Cover image for Milkweed
Spinelli, Jerry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2003]

Physical Description:
208 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
510 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 3.6 7.0 71828.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.2 13 Quiz: 34085 Guided reading level: Y.
Geographic Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Young Adult
Central Library Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Newstead Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Boston Free Library X Young Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Clearfield Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Crane Branch Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
East Aurora Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Eggertsville-Snyder Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Elma Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Grand Island Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Kenilworth Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Kenmore Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Lake Shore Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Lancaster Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Orchard Park Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Anna M. Reinstein Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
City of Tonawanda Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Audubon Library X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Orchard Park Library Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Reading List

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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 Notes

Jerry Spinelli was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on February 1, 1941. He received a bachelor's degree from Gettysburg College and a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University. He worked as an editor with Chilton from 1966 to 1989. He launched his career in children's literature with Space Station 7th Grade in 1982. He has written over 30 books including The Bathwater Gang, Picklemania, Stargirl, Milkweed, and Mama Seeton's Whistle. In 1991, he won the Newbery Award for Maniac Magee. In 1998, Wringer was named a Newbery Honor book.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Holocaust survivor stories for teens run the risk of being either too brutal or too sentimental. These two novels avoid sensationalizing the violence because, in each case, the protagonist is a child too young to understand what's going on, which distances the horror. In both books the child is saved, but there's no radiant uplift about rescuers. Yes, some heroes do hide the children and help them, but as John Auerbach shows in his adult autobiographical story collection, The Owl and Other Stories BKL S 15 03, which centers on escaping the Warsaw ghetto, luck and wild coincidence were a large part of what enabled a few to live. Part survival adventure, part Holocaust history, these novels tell their story through the eyes of a Polish orphan on the run from the Nazis. Orlev is a Holocaust survivor, and his award-winning novels about being a child in the Warsaw ghetto, including The Man from the Other Side (1991), are widely read. This new story is not based on his own experience, but it does come from real life--the experience of an illiterate ghetto survivor who escaped into the Polish countryside, stealing, foraging, begging, working. The boy is nurtured by some and hated by many. He hides his circumcision and invents a Catholic identity; he forgets his real name, his family, and the street where he lived. In one unforgettable incident, he loses his right arm because a Polish doctor refuses to operate on a Jew. He survives, immigrating to Israel, where Orlev hears him tell his story. The narrative is simple and spare, factual about everything from hunting with a slingshot to making a fire with a piece of glass, and it's always true to the viewpoint of a boy who thinks he is about nine. In contrast, Spinelli's narrative is manic, fast, and scattered, authentically capturing the perspective of a young child who doesn't know if he's a Jew or a Gypsy; he has never known family or community. He lives by stealing; his name may be Stopthief. Unlike Orlev's protagonist, this boy lives in the ghetto, where the daily atrocities he witnesses-- hanging bodies, massacres, shootings, roundups, transports--are the only reality he knows. His matter-of-fact account distances the brutality without sensationalizing or lessening the truth. He first finds shelter with a gang of street kids, where one fierce older boy protects him, invents an identity for him, and teaches him survival skills. Later he lives with a Jewish family. The history is true, so although Spinelli's narrator is young, the brutal realism in the story makes this a book for older children. Both novels end with what seems to be a contrived escape, though in Orlev's story, the ending is true. Add these stirring titles to the Holocaust curriculum; the youth of the protagonists allows them to ask questions and get answers that will help readers learn the history. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Both a deceptively simple commentary about the Holocaust and a survival adventure as seen through the eyes of an orphaned eight-year-old. Forced to steal food to survive, the boy, a Jew or a Gypsy, answers to various monikers, such as "Stopthief!" and "Poppynoodle," as he does not know his real name. Before long, he is marched to a Jewish ghetto, where he witnesses atrocities and processes his observations in poetic ways. As his fate, and that of the other ghetto inhabitants, plays out in the novel, the growing sense of evil is all encompassing but leavened by the hope raised by this unwanted child's innocence. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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." Excerpted from Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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