Milkweed by Jerry SpinelliMilkweed by Jerry Spinelli


byJerry Spinelli

Mass Market Paperback | September 13, 2005

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A stunning novel of the Holocaust from Newbery Medalist, Jerry Spinelli

He's a boy called Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. 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, with tall, shiny jackboots 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 during World War II-and tells a tale of heartbreak, hope, and survival through the bright eyes of a young Holocaust orphan.

From the Hardcover edition.
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 h...
Title:MilkweedFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 6.94 × 4.25 × 0.65 inPublished:September 13, 2005Publisher:Random House Children's BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0440420059

ISBN - 13:9780440420057

Appropriate for ages: 13 - 17


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Milkweed I remember really enjoying this book. Jerry Spinelli has such an interesting and cool style of writing. It is a good holocaust book that kids can read.
Date published: 2017-12-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good book, but... Milkweed is a great book, and I really enjoyed reading it, but i feel as if the ending was a bit rushed
Date published: 2016-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing This story brings you through the challenges of the holocaust for a young boy who does not no who he is or were he's from. Through this story he understands the meaning of happiness. This story is most diffently one of the best books i have ever read and will be one i will never forget.
Date published: 2011-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tragically Realistic I will always remember this book as one of the saddest I've read. It was brilliant throughout, and I remember still how sad I was when I finished it. You get to love the main character, and the events that take place really give you an idea of how it was to live life back then as an orphan like Misha. One of my favourites.
Date published: 2009-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Incredibly Eye Opening When one thinks about World War 1 and 2, we are usually flooded with thoughs of politicians and world dominators and soldiers. But we have a tendency to forget about those people who just had to stand by and watch their lives crumble down around them. Even though Milkweed takes place during World War 2 and we are generally more in tune with the suffering of the general public during that time, this novel takes us on a whole different journey. This novel takes you on a journey with a young boy who isn't Jewish, but doesn't quite know what he is. It's so amazing to see the war through the eyes of a young child, who truly has no idea what's going on in the world around him. His relationship with Janina and her family was so interesting and so different. They seem like they truly love each other, and her father is so accepting of Mishca, it shows how in war times, people become more accepting and loving toward one another. However I was so sad when her family was taken away on the trains and probably passed away, I was so sad, though it's something that happened every day for those people. I love this novel because the viewpoint on the whole situation is so different and so incredibly written. I truly liked this novel. Considereing that I know so much more about World War 2, it makes this novel all the better. This is a great novel for anyone of any age group to read. It's such a heartwarming tale and makes you truly see what went on during such a dark time.
Date published: 2009-04-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One of my favorite books! I read this when i was in my world war 2 phase. I think that made the book better. It is a heartbreaking story with a heartwarming ending. I loved how the author told the story through a young gypsi's eyes. It made the book all the better. I would definetly recommend this to anyone who loves book with action, suspense, and love.
Date published: 2008-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it It was a heart breaking story but yet wonderful. I REALLY enjoyed it. It have fascinating story about funny brave characters who lived while the 1st war was going on. I can't believe I read a book this wonderful. I definitely give it 5 stars and say to every one that they should for sure read it.
Date published: 2008-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from touching i thought that milkweed really grapsed a story of a boy in the war. With the troubles he his going through you feel as if you want to reach out and help him. I for one am really glad that i started reading this book,it not only is intersesting but you are learning about a time in history. I think eveyone should read this book for the story and the lesson.
Date published: 2007-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yet another Masterpiece A story about a young boy who struggles to survive during the time of the second world war, but even so, he finds time to cherish every moment he has with his loved ones.
Date published: 2006-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding!! I have just finished reading this book to my grade 7 class. They never wanted me to put it down. It hooked them from the beginning. The book contains some humour to lighten the load of the subject matter. It is so good that some of my students have gone out to buy their own copies to read again. Jerry Spinelli has done it again!!
Date published: 2006-02-08

Read from the Book

1MEMORYI 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.2SUMMERHe 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.”3He 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.

Bookclub 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?

Editorial Reviews

"An extremely powerful book. Readers will be gripped by this story of a young orphan in Warsaw." -- Boston Herald"Jerry Spinelli has fashioned a novel of beauty out of the ugliness of the Holocaust. It is a superb book, one of the best you will read." -- BookPage"Stunning." -- Kirkus Reviews, Starred "Spinelli creates a masterful achievement, a war story to be put alongside J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and a literary accompaniement to Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful." -- VOYA"An unforgettable novel."--Library Media Connection, Starred"Part survival adventure, part Holocaust history, [this] novel tells the story through the eyes of a Polish orphan on the run from the Nazis."--Booklist, Starred review"This is a superb addition to the canon of young adult literature."--Jewish Book World"Unforgettable. . . a powerful story about one small boy's courage during a horrifying period of history. A heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story." -- The Midwest Book Review