I was first introduced to Maniac Magee over ten years ago. A co-worker was reading it with the seventh graders. Since the book deals with prejudice, she decided to conduct a little experiment and asked me and the other teachers to help.
One day, about half the seventh grade was called down to the office. They were given red ribbons and told to wear them the next day (I can’t remember what excuse the kids were given for wearing them). Then, we teachers had to spend an entire school day treating the “ribbon kids” better than the non-ribbon kids without telling them why. Only the ribbon kids could answer questions in class. Only the ribbon kids could leave class for a drink of water or a bathroom break. Only the ribbon kids could sit in the front of the room.
Let me tell you, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my teaching career. Seriously, being prejudice is a lot of work! Of course, there were phone calls from parents and students protesting, but eventually I think they all got the point.
The great thing about this book is that it looks at prejudice through the eyes of a kid who doesn’t see any difference between people with different skin colors. There’s a lot of humor and some memorable characters in this book. The chapters are super short, so the reading flies by.
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Age group: middle grade (ages 9-12)
Genre: contemporary fiction
Synopsis: Jeffrey Lionel Magee was forced to live with his aunt and uncle when his parents died in an accident. His aunt and uncle can’t stand each other and force Jeffrey to split his time between them. When he can longer take it, Jeffrey runs away to the town of Two Mills, a severely racially divided town. Randomly running back and forth between the East End and the West End, Jeffrey makes friends (and enemies) on both sides of the town divide. How he brings the two sides together is the stuff of legends.
Does it pass the “Home School Mom Test“? Yes. This is a beautiful book that opens the door to some wonderful conversation with kids.
If you like this book, be sure to check out more Jerry Spinelli books. He has a ton out there, and the kids love them.
In 2010, I had the chance to meet Jerry Spinelli at the International Reading Association conference. He signed a copy of Stargirl for my niece and a copy of Maniac Magee for me. 🙂 The line to meet Mr. Spinelli was very long, but worth the wait!