On the Run: Maniac Magee

Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. Little, Brown, 1990. 184 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-316-80722-7; Tr. $6.85, ISBN 978-0-316-80906-1; PLB $12.31, ISBN 978-0-7587-0201-2


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes


Genre: Historical Fiction


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

Jeffrey L. Magee has a normal family until an accident leaves him without parents. His aunt and uncle are so cold to one another that one day he starts running and doesn’t stop. His running — along with his fearlessness, knot-untying prowess, and goodness — inspire kids all around to call him Maniac. He meets people, eats with generous families, bonds with the Beales in the East End and Grayson in the West End. He learns about racism, helps kids stay motivated to go to school, learns about baseball from a Minor League legend, and kisses a baby buffalo. Maniac’s story is larger-than-life.


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is another solid novel from the master Jerry Spinelli. Maniac’s story is told like a legend — there are many references to “people say,” “some will tell you,” and other staples of a tall (city) tale. Maniac deals with homelessness and manages to always find the good in people (if there is good to find). 


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book to use for a unit on bravery. Maniac never gives up, not even when he feels like he has no place and no one to call on for help. While the story is fictional, it gives a great view into life as a child in a difficult situation and a difficult time. This would be a great way to open the door to conversations in the library or the classroom about tough topics such as homelessness, racism, and prejudice. (Idea from myself)


Grade Level: 5-8


Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred

Newbery Medal, 1991


Other Notes:

Children drink beer; there is a situation in which a father is a racist alcoholic who is literally arming his children for the “revolt” when the African-American residents of the East End will charge the West End. In these scenes, he and many of the children drink beer and talk about violence.


Reviews referenced:

Berman, M. (n. d.). Maniac Magee (Review of the book Maniac Magee). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Kirkus Reviews. (1990, March 15). Maniac Magee (Review of the book Maniac Magee). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from


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