Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Story from the Holocaust

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, 2003 (recommended for jr. high and older)

This is a story from the Holocaust. Spinelli has been able to do something quite remarkable in this novel. We read the book with our own knowledge of the events of the Nazi invasion yet we see the events through the eyes of a young boy.

The only name he knows to call himself is Stopthief because he survives by stealing. He does not have a family nor does he know who his people are. He is a child utterly and totally alone. He is given the name Misha by another boy named Uri who befriends and protects him. Misha’s community becomes a group of homeless orphan boys scratching out a life on the streets of Warsaw.

Misha is totally innocent, ignorant and na├»ve so he only lives in the present. As we read of the Nazi invasion we know the horrors ahead. Misha, however, sees the “Jackboots” as something wonderful; he perceives their mocking salutes as a mark of respect. Their parade entering the city is a marvel to him. Events he witnesses lead him to slowly understand that being a Jew is dangerous though his innocence and desire for kinship lead him to join his Jewish friends as they are moved to the Warsaw ghetto. There his kind heart and small size allow him to sneak out of the ghetto and smuggle food back in. He feeds a young Jewish girl and her family, an orphanage and his friends. The reader fears for Misha though he feels no fear for himself.

Spinelli allows the reader to hear, see and smell the insanity of the Holocaust. This is a book everyone should read. This story is timely, important and compelling.

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