MIlkweed
published in 2005

Details

Appropriate age:
Tween/Young Teen (age 12-14)
Reading level:
Grade 5
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Cultures: Europe, Poland
Subjects: Family, Judaism, Orphans, War, Poverty, Racism, Tolerance

Description

Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli ( Maniac McGee, Stargirl ) paints a vivid picture of the streets of the Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, as seen through the eyes of a curious, kind, heartbreakingly naive orphan with many names. His name is Stopthief when people shout "Stop! Thief!" as he flees with stolen bread. Or it's Jew, "filthy son of Abraham, " depending on who's talking to him. Or, maybe he's a Gypsy, because his eyes are black, his skin is dark, and he wears a mysterious yellow stone around his neck. His new friend and protector Uri forces him to take the name Misha Pilsudski and to memorize a made-up story about his Gypsy background so that no one will mistake him for a Jew and kill him. Misha, a very young boy, is slow to understand what's happening around him. When he sees people running, he thinks it's a race. Nazis (Jackboots, as the children call them) marching through the streets appear to him as a delightful parade of magnificent boots. He wants to be a Jackboot! (Uri smacks him for saying this.) He compares bombs to sauerkraut kettles, machine guns to praying mantises, and tanks to "colossal gray long-snouted beetles." The story of Misha and his band of orphans trying to survive on their own would have a deliciously Dickensian quality, if it weren't for the devastation around them--people hurrying to dig trenches to stop Nazi tanks, shops exploding in flames, the wailing of sirens, buzzing airplanes, bombs, and human torture. Spinelli has written a powerfully moving story of survival--readers will love Misha the dreamer and his wonderfully poetic observations of the world around him, his instinct to befriend a Jewish girl and her family, his impulse to steal food for a local orphanage and his friends in the ghetto, and his ability to delight in small things even surrounded by the horror of the Holocaust. A remarkable achievement. (Ages 11 and older) --Karin Snelson