This sample Jerry Spinelli Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Author of the Newbery Award-winning book Maniac Magee (1990), Jerry Spinelli is known for his ability to write humorous, engaging stories that are meaningful to his young-adult audience. His novels address topics sometimes considered by parents to be too controversial for young readers—topics such as racism, sex, homelessness, and illiteracy—but he enjoys immense popularity with young audiences.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Becoming a Writer
Spinelli was born and raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania, just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. For a little while he wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up; then he changed his mind and decided to become a baseball player. When a junior in high school, however, Spinelli got his first taste of literary success when a poem he had written was published in the hometown newspaper. With that, as Spinelli states on his Web site, ”I traded in my baseball bat for a pencil and became a writer.”
Spinelli attended Gettysburg College, where he served as editor of the college literary journal and tried his hand at writing short stories. After college he got a job as an editor for a department store magazine and worked on a novel during his lunch breaks, after dinner, and on weekends. The novel was never published, nor were any of the three that came after it. It was not until marrying fellow writer Eileen Spinelli, and simultaneously becoming father to her five children, that he found the inspiration his writing needed.
Finding Inspiration in Youth
Though he used every means available to drown out the sound of his noisy new family—cotton, earplugs, closed doors—Spinelli soon found that the bickering and chaos brought back memories of his own childhood. These memories, apparently, were just what he needed to energize his imagination. He later told an interviewer of an incident in which one of the children “swiped” the chicken he had been saving for his own lunch. ”When I discovered that the chicken was gone,” he said, ”I wrote about it.” This theft-inspired tale became the groundwork for his first published novel, Space Station Seventh Grade (1982).
The novel, which was a success, launched Spinelli’s writing career with the story of Jason Herkimer, a thirteen-year-old boy who girl-watches, marvels over his (sometimes repulsive) maturing body, and works on a model space station in his spare time. Spinelli went on to tell more of Jason’s exploits in a sequel, Jason and Marceline (1986), in which Jason repels his crush Marceline by his macho attitude until at last he saves a classmate and engages in the utterly un-macho behavior of accepting the boy’s appreciative hug.
Spinelli’s most acclaimed book to date, Maniac Magee (1990), was largely inspired by events he experienced in his own childhood. Jeffrey Lionel Magee, an orphan nicknamed ‘Maniac’ on account of his hyperactive speed, was inspired by a black friend Spinelli remembered from his youth. As Spinelli recalled in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech, the friend had tried to enter a public pool with several other kids one summer but was refused admittance because of the color of his skin.
To date, Spinelli has published twenty-five books. His once raucous children have grown up and had more than a dozen children of their own. While Spinelli continues to live in Pennsylvania and write, he also maintains the curiosity and adventurousness common to many of his characters that allow him room to explore.
Works in Literary Context
Spinelli writes primarily in the genre of the young adult fiction—that is, fiction written for people between the ages of about eleven and seventeen. Karen Coats has written that ”One of the key features of the young adult genre is its currency, its absolute synchronicity with the concerns of the audience to whom it is marketed.” In other words, young adult fiction often is not ‘timeless’ in the same way as works of literature for adults; its success depends on its ability to communicate with readers about the issues they face in the moment in which they read it.
Young Adult Novel
Young adult novels are lengthy works of fiction written for people who are just beginning to deal with the more serious issues of adulthood. They are differentiated from children’s books by their subject matter, which usually relates to the lives of older readers, and by the more honest, complex treatment of issues generally considered too sensitive to discuss with children. Many of Spinelli’s books address difficult subjects with which today’s young people must deal at an early age. In Space Station Seventh Grade, one of the protagonist’s friends is a Korean American who deals with subtle racism. Several of Spinelli’s female characters struggle with, and ultimately defy, traditional gender roles.
Some scholars argue that young adult novels seem to have less success when they avoid controversial subjects, or when their writers—adults—use them as a medium through which tore turn to ”something innocent and precious which we have destroyed,” as Patricia Head has suggested. The fact seems to be that young adult readers gravitate toward books that communicate with them on a more mature level.
Works in Critical Context
Jerry Spinelli is considered ”a master of those embarrassing, gloppy, painful and suddenly wonderful things that happen on the razor’s edge between childhood and full-fledged adolescence,” according to Deborah Churchman in the Washington Post Book World.Although some reviewers have considered his work too risque or even unrealistic, by and large the response to his work has been very positive.
Maniac Magee has been considered a ”quest” novel in which the protagonist, Maniac, who gets his nickname from his speed and hyperactivity, tries to find his way to a safe home. The novel is considered unusual among works for young adults in that it deals openly with the subject of racism—and according to most critics, does so successfully. Catherine Camper writes in her 1990 review of the novel, ”Spinelli writes humorously and bravely about a subject that most children’s authors and publishers try to avoid.” Although she notes that Spinelli’s view of racism, ”though politically correct, is still white,” Camper nevertheless commends him for the honesty of his efforts to portray it, as do most critics.
While Dirk Mattson has criticized the novel for being ”exaggerated” and ”full of repetition” Mary Voors suggests that these qualities become part of its folkloric style. ”Just as you start to think this is a realistic portrayal of the contemporary problems of racism and homelessness,” she writes in Voice of Youth Advocates, ”Spinelli suddenly tilts the focus so it becomes an imaginative folktale of racial prejudice in America.”
Space Station Seventh Grade
”There is no doubt that this [novel] holds a realistic mirror up to early teenage life,” writes Ilene Cooper in her Booklist review of Space Station Seventh Grade. Most critics seem to agree. Though the humorous, episodic novel about Jason Herkimer has been faulted for its characters seeming ”a little bit cartoonish,” the book has been widely praised by readers and critics alike for its portrayal of adolescence.
- Camper, Catherine A. ”Review of Maniac Magee.” Five Owls4 (July 1990): 108.
- Churchman, Deborah. ”Tales of the Awkward Age. Washington Post Book World (January 13, 1985): 8.
- Coats, Karen. ”Abjection and Adolescent Fiction.” Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society vol. 5, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 290.
- Cooper, Ilene. ”Review of Space Station Seventh Grade. Booklist 79, no. 12 (15 February 1983): 780.
- Gormley, Emma. ”Name and Identity in Spinelli’s Stargirl and Loser.” Bookbird 44, no. 2 (2006): 14-21.
- Head, Patricia. ”Robert Cormier and the Postmodernist Possibilities of Young Adult Fiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 21.1 (Spring 1996): 28-33.
- Jameyson, Karen. Review of Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? Horn Book (June 1984): 343-344.
- Karrenbrock, Marilyn H. Review of Space Station Seventh Grade. ALAN Review (Winter 1985): 35.
- Knorr, Susan. Review of There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock. School Library Journal (September 1991): 260.
- Keller, John. ”Jerry Spinelli.” Horn Book (July/August 1991): 433-36.
- Mattson, Dirk P. ”Finding Your Way Home: Orphan Stories in Young Adult Literature.” ALAN Review 24, no. 3 (Spring 1997): 17-21.
- Voors, Mary R. Review of Maniac Magee. Voice of Youth Advocates 13, no.5 (December 1990) 290.
- The John Newbery Medal. American Library Association Web site. Accessed November 13, 2008, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/aboutnewbery/aboutnewbery.cfm. Last updated in 2008.
- Spinelli Interview. Jerry Spinelli Official Web site. Accessed November 13, 2008, from http://www. jerryspinelli.com/newbery_008.htm. Last updated in 2007.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.