Newbery Winner To Visit School

Posted: April 25, 1991

Jerry Spinelli did not envision winning the John Newbery Medal for children's literature as he penned Maniac Magee on his lunch hours at Chilton Publishing Co.

"It's not the kind of thing you tend to be emboldened enough to think about winning," Spinelli said. "Well, I may have fantasized about it once or twice in the shower."

Spinelli had written other books while a senior editor at Chilton - Space Station Seventh Grade, Dump Days and Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush - with a less prestigious but more practical goal than winning a Newbery: He wanted to make a living as a writer.

Now, two years after quitting Chilton and three months after being named the Newbery winner, Spinelli, 50, has both prestige and a more secure position among his fellow writers. He is scheduled to have three books published this fall.

Tonight Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, of Phoenixville, will greet parents and children at a Read Aloud night at E.T. Richardson Middle School. Plenty of copies of Maniac Magee will be on hand.

"When I read it, I thought, 'This is really fine literature,' " said Sue Austin, the librarian at Sabold School. She had invited Spinelli last fall to visit the school, before he won the Newbery

Austin said she was not surprised to hear the news about Maniac Magee. Calling Spinelli's books "good, decent literature," she said, "he takes all those problems (of growing up) and deals with them with sensitivity, humor and understanding.

Maniac Magee, also winner of the 1990 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, is the story of a boy who is orphaned at 3, runs away from his quarreling aunt and uncle at 11, and becomes a legend in a Western Pennsylvania town with his prowess at sports. After several adventures - roaming from place to place and befriending all types of characters - Maniac finally finds himself a home.

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