I offer my great thanks to Max u for The Amazon Gift Certificate that allowed me to reread Milkweed.
“Funny or not, the bombs kept falling and the winter was cold and the people were hungry. Orphans by the thousands roamed the streets in their rags and boils, slumped in doorways, begging for food, clothing, anything. There was nothing to give them. So they starved and froze and died in the snow, their arms frozen outward, still begging. The children who lived were all scraps and eyes. This was the ghetto: where children grew down instead of up.” And a wall, beautiful to those who built it, kept them where they were thought to belong. From Milkweed by Jerry Spilleni, set in The Warsaw Ghetto
Recently a highly regarded Young Adult Holocaust novel, The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, was featured in a Facebook Forum I follow, Bookworms International. In the follow up people asked for suggestions about other Young Adult novels set during the Holocaust.
I remembered that about 12 years ago I loved such a book but I could not at first recall the title or author other than I knew the title references a weed. I recalled many details, the narrative voice of a Roma Boy left an orphan in the Warsaw Ghetto and the elegant prose style of the author. I searched for it in lists of best Young Adult Holocaust books to no avail. Then I recalled the author’s first name was Jerry. This was enough to bring up my old friend, Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.
I was happy to be reunited. Normally I dont read many Young Adult books but I enjoyed this tremendously second time around. I recalled some of plot action and secondary characters but not all. The orphan does not understand what a Jew is, why they must wear arm bands, why they are confined to the Ghetto and most of all he does not grasp why Germans are there, he calls them Jackboots and loves their uniforms. At first he even wishes he were a Jackboot.
He has a friend, a Jewish boy a bit older, who helps him survive. The quest for food dominates his life. He ends up close to a Family and uses his expert skills to steal food for them. He becomes part of their family.
Of course he sees many horrible things. Death is everywhere. The most hated people are Jewish enforcers for the Germans. They are called “Flops”. As I am maybe 15 percent from the end it comes to me that the closing of the story is a miracle of the story teller art. Until I get into it, I don’t recall details but as I read on I was loving the ending. I let out a silent scream of joy over the close of the story. You will also.
Everything we read sinks into our consciousness. I give my great thanks to Jerry Spinelli for Milkweed.
JERRY SPINELLI won the Newbery Medal in 1991 for his novel Maniac Magee. He has written many other award-winning books for young readers, including Stargirl; Loser; Wringer, winner of a Newbery Honor Award; and Knots in My Yo-yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid, his memoir. A graduate of Gettysburg College, Jerry Spinelli lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, the poet and author Eileen Spinelli.