Jerry Spinelli Biography

Author(1941–)
Popular children's book author Jerry Spinelli has written numerous novels, including 'Maniac Magee,' 'Loser,' 'Stargirl' and 'Jake and Lily.'

Synopsis

A graduate of Gettysburg College, Jerry Spinelli spent years working as a magazine editor before his writing career took off. He published his first book for kids, Space Station Seventh Grade, in 1982. In 1990, Spinelli debuted the award-winning novel Maniac Magee. More acclaimed works soon followed, including Wringer (1997), Stargirl (2000) and Milkweed (2003). His recent publications include Jake and Lily (2012), Hokey Pokey (2013) and Mama Seeton's Whistle (2015).

Childhood Aspirations

Award-winning children’s book author Jerry Spinelli was born on February 1, 1941, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He is known for such works as Maniac Magee (1990), Wringer (1997) and Stargirl (2000). As a child, his big ambition was to become a cowboy. He even turned up to school one day in his full western regalia. On his website, Spinelli wrote “in second grade I dressed up in my cowboy outfit, complete with golden cap pistols and spurs on my boots.” He even “got up and sang ‘I Have Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle.’”

Spinelli then dreamed of being a baseball player. He was involved in the sport during his junior high and high school years, but he soon switched gears. In an interview on Scholastic.com, Spinelli said he had his first work published in high school. He wrote a poem about his high school football winning “a heart-stopping game against one of the best teams in the country.” The poem appeared in the local newspaper, and “suddenly I had something new to become: a writer.”

Early Career

After high school, Spinelli attended Gettysburg College. There he majored in English and served as the editor of the school’s literary magazine. Spinelli also attended writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He then landed a job as an editor for a magazine, and he used his lunch hours to craft his fiction. It was also at the office that he met his wife Eileen, and the couple eventually married and had six children together.

At first, Spinelli focused on writing for adults. He had four unpublished novels under his belt before he had his first big break. Spinelli decided to write from a child’s point of view for his next book instead of an adult. With the help of his wife, he landed an agent to represent him and went on to publish his debut children’s book, Space Station Seventh Grade, in 1982. He followed up that novel with Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? (1984), which drew inspiration from two of his own children who had a contentious relationship.

Leading Children’s Book Author

After these initial successes, Spinelli continued to write about the lives of children and young adults to great acclaim. His 1990 novel, Maniac Magee, won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and the Newbery Medal. The title character in the book helps bring together a racially divided community. In 1997, Spinelli published Wringer, a Newbery Honor award winner. In the novel, Palmer LaRue, the story’s main character, doesn’t want to turn 10 because that will mean that he is expected to participate in a town ritual that he abhors.

The following year, Spinelli shared the details of his own early life in Knots in My Yo-Yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid. Stargirl, which debuted in 2000, spoke to young readers with its offbeat title character and its message of self-acceptance. A sequel, Love, Stargirl, followed in 2009. In 2003, Spinelli delved into the world of historical fiction with Milkweed. The novel explored the experiences of a young boy living in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Spinelli’s more recent works include and Jake and Lily (2012), Hokey Pokey (2013) and Mama Seeton's Whistle (2015). 

Spinelli also teamed up with his wife Eileen, a talented children’s book author herself, for Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes and Promises to Myself (2009).

Jerry Spinelli Photo via Penguin Random House

Jerry Spinelli (Photo: (c) Elmore DeMott via Penguin Random House)

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