An Apology Letter to Maniac Magee

Dear Maniac,

I have failed you. I’m so, so sorry.

I thought I was a better teacher than this, really. My plan was read one of my all-time favorite books with my students, and change their minds about reading forever! I REALLY wanted to teach a book about love and respect, and you fit the bill. But the problem was, I rushed through your lovely legacy. I was barely able to finish the book with the class before the students declared the end of the year (it’s not over, but you know how it goes), and that was without discussion.

Discussion would have made this book 100% better for most of my kids. They got the gist of the story. They thought it was kinda funny. But. BUT.

My dear Jeffrey, they think that the book is racist. They don’t realize that this book is about overcoming adversity.  All you want is a home and a loving family. You had that, but it was taken away when your parents were killed. When you were given an inferior imitation, you ran. When you ran into Two Mills, things are different. You find fame with your legendary feats of hitting the frog ball, stealing a catch from Hands Down, and doing it all with one hand. You also find a home with the Beales when your first friend in town Amanda invites you over. But you’re blind to a lot of things. You are blind to hate, that’s for certain. You don’t hate, and therefore can’t understand it.  You are obviously color blind– the whole “Whitey” and “Fishbelly” thing totally catches you off-guard. The entire “West End/East End= White Side/Black Side”” thing confuses you.  When your white face gets your black family in trouble, you run. This time, it’s not because you don’t have your loving home. You think you have to leave to keep it.

This time, a loving “family” finds you. Grayson finds you sleeping in the zoo.  Together, you’ll thrive. You have what he needs, and you create your own home out of a park bandshell. Your small family brings me to tears. When he dies, what else can you do? You run. When everything is at its darkest, you do what you do best: find trouble.  When you find this trouble (aka Russel and Piper McNabb), you try to take care of the little urchins. They ask for you to stay at their house, and this time, you do– again, not because you need them, but they need you.  I hate this term, but this family is white trash at its finest. Roaches, trash, cigarettes, beer in every corner of the house. Their idea of family dinner is fighting over Whoppers. They also plan war on the East End.  You feel like to change the little ones, who are “rotting from the inside,” you have to stay. It doesn’t work out, especially when you try to force change. Inviting Mars Bar Thompson to their birthday party? It proved Mars was “bad,” that’s for sure, but it didn’t work yet.

Did my students ignore your beautiful ending? Did they not understand why when Piper almost fell off the bridge your parents died on, you couldn’t save them? Did they not understand that Mars Bar changed everything by doing what you couldn’t do? When he was the hero, the kids became color-blind.  (Yes, Maniac, you planted that seed. But you couldn’t make the seed grow.)  In the end, you have a permanent home. The Beales couldn’t let you stay in the buffalo pen, after all.

Maniac, you have to forgive me. I’m new at this teaching gig and I thought I was doing better than I actually was.  And even though I didn’t do my absolute best, I think I planted a seed too. I don’t get to see the plant grow either.

Even though some people completely misconstrued your message and ignored me when I tried to talk them out of their opinions, reading you did have a change on the attitude in my classes.  Whether it was because the obnoxious kids spent a lot of time being suspended or you, I heard fewer nasty names being thrown around.  I still heard groans and “I hate this class” when kids came in, but I also had some really enthusiastic students who wanted to take you home. One kid informed me that yes, he goofed off, but “I AM paying attention!” as he spurted off many of your feats. I  had one girl comment, “I hate reading… but Maniac is changing my mind.”

Dear Maniac, thank you for changing my life when I was a young kid. Thank you for changing at least two of my students. I hope this has a ripple effect. Again, a lot of times I don’t see the flowers that grow after the seed gets planted. I’ll run in the meantime.

Class Bookworm


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One response to “An Apology Letter to Maniac Magee

  1. Scott

    This might be my all time favourite book. I’m currently studying to teach elementary school and I hope to be able to do it justice. Thanks for your thoughts. I hope I can use your experience to improve my own.

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