Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than a dozen books, including Newbery Medal winner, Maniac Magee, and Stargirl, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults.
Thoughts from Jerry Spinelli:
Many writers say they wanted to be writers since they were little kids. Not me. I wanted to be a cowboy. I sent away for a Ranger Joe mug. Every day I drank my Ovaltine from it. I yodeled. One day in third grade, I walked to school in my cowboy outfit, complete with ten-gallon hat, twin gold pistols, boots, and silver spurs. When the teacher spotted me, she invited me to "do something" for the class. So I stood before the blackboard and belted out, "I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle!"
At other times I wanted to be a soldier (until I found out I could get killed), a printer (like my father), a biologist (but then I had to dissect a frog), and a baseball player. I was really serious about baseball.
I played for the Green Sox in the Norristown, Pennsylvania, Little League. In my first year I had about three hits. Then I got better. I led the league in stolen bases. I made the all-star team. I pictured myself playing shortstop in the majors.
While aiming for the future, I wandered through a succession of other careers. Some lasted on and off for years, some for only a moment:
- Ear Clamper/Screamer. We had a coal-burning furnace. Whenever coal was delivered to our cellar bin, it came down the chute with such a roar that I had to clamp my ears and scream.
- Leech Feeder. I took off my sneaks and socks one day, rolled up my dungarees, and waded into Stony Creek. When I came out, my shins were covered with little black blood-sucking leeches. This time I didn't need coal to scream.
- Dandelion Zoomer. Standing on the pedals, I whipped my fat-tired green-and-white Roadmaster bike down Monkey Hill at the park zoo. My speedometer hit 45 mph.
- Poison Collector. Ivy, oak, sumac -- I caught them all.
- Ecstatic Speller. I lasted until the fourth round in the county spelling bee. "Ecstasy" got me. I spelled it "ecstacy."
- Train Detector. I lay down by the railroad track, put my ear on the steel rail, and listened for the coming of a train.
- King. In the ninth grade I was King of the prom. My girlfriend was Queen.
As for Baseball Player, things were going well enough until my junior year in high school. It was about then that a heretofore minor flaw in my game became a career-stopper: I could not hit a curve ball. No major league announcer would ever call my name.
In October of that same year, I saw my high school football team win an especially exciting game.While everyone else rode around town tooting horns in celebration, I went home and wrote a poem about the game's defining moment, a goal-line stand. Unbeknownst to me, MY father showed the poem to an editor of the Norristown newspaper. Several days later there was my poem, in the middle of the sports page. So I traded in my baseball bat for a pencil. Now I wanted to become a writer.
Twenty-five years later, the fifth novel that I had written became the first to be published.
Some people say that I write for kids. I don't. I write about kids. Whom do I write for? I write for the story. Each story, it seems to me, knows best how it should be told. As I once put my ear to the railroad track, I listen now for the voice of my story.
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. I still have my Ranger Joe mug.
Jerry Spinelli lives with his wife and fellow writer, Eileen, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Sometimes he wonders where all his dandelions come from.
This interview is courtesy of Random House Children's Books.
If you would like to contact Mr. Spinelli, you can send your letters to:
Mr. Jerry Spinelli
c/o Random House Children's Books
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019