Figurative Language in Maniac Magee

Instructor: Ashley Smith

Ashley has taught elementary school and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

Jerry Spinelli, the author of Maniac Magee, uses figurative language to bring understanding to the reader. Spinelli's use of similes and metaphors make his story interesting and fun to read!

What Is Figurative Language?

Writers use figurative language to make their stories more interesting and help readers visualize what they're reading. Figurative language cannot be interpreted or understood literally, or exactly how it sounds. Without figurative language a story would just be a series of facts that don't allow the mind to fully visualize and imagine the details. There are many different types of figurative language but Maniac Magee is packed full of similes and metaphors. Let's learn more about these now.


Metaphors are used to compare two things that seem to be different. Metaphors do this by saying one thing is (or was) another thing. Also, metaphors do not use the words 'like' or 'as' to compare the two things. In Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli describes Maniac using this metaphor, 'They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring.' Maniac's stomach isn't really a cereal box and his heart isn't really a sofa spring! Like a box of cereal, Maniac's stomach could hold a lot of food and his heart is soft, like that of a sofa spring.

Spinelli uses another metaphor when he describes how many balls and other items are in Finsterwald's yard. He writes, 'Finsterwald's backyard was a graveyard of tennis balls and baseballs and footballs and Frisbees and model airplanes and one-way boomerangs.' There really isn't a graveyard of these things but saying so allows the reader to imagine that there are a lot! You could also imagine that once the Frisbees, balls, and other items are in Finsterwald's yard, they stay there forever, like people who have died and been buried in a graveyard! Using figurative language in this way makes what Spinelli is trying to say interesting!

Metaphor Example
Metaphor Cereal Spring

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