"MANIAC MAGEE" & "WRINGER" (JERRY SPINELLI).
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Examines children's novels, author's intentions toward readers, characters, narrative, setting.... More...
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Examines children's novels, author's intentions toward readers, characters, narrative, setting.
By the time Jerry Spinelli's preadolescent novel Maniac Magee won the Newbery Medal in 1991, he had been a published author of children's and young-adult fiction for some nine years. Although a seasoned editor at Chilton, publisher of nonfiction instructional books and magazines, and a contributor to various nonfiction anthologies (Something 198), he had been trying to find a publisher for his stories for several years before the first novel, Space Station Seventh Grade, came out in 1982 (Who's Who). Only in 1989 did Spinelli leave his post at Chilton, by which time four additional novels had been published: Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? (1984); Night of the Whale (1985); a sequel to Space Station, Jason and Marceline (1986); and Dump Days (1988). In a 1998 interview, citing the vicissitudes of the writer's life as a marketer of his or her work, he noted that he had w
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Vol. Works CitedChildren's Literature Review. 39. Maniac Magee tracks a year in the life of a boy nicknamed Maniacbecause of an all too public nervous breakdown and screaming fit at aschool musicale, brought on by the emotional vacuum of a home life soloveless that it is almost programmatically hostile. This helps explain whythere is no reconciliation of Maniac Magee with his blood family at the endof his novel and why Palmer's courage at facing the hostile Pigeon Daycrowd is tempered by the loss of Nipper. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who, 1998. Review, Maniac Magee. Online http://ccpl.carr.lib.md.us/authco/spinelli-j.htm.Lesesne, Teri S., and Buckman, Lois. The boys, in a rite ofpassage, will be obliged to wring the necks of fallen birds that survivethe ordeal. About to turn1 , Palmer is dreading the day soon when he and other 1 -year-old boys willgo to a traditional town festival, Pigeon Day, where the men of the townwill shoot down pigeons released in a stadium. Young Magee encounters members ofmarginalized populations who might in real life not have the capacity fordecent behavior to a runaway kid that they display in the novel. "'Maniac Magee': Homer on George Street." Horn Book Magazine 67 (January-February 1991): 4 -1.---. Although a seasoned editor atChilton, publisher of nonfiction instructional books and magazines, and acontributor to various nonfiction anthologies (Something 198), he had beentrying to find a publisher for his stories for several years before thefirst novel, Space Station Seventh Grade, came out in 1982 (Who's Who).Only in 1989 did Spinelli leave his post at Chilton, by which time fouradditional novels had been published: Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?(1984); Night of the Whale (1985); a sequel to Space Station, Jason andMarceline (1986); and Dump Days (1988). Even if the typical young-adult reader of, say, Maniac Magee isunlikely to embark on an odyssey of runaway homelessness, that reader islikely to recognize at some level the fact that homelessness and sociallyretrograde racial attitudes are not drawn from a mystic gulf of inventionbut from phenomena and attitudes that are recognizable features of modernculture. Wringer. An old black man tries to chase Magee out ofhis neighborhood and back to the white section of town, but the Beales takehim in. But the larger picture of Spinelli's reality is emotional andpsychological within the context of the narrative world he constructs forcharacter behavior. Review, Wringer. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 41 (December 1997/January 1998): 323.Shoemaker, Joel. Palmer is unable to save Nipperfrom being shot by one of the men and mangled by one of the boys, but he isable to cradle Nipper's body and leave the stadium with a firm sense ofsatisfaction at not participating. Wringer'ssubject is even more unsettling and realistic than the theme of racism inthe earlier work because of what it implies about the tyranny of socialtradition that is reinforced by ritual observance and the negativeconsequences of defying convention. While the vicissitudes of setting, plot incident, and characterexperience vary in Spinelli's work, the dominant frame of actionillustrates a positive transformation of the central figure of thenarrative as he or she transitions out of young childhood and into youngadolescence or from one aspect of young adolescence (insensitive orimmature) into another (insightful, sensitive, able to abstract frominfantile egocentrism or make moral judgments). Instead, Spinelli's young charactersconfront difficult choices, and the narrative by no means guarantees thateverything will be automatically fixed at the end. Boston: Little, Brown, 199 .---. His two most noteworthy novels, Maniac Magee (199 ) andWringer (1997), are multiple award winners. One of the youngerchildren watches Palmer with his dead pet and asks, "Can I have one too,Daddy?" (Spinelli 228). Maniac Magee. Lesesne and Buckman (323) describe thenovel's "essential theme of how one boy learns to take an unpopular standand hold onto it against the powerful opposition of family, friends, andcommunity." The story's bittersweet ending suggests a glimmer of hope forthe future, but not merely because of Palmer's courage. Similarly, if Wringer does not show children on the brink ofassuming responsibility for their actions that challenging social norms isbound to result in success, it does suggest that the world will not come toan end if one questions authority and is on firm moral ground while doingdo. To be sure, Spinelli's work presents a version of everyday realismthat is resolved in ways that may depart from what is known of theconsequences of children's social assertions in a world (the real one) theycannot control. Palmer dreads being a wringer, especially after he befriends aninjured pigeon, which he names Nipper, then releases it after it heals. The books Spinelli has published give voice to, are embedded with, andtake power from narratives that arc toward major life lessons for thecentral characters (preadolescent boys and girls) and the emergence of amoral compass. By the time Jerry Spinelli's preadolescent novel Maniac Magee won theNewbery Medal in 1991, he had been a published author of children's andyoung-adult fiction for some nine years. This is in the background of Spinelli's writingWringer from the point of view of the boy, not the pigeon, and thereforenot writing about what the pigeon is thinking (Kerby). In his naivete, Magee does not understand that Mars Bar, a boy olderthan he, resents the younger Magee's physical skill. If Spinelli's young heroes do not fix what is wrong with the world,they also embody attainment of material steps toward emotional maturity andinsight into the fact that the world poses difficulties that cannot easilybe breached but that nevertheless can be challenged. But, when Grayson dies, Magee alone attends thefuneral and defends Grayson's memory when other boys insult it. This hasbeen a source of concern to a critic who touches on the facile way in whichMagee "educates white families about black ones and black families aboutwhite ones" (Abbott 19 2), as if that is all there is to it. The second accomplishment is that a convincing environment forthe narrative action compels the reader to make a connection with issues ofpsychoemotional realism in a way that a completely escapist, comic-bookentertainment cannot. The grounding of the narrative in enough realism tomake the reality of the fictional world recognizable in terms of nonfictionreality accomplishes two things. In a 1998 interview, citing thevicissitudes of the writer's life as a marketer of his or her work, henoted that he had written 23 books, "but nobody wanted the first four, so19 have been published" (Kerby). Wringer is in some ways more mythical than Maniac Magee because itcreates a self-contained universe that is real in its own terms. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.Kerby, Mona. The theme of racism is alsoof central concern to Maniac Magee; one critic says the book "is a mythicalstory about racism" (Shoemaker 138). Placing the action in a milieu thatadolescent readers can recognize as a credible imitation of their emotionalexperience has the effect of demonstrating that neither narrative line norcharacter behavior need be lifted in whole out of history and placed into aquasi-romantic, escapist universe of action and adventure in order to becompelling. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985.Spinelli, Jerry. The resemblance to the trope of Odysseus, who also undergoes growthand change, appears to have been an intentional feature of narrativestructure; Spinelli (4 ) cites "the world that children inhabit" as"indistinguishable from myth and legend," inasmuch as they create thecontent of their reality by reason of their heroism in embarking on thevoyage of discovery that is very life for them. 26. On the other hand, the resolutionof Pigeon Day is nothing so dark as the resolution of "The Lottery," byShirley Jackson, which treats of ritual enforcement of social tyranny andwhich ends in the death not of pigeons but of people. The first is the aura of verisimilitude inwhich the characters function. What is striking about this pattern of emotional development is thatit does not take place either in the straightforward context of comicfantasy (Spinelli is no Dr. Seuss) or in what some might say is an equallyfantastical clichéd context of melodrama and action-adventure (as in, say,the Nancy Drew or Hardy boys series). Magee'sencounter with black and white racism and generosity, with older andyounger boys who are both bullies and cowards, with Amanda, a black girlabout his age who takes a sisterly interest in him and eventually takes himhome to meet and move in with her family--all of these contribute to apicture of a boy who finds himself and who finds out that life is complexbut need not be unbearable. The term wringer, which functions as asymbol of adherence to convention, is to be taken literally in thenarrative, for it refers to the designation by which all 1 -year-old boysare to be known in the town where 9-year-old Palmer lives. Mona Kerby's The Author Corner. Running away from theaunt and uncle whose antipathy for each other never overtakes RomanCatholic rules about divorce and who have long been saddled with custody ofhim, his parents having been killed in an accident, Maniac embarks on aquest to find the home of his infancy--indeed to find some place to callhome. Magee has one natural advantage--his athletic prowess. School Library Journal 36 (June 199 ): 138.Something About the Author. New York: Harpercollins/HarperTrophy, 1997.Who's Who in America 1999. Nor does he understandblack-white hatred and mutual suspicion, although Grayson, the old man whobefriends him, marvels that the Beales, the African American family withwhom he stayed for a short time, eat the same foods and have the samedomestic habits as white people: "It's amazing all the stuff [Maniac]didn't see" (Spinelli 67). They are also representative ofa strand of fiction for young people that focuses on the transition out ofself-absorbed childhood into a child's consciousness of membership in awider human community, including consciousness of the sometimesheartbreaking, sometimes psychologically cruel imperfection of both adultsand children in that community and of the universe more generally. When the dreaded day arrives and Palmer refuses to participate,he is booed by others, child and adult. By the timehe is invited home with his new friend Amanda permanently, he has becomeinured to contingency, open to possibilities of life in a way that wouldhave been impossible in the cold household of his aunt and uncle, andwithout the intervening odyssey itself. Vol. Shoemaker, indeed, says that Maniac Magee is not possiblereality but rather legend (138). Over the period of a year, the odyssey takes him to the town of hisbirth, called Bridgeport, complete with east and west, black and whiteneighborhoods and all the rival groups and personalities that inhabit themodern, ethnically diverse American landscape. Boys who do not cooperate in Pigeon Day embarrass themselves and theirfamilies.
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