Why You Should Read Maniac Magee

maniac mageeI wanted a fun book for my daughter and her friends to read this summer.  Something fun and light, yet worthwhile.  For years I’ve heard of the Newberry Award Winning middle grade novel Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  My son even ran in a Maniac Magee fun run years ago – we still have the shirt!  But I’d never read the novel.  Until now.

The Premise

Legends surround Maniac Magee.  He can run fast, defeat monsters, defy gravity.  The truth: eleven year old Jeffrey Lionel Magee was orphaned at three and sent to live with his feuding aunt and uncle.  When he couldn’t stand the fighting anymore, he ran away.  Right to the town of Two Mills, where he stirred up trouble by challenging everybody’s notions of home, family, and racial boundaries.

Spinelli narrates Maniac Magee in a humorous, kid friendly style.  The story has something for everyone: sports, (running and baseball), a bully named after a chocolate bar, a hero, and a spunky girl who loves her books so much that she carries them with her to school each day in a suitcase.  (Guess who my favorite character was?)

Great Discussion Topics

Finding things to discuss about Maniac Magee was easy – there are lots of topics relevant to the book that also have personal significance to readers.  This was great, because even a bookish twelve year old prefers to talk about herself more than a novel.  If you read this book, and I think you should, here are some questions to ponder:

Mars Bar

© 2014 Pete, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

  • Lots of characters in Maniac Magee have nicknames.  What are they?  Who calls Jeffrey “Maniac” and who doesn’t?  Why?  Does “Maniac” fit Jeffrey?  What are your nicknames?  Do you like them?  What do you think of this quote:

Inside his house, a kid gets one name, but on the other side of the door, it’s whatever the rest of the world wants to call him.

  • Maniac lives in many different places, including the zoo.  What does he think makes a home?  What do you think makes a home?  How does each home change Maniac?  How does he change each place he lives?
  • The prelude to the story says:

“The history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball.”

What does this mean?  What’s the difference between legend and snowball?

  • The people of Two Mills are divided by race, and at first Maniac doesn’t understand the division.

For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black.  He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange.  But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.

What color are you?  Are people in your town/school divided by color or another outward characteristics?  How important are physical traits?


I have to admit, although my daughter liked the book, the third person narrative confused her at times; she thought it skipped around a lot.  I enjoyed the balance of action, thoughtful insights, and quirky characters.  Maniac Magee also has several positive messages; It’s one of those kid lit books that’s great for adults to read too.

To “sweeten” the book discussion, I baked homemade butterscotch krimpets, a favorite snack of Maniac’s.  A week later, I found Tastykake Krimpets at the grocery store, but my kids and I decided that homemade tasted better.  (Doesn’t it always?)  I tried to find Mars bars (the inspiration for a nick name in the book), but they were discontinued in the early 2000′s.  We substituted Milky Ways.

Have you read Maniac Magee?  What did you think?  Can you suggest another kid lit book for summer reading?

Thanks for stopping by.


Share on Twitter:  Looking for fun summer #kidlit ? Try Maniac Magee – legends, heroes, and butterscotch krimpets via @juliatomiak #amreading

Vocabulary from One Thousand Gifts: Coruscate

wondrous memePost vacation day three.

As my dear friend Kristen says, “Re-entry is a bear.”

I had a wonderful trip, mostly unplugged and immersed in the moment.  My soul refreshed. Now the trick is to keep the vacation with me, even as I return to the mundane, unpack the bags, tackle the laundry.

I started reading a book during vacation that’s nurturing my peaceful attitude.  Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts carries a powerful message of appreciation and hope. Voskamp’s writing challenges my mind in its style and meaning.  Here’s a passage:

Losses do that.  One life-loss can infect the whole of a life.  Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids.  Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.

Needless to say, Voskamp uses many words that send me to my Merriam-Webster app.  The first one I’d like to share for Wondrous Words Wednesday is coruscate.

Freshly fallen snow coruscates in the sun, countless stars across fields, tress in the woods falling soundlessly, their blue shadows stretching.


coruscate \’kor-ə-skāt\ verb, from Latin coruscare to flash; to give off or reflect light in bright beams or flashes, sparkle; to be brilliant or showy in technique or style

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of something else that “coruscates”?  M-W gives the example of shiny chrome on a polished car coruscating in the sun.  What can you think of?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.  It’s good to be back.



What to Read at the Beach: Popcorn Books

I’m still on vacation, reading and relaxing.  Please welcome my friend and fellow Wordsmith Studio member Carol Cooney as she shares some great ideas for beach reads.


Julia kindly asked me to explain a category of books I call “Popcorn Books.” A popcorn book is one that you read for entertainment. The plot moves quickly and has no redeeming value except as light reading.

Debbie MacomberPopcorn books are good all year round, but they are great beach reads. The plot is easy to follow, and you will not spend any time looking up the vocabulary. You can set the book down and pick it up a week later and not have a problem picking up where you left off. In fact, if you do have a problem, it won’t last long because you can untangle the plot pretty fast.  These books are readily available at the library.

I am not knocking these books; I love a good popcorn book. They can be a “Calgon take me away” moment when you are having a bad day. They are entertaining.

I do have some favorite popcorn book authors. The first is Debbie Macomber. If somehow you are not familiar with Debbie Macomber, she is the prolific author of over 150 books. Yes, you read that right. Some of her books are categorized as romance novels and some are contemporary women’s fiction. I am not personally prone to read the romance novels although since I read her books, one or two may have inadvertently slipped into my hands. One of her series, the Cedar Cove Series, is currently playing on the Hallmark channel. I have not seen it but the books were good.   Another series that just recently had a new addition is the Blossom Street Series.  The new book is The Blossom Street Brides. We could just say that if you took up reading Debbie Macomber, it will take you long past summer.

I found Mariah Steward has some wonderful popcorn books. Her Chesapeake Diaries series is a fine example. (A sad admission – I sometimes just don’t pay enough attention to what I am doing. I bought one of her books by accident. I meant to buy Mary Stewart and got carried away with the sale price tag…)

Gemma HallidayIn a different vein, but still what I would consider a popcorn book, are the books by Gemma Halliday. I originally found these books because they were so inexpensive. They were on special for the Nook and I picked up a couple. I read the High Heel Mystery Series first.

(As an aside, I read an interview with Lena Dunham, the creator and writer of the HBO series, Girls. She talked about how she would not read a book with a high heel, a diamond, or lipstick on the cover. Well, let’s just say that the Gemma Halliday books are not for her.)

These books are popcorn light. I am laughing as I write this because they are just so close to trashy. The lead character is just kind of a flake but she is humorous.

You might not tell your book club about these books but you might find out that they can be addicting.

Thanks for reading!

Can you suggest any books that might fit the “Popcorn” category? 

Carol CooneyMy name is Carol Early Cooney and I am a wife, mom, property manager, and professional blogger. My family might tell you that I read a lot. I would tell you that it was parenting by example. I read in hopes that my children would think that it was the thing to do and they would read. It looks like it worked. Somewhere in this parenting thing there has to be a win, right?

I write about books on my blog at www.cecooney.com. You can also find out more at www.carolearlycooney.com. Come join me, we will see what books are out there that we like.

Why Commas Save Lives


I saw this on the t-shirt of a fellow tourist while my family explored The Seven Sacred Pools near Hana, Maui last December.

You just can’t beat good grammar.

And besides that awesome t-shirt, here’s what else I saw that day:


The Seven Sacred Pools near Hana, Maui


Sacred stacks of rocks made by Hawaiian natives at the Seven Sacred Pools

Sacred stacks of rocks made by Hawaiian natives at the Seven Sacred Pools


Happy summer!

Obviously, I have a thing about commas.  What’s your biggest grammar pet peeve?


How to Add Variety to Summer Reading: Book Bingo

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4 (1)


How’s your summer reading going?  In May, I had great expectations of sitting pool side and enjoying several books between June and August.

We’ve been to the pool three times.

Hopefully, you are faring better than I.  Maybe you’re even looking for a way to challenge yourself to read a variety of books for the next few months.  I found a cool idea for encouraging summer reading, and even though we’re a third of the way through the season, you might like it.

summerMichael Kindness and Ann Kingman are publishing industry insiders who run a podcast called Books on the Nightstand (BOTNS).  I get great reviews and book news from them.  At the beginning of summer, they introduced Beach Blanket Book Bingo, an idea they credit to the blog Retreat by Random House.

Here’s the deal: print up a bingo card using the link on BOTNS.  You can generate a new bingo card by hitting the refresh button.  Then check off squares as you read the book described on each square.  Try to get four corners, or a row of five in any direction.  Book prompts include:

  • by an author of a different culture
  • a middle grade (ages 8-12) book
  • a play
  • with only words on the cover
  • 10 short stories

The Retreat by Random House site also has bingo cards, one for adult and one for YA. Retreat presented the idea for a year-long reading challenge; BOTNS is using it for the summer.

This will be a fun way to encourage my kids to pick a variety of books this summer; I plan to print up four bingo cards!  **Please note that BOTNS used the website BS Bingo (I inserted a euphemism there) to generate its bingo cards; protect young eyes.

I can already check off about three boxes on my card; unfortunately, not in the same row.

Check out the bingo cards and let me know if you’re in to play!

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.


Click to share on Twitter:  Summer reading challenge: book bingo!  Via @juliatomiak


Wondrous Words for Summer: Vacation

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a great meme for learning new vocabulary.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion, where word nerds share new words they’ve learned or their favorites.

I’m leaving on vacation Friday, which has me thinking about laundry, packing, and placing a hold on the mail.  But also, this word nerd wants to know more about the word vacation.

vacation – noun, from the Latin vacatio, meaning freedom or exemption; a respite or intermission; a period of exemption; a period spent away from home


Lake Pleasant at Camp of the Woods

Sunset on Lake Pleasant

I’m escaping to a wonderful place called Camp of the Woods, a Christian Family Resort in the Adirondacks of upstate New York.  For one week, I will be living on the shores of Lake Pleasant.  (Seriously, that’s the name of the lake.)  My kids will be entertained by the plethora of activities there: putt putt golf, water sports, volleyball, a craft shack, and teen games.  I will, hopefully, be spending lots of time with my butt in a chair on the beach, reading Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg and OneThousand Gifts  by Ann Voskamp.

Besides reading and spending time with my family and dear friends, I will experience exemption from:

  1. planning, shopping for, cooking, and cleaning up meals (I think my family is finally starting to get why this is SO BIG for me)
  2. driving my children hither and thither
  3. paying bills and the other irritating jobs involved with running a household

I will have to do laundry half-way through the week, but folding underwear is so much more fun with a good buddy. ;)

Word Nerd Workout

Tell me what you like to be free and exempt from when you go on vacation.  I’d also love to hear about your favorite vacation destination, and what books you’d like to take with you.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!