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Jerry Spinelli Biography: The Life And Times Of An American Children Novel Author

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Jerry Spinelli: The Boy Behind the Writer

“The first 15 years of my life turned out to be one long research project,” (Seidman, David, 9). When he was young, Jerry Spinelli didn’t think his calling in life was to be a writer. Everything he did led him to the thought that he was born to be a cowboy. In second grade he even got in front of his class and sang “I Have Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle,” while even dressed in full cowboy attire. In middle school and high school, Jerry realized that he wanted to become a great baseball shortstop. All of his dreams of becoming a shortstop changed in 11th grade when he wrote a poem about a local football game and it got published. He finally decided his destiny was to become a writer (Spinelli, Bio). Jerry Spinelli is a writer who has had many experiences that shaped him into the writer he is today.

Jerry grew up in Norristown Pennsylvania with a dream of growing up and becoming an amazing Major League shortstop. (“Jerry Spinelli”). Of his hometown, Jerry made this comment: “I thought I was merely growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Looking back now, I can see that all the time, I was gathering material that would one day find its way into my books.” (Siedman, David) His childhood days were filled with playing in alleys and dumps, but most of all, playing sports whenever he could. His father took Jerry to every high school sporting event and was a ticket collector for football games and a scorekeeper for basketball (Spinelli, Knots). You could say that it was inevitable that Jerry was going to fall in love with sports.

He had many proud accomplishments, but his proudest by far was when he won the 50 yard dash in junior high when he was 12 years old. It was “the only official race I ever ran in,” (Spinelli, Internet), (Spinelli, Knots). During his middle school years, he joined a little league baseball team. The first year he played, he was the worst player on the team. The next year, he made the all-star team in his dream position: the shortstop. His team won the championship and they all received championship jackets. Jackets were cool, but Jerry wanted something to show for his accomplishments. To his relief, they were awarded trophies one week later (Spinelli, Knots).

Jerry said this of his many sports experiences: “I think some of that [sports experience] I’ve simply used in my books.” In one of his most noteworthy books, Maniac Magee, the main character “Maniac” Magee is known for his amazing ability to hit home runs thrown the fastest by the hardest pitcher (Seidman, David, 12). Several other books of his revolve around playing sports and there is seldom one of Jerry’s books that does not have at least some mention of playing sports.

Jerry’s love of sports propelled him to write a poem about one of his hometown football games. They were playing one of the best teams in the state and won the game! The excitement lead him to write his first poem, “Goal to Go,” (“Jerry Spinelli”). From that moment on, he wanted to be a writer. In school, Jerry’s best subject, not surprisingly, was English (Seidman, David, 17).

Jerry experienced a big jump from junior high to high school. As said above, his favorite subject was English, but Jerry said this of math: “Whereas I had been a ninth-grade whiz at algebra, geometry in tenth grade befuddled me…. I just couldn’t seem to picture dimensions in my head,” (Seidman, David, 17). When he was grown up and graduated from high school, Jerry attended Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and graduated with a degree in English. Jerry also had a job as editor of the colleges’ literary newspaper. He later then got a job working as an editor for a men’s fashion magazine (“Jerry Spinelli,” Spinelli, bio). This is when he began his first novel, Space Station Seventh Grade.

Jerry said this of his wife, who was also an avid writer, Eileen: “While publishing house were rejecting me all those years, someone did not. Eileen Spinelli became my wife, and we were a two-writer household.” Eileen and Jerry had six children. Jerry said that many days were spent with “…. bought earplugs, to try to escape the noise as I wrote in the bedroom.” Jerry also benefited from having his kids around as well. His kids reminded him of his own childhood memories that He thought were long since gone. He said, “These memories became a library where I do much of my research,” (Spinelli, bio). Jerry was also asked if he did any actual research for his books. He said that he rarely picked up a book to find information but instead used the information from his own memories. Jerry comments on his inspiration: “Ideas come from ordinary, everyday life. And from imagination. And from feelings. And from memories. Memories of dust in my sneakers and humming whitewalls down a hill called Monkey,” (Jerry Spinelli”).

Jerry now has thirty published books and is the proud grandpa of twenty-one grandchildren, (Spinelli, bio). Some of his most noted works are Stargirl, a book that tells the story of the self-named “Stargirl.” The story is told from the point of view of a student named Leo. Stargirl goes through different phases throughout her new high school career and has many odd habits and practices, but Leo slowly finds himself falling in love with Stargirl. (“Popular”).

Maniac Magee is the story that Jerry Spinelli won a Newberry Award for. It tells of the story of Jeffery “Maniac” Magee, and how is circumstances have left him an orphan. He runs away from where he is living with his miserable aunt and uncle. The rest of the story tells of Maniac’s exciting adventures and the lives that he influences (“Popular”).

Knots in My Yo-Yo String is Jerry Spinelli’s autobiography up until he was 16 years old. In this story, Jerry tells of all the adventures that leads him to becoming the writer he is today. The story is Jerry’s life adventures, from getting into a fight, to his first kiss, and even all of his proud sporting moments. Readers can browse through this book and see where Jerry got most of his information for his stories. The Washington Post made this comment on Jerry’s writing: “[Jerry Spinelli,] A master of those embarrassing, gloppy, painful, and suddenly wonderful things that happen on the razor’s edge between childhood and full-fledged adolescence.” (“Popular”). Jerry Spinelli makes readers everywhere remember what their childhood was like. His stories are full of laughs, tears, friendships, victories, and losses. He is one of the most relatable children’s author. Jerry Spinelli reminds us all what it means to be a kid.

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