Maniac Magee: A Study of Poetic Techniques

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog!

Since I believe in analyzing what makes a book excellent and/or popular, I chose the Middle Grade “Maniac Magee” written by Jerry Spinelli and published in 1990, the  winner of at least seventeen awards including the Newberry Medal. This book is unusual in that it openly and honestly addresses the issues of race relations which is unusual for a book for this age group. Also, the language is beautiful, strong and precise.

Orphaned at the age of three, Jeffrey Lionel Magee, later known as Maniac Magee, goes to live with a feuding aunt and uncle from whom he runs away at the age of eleven. He doesn’t go very far but for the one year we follow his life, he literally and figuratively runs for hours each day avoiding bullies and unpleasant situations and exploring the towns around him. Maniac vacillates between wanting a place to temporarily live and wanting to be part of a family. A number of people help him along the way as he travels back and forth from the white side of town to the black side of town in western Pennsylvania. The reader must suspend belief  when no one reports him to authorities as they encounter and shelter this wandering homeless child who does not attend school and whose family apparently makes no attempt to find. Symbolically, Maniac unties the infamous Cobble’s Knot and wins a year’s supply of pizza even though he’s allergic. Maniac does much to dispel negative stereotypes of the black community throughout the book. Except for the honky hating Mars Bar and Old Ragpicker, the black community accepts Maniac when he lives on their side of town. The stereotypes on the white side include the dysfunctional aunt and uncle, a white supremacist family, the grouchy old geezer Mr. Finsterwald, the kind,  loner park attendant Grayson and the Pickwell family who have many children and down-on-their-luck visitors. In the end, Maniac brings the white supremacist family together with the openly hostile Mars Bar who  has just saved the little white supremacist boy’s life.

I’m going to cite some of the poetic techniques used in the writing: simile, metaphor, auditory and visual imagery and the use of strong verbs.

Simile “…like a rock in a stream,”  “…they’re chattering like snare drums,”  “…he took off like a horsefly from a swatter,”  “…brains like milkshakes,”  “…a string of curses that fried the cold morning like an egg”

Metaphor  “But that’s okay, because the history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend,  and three parts snowball.  and if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these parts, well, just run your hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.”

“During the night, March doubled back and grabbed April by the scruff of the neck and flung it another week or two down the road. when Maniac slipped silently from the house at dawn-the only way he’d ever manage to get away-March pounced with cold and nasty paws.”

“But they were spoiling, rotting from the outside in, like a pair of peaches in the sun. Soon, unless he, unless somebody did something, the rot would reach the pit.”

Visual Imagery “…the soles of both sneakers hanging by their hinges and flopping open like dog tongues each time they came up from the pavement,”   “…who was streaking a fly pattern down the sideline,”   “…hoisted Arnold Jones’s limp carcass over his shoulder and hauled him out of there like a sack of flour,”   “…a demon’s gleam in his eye,”   “…skiing on his heels down the steep bank and into the creek,”   “The words seemed to lift right off their faces like sunburnt skin peeling.”

Auditory Imagery “A rattling. A chittering. A chattering.”    “…a buzz-like trembling,”  “It was a simple two-note job– one high note, one low,”   “…twanged open her back screen door,”   “…they just heard it whizzing past their noses,”   “…chomped on,”    “Thump! Thump!”

Strong Verbs eyes goggle, conked out,, hoisted, hauled, twanged open, reeled in,  zoomed, lurching and lunging, gasping, croaking, wobbled once, leaped, shrieked and babbled

There’s a lot of story and a lot of technique in this 184 page Middle Grade book. The tone and mood are easy-breezy but the message packs quite a punch. This book is a perfect example of a story that is crafted, not merely written.

© 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this content may be printed or used in any form without  expressed permission from Elaine Donadio Writes.

You can watch this video to see some film clips of Maniac Magee

Next week…October 4, 2014 Patterson & Tebbetts–Middle School Series: Recipe For Success





Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: