All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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A video interview with

Jerry Spinelli

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Jerry Spinelli was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1941. He grew up playing a wide variety of sports, including soccer and baseball. For years Jerry dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player. Yet during high school, two things persuaded him to trade in his bat for a pen: he wrote a poem that was published in the local newspaper; and, he eventually realized that he couldn't hit a curveball.

At Gettysburg College, Jerry Spinelli began to write short stories. He also served as the editor of the college literary magazine. After graduation, Spinelli took a job as a writer and editor for a department store magazine. For the next two decades he did rather mundane editorial work as a day job so that he could have the energy to write fiction in his spare time. For years Spinelli wrote during lunch breaks, on weekends, and after dinner.

Jerry Spinelli's first four novels were for adults. All of them were rejected. His fifth novel, also intended for adults, actually became his first children's book. Space Station Seventh Grade was published in 1982, when Jerry Spinelli was 41 years old and had six children living at home. Nine years later, Maniac Magee won the 1991 Newbery Medal. In 1998 Spinelli's novel, Wringer, won a Newbery Honor. Two years after that, Stargirl was named one of the best 10 books for young adults by the American Library Association. Its sequel, Love, Stargirl, was published in 2007.

When Jerry Spinelli is not writing, he likes to play tennis, pick berries, gaze up at the stars, and spend time with his 16 grandchildren. He lives in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania with his wife, fellow children's book author Eileen Spinelli.

Selected Books

from Jerry Spinelli


Age Level: 9-12

Just like other kids, Zinkoff rides his bike, hopes for snow days, and wants to be like his dad when he grows up. But Zinkoff also raises his hand with all the wrong answers, trips over his own feet, and falls down with laughter over a word like "Jabip." Other kids have their own word to describe him, but Zinkoff is too busy to hear it. He doesn't know he's not like everyone else. And one winter night, Zinkoff's differences show that any name can someday become "hero."

Buy Loser


Age Level: 9-12

Thirteen year old Primrose lives with her peculiar, remote mother; nine year old David has just moved to the neighborhood to live with his grandmother. Primrose and David, both fragile, share unusual but memorable adventures as they learn to cope with what is missing from their lives.

Buy Eggs

Knots in My Yo-Yo String

Age Level: 9-12

The Newbery Medal winning author has vivid recollections of growing up in Norristown, PA, in the 1950s. His recollections are vivid, funny, and episodic and allow fans of Spinelli's novels to glimpse where stories might begin.

Buy Knots in My Yo-Yo String

Love, Stargirl

Age Level: 12-14

In this sequel (Stargirl, 2000), Stargirl and her family have moved from Arizona to Pennsylvania to a neighborhood with slightly zany people (like an agoraphobic neighbor and an affable thief). Stargirl's diary-like letters to Leo, the boy she still loves who dumped her the previous year, tell her story.

Buy Love, Stargirl

Maniac Magee

Age Level: 9-12

Larger than life Maniac Magee is a modern folk hero, particularly in the small town of Two Mills, Pennsylvania where he brings together people from opposite sides of the track. Unforgettable characters deal poignantly, often humorously, with race, poverty, and more in this contemporary tall tale.

Buy Maniac Magee


Age Level: 12-14

The new girl in 10th grade at Mica High is unique, from her name to her clothing (and everything else in between). Her nonconformity changes the entire school — at least for a while. Comfortable sameness returns when, rejected by Leo, Stargirl leaves.

Buy Stargirl


Age Level: 12-14

The boy doesn't know his family but survives in Warsaw, Poland in 1939, by stealing food and staying away from the Jackboots, the German soldiers. When he is befriended by Uri, a Jewish boy, he becomes known as Miska. Gradually, Miska and the other orphans discover the horrors that surround them in this naively told, riveting novel.

Buy Milkweed

Smiles to Go

Age Level: 12-14

Will Tuppence is a 14-year old who likes to be in control. Playing chess-a game at which he excels — he likes to see the entire board. Will learns that — unlike chessmen — friends, family, even protons can be beyond one's sway, making this coming-of-age story plausible and unusual.

Buy Smiles to Go


Age Level: 9-12

Most boys look forward to birthdays, but not Palmer. Once he turns 10-years old, he's expected to assume the role of "wringer" in the town's annual pigeon shoot. He doesn't want to strangle wounded birds any more than he wants to be bullied. His dilemma is compounded by the secret he keeps in his room.

Buy Wringer


Age Level: 12-14

Seventh grader "Crash" Coogan is a jock who, as he begins narrating this humorous, touching novel, is a downright bully. He takes aim most often at a neighbor and classmate named Penn. Penn not only wears hand-me-downs but joins the cheerleading squad. This is an unusual glimpse at "jockdom."

Buy Crash