Newbery 100: Week 4

Maniac Magee

by Jerry Spinelli



(Coach J’s Choice)

The 63rd winner of the Newbery Award, Maniac Magee is a short book that packs a powerful storyline. As an adult, I can read this book in a single sitting, but still marvel at the main character, Maniac (few knew him as ‘Jeffrey Lionel’) Magee. If Harry Potter had been a muggle, he might have been Maniac Magee. After running away from his Aunt & Uncle who fostered him following his parents death, Maniac settles in the town of Two Mills. Maniac is far from innocent in the suffering department, but when it comes to racial divisions, he seems to be clueless. In his wholesomeness comes opportunity. Maniac is devoid of the anger and hate generally associated with racial tensions, and by reacting from a place of love, compassion, and curiosity, Maniac puts himself in a position to transcend race.

“Inside his house, a kid gets one name, but on the other side of the door, it’s whatever the rest of the world wants to call him.”

These first three favorites are not presented in any order of preference, but instead, represent three books that I have carried with me since elementary school. Dear Mr. Henshaw got the nod for first spot in honor of the late Cleary, and it has only been recently that I discovered (and devoured) the three books that expand and continue the story from Lowry’s The Giver. These books are beautiful for their plots, but also for their ability to connect with readers of all ages. Another one to add is Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl to the list of books which I did not read until recently; as a father, I was strongly moved by Stargirl’s introduction to the world, for better and worse. These writers have raised a generation who now looks to turn the world over to their children. It is these stories that inspire us to introduce knowledge to our youth who in turn will sculpt a more beautiful future.

Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Patterson


Last Fifty

(Books Awarded

Between 1972 and 2021)

If Maniac Magee is an early manifestation of Harry Potter, I could think of this story as an early John Green novel. Strong main characters who develop and change as they learn about themselves, and help each other discover who they are. Jess and Leslie forge a make-believe kingdom (Terabithia) where we are invited to grow with them. Anyone who spent time in the woods as a kid can easily relate to the freedom and connections forged unencumbered in nature. It is in our childhood “play-world” where we learn the lessons that help us cope with our interactions in the real-world.

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.”

I haven’t read this book in at least two decades, and just writing this review has left me heavy with the emotion of this story. As much as this story is a fantasy, it is as much a tragedy. For me, the best books are those that evoke emotions. Of course, I hope for ha