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Interviews | April 8, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview



Gabrielle ZevinThe American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of... Continue »
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Milkweed

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Milkweed Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

Q: How was writing Milkweed—your first historical novel—different from writing your other novels?

A: Research is what made it different from my other books. I usually do little research, but there was no avoiding it here. I made my bookseller happy by buying a load of books. I read parts of all of them for the next four or five months, then started writing.

Q: Would you mind telling us about the two people you named in your Milkweed dedication?

A:Bill Bryzgornia, a lifelong friend of mine, died shortly before the book came out. He was of Polish descent. He is mentioned briefly in my autobiography, Knots in My Yo-yo String.

Masha Bruskina is the name of a young woman who was publicly hanged by the Nazis as a warning and an example to partisan opponents of the occupying forces. I had seen the picture of her execution in a number of books over the years.

Q: How much of Misha’s character and situation is based on history, on reality? What about the other characters?

A:Many of the events and details of the story are true. For the most part, I made up the characters. There were, in fact, orphans who had no memory of mother or father and who, it seemed, simply materialized on the streets of war-torn Europe.

Q: Why did you decide to show the reader what happens to Misha when he grows up rather than ending Milkweedwith him still a child?

A: Because I wasn’t telling the story of the war; I was telling the story of Misha.

Q: How did you decide on the names of the characters?

A: As always, I chose them because they sounded right for the story, the time, the place. In a few cases, I actually changed names on the advice of a few helpful prepublication readers who knew 1940s Poland better than I.

Q: Do you have any favorite historical novels?

A: Johnny Tremain.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: Eleventh grade, around the time a poem of mine about a football game was published in the local newspaper. I guess it was largely a matter of timing. I was sixteen. My dream of becoming a major-league baseball player was fading. The imperative to find my course in life was upon me. I was shopping around for who I wanted to be. And here this writing thing seemed to reach down and pluck me out of the crowd. I mean, it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t planned. Nobody assigned me to write a poem after the game. I didn’t try to get it published. I didn’t seek the resulting notoriety. All this pretty much just happened to me. What I did was just apply a little common sense: I like to write, I seem to be pretty good at it, people seem to like what I write (admittedly a lot to conclude from a single poem)—ergo, I’ll be a writer. Simple!

Q: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, whom would you choose, and why?

A: Tie: Loren Eiseley, the anthropologist and poet/essayist, and Sonny Liston, former heavyweight champ.

Loren Eiseley because he’s often the answer when I’m asked, “Who is your favorite writer?” It’s incredible that he wrote so well, considering that he was a scientist. I love his insights and perspectives on humankind and the universe. . . .

On the way home to St. Louis after winning the heavyweight title, Sonny Liston looked forward to a hero’s welcome, looked forward to receiving affection from the people who had regarded him as a hoodlum and a monster. When he stepped off the plane, not a soul was there to greet him. It broke his heart. I’d like to ask him about that day. I’d like to dump a teacup of confetti on his head.

Q: What do you consider the most rewarding part of writing books for young people?

A: Feedback from readers. The most common kind, of course, is fan mail. I’m proud to say that one particularly nice letter was submitted by the reader/writer to a fan mail contest run by the Library of Congress, and it won. It was about Crash. Some of the most heartwarming reports I get are from teachers and librarians whom I meet personally at conferences and book signings. When a teacher with tears in her eyes tells how a book “saved” a student of hers, I know I’m in the right business. I remember a letter from a teacher in Georgia. She told me the kids in her class had a choice one day: they could go eat lunch, or they could continue to listen to my book. Every one stayed for the book.

Q: Do you ever use suggestions from readers in new books?

A:I tell readers that if I use an idea of theirs in a book, I’ll give them credit in the acknowledgments. This paid off for one student, who gave me the idea for one of the School Daze books: Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole?

Q: What advice do you have for young writers?

A: For me, there are many little rules, all superseded by one Golden Rule: Write what you care about.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Tammy Hearn, August 14, 2012 (view all comments by Tammy Hearn)
I have used this story in class with middle schoolers; they love it and gain an understanding of the Holocaust.
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(2 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
superetoile, June 11, 2008 (view all comments by superetoile)
I can honestly say, with complete certainty, that this book has changed my life.

If you are not familiar the author, Jerry Spinelli, he is an unbelievably powerful writer. He has a unique way with words, which I am extremely jealous of. I'm a huge fan of his work.

Last week, I read Milkweed. The book is the first-person narrative of a young boy living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. He is taken to the ghetto because he is a Gypsy, and is forced to live on the other side of the wall.
Thanks to Jerry Spinelli, I will never be able to look at the following things the same way again:


♥Oranges
♥Carousels (I saw one on Sunday and almost cried)
♥Mothers holding their children's hands
♥Milkweed (although I didn't actually know what that was before the book)
♥Hazelnut chocolates
♥Life.

It's true; I will never be able to look at life the same way again now. Everything seems brighter than it did a week ago. I look around and take in every last detail of this wonderful world, and I sigh to myself, feeling so unbelievably lucky. I go outside, and bombs aren't falling from the sky. Nobody is hunting me down, with one intention - killing me. I don't live in the ghetto, where I will be sent to my death in a concentration camp (if typhus or starvation don't get me first).

I worried about the most ridiculous things. None of that matters any more. I look through my diaries, and feel so selfish. How could that big test be the end of the world, when millions of Jews were massacred? How could that boy not loving me break my heart, when children saw their parents die? How could that stomach ache even matter, when people were starving to death? It doesn't, and I realise that now. I don't care about any of that any more. I am happy, and I feel lucky to be so happy. Everything seems more beautiful than it did before. I stop to smell flowers, and I notice the birds' song, and I lie on the grass and just marvel at the wonder of the world now.

Thank God it wasn't me. And thank Jerry Spinelli, for changing my life for the better.
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(10 of 18 readers found this comment helpful)
milkweed, June 8, 2006 (view all comments by milkweed)
milkweed is an ensipering story about a boy named misha during the holocaust. he is an inspiring boy who remembers nothing about his life before stealing from a woman. he meets other homeless children who try to survive against the jackboots. he loses an ear and a friend yet in the end he finds he has a daughter and his granddaughter who calls him poppynoddle......
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(16 of 46 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780440420057
Author:
Spinelli, Jerry
Publisher:
Laurel Leaf Library
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Boys
Subject:
General Juvenile Fiction
Subject:
Historical - Holocaust
Subject:
Children s-Historical Fiction-General
Subject:
Children s-Historical Fiction-Holocaust
Edition Description:
Mass market paperback
Series:
Readers Circle
Publication Date:
20050931
Binding:
MASS MARKET
Grade Level:
from 7
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
6.95x4.24x.66 in. .26 lbs.
Age Level:
12-04

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Related Subjects

Children's » General
Children's » Historical Fiction » General
Children's » Historical Fiction » Holocaust
Young Adult » General

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