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.
About the Author
JERRY SPINELLI is the author of many novels for young readers, including The Warden's Daughter; Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Milkweed; Crash; Wringer; and Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal; along with Knots in My Yo-Yo String, the autobiography of his childhood. A graduate of Gettysburg College, he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, poet and author Eileen Spinelli.
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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!”
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 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 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.
“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.
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 !
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...
Had to read it once for school asignment.. dreaded the idea but once i read it... WOW! Ya it was totaly amazing loved every word of it and still think of it to this day Absolutely loved it! *Be warned tissues may be needed*
I thought this book was outstanding it really did make me understand and appreciate the subject more . Many bad things happened in this book but bad things happen all the time and Im glad that i know that now so I know the facts. Spinelli is my favorite author of all time and this is my favorite book I totaly reccomend it to anyone but it does get a little scary and a lot sad. Overal, it was a great book!!!!!!
This book is amazing its heartbreaking an funny! Get this book you wont regret 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!!!!!!!
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
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
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
The book Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli covers the theme of survival. Milkweed is a very good book. Misha, Stoptheif, Jew, Gipsy, were some of the name the boy had. He stole his food, clothes, and much more. A man named Uri helped him because he was small, a fast runner, and great at steeling things he needed. The Nazi threw all the jews into the Warsaw ghetto including Misha. They did not get much food. Misha was small and able to get passed the wall through a small hole in the wall to steal some food for his new family and his friend that helped him. The book will make you want to cry and laugh. Misha goes through a lot during his childhood like cold winter nights, hunger, and cruel jackboots. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli is a great book. It's very easy to understand and there are some things that go unexplained throughout the book. It makes you wonder what happens next! Your final review It makes me think that anyone can get through anything. I didn't think I would like it at first because I don't like reading but this book make me want to read more of his books. I loved it!
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.
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.
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.
Milkweed is the story of a young, gypsy boy who grows up in the middle of war-stricken Warsaw. He is thrown into a ghetto were dead people equal new shoes and Nazi soldiers walk around in shiny, black, beautiful boots. It is a story about growing up as a gypsy, a Nazi, a Jew and a nobody. Normally, when I pick up Holocaust-era books, other novels like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank come to mind, and I immediately hesitate to pick it up. With Milkweed, it was somehow different. The book just looked attractive and interesting, so I made an exception to my hatred for cliché 'children of the Holocaust' books, and decided to read it, and boy did I make the right decision. I loved Milkweed from beginning to end. I loved the fact the main character was not another stereotypical Jewish kid, and how the writing came alive in each page, making me laugh, cry and enjoy every single word. Milkweed is written beautifully, and is for sure a book that will have you reaching for the tissue box more than once. Jerry Spinelli somehow manages to make the story realistic, while maintaining the fantasy and innocence a child feels towards many aspects of life. I realize that I just wrote a whole paragraph praising this book, but I don't whole-heartedly recommend it. This is a book that should be read by someone who has an idea of the events that occurred during the Holocaust, but who is also eager to learn about it, since an avid Holocaust reader might find minor in-congruencies that they might find annoying. I also recommend this book for strong people who can take in all of the pain and tragedy of the Holocaust era. As a last thought I would like to add that I would not mind reading this book again, and hope anyone who will read it enjoys it as much as I have. ?
Really good book, loved it!
This book is amazing and tells an inspiring story about a "family" who lived throughout the halacaust.
It defines the holocaust in such a good story. A boy with no identity. Not knowing anything about jews. We learn as he does. The book also has some funny parts. It s definatly a must read I would say for ages 10 and up. Great book.
I thought this book would be a really bad book but nooooo this book is so awesome i just so love it
This book is amazing! I felt like I was in the story! I loved it !