Milkweed

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Overview

He's a boy called Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. Runt. Happy. Fast. Filthy son of Abraham.

He's a boy who lives in the streets of Warsaw. He's a boy who steals food for himself and the other orphans. He's a boy who believes in bread, and mothers, and angels. He's a boy who wants to be a Nazi some day, with tall shiny jackboots and a gleaming Eagle hat of his own. Until the day that suddenly makes him change his mind. And when the trains come to empty ...

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Milkweed

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Overview

He's a boy called Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. Runt. Happy. Fast. Filthy son of Abraham.

He's a boy who lives in the streets of Warsaw. He's a boy who steals food for himself and the other orphans. He's a boy who believes in bread, and mothers, and angels. He's a boy who wants to be a Nazi some day, with tall shiny jackboots and a gleaming Eagle hat of his own. Until the day that suddenly makes him change his mind. And when the trains come to empty the Jews from the ghetto of the damned, he's a boy who realizes it's safest of all to be nobody.

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli takes us to one of the most devastating settings imaginable -- Nazi-occupied Warsaw of World War II -- and tells a tale of heartbreak, hope, and survival through the bright eyes of a young orphan.

Author Biography: Jerry Spinelli has won the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee and a Newbery Honor Award for Wringer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conveying a sometimes-astonishing na vet in light of the brutality seen through the eyes of an orphan boy, Rifkin breathes emotion into Spinelli's novel, which is set in Poland during the Holocaust. In 1939 Warsaw, a runty, ragged street thief who doesn't even know his name or if he ever had a family finds himself taken under the wing of a sharp, slightly older boy named Uri. The younger boy, now called Misha, learns a new, even more wretched way of life under Nazi occupation. He witnesses murder, torture and hatred firsthand, as taken out on the Jews by the cruel soldiers he knows as Jackboots. He further hones his scrappy survival skills, becomes part of a Jewish family in the ghetto and, miraculously, continues to muster hope as the months and years pass. Via Rifkin's cool yet compelling delivery, listeners discover-right along with an always wide-eyed Misha-some of the horrors that many innocent people suffered during this dark era of history. Though some listeners may be puzzled by Misha's detached air and consistent lack of awareness, Rifkin succeeds in making the audio experience an ultimately enlightening one. Ages 10-up. (Sept. 2003) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Newbery-winning author Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed is different than any other books. Its success is achieved primarily through the main character whom Spinelli has described as "a little kid with a big heart...who finds himself trapped in a walled-in nightmare." At the beginning of the book, this young boy has no background, no name, and only one memory. "I am running. That's the first thing I remember. Running...Someone is chasing me. "Stop! Thief!" The boy refers to himself as "Stopthief" when he meets a bunch of homeless boys on the streets of pre-Nazi Warsaw. Uri, the leader of the group, gives him the name Misha Pilsudski and an invented background. When Misha describes the arrival of the Nazis, we begin to see how this character with no real history sees in a way that is strange, dispassionate, and chillingly beautiful. "They were magnificent. There were men attached to them, but it was as if the boots were wearing the men.... A thousand of them swinging up as one, falling like the footstep of a single, thousand-footed giant." Spinelli's brilliant perspective continues as Misha, searches for a home and follows a wealthy beautiful young Jew, Janina Milgrom, into the Warsaw Ghetto. Now Misha is part of a parade that was "different from the grand parade of the Jackboots! The thump of a thousand Jackboots was now the shuffle of ragged shoes; instead of the roar of tanks, the crickety click of cart wheels." Twice more Misha describes parades as Janus Korczak's orphans are led out of the ghetto singing and an endless parade seen in the yellow light of trains bound for the extermination camps. There is a beauty and a sensory strength that forms a contrast with the stark ugliness we knowMisha faces. Spinelli's genius is that he stays firmly rooted in his viewpoint character who is uncomprehending, innocent and impersonally recounts the horrors he sees. 2003, Knopf, Ages 11 up.
— Susie Wilde
VOYA
When readers first meet the orphan narrator, he is running. "Stop!" and Thief!" are words so familiar to him that he takes them as his name. Stopthief is one of a band of boys living on the streets and in the stables of Warsaw before the Nazi occupation. This devastating narrative follows his journey from the streets into the Ghetto and through the end of the war. Stopthief is renamed Misha by Uri, the leader of the orphan band, and told that he is a Russian gypsy, not a Jew. Misha is awestruck by the "Jackboots" who take over the city. After he is herded into the Jewish Ghetto, he steals food for his adopted family and the local orphanage. As conditions in the ghetto worsen, his ability to smuggle in and out of its walls turns him from thief to savior. Spinelli's works features more than one irrepressible hero who rises above the social confines of his or her day. In placing such a character in one of history's darkest hours, he challenges readers to see the Holocaust anew, to experience it in the moment. Misha is both insider and outsider, without history and without knowledge, and through his eyes the reader knows the disorientation, the confusion, and the mounting horror of a people who, unlike the modern reader, do not know what is to come. It is too simple to call him an archetype. His daring, part courage and part naïveté, comes at a cost, and only in the book's final chapters does one come to understand the price of his dissociation. Neither oppressor or oppressed, he is a tragic figure, ultimately alone despite his loyalty to Uri and to his adopted sister Janina. Spinelli creates a masterful achievement, a war story to be put alongside J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and aliterary accompaniment to Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Knopf, 208p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Angelina Benedetti
From The Critics
Little Misha is known by many names throughout his life, names both given him by his adopted people and his cruel oppressors. Naturally searching for identity and acceptance, he gets swept up in humanity's greatest atrocity. Misha is an uneducated orphan in Warsaw, Poland. Adopted by smugglers and Jews, he learns to use his speed, wits, and small size to survive. He and his friends steal from the fortunate to keep alive, and through this, they create hope for themselves by embracing adventure, challenge, and charity. The story is told from Misha's naive point of view, making the story a perfect introduction to the events of the Holocaust for young adults. When the Jews begin to be subjected to terrible things, Misha doesn't understand. He sees the world with a child's eyes and has no way to process what is happening to him. Milkweed is heartbreaking, not only for its honest look at an abhorrent series of events, but also for its realistic portrayal of the toll these events take on a boy, his adopted family, and his misfit friends. The book successfully captures these people in all their frail humanity, their joy and follies, their triumphs and tragedies. 2003, Alfred A. Knopf, 224 pp. Ages young adult. Reviewer: Steve Rasmussen
KLIATT
To quote the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, January 2004: "In a world gone crazy, "Gypsy," "Runt," or eventually "Misha" is the narrator, a small boy of unknown origins, confused and overwhelmed by the war-torn world around him. Warsaw, during WW II, has become a place of devastation and horror and there is nowhere to hide. As Misha runs with the other orphans, he learns to survive against all odds. He tells his story in a matter-of-fact tone, which makes the tragedy of his world all the more poignant." (An ALA Best Book for YAs; a National Jewish Book Award Finalist.) KLIATT Codes: J*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Random House, 208p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Sally Tibbetts
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-In Warsaw in 1939, a boy wanders the streets and survives by stealing what food he can. He knows nothing of his background: Is he a Jew? A Gypsy? Was he ever called something other than Stopthief? Befriended by a band of orphaned Jewish boys, he begins to share their sleeping quarters. He understands very little of what is happening. When the Nazi "Jackboots" march into the town, he greets them happily, admires their shiny boots and tanks, and hopes he can join their ranks someday. He eventually adopts a name, Misha, and a family, that of his friend Janina Milgrom, a girl he meets while stealing food in her comfortable neighborhood. When the Milgroms are forced to move into the newly created ghetto, Misha cheerfully accompanies them. There, he is one of the few small enough to slip through holes in the wall to smuggle in food. By the time trains come to take the ghetto's residents away, Misha realizes what many adults do not-that the passengers won't be going to the resettlement villages at the journey's end. Reading this unusual, fresh view of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a child who struggles to understand the world around him is like viewing a poignant collage of Misha's impressions. He shares certain qualities with Spinelli's Maniac Magee, especially his intense loyalty to those he cares about and his hopeful, resilient spirit. This historical novel can be appreciated both by readers with previous knowledge of the Holocaust and by those who share Misha's innocence and will discover the horrors of this period in history along with him.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When the reader first meets the narrator of this tale, he knows himself only as "Stopthief." He is a Warsaw street orphan, without morals, without culture, without community-until Uri takes him in to join his pack of fellow orphans, all Jews. Life is good for the newly renamed Misha, until the Jackboots arrive and force him and his fellow orphans into the ghetto, where life becomes increasingly more desperate and community-both that of the orphans and of Janina, a little girl whose family he adopts-increasingly necessary. Spinelli's choice of narrator is a masterstroke. Because Misha has no sense of anything except his own immediate needs and desires, he has no urge to explain the bizarre and fundamentally irrational events that befall him. He simply reports graphically, almost clinically, on the slow devastation of the Jews of Warsaw and on the changes in his own relationships, to friends and world, brought about by the experience. His own psychological and social growth is almost lost on the reader until a coda, that still makes no attempt to explain, finally finds him at peace. Stunning. (Fiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375861475
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 3/23/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 168,058
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerry Spinelli

Jerry Spinelli has won the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee and a Newbery Honor Award for Wringer.

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Read an Excerpt

1

MEMORY

I am running.

That’s the first thing I remember. Running. I carry something, my arm curled around it, hugging it to my chest. Bread, of course. Someone is chasing me. “Stop! Thief!” I run. People. Shoulders. Shoes. “Stop! Thief!”

Sometimes it is a dream. Sometimes it is a memory in the middle of the day as I stir iced tea or wait for soup to heat. I never see who is chasing and calling me. I never stop long enough to eat the bread. When I awaken from dream or memory, my legs are tingling.

2

SUMMER

He was dragging me, running. He was much bigger. My feet skimmed over the ground. Sirens were screaming. His hair was red. We flew through streets and alleyways. There we thumping noises, like distant thunder. The people we bounced off didn’t seem to notice us. The sirens were screaming like babies. At last we plunged into a dark hole.

“You’re lucky,” he said. “Soon it won’t be ladies chasing you. It will be Jackboots.”

“Jackboots?” I said.

“You’ll see.”

I wondered who the Jackboots were. Were unfooted boots running along the streets?

“Okay,” he said, “hand it over.”

“Hand what over?” I said.

He reached into my shirt and pulled out the loaf of bread. He broke it in half. He shoved one half at me and began to eat the other.

“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you,” he said. “That lady you took this from, I was just getting ready to snatch it for myself.”

“I’m lucky,” I said.

He burped. “You’re quick. You took it before I even knew what happened. That lady was rich. Did you see the way she was dressed? She’ll just buy ten more.”

I ate my bread.

More thumping sounds in the distance. “What is that?” I asked him.

“Jackboot artillery,” he said.

“What’s artillery?”

“Big guns. Boom boom. They’re shelling the city.” He stared at me. “Who are you?”

I didn’t understand the question.

“I’m Uri,” he said. “What’s your name.

I gave him my name. “Stopthief.”

3

He took me to meet the others. We were in a stable. The horses were there. Usually they would be out on the streets, but they were home now because the Jackboots were boom-booming the city and it was too dangerous for horses. We sat in a stall near the legs of a sad-faced gray. The horse pooped. Two of the kids got up and went to the next stall, another horse. A moment later came the sound of water splashing on straw. The two came back. One of them said, “I’ll take the poop.”

“Where did you find him?” said a boy smoking a cigarette.

“Down by the river,” said Uri. “He snatched a loaf from a rich lady coming out of the Bread Box.”

Another boy said, “Why didn’t you snatch it from him?” This one was smoking a cigar as long as his face.

Uri looked at me. “I don’t know.”

“He’s a runt,” someone said. “Look at him.”

“Stand up,” said someone else.

I looked at Uri. Uri flicked his finger. I stood.

“Go there,” someone said. I felt a foot on my back, pushing me toward the horse.

“See,” said the cigar smoker, “he doesn’t even come halfway up to the horse’s dumper.”

A voice behind me squawked, “The horse could dump a new hat on him!”

Everyone, even Uri, howled with laughter. Explosions went off beyond the walls.

The boys who were not smoking were eating. In the corner of the stable was a pile as tall as me. There was bread in all shapes and sausages of all lengths and colors and fruits and candies. But only half of it was food. All sorts of other things glittered in the pile. I saw watches and combs and ladies’ lipsticks and eyeglasses. I saw the thin flat face of a fox peering out.

“What’s his name?” said someone.

Uri nodded at me. “Tell them your name.”

“Stopthief,” I said.

Someone crowed, “It speaks!”

Smoke burst from mouths as the boys laughed.

One boy did not laugh. He carried a cigarette behind each ear. “I think he’s cuckoo.”

Another boy got up and came over to me. He leaned down. He sniffed. He pinched his nose. “He smells.” He blew smoke into my face.

“Look,” someone called, even the smoke can’t stand him. It’s turning green!”

They laughed.

The smoke blower backed off. “So, Stopthief, are you a smelly cuckoo?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“He’s stupid,” said the unlaughing boy. “He’ll get us in trouble.”

“He’s quick,” said Uri. “And he’s little.”

“He’s a runt.”

“Runt is good,” said Uri.

“Are you a Jew?” said the boy in my face.

“I don’t know,” I said.

He kicked my foot. “How can you not know? You’re a Jew or you’re not a Jew.”

I shrugged.

“I told you, he’s stupid,” said the unlaugher.

“He’s young,” said Uri. “He’s just a little kid.”

“How old are you?” said the smoke blower.

“I don’t know,” I said.

The smoke blower threw up his hands. “Don’t you know anything?”

“He’s stupid.”

“He’s a stupid Jew.”

“A smelly stupid Jew.”

“A tiny smelly stupid Jew!”

More laughter. Each time they laughed, they threw food at each other and at the horse.

The smoke blower pressed my nose with the tip of his finger. “Can you do this?” He leaned back until he was facing the ceiling. He puffed on the cigarette until his cheeks, even his eyes, were bulging. His face looked like a balloon. It was grinning. I was sure he was going to destroy me with his faceful of smoke, but he didn’t. He turned to the horse, lifted its tail, and blew a stream of silvery smoke at the horse’s behind. The horse nickered.

Everyone howled. Even the unlaugher. Even me.

The pounding in the distance was like my heartbeat after running.

“He must be a Jew,” someone said.

“What’s a Jew?” I said.

“Answer the runt,” someone said. “Tell him what a Jew is.”

The unlaugher kicked ground straw at a boy who hadn’t spoken. The boy had only one arm. “That’s a Jew.” He pointed to himself. “This is a Jew.” He pointed to the others. “That’s a Jew. That’s a Jew. That’s a Jew.” He pointed to the horse. “That’s a Jew.” He fell to his knees and scrabbled in the straw near the horse flop. He found something. He held it out to me. It was a small brown insect. “This is a Jew. Look. Look!” He startled me. “A Jew is an animal. A Jew is a bug. A Jew is less than a bug.” He threw the insect into the flop. “A Jew is that.”

Others cheered and clapped.

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“I’m a horse turd!”

“I’m a goose turd!”

A boy pointed at me. “He’s a Jew all right. Look at him. He’s a Jew if I ever saw one.”

“Yeah, he’s in for it all right.”

I looked at the boy who spoke. He was munching on a sausage. “What am I in for?” I said.

He snorted. “Strawberry babka.”

“We’re all in for it,” said someone else. “We’re in for it good.”

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First Chapter

1

MEMORY

I am running.

That's the first thing I remember. Running. I carry something, my arm curled around it, hugging it to my chest. Bread, of course. Someone is chasing me. “Stop! Thief!” I run. People. Shoulders. Shoes. “Stop! Thief!”

Sometimes it is a dream. Sometimes it is a memory in the middle of the day as I stir iced tea or wait for soup to heat. I never see who is chasing and calling me. I never stop long enough to eat the bread. When I awaken from dream or memory, my legs are tingling.


2

SUMMER

He was dragging me, running. He was much bigger. My feet skimmed over the ground. Sirens were screaming. His hair was red. We flew through streets and alleyways. There we thumping noises, like distant thunder. The people we bounced off didn't seem to notice us. The sirens were screaming like babies. At last we plunged into a dark hole.

“You're lucky,” he said. “Soon it won't be ladies chasing you. It will be Jackboots.”

“Jackboots?” I said.

“You'll see.”

I wondered who the Jackboots were. Were unfooted boots running along the streets?

“Okay,” he said, “hand it over.”

“Hand what over?” I said.

He reached into my shirt and pulled out the loaf of bread. He broke it in half. He shoved one half at me and began to eat the other.

“You're lucky I didn't kill you,” he said. “That lady you took this from, I was just getting ready to snatch it for myself.”

“I'm lucky,” I said.

He burped. “You're quick. You took it before Ieven knew what happened. That lady was rich. Did you see the way she was dressed? She'll just buy ten more.”

I ate my bread.

More thumping sounds in the distance. “What is that?” I asked him.

“Jackboot artillery,” he said.

“What's artillery?”

“Big guns. Boom boom. They're shelling the city.” He stared at me. “Who are you?”

I didn't understand the question.


“I'm Uri,” he said. “What's your name.

I gave him my name. “Stopthief.”


3


He took me to meet the others. We were in a stable. The horses were there. Usually they would be out on the streets, but they were home now because the Jackboots were boom-booming the city and it was too dangerous for horses. We sat in a stall near the legs of a sad-faced gray. The horse pooped. Two of the kids got up and went to the next stall, another horse. A moment later came the sound of water splashing on straw. The two came back. One of them said, “I'll take the poop.”

“Where did you find him?” said a boy smoking a cigarette.

“Down by the river,” said Uri. “He snatched a loaf from a rich lady coming out of the Bread Box.”

Another boy said, “Why didn't you snatch it from him?” This one was smoking a cigar as long as his face.

Uri looked at me. “I don't know.”

“He's a runt,” someone said. “Look at him.”

“Stand up,” said someone else.

I looked at Uri. Uri flicked his finger. I stood.

“Go there,” someone said. I felt a foot on my back, pushing me toward the horse.

“See,” said the cigar smoker, “he doesn't even come halfway up to the horse's dumper.”

A voice behind me squawked, “The horse could dump a new hat on him!”

Everyone, even Uri, howled with laughter. Explosions went off beyond the walls.

The boys who were not smoking were eating. In the corner of the stable was a pile as tall as me. There was bread in all shapes and sausages of all lengths and colors and fruits and candies. But only half of it was food. All sorts of other things glittered in the pile. I saw watches and combs and ladies' lipsticks and eyeglasses. I saw the thin flat face of a fox peering out.

“What's his name?” said someone.

Uri nodded at me. “Tell them your name.”

“Stopthief,” I said.

Someone crowed, “It speaks!”

Smoke burst from mouths as the boys laughed.

One boy did not laugh. He carried a cigarette behind each ear. “I think he's cuckoo.”

Another boy got up and came over to me. He leaned down. He sniffed. He pinched his nose. “He smells.” He blew smoke into my face.

“Look,” someone called, even the smoke can't stand him. It's turning green!”

They laughed.

The smoke blower backed off. “So, Stopthief, are you a smelly cuckoo?”

I didn't know what to say.

“He's stupid,” said the unlaughing boy. “He'll get us in trouble.”

“He's quick,” said Uri. “And he's little.”

“He's a runt.”

“Runt is good,” said Uri.

“Are you a Jew?” said the boy in my face.

“I don't know,” I said.

He kicked my foot. “How can you not know? You're a Jew or you're not a Jew.”

I shrugged.

“I told you, he's stupid,” said the unlaugher.

“He's young,” said Uri. “He's just a little kid.”

“How old are you?” said the smoke blower.

“I don't know,” I said.

The smoke blower threw up his hands. “Don't you know anything?”

“He's stupid.”

“He's a stupid Jew.”

“A smelly stupid Jew.”

“A tiny smelly stupid Jew!”

More laughter. Each time they laughed, they threw food at each other and at the horse.

The smoke blower pressed my nose with the tip of his finger. “Can you do this?” He leaned back until he was facing the ceiling. He puffed on the cigarette until his cheeks, even his eyes, were bulging. His face looked like a balloon. It was grinning. I was sure he was going to destroy me with his faceful of smoke, but he didn't. He turned to the horse, lifted its tail, and blew a stream of silvery smoke at the horse's behind. The horse nickered.

Everyone howled. Even the unlaugher. Even me.

The pounding in the distance was like my heartbeat after running.

“He must be a Jew,” someone said.

“What's a Jew?” I said.

“Answer the runt,” someone said. “Tell him what a Jew is.”

The unlaugher kicked ground straw at a boy who hadn't spoken. The boy had only one arm. “That's a Jew.” He pointed to himself. “This is a Jew.” He pointed to the others. “That's a Jew. That's a Jew. That's a Jew.” He pointed to the horse. “That's a Jew.” He fell to his knees and scrabbled in the straw near the horse flop. He found something. He held it out to me. It was a small brown insect. “This is a Jew. Look. Look!” He startled me. “A Jew is an animal. A Jew is a bug. A Jew is less than a bug.” He threw the insect into the flop. “A Jew is that.”

Others cheered and clapped.

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“I'm a horse turd!”

“I'm a goose turd!”

A boy pointed at me. “He's a Jew all right. Look at him. He's a Jew if I ever saw one.”

“Yeah, he's in for it all right.”

I looked at the boy who spoke. He was munching on a sausage. “What am I in for?” I said.

He snorted. “Strawberry babka.”

“We're all in for it,” said someone else. “We're in for it good.”


From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright© 2003 by Jerry Spinelli
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Reading Group Guide

1. Identity is a key theme in Milkweed. Discuss what Misha Pilsudski means when he says, “And so, thanks to Uri, in a cellar beneath a barbershop somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, in autumn of the year nineteen thirty-nine, I was born, you might say” (p. 31). How does the made-up story of Misha’s life become so important to him? How does his identity change throughout the novel? What gives him a true identity at the end of the book? Discuss Uncle Shepsel’s efforts to renounce his identity as a Jew. How are these efforts related to survival?

2. Uri is described as “fearless on the streets” (p. 80). What does he teach Misha about fear? Janina has led a privileged life and has not had to deal with fear before her family is moved to the ghetto. Discuss how Misha helps her cope with her new life. How does fear eventually kill Mrs. Milgrom? At what point in the novel does Misha display the most fear? How does he deal with it?

3. Uri advises Misha and the other homeless boys that one important survival skill is remaining invisible. Why does Misha have a difficult time remaining invisible? What other survival skills do the boys employ? What does Misha teach the Milgroms about survival? What poses the greatest threat to the survival of the Jews in the ghetto?

4. How does Misha’s relationship with the Milgroms change throughout the novel? At what point does Mr. Milgrom invite him to become a part of the family? Why are Uncle Shepsel and Mrs. Milgrom so reluctant to accept Misha? Discuss how Misha’s desire for family comes full circle by the end of the book.

5. In this novel about the horror and destruction of the Holocaust, Jerry Spinelli includes a number of recurring images of innocence and childhood. He also creates a main character who is young and naïve. What is the effect of this blending of the horrific and the innocent? What is the importance of the carousel horses, the angels, and Janina’s shiny black shoes? Why does Misha say, “We couldn’t eat merry-go-round horses and stone angels” (p. 138)? How do Misha’s childlike feelings and ideas about the Jackboots, their “parades,” and the war change?

6. Although they are hungry and grieving, the Milgroms still celebrate Hanukkah—even after their silver menorah has been stolen. What is the importance of their faith and hope in the midst of devastation? How does Misha feel when he is included in the celebration? The first time Misha hears the word “happy” is when Mr. Milgrom uses it to describe Hanukkah and being proud of their Jewish heritage (p. 157)—why is this important? Why does Misha give up the idea that he is a Gypsy in favor of being a Jew?

7. Discuss the qualities of true friendship. Talk about the friendship that develops between Misha and Janina. Why is Misha such a good friend to the orphans? Why does Dr. Korczak, the head of the orphanage, call Misha a “foolish, good-hearted boy” (p. 64)?

8. When Misha comes to the United States, he shares on the street corner his memories of his life in Poland. He says that running is his first memory (p. 1). What might he say is his last memory? Misha doesn’t tell his family about Janina, but he pays tribute to her memory by naming his granddaughter for her. Discuss why he wants to keep the memory of Janina to himself.

9. On page 196, Misha says, “Somewhere along the way I heard the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I knew that the end was not true, that the witch did not die in the oven.” When he is older and moves to America, Misha sees a copy of Hansel and Gretel in a bookstore and “grab[s] it and rip[s] it to shreds” (p. 202). Think about the story of Hansel and Gretel. How does this story—which most people see as a simple fairy tale—emphasize the horror of the Holocaust for Misha? How are Misha and Janina like Hansel and Gretel? Do you think Misha’s wife, Vivian, understands why he rips up the book?

10. he first sentence of Milkweed is “I am running” (p. 1). Later, Uri warns Misha to run from the ghetto to escape the deportation: “‘Get out. Run. Don’t stop running’” (p. 169). On page 180, Mr. Milgrom tells Misha to take Janina to the other side of the wall and run away: “‘Do not bring back food tonight. Do not return. Run. Run.’” Running plays an important role in Milkweed. How does it shape Misha’s life and identity? Do you think Misha is able to stop running at the end of the novel?

11. Think about the title—where does milkweed appear in this novel? What does it mean to Misha and Janina when they’re in the ghetto? What does milkweed mean to Misha at the end of the novel when he plants it at the end of his yard? How does it preserve his memories of Poland?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 313 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(219)

4 Star

(62)

3 Star

(15)

2 Star

(9)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 314 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2004

    ONE THE BEST BOOKS EVER!

    One word, WOW! That was heartbreaking,at times funny,outstanding, how else can I describe this book. Milkweed really got inside of you, made you feel , and when I was done with the book I was still left in aw. It is amazing how this book ended, the very last words were amazing, everything, amazing. One of my favorites.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2010

    Excelent story

    A story about a young boy who is living through WWII trying to stay alive

    Misha Pilsudski is the boys name he runs the streets of Warsaw with his friend Uri. Uri is an older boy who is trying to help Misha steal food and keep him out of trouble. Until Misha is taken to the ghetto along with the Milgram family. In the ghetto he smuggles food for his family to keep them from starving.

    Misha tries his hardest to keep food on the table but as the war goes on supply of food becomes lower and he really doesn't understand why.

    They survive through the ghetto but Nobody knows how much longer they will live.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    Love it

    I read it i 6th gread and it was awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2010

    the bestt book everrrrrrr[:

    The book Milkweed; covers the theme of how friends and family help you out when you need it most.
    The caracoter in this story Misha had a survival of the finish; he had the steal everything he needed: clothes, food, and anything he could get his hands on. He never had a family or at least that he knew of. He was a very fast runner, very small, and could fit throw the crowds of the Warsaw. He didn't know that much. He got picked up off the streets to live with Uri, who washed him up and took care of him. They all ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto.
    He survived many cold nights, fights, shortage on food, and cruel treatment. I really like this book, because it showed passion.
    Jerry made this book understandable for a 10 year old. He gave you a mystery of what was going on next. There are a lot of things that go unexplained.
    Friends and family help you out with a lot, and are always there when you need them the most. I really loved this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2013

    Absolutely Amazing! I loved this book so much. I picked it up on

    Absolutely Amazing! I loved this book so much. I picked it up on a whim but the very first pages pull you in and you can't put it down. It was so raw and the characters were so real. You felt everything with Misha and throughout the book you felt this young boys inoccence in a world he has come to accept as normal. Read this! You will not regret it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2013

    B.R for bill

    This is the book

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    You should read it....

    I am reading it for reading... i think it is amazing because he seems really fun and interesting..... i also love how the author gets in detail about life in Warsaw.....love it!!!!!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    ABSOLUTLEY AMAZING

    This has to be the most touching and amazing book i have ever read in my entire life... it had me in tears at the end !! I loved it ! Definetly worth reading !

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2012

    I loved this book so much.

    I'm in 8th grade and we didn't have enough days left of school to finash the book so I stole it, finashed it that night, and brought it back the next day. I cried off and on throughout the book, but was surprised by how much I was sobbing. I was at least glad we didn't end up reading it in school. This book surprised me by how interested I was. I had alot of backround knoledge about WW2, it being a topic that interested me, but who would have thought a book from school could be so cool. I still don't understand why Uri shot Misha, though...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    Loved it

    This book is amazing its heartbreaking an funny! Get this book you wont regret it!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    Good

    Great book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    Read this:) :)

    This book is about the holoucaust and it is VERY sad. And dark. And creepy at times. But it is heartwarming and pleasureable, and thankfuly, a quick read. Everybody should experience the pain in this book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    Kscvbccbbih

    This is my favorite book ever. I read it in 5th grade for the first time and I'm still reading it over and over 7 years later

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    The best!

    Myteacher started reading this book in class to us and when she said its by jerry spinnelli i was like NOOOOO!!!! But then it tirned out to be REALLY REALLY good i recomend for people 10-14

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2011

    Don't read!

    This book is very boring. One day is 50 pgs. long! Boring, boring, boring! Says the same thing on every page. First part is ok.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Heart Renching & Action packed book

    I personally believe that Jerry Spinelli's purpose for writing Milkweed was to show the reader the holocaust in a child's prospective. In the book the main character, Misha an orphan boy, doesn't quiet grasp the concept that Nazis a.k.a. Jackboots are killing his kind. In fact Misha wants to be a Jackboot! Misha loved their uniforms. "His boots came to my shoulder, and his uniform was piped and spangled with silver. The brim of his hat was black and shinny like the boots; above it glistened a bird." You can just tell by the way Misha explains in such detail and 'Ah' that he is truly amazed by this human. Misha also says, "They don't hate me. They say, 'Very good, little Gypsy.' They salute me. I want to be a Jackboot." Poor child doesn't even know the pain he will endure from them. Misha absolutely loved 'parades'! One of the first he saw was filled with Jackboots. There was so many that it was wide enough to be called a boulevard of Jackboots. Then followed the tanks. Misha described them as, "colossal gray long-snouted beetles." The greatest parade Misha saw was the march to the ghettos. Misha used the word Wonderful to describe it. He saw many people from different places going in the same direction. Little children pulled wagons full of toys. Grown-ups pulled carts of furniture and clothes. It was a blur of blue and white armbands. I really enjoyed this book. I think the author did a good job telling the holocaust not through the eyes of a Jew or Nazi but a child. How they had to grow up in war torn Germany fighting for survival.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Overall, one of the best books I've ever read.. -Madison Gale

    Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, is an amazing book. it is full of hope, compassion, and a gripping story plot. everything that makes a great book is included. one of the best things about this book is the characters. they are all so real to life, and all full of personality and their own spunk. my favorite character in the book is the young boy, the main character. at the beginning, he doesn't have a name, but at the end of the book, he finally receives one, but to find out what it is, you will have to read the book;) this book really, really, helped me understand the emotion and suffering in the Holocaust. sure, in school we read about it, and we studied it and had speakers talk to us, and I understood it was a horrible, horrible thing. but jerry Spinelli puts such.. emotion, such passion into every chapter, its like the words come to life with a stronger meeting, and they really move you. it made me believe that people really did have hope and courage during the Holocaust. this book gripped me and made me want to keep on reading, to find out if there would be a happy ending. imagine you are in a bookstore, and you are looking for a good book. does one book ever just, catch your eye? and you don't know the reason? that's just how gripping this book is. another great thing about this book is it is written from a child's point of view, so there are things in is that usually wouldn't be included. you really have to get into this book to understand it, because jerry Spinelli writes in a very.. intellectual style. I don't really have words to describe the way it is written, so you'll just have to read it for yourself. so what are you waiting for?? stop reading this, and read the book already:) because believe me, you will not be sorry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I'm a Gypsy not a Jew. -Kyona

    A crowd was running. We turned a corner. There was a large truck with the back open. Soldiers were tossing loaves of bread. The people grabbed and scrambled. We munched our cheeses, watching. I was fascinated. I had not known bread could be given! You know what the Holocaust is and when it happened right? A lot of people have read books about the Holocaust, for example Night by Elie Wiesel. The book Night told the true story of how a Jewish boy survived years in a death camp and was freed at the end of the war, there are other books like this out there. Imagine you live in a horse stable with over 5 other young boys, living off of stolen food, with no family, saying things like, "I don't believe in mothers". Milkweed tells the story of a tiny boy without an age or name who knows nothing of the world around him, and the happenings of the years of the Holocaust from his naive eyes. Yellow gypsy stone given by a father, bread, imaginary horse Greta, butter cream with hazelnut heart, Uri, smuggling, and jackboots he looks up to in awe but should actually shudder at the sight of. Those are the few things the child has to be able to care about. Milkweed with only 208 pages or so out of an average of about 300 pages in a book, packs so much emotion and meaning into it that you'll be tearing up with a smile on your face at the end. This book is so incredibly moving that it'll be embedded in your head for the rest of your life so if you don't want the average holocaust story of going to a death camp and surviving at least try reading this book because I promise you, you'll love it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    milkweed

    a story about a different boy in a different and changing world. this book will leave you laughing and crying. telling about the nasty horrible things that the Nazis or "jackboots" as called in this book did to the innocent people of the world. a story of hope, sadness, and remembrance. A story of how a boy living in the streets can suddenly belong to a family and have friends and then suddenly lose it all together. How the coming to America was a symbol of a new begging and a family start again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Milkweed

    This is a spectacular story about a boy who learns about the good, bad, and the ugly in this world and the worst part...he learns about the ugliest part of the world during the ugliest phase in history. However, he never stops remembering...
    This story will leave you dazed and feeling for those who endured the Holocaust. It really gets you inside the head of a little boy who grows up during this tragic time. This is a very realistic fictional story, and you will never forget it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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