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)