Maniac Magee
by Jerry Spinelli, Little Brown. Newbery Winner 1991
Activities 2000 Nancy Polette

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He wasn't born with the name Maniac Magee. He came into this world named Jeffrey Lionel Magee, but when his parents died and his life changed, so did his name. Maniac Magee took to the streets.

And Maniac Magee became a legend.

Even today kids talk about how fast he could run; about how he hit an inside-the-park "frog" homer; how no knot, no matter how snarled, would stay that way once he began to untie it. Little girls jumping rope chant: 
"Ma-niac, Ma-niac 
He's so cool 
Ma-niac, Ma-niac 
Don't go to school 
Runs all night 
Runs all right 
Ma-niac, Ma-niac 
Kissed a bull!" 

But the thing Maniac Magee is best known for is what he did for the kids from the East Side and those from the West Side.

He was special all right, and this is his story, and it's a story that is very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.

Activity One: A Quote from Mayor Willie L. Brown,Jr. (San Francisco)
"The excitement comes from the joy you see on other's faces when they react to your having solved a problem for them. It's almost as if magic had occurred in their lives. And that, more than anything else, re-energizes you and causes 
you to want to re-up for a lot more than you currently do, or you're capable of doing. And in many cases, you don't really solve the problem. What you do is you give them hope that together you can work it out. And that little thread is the source of my energy and the source of my interest, and probably the source of my excitement."

Read more about Mayor Brown in The Hall of Passion at:

Write a paragraph showing how Maniac Magee put Mayor Brown's philosophy into practice. Cite a specific incident from the story.

Leaders of America (Profiles of Great Black Americans) by Richard Rennert. Chelsea House, 1994

Activity Two: Learning About the Homeless

Here are statements one often hears about homeless people. Read each statement and decide if it is true or false. Then check your answers by going to the Homeless People web site. 

  1. ________ Homeless people want to be homeless. 
  2. ________ It is their own fault that homeless people are homeless. 
  3. ________ Homeless people don't work.
  4. ________ Homeless people are mentally ill. 
  5. ________ Homeless people are dangerous.


Activity Three: Conflict Resolution 

The six basic steps in solving conflicts are found at: 
Conflict Resolution
  1. Agree to met and set ground rules.
  2. Gather information about the conflict and the interests of the disputants.
  3.  Identify what the dispute is really about.
  4. Suggest possible options for resolution.
  5. Select one or more workable options.
  6. Reach agreement.

Maniac Magee probably did not know the term, "conflict resolution," but he was able to solve the long-standing conflict between the kids on the East Side and 
those on the West Side.

Small Group Discussion

Did Maniac Magee use any of the basic steps in conflict resolution?
If so, which ones did he use and when did he use them?

Homeless or Hopeless by Margery Nichelason. Lerner, 1994