Oh, That We Could All Be Stargirl!
Jerry Spinelli (1941 – present) is an American middle-grade and young adult author. He began his work life in various “normal” jobs” while writing during his free time. He initially wrote novels for adults, but none were accepted by the publishing world. His fifth novel began as an adult novel, but turned into a children’s book. Space Station Seventh Grade was published in 1982. He went on to publish over 28 books for kids.
He won the Newberry Award for Maniac Magee (1990). Mr. Spinelli has said of this book that the “history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball.” This story of Jeffrey Lionel Magee is no different. He is an orphan, living with his aunt and uncle. It is an unhappy and tense home life and to counter that, he decides to run – not away – just to run. In his travels, he confronts racism and attempts to soothe tensions between rivaling groups on the rough side of town. A movie version of this book was released in 2003.
Mr. Spinelli also was wrote Wringer (1997), which was a Newbery Honor Book. Palmer LaRue (how awesome is that name!?) is the main character and he dreads his tenth birthday. In the town where he lives, all ten-year old boys become “wringers” and wring the necks of wounded pigeons at the Pigeon Day shoot. He wants no part of it. To make matters worse, he has been keeping a pet pigeon! Will he give in to peer pressure, or will he stand up for his beliefs?
Crash is another popular title by this author. In it, he turns the tables and has the bully be the protagonist who has to confront his own actions when he starts to feel there is more to life than pranks and being a football star.
Perhaps my favorite, Spinelli book is Stargirl (2002) and its sequel, Love, Stargirl (2007). Stargirl is the new girl in school and she has a free spirit and mind of her own. She wears strange outfits like flapper clothes and kimonos, and during each class she decorates her desk with a tablecloth and flowers. She plays ukulele and cheers for both teams at sporting events. Leo develops a crush on her and admires her spirit and kindness. When the school shuns them both, he urges her to be more normal. The story is told more from Leo’s point of view than from Stargirl’s. Her story is told in Love, Stargirl through a series of journal entries. She has moved to yet another new town and is struggling to fit in again.
Stargirl was a New York Times Bestseller, a Parents Choice Gold Award Winner, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and an ALA Top Ten Books Award winner. This book has launched Stargirl clubs that urge young girls to be nonconformists and to think for themselves.
Other notable books by Jerry Spinelli are Loser, Jake and Lily, Eggs, Smiles to Go and Milkweed. As someone who leans toward writing for kids, I love reading these books. Mr. Spinelli is not afraid to approach tough topics and damaged characters. He does this in a way that is non-preachy and leaves you thinking.