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Loser Paperback – July 29, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Donald Zinkoff is one of the greatest kids you could ever hope to meet. He laughs easily, he likes people, he loves school, he tries to rescue lost girls in blizzards, he talks to old ladies. The only problem is, he's a loser. Until fourth grade, Zinkoff's uncontrollable giggling in class, sloppy handwriting, horrible flute playing, bad grades, clumsiness, and ineptitude at sports go largely unnoticed. When he blows a race for his team, however, his transition to loserdom is complete: "[Loser] is the word. It is Zinkoff's new name. It is not in the roll book." Fortunately, he doesn't really notice. As he did in Stargirl, Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli again explores the cruelty of a student body and how it does and doesn't affect one student, pure of spirit. Presumably if Loser makes one child view a "different kid" as a three-dimensional character, Spinelli will consider his book successful.

The author recounts Zinkoff's story--a case study of sorts--in short sentences from a deliberately reportorial point of view, documenting the first years of the boy's life and his evolution into a loser. What makes the book charming and buoyant is that the reader, like Zinkoff's parents and his favorite teacher, appreciates the boy's oblivious joie de vivre and his divine quirks. What is less compelling about the novel is the "let this be a lesson to us" heavy-handedness that accompanies the reportorial approach. Still, Spinelli comes through again with a lively, often moving story with humor and heart to spare. (Ages 8 to 12) --Karin Snelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a finely measured performance, prolific screen actor Buscemi brings an appropriately understated emotional current to Spinelli's tale about Donald Zinkoff, a generally happy, spirited and clumsy boy known to his classmates and neighbor kids as the biggest loser around. Though he has no real friends, can't seem to do anything right and is often misunderstood or even disliked by his teachers, Zinkoff never loses his positive outlook on life. By creating such an unusually good-natured protagonist, Spinelli can show the ugly, cruel behavior of other children without making Zinkoff into a pathetic victim. This tack may well encourage listeners to consider how they treat their friends, classmates and teammates. In a great balancing act, Buscemi's reading perfectly matches the book's poignant theme while at the same time conveying the sense of fun and adventure with which Zinkoff views the world. From the start, listeners will want to know how things turn out. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (July 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060540745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060540746
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (320 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Growing up, Jerry Spinelli was really serious about baseball. He played for the Green Sox Little League team in his hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, and dreamed of one day playing for the major leagues, preferably as shortstop for the New York Yankees.

One night during high school, Spinelli watched the football team win an exciting game against one of the best teams in the country. While everyone else rode about town tooting horns in celebration, Spinelli went home and wrote "Goal to Go," a poem about the game's defining moment, a goal-line stand. His father submitted the poem to the Norristown Times-Herald and it was featured in the middle of the sports page a few days later. He then traded in his baseball bat for a pencil, because he knew that he wanted to become a writer.

After graduating from Gettysburg College with an English degree, Spinelli worked full time as a magazine editor. Every day on his lunch hour, he would close his office door and craft novels on yellow magazine copy paper. He wrote four adult novels in 12 years of lunchtime writing, but none of these were accepted for publication. When he submitted a fifth novel about a 13-year-old boy, adult publishers once again rejected his work, but children's publishers embraced it. Spinelli feels that he accidentally became an author of children's books.

Spinelli's hilarious books entertain both children and young adults. Readers see his life in his autobiography Knots in My Yo-Yo String, as well as in his fiction. Crash came out of his desire to include the beloved Penn Relays of his home state of Pennsylvania in a book, while Maniac Magee is set in a fictional town based on his own hometown.

When asked if he does research for his writing, Spinelli says: "The answer is yes and no. No, in the sense that I seldom plow through books at the library to gather material. Yes, in the sense that the first 15 years of my life turned out to be one big research project. I thought I was simply growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania; looking back now I can see that I was also gathering material that would one day find its way into my books."

On inspiration, the author says: "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."

Spinelli lives with his wife and fellow writer, Eileen, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. While they write in separate rooms of the house, the couple edits and celebrates one another's work. Their six children have given Jerry Spinelli a plethora of clever material for his writing.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Karen Kirsch on June 22, 2002
Format: Library Binding
During the last 5 years of a 29 year career as a classroom
teacher I began reading aloud to my middle school students.
Shame on me! I should have begun on day one. Not only did my
students love it (Southwest Detroit), but I learned that young
adult fiction can be as exciting and heartwarming as anything
written for an adult. My students loved Maniac Magee, Crash, and The Library Card by Spinelli. They begged me to read just one more chapter each day. Of course, they also loved when Ms. Kirsch got too teary-eyed and had to call on a student to read.
I have been the librarian in our school for the past 3 years
and always have a young adult novel alongside my other reads.
Jerry Spinelli is my favorite. Wringer, Stargirl, and now Loser
are among my all-time most special books. I forget the storylines
of many other books I have read, but never Jerry Spinelli's. I
am able to recount each character and the circumstances that
were important in their lives.
Loser is a very special book. Donald Zinkoff is an extra-
ordinary character. His giraffe hat, his love for school, his
uncontrollable giggles, his belief that he runs so fast. He
wants to sit in that first seat in class, and yet his last name
dooms him to the last seat in the last row. Until the 4th grade
when his teacher seats him in the first row. Oh, how he loves
that teacher. Yahoo!
Zinkoff reminds me of no other student I have ever encountered. Maybe by the time they get to sixth grade, they
have had that exhuberance knocked out of them. Maybe that is
why I cried so hard while reading this book.
While Donald becomes a hero in our mind while searching for
the girl on a leash in a snowstorm, Spinelli doesn't rally the
classmates in a stunning salute. He eases us out, and I guess
we know that things are going to be all right for Zinkoff.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Mr. C on December 31, 2002
Format: Library Binding
As a fifth grade teacher, I picked up Jerry Spinelli's Loser to preview whether it would make an appropriate read aloud selection for my students. Loser tells the story of Donald Zinkoff's childhood. At first, Donald appears to be an average elementary school kid, but as he grows older, his classmates begin to view him differently. Before, Donald was silly and clumsy, but in fourth grade, suddenly he is seen as weird and strange. An important turning point in the story happens when Zinkoff's poor coordination causes his fourth grade classmates to lose an athletic contest. By the end of the day, Donald has a new name-"Loser." Spinelli spends the rest of the book discussing Zinkoff's move to middle school and hinting that somehow, Zinkoff will change from "zero" to "hero." When a neighborhood girl is missing, Zinkoff sees his chance to become popular. When she is finally found, will Donald Zinkoff still be a "Loser?"
I enjoyed reading Loser for a number of reasons. First, the plot of Loser is a simple one that I think every human-young and old-can relate to. Everyone's been teased one time or another. I think it would be an interesting experience for all readers to see how one character deals with being teased. Zinkoff is such a complicated character because he doesn't even realize that others see him as a loser. Most people would feel hurt and embarrassed (maybe even angry) if they were in Donald's shoes, but not Zinkoff.
Because he is so oblivious to his classmate's taunts, I started to believe that there was more to Zinkoff than Jerry Spinelli was saying. Is Zinkoff just clumsy and weird or does he suffer from real learning and behavioral disabilities? I kept hoping Spinelli would explain more about Donald and his condition.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on June 17, 2003
Format: Library Binding Verified Purchase
As a Newbery Award-winning author, Spinelli can expect readers to have high expectations. Especially when he produces a novel in the "young adult" genre. Fortunately, Spinelli rarely disappoints and he doesn't disappoint here.
Loser is the story Donald Zinkoff as he moves from the first through the sixth grades. In essence, it is the story of how "winners" and "losers" are created. In the early grades, Zinkoff may be a little odd but his peers have not yet learned how and why to exclude certain children. As time goes on, however, Zinkoff's love of school (despite his rather limited abilities) and, in particular, poor performance at sports makes him an outcast.
It should be understood that this novel is basically an interesting character study of a single character--Zinkoff. Despite the rather dramatic wandering in the snowstorm near the end of the book, there is not a lot of action beyond the ordinary day-to-day events in the life of a young man. But this is one of the things that gives this book its charm. That, and Zinkoff's own obliviousness to his social status. It is nice to see a character who basically likes himself.
On the other hand, this is a clue to the novel's weakness. This is basically a very sophisticated story about a boy who has social problems as well as real problems that are only hinted at. As an adult, I found it very true and interesting but it works on a level higher than a lot of younger readers might be capable of reaching. Teenage readers might get a lot from this novel but will they read a story about a grade-schooler? I am afraid this novel will have a tough time finding an audience which is too bad because it is well worth reading.
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