Little, Brown, 1990
Newbery Medal, 1991
Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll, #17
Maniac Magee is a homeless orphan who unknowingly breaks an unspoken rule in his new town: he’s a white boy who wanders into the black part of town, and is taken in by a black family. Even when he finds out what he’s done, he doesn’t care. Because to Maniac, it just doesn’t make sense. (Ain’t that the truth?). He tries his best to bring the two sides of town together, but naturally, learns that some people are just set in their ways, and some kid who can untie a knot better than anyone else ain’t gonna change everything.
Racism. Homelessness. Identity. Pretty heavy for a children’s book, but somehow Spinelli’s story doesn’t seem heavy at all. It’s got great characters: from Mars Bar, the kid who got his nickname from the candy bars he eats, to Amanda, who carries her entire library around with her in a suitcase to protect her books from her younger siblings, and Maniac himself, who is a little Forrest Gump-ish in his naiveté (and his knack for running). It’s one of those rare books that could be handed off to a boy without much complaint, which in my book, is top notch.