very surprised by the whole story as well--style, characters, plot. Unique. Eventually I want to read more by Jerry Spinelli--maybe this year since Maniac Magee is the only one of his books I've read.

  4. I haven't read this title too, and I really hope to read it soon, as I am sure it is a book that I would just love. Plus we do love Jerry Spinelli in this household. Thank you for sharing such a detailed review here.

  5. Wow- Maniac Magee! I think I remember reading this book in fourth grade and not completely understanding all of it. I liked the friendship theme though. And remember parts of him running. Would you recommend this as a 6th grade novel? I teach 6th and am looking for some literature circle novels to order for next year.

    1. Absolutely! I work with 6th grade as well. It's been my favorite novel so this year!