The Barnes & Noble Review
Loser, by Newbery Medal–winning author Jerry Spinelli, is a powerful tale about a young boy whose contagious joie de vivre outshines his endless stream of gaffes. Simply put, it’s a sure winner. From his first day at school, Donald Zinkoff stands out from the crowd. Not only does he giggle uncontrollably and wear a goofy giraffe hat, he actually loves everything about school -- his teacher, his studies, and even the extracurricular activities. And when he answers every question wrong or serves as the butt of his classmates' jokes, Donald just laughs at himself right along with everyone else. When he arrives in the fourth grade, however, everything changes as “big-kid eyes” evaluate him with a harshness he hasn’t yet experienced. When his clumsiness costs his team the championship on Field Day, he is saddled with a haunting name: Loser.
Though his newfound awareness of himself as a loser is a setback, Donald finds support in the unconditional love of his family. When Donald’s mailman father lets him spend a bunch of Sundays pretending to deliver the mail, the oddball characters Donald meets along the route open his eyes to a bigger universe. And when an unexpected tragedy reveals Donald to be far more courageous and generous of heart than ever expected, it opens the eyes of others to the true magic of this quirky little boy.
In Donald Zinkoff, Spinelli has created an endearing character whose innocent delight, patient tolerance, and courageous self-sacrifice serve as a superb example of why it’s important to see inside a person, no matter how peculiar or inept he or she may seem on the outside. For peer-conscious youngsters on either side of the popularity fence, this is a valuable lesson they can’t afford to miss. (Beth Amos)
By the time Donald Zinkoff has reached fourth grade, the other boys have labeled him a "loser." But Donald doesn't realize it. He plows through life, clumsy, enthusiastic and sometimes courageous, cherished by his parents. Newbery Award winner Spinelli, with his characteristic exaggeration, raises questions about our emphasis on winning as he follows Donald through elementary school and into middle school. This compelling character study may inspire readers to reevaluate how they judge their fellow students and whether winning matters more than caring does.
PW wrote in a starred review of this novel that begins with a boy's early days of invisibility and ignorant bliss, to the turning point when he is dubbed a loser, "The author demonstrates the difference between those who can see with compassionate `little-kid eyes' and those who lose sight of what is truly important." Ages 10-12 (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Really a book about the loss of innocence, Spinelli's latest creation introduces readers to Donald Zinkoff on the eve of his first day of elementary school, before he can be subjected to the eagle eyes and cruel nature of his classmates. They have a name for him: Loser. Zinkoff certainly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Although the reader will wince at the criticisms and laughter directed at him by his peers, he is oblivious and content to laugh hysterically at nonsensical words such as "Jabip" and "Jaboop" and dream of being a postal worker like his father. Take Your Kid to Work Day for Zinkoff provides quite possibly the most moving scene in a book in recent years. This novel is an offbeat, affectionate, colorful, and melancholy work, exactly what one would expect from the brains behind such masterpieces as Maniac Magee (Little Brown, 1990/VOYA December 1990) and Wringer (HarperCollins, 1997). Spinelli expertly calls to mind the utopian days before one is subjected to the opinions and mercies of other classmates, before one can be noticed, forced to learn that there is something wrong and molded into conformity. Along the way, the author uses Zinkoff to show readers another definition of the word hero, for indeed they do come in all shapes and sizes. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, HarperCollins, 224p,
Loser tells the story of Zinkoff, a lovable "loser" who is neither smart enough to recognize when his exuberant behavior is inappropriate, nor competitive or worldly enough to care. Despite the teasing of his peers, Zinkoff's main goals are to have fun, explore his surroundings, and see the best in others. This is what makes Loser such a wonderful read: it celebrates the child in all of us, while at the same time it points out the problems inherent in growing up. Fortunately, Zinkoff is not alone in making his journey: his sister Polly, his 1st and 4th grade teachers, and a heroic snowplow driver all support him. His mother and father do too, which is important because there are plenty of bullies unable to appreciate what Zinkoff has to offer. Fans of Spinelli's work will enjoy this vivid and poignant, though not especially dramatic, coming-of-age tale (please do note that Zinkoff is only in 6th grade when this narrative ends). I recommend it as an excellent read-aloud, and catalyst for discussion of social and ethical issues. And as usual, Spinelli delivers. 2002, HarperCollins, 224 pp.,
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Donald Zinkoff is a kid everyone will recognize-the one with the stupid laugh who cracks up over nothing, the klutz who trips over his own feet, the overly exuberant student who always raises his hand but never has the right answers. Following him from first grade to middle school, the story is not so much about how the boy changes, but rather how his classmates' perceptions of him evolve over the years. In first and second grades, his eccentricities and lack of coordination are accepted, but in third grade Zinkoff is "discovered." His classmates turn their critical eyes to him and brand him a loser. From then on, he endures the fate of so many outcasts-the last to be picked for the team, a favorite prey of bullies, and the butt of cruel comments from classmates. Despite his clumsiness and occasionally poor social skills, Zinkoff is a caring, sensitive boy with loving and supportive parents. He is remarkably good-natured about all the ostracizing and taunting, but his response is genuine. It is not na vet or obliviousness that gives Zinkoff his resilient spirit-he's a kid too busy being himself to worry about what other people think of him. Although perhaps not as funny as Jack Gantos's little hellion, Joey Pigza, Zinkoff is a flawed but tough kid with an unshakable optimism that readers will find endearing. "Losers" in schools everywhere will find great comfort in this story, and the kids who would so casually brand their classmates should read it, too.-Edward Sullivan, White Pine School, TN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Meet Joey Pigza's soulmate. Donald Zinkoff can't sit still, can't stop laughing, falls over his own feet, adores school and silly words and his family, is prone to throwing up due to a defective stomach valve, is impervious to peer pressure, and never frets about being perennially last in any competition just as he's last in the alphabet. Charging joyously into each day, Zinkoff baffles older kids by not responding properly to playground bullying or scorn, baffles teachers by combining eagerness to learn with an inability to produce anything but sloppy, mediocre work, and even throws his canny, loving parents for a loop sometimes. So he's a born loser, right? Not in a Spinelli novel. Readers who pay attention will come to understand after watching Zinkoff face an aggressive fourth grader on his first day of school, give up his first (and probably his last) sports trophy to console a classmate who had been on the losing team, and very nearly freeze to death on a misguided search for a missing child. Following Zinkoff from his very first foray into the front yard to middle-school sixth grade, the author of Crash (1996) and Stargirl (2000) once again provides such a steady look at a marginalized child that readers will see past limiting social categories or awkward outsides to the complex mix of past, present, and promise at the core of every individual. A masterful character portrait; here's one loser who will win plenty of hearts. (Fiction. 9-11)
Read an Excerpt
You Grow Up
You grow up with a kid but you never really notice him. He's just there -- on the street, the playground, the neighborhood. He's part of the scenery, like the parked cars and the green plastic cans on trash day.
You pass through school -- first grade, second grade -- there he is, going along with you. You're not friends, you're not enemies. You just cross paths now and then. Maybe at the park playground one day you look up and there he is on the other end of the seesaw. Or it's winter and you sled to the bottom of Halftank Hill, and you're trudging back up and there he goes zipping down, his arms out like a swan diver, screaming his head off. And maybe it annoys you that he seems to be having even more fun than you, but it's a one-second thought and it's over.
You don't even know his name.
And then one day you do. You hear someone say a name, and somehow you just know that's who the name belongs to, it's that kid.
Zinkoff.Loser. Copyright © by Jerry Spinelli. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.