Jerry Spinelli's first published novel was Space Station Seventh Grade (1982). Since then, he has written over fifteen novels for adolescents, about adolescence. Spinelli's writing concerns controversial topics such as racism, sexism, and homelessness, while accurately and humorously depicting adolescents. At times, he has experienced parental objections because his stories are seemingly "too realistic." His young readers, however, relate to his characters and their dilemmas because they share similar experiences. Spinelli relies on memories of his own adolescence and the real-life events that have occurred in the lives of his six children to convey his views of the world to his audience.
Spinelli was born on February 1, 1941, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, to Lou Spinelli, a typesetter, and Lorna Bigler. His family lived in an apartment that was situated in front of a smelly brewery in the East End of Norristown. A few years later, his family moved a few streets away, to a house located just two doors away from his grandparents' house, and in 1945, his brother, Billy, was born. When Spinelli was six years old, his parents bought a house in the West End of Norristown, so they moved once more. They spent the next ten years in this house. Spinelli grew to love the neighborhood — it was home. When Spinelli wasn't in school, he spent time riding his bicycle, skimming stones across Stony Creek, flipping baseball cards, and running on the railroad tracks behind their house. Spinelli was always involved in one sport or another — he played basketball, track and field, football, and Little League baseball (he always wanted to be a major league baseball player).
Spinelli didn't read much as a child because he was always too busy playing sports. He reserved reading for times when he was "bored." He did, however, read comic books and had a subscription for Bugs Bunny comic books. He also read books by Clair Bee who wrote a series of books about Chip Hilton, a high school athlete.
When Spinelli was in the ninth grade, he felt as though he was on top of the world. He was class president, king of the ninth grade prom, and had a girlfriend. Everything changed when his family moved to a new house. He still attended the same school and had the same friends, but he no longer felt the same. The old neighborhood had been Spinelli's world for ten years, and he missed it terribly. Spinelli felt lost. That same year, Spinelli's high school football team won a big game. After the game, he went home and wrote a poem about the game. A few days later, his poem was published in the local newspaper. Spinelli gave up his dream of becoming a major league baseball player and decided he wanted to be a writer instead.
After graduating from high school, Spinelli attended Gettysburg College and received an A.B. degree in 1963 (an A.B., or Artium Baccalaureatus, is awarded to students who include significant coursework in the Classics in their curriculum of study). In 1964, he received his Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University. Spinelli served in the Naval Reserve from 1966 until 1972. During 1966, he also began working for Chilton Company as a magazine editor. Spinelli worked as an editor until 1989, spending his lunch hours writing books for adults — none of which were published.
On May 21, 1977, Spinelli married Eileen Mesi who is also a writer. Spinelli became a father overnight because Eileen had six children. Spinelli gets many of his ideas for stories from his children who were always into something as they were growing up. He also gets ideas from everyday life and from memories he has of his own childhood and adolescence.
Spinelli has received numerous awards for his writing. Maniac Magee received the 1991 Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (1990), the Notable Children's Books Award (ALA) (1991), the Best Books for Young Adults Award (ALA) (1991), and the Children's Editors' Choices Award (Booklist) (1990). Wringer was named Newbery Honor Book in 1998 and received the Notable Children's Books Award (ALA) (1998), the Horn Book Fanfare Award (1998), the Children's Editors' Choices Award (Booklist) (1997), and many other awards in 1997 and 1998.