Maniac Magee Lesson Plans

Maniac Magee, a novel by Jerry Spinelli, is about Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee, a boy who becomes an orphan when his parents die in a trolley accident. Maniac becomes a legend in Two Mills, a town with an East End for blacks and a West End for whites. Without a place to call home, Maniac bridges racial boundaries with his super athleticism, knot-untying abilities, and overall good character.

Student Activities for Maniac Magee

Essential Questions for Maniac Magee

  1. What character qualities make a hero?
  2. What is the meaning of “family” and “home”?
  3. Why is having an address important?
  4. What is prejudice?
  5. Is it possible for one person to make a difference?

Maniac Magee Summary

Maniac Magee begins by briefly introducing Jeffery's parents, before he abruptly becomes an orphan. Jeffery is “shipped off” to his impractical Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan for the next eight years; he eventually has enough and runs away.

Jeffrey runs from Hollidaysburg to Two Mills. Theories spread and questions arise about Jeffrey’s running and how he ended up in Two Mills. Mysterious encounters occur between Jeffrey and members of the Two Mills community. The first is with Amanda Beale, a black girl who reluctantly allows Jeffrey to borrow one of her books.

Later, with this book in hand, Jeffrey intercepts a football from the varsity players and punts the ball with a perfect spiral back to Hands Down, the receiver. Then, Jeffrey relaxes on the front step of 803 Oriole Street, the dreaded Finsterwald address – a place where no kid ever chased a ball or Frisbee. Jeffrey makes his next appearance at Mrs. Pickwell’s dinner table with seventeen others; he sneaks out before anyone realizes that he was an uninvited guest.

Jeffrey then finds himself at the Little League field in the park. John McNab had just struck out sixteen batters for a new record. McNab’s ego is soon deflated as Jeffrey hits each of his pitches and even a “frogball” for an inside the park homerun. Jeffrey’s appearances throughout the town earn him the name, “Maniac” Magee.

After the embarrassing incident at the baseball field, John McNab and the Cobras, a local gang, decide to get some revenge on Maniac. They chase him until Maniac crosses the boundary into the East End. Here they stop, considering Maniac a goner for going into the black side of town.

Almost immediately, Maniac gets into a confrontation with Mars Bar, another bully, like McNab. Amanda Beale comes to the rescue, and invites Maniac over. He spends the evening with her family, and attempts to hide his homelessness. When Mr. Beale realizes the truth, he insists that Maniac stay with them.

Maniac finally has an address. He loves his new life, and easily becomes part of the family. Unfortunately, not everyone likes Maniac: some are jealous of his athletic skills, knot-untying abilities, and fame. Others don’t believe that a white kid should be living in a black neighborhood. Once Maniac notices the trouble he is causing the Beale’s, he walks away – down the boundary line that separates the east from the west, ignoring the swearing and yelling coming from both sides.

Maniac begins sleeping with the buffalo at the Elmwood Park Zoo. He is discovered by Earl Grayson; an old man intrigued by Maniac’s experiences living with a black family. Grayson in turn shares many stories about his baseball career, all while setting Maniac up in a cozy baseball equipment room. Surprisingly, Grayson is unable to read and asks Maniac to teach him. Maniac does just that, and even writes and illustrates a biography about Grayson’s experience in the minor leagues. Maniac has found himself a home again.

Maniac and Grayson spend the Thanksgiving holiday together. Maniac happily paints 101 on the door marking his new home address and by Christmas, Maniac and Grayson are living together. On December 30th, Grayson passes away. Maniac cannot bear to stay in the baseball equipment room without his friend, and once again, begins running.

Maniac turns numb as he is overwhelmed by the abandonment he has experienced in his short life. He wanders to surrounding communities and spends the night in the wintery outdoors. One January day, Russell and Piper, John McNab’s younger siblings, who have run away, interrupt Maniac’s hibernation. Maniac convinces the kids to let him take them home.

After returning the children, Maniac begins staying at the McNabs – a garbage and cockroach infested home. He realizes two problems: the McNabs are preparing to fight the enemy (the East side) and the children are not being cared for. Maniac makes it his personal mission to solve these two problems. First, Maniac bribes Russell and Piper to attend school. With this bribery comes “heroic feats” that Maniac has to complete, including a dare to go to the East End. Deep in the East End, Maniac comes face to face with Mars Bar, who challenges him to a race. Not only does Maniac win the race, but he also humiliates Mars Bar by running backwards.

Somehow, Maniac convinces Mars Bar to attend a birthday party at the McNabs house; bringing a black person to the house angers George McNab, and the Cobras, making it uncomfortable for Mars Bar. The McNabs kick both Maniac and Mars Bar out, much to the embarrassment of Mars Bar and the disappointment of Maniac. Although the discrimination problem was not resolved, Maniac had blurred the boundary between black and white.

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How To Facilitate Discussions on Novels in Class


Assign Chapter Wise Readings

Teachers should assign chapter-wise readings to students as it would be difficult for them to grasp everything all at once. Students can be assigned homework or the teachers can conduct reading sessions during class timings.


Conduct Discussions

Teachers can conduct discussions after one chapter ends. These discussions can include learning vocabulary, what students learned from this chapter, and how they think the rest of the story will unfold.


Use Open-Ended Questions

Prepare some open-ended questions on the chapters beforehand and ask these questions after the chapter ends to promote critical thinking.


Encourage Participation

Give students incentives to participate in class such as getting more stars and appreciation. The more students participate the more interesting the discussion gets.


Conduct Writing Activities

Ask the students to write one paragraph as the summary for each chapter and their own analysis of the events that occurred. When the novel ends, the students will have their own short summary and different perspectives of the entire novel that they can use in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions About Maniac Magee

What are some important themes that run throughout "Maniac Magee"?

The principal themes of "Maniac Magee" include racial segregation, homelessness, companionship, belonging, and overcoming social boundaries.

Why is “Maniac Magee” an important reading in schools?

Maniac Magee is an important reading in schools because it covers significant societal issues and teaches essential lessons about acceptance, tolerance, and the power of compassion. Additionally, it presents chances for insightful conversations regarding prejudice and racism.

What can kids take away from reading "Maniac Magee"?

By reading "Maniac Magee," students can gain knowledge on a variety of significant topics, including the value of empathy, the negative effects of discrimination, the necessity of community, and the resilience of the human spirit.

How is racial segregation addressed in "Maniac Magee"?

By showing Maniac's encounters with persons from various racial backgrounds and examining the conflicts and biases that exist in the town, the book explores racial segregation.

What are some other novels that are similar in context to "Maniac Magee"?

The novels "Holes" by Louis Sachar, "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio, and "The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963" by Christopher Paul Curtis are several that share topics or narrative styles with "Maniac Magee" These works also address significant social topics and have youthful heroes who go through trials and develop personally.

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