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Milkweed

by

Milkweed Cover

 

 

Excerpt

1

MEMORY

I am running.

Thats 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 didnt seem to notice us. The sirens were screaming like babies. At last we plunged into a dark hole.

“Youre lucky,” he said. “Soon it wont be ladies chasing you. It will be Jackboots.”

“Jackboots?” I said.

“Youll 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.

“Youre lucky I didnt kill you,” he said. “That lady you took this from, I was just getting ready to snatch it for myself.”

“Im lucky,” I said.

He burped. “Youre quick. You took it before I even knew what happened. That lady was rich. Did you see the way she was dressed? Shell just buy ten more.”

I ate my bread.

More thumping sounds in the distance. “What is that?” I asked him.

“Jackboot artillery,” he said.

“Whats artillery?”

“Big guns. Boom boom. Theyre shelling the city.” He stared at me. “Who are you?”

I didnt understand the question.

“Im Uri,” he said. “Whats 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, “Ill 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 didnt you snatch it from him?” This one was smoking a cigar as long as his face.

Uri looked at me. “I dont know.”

“Hes 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 doesnt even come halfway up to the horses 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.

“Whats 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 hes 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 cant stand him. Its turning green!”

They laughed.

The smoke blower backed off. “So, Stopthief, are you a smelly cuckoo?”

I didnt know what to say.

“Hes stupid,” said the unlaughing boy. “Hell get us in trouble.”

“Hes quick,” said Uri. “And hes little.”

“Hes a runt.”

“Runt is good,” said Uri.

“Are you a Jew?” said the boy in my face.

“I dont know,” I said.

He kicked my foot. “How can you not know? Youre a Jew or youre not a Jew.”

I shrugged.

“I told you, hes stupid,” said the unlaugher.

“Hes young,” said Uri. “Hes just a little kid.”

“How old are you?” said the smoke blower.

“I dont know,” I said.

The smoke blower threw up his hands. “Dont you know anything?”

“Hes stupid.”

“Hes 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 didnt. He turned to the horse, lifted its tail, and blew a stream of silvery smoke at the horses 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.

“Whats a Jew?” I said.

“Answer the runt,” someone said. “Tell him what a Jew is.”

The unlaugher kicked ground straw at a boy who hadnt spoken. The boy had only one arm. “Thats a Jew.” He pointed to himself. “This is a Jew.” He pointed to the others. “Thats a Jew. Thats a Jew. Thats a Jew.” He pointed to the horse. “Thats 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!”

“Im a horse turd!”

“Im a goose turd!”

A boy pointed at me. “Hes a Jew all right. Look at him. Hes a Jew if I ever saw one.”

“Yeah, hes 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.”

“Were all in for it,” said someone else. “Were in for it good.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(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.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(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......
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(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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