Want to become a famous major league baseball player and play shortstop for the New York Yankees? Jerry Spinelli had the same dream growing up as a kid in Norristown, Pennsylvania playing with his brother Bill. He was born in 1941, soon developing these dreams of aspiration as any kid does growing up. It wasn’t until the age of 16 that he wanted to become a writer. Spinelli attended a high school football game when he decided to write an article for the daily newspaper. Little did he know it would get posted the next day and that he would someday become a famous writer among young adult authors. Jerry attended John Hopkins University where he received his masters in creative writing. He wrote 20 books that have since seen published. Spinelli has won a number of awards for the books he has written including the Newberry Medal Award. I had the opportunity to read 2 of his books named Milkweed and Maniac Magee.
There are a number of similarities between these books. Both have a young boy who is lost as an orphan trying to find their place in life. ‘Maniac’ leaves his aunt and uncle to find a new start. He ends up at a town that is racially divided between black and white. Here he is faced with the challenges of adapting to his surroundings. He becomes famous from his talents and changes the way people throughout the town see things. Misha (isn’t his real name; he doesn’t know it), who is from the story Milkweed is truly an amazing character. He finds himself lost in the streets during the holocaust with only the memory of his horse and family. Even at a young age, he uses his talent of size and stealth for the benefit of the people he grew to love surrounding him. He would risk his own life just to help that of another’s. I think these books were designed to give a sense of model behavior to the extreme to children of our youth. Both of these boys had nothing, but still managed to give so much, to so many. They each had special gifts you could say. One was perfect for his environment; small, quick and sleek. The other just had miraculous talents, such as baseball and football, giving him the ability to even beat those who were years older. Maniac was not as dark of a book as Milkweed, mainly because there is the knowing that in the end, the family went to the concentration. There can be many lessons created using these 2 books. During my research, I found a number of sites that had ready-made plans for the taking. Here are a couple: milkweedplans, andManiacplans.
Jerry Spinelli and the characters he creates can be enjoyed by all people. I enjoyed his readings so much that I wasn't afraid to have my dad read them as well. He finished one and said he loved it, and if you knew my father you would understand that that was a huge compliment. I myself cannot wait to begin reading the rest of his 20, I am sure of, masterpieces.
“Each of us, in our kidhood, was a Huckleberry Finn, drifting on a current that seemed tortuously slow at times, poling for the shore to check out every slightest glimmer in the trees … the taste of Brussels sprouts … your first forward roll … cruising a mall without a parent … overnight it … making your own grilled cheese sandwich … the thousand landfalls of our adolescence .… And now we know what we did not know then: What an adventure it was!”