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Milkweed Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Identity is a key theme in Milkweed. Discuss what Misha Pilsudski means when he says, “And so, thanks to Uri, in a cellar beneath a barbershop somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, in autumn of the year nineteen thirty-nine, I was born, you might say” (p. 31). How does the made-up story of Mishas life become so important to him? How does his identity change throughout the novel? What gives him a true identity at the end of the book? Discuss Uncle Shepsels efforts to renounce his identity as a Jew. How are these efforts related to survival?

2. Uri is described as “fearless on the streets” (p. 80). What does he teach Misha about fear? Janina has led a privileged life and has not had to deal with fear before her family is moved to the ghetto. Discuss how Misha helps her cope with her new life. How does fear eventually kill Mrs. Milgrom? At what point in the novel does Misha display the most fear? How does he deal with it?

3. Uri advises Misha and the other homeless boys that one important survival skill is remaining invisible. Why does Misha have a difficult time remaining invisible? What other survival skills do the boys employ? What does Misha teach the Milgroms about survival? What poses the greatest threat to the survival of the Jews in the ghetto?

4. How does Mishas relationship with the Milgroms change throughout the novel? At what point does Mr. Milgrom invite him to become a part of the family? Why are Uncle Shepsel and Mrs. Milgrom so reluctant to accept Misha? Discuss how Mishas desire for family comes full circle by the end of the book.

5. In this novel about the horror and destruction of the Holocaust, Jerry Spinelli includes a number of recurring images of innocence and childhood. He also creates a main character who is young and naïve. What is the effect of this blending of the horrific and the innocent? What is the importance of the carousel horses, the angels, and Janinas shiny black shoes? Why does Misha say, “We couldnt eat merry-go-round horses and stone angels” (p. 138)? How do Mishas childlike feelings and ideas about the Jackboots, their “parades,” and the war change?

6. Although they are hungry and grieving, the Milgroms still celebrate Hanukkah—even after their silver menorah has been stolen. What is the importance of their faith and hope in the midst of devastation? How does Misha feel when he is included in the celebration? The first time Misha hears the word “happy” is when Mr. Milgrom uses it to describe Hanukkah and being proud of their Jewish heritage (p. 157)—why is this important? Why does Misha give up the idea that he is a Gypsy in favor of being a Jew?

7. Discuss the qualities of true friendship. Talk about the friendship that develops between Misha and Janina. Why is Misha such a good friend to the orphans? Why does Dr. Korczak, the head of the orphanage, call Misha a “foolish, good-hearted boy” (p. 64)?

8. When Misha comes to the United States, he shares on the street corner his memories of his life in Poland. He says that running is his first memory (p. 1). What might he say is his last memory? Misha doesnt tell his family about Janina, but he pays tribute to her memory by naming his granddaughter for her. Discuss why he wants to keep the memory of Janina to himself.

9. On page 196, Misha says, “Somewhere along the way I heard the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I knew that the end was not true, that the witch did not die in the oven.” When he is older and moves to America, Misha sees a copy of Hansel and Gretel in a bookstore and “grab[s] it and rip[s] it to shreds” (p. 202). Think about the story of Hansel and Gretel. How does this story—which most people see as a simple fairy tale—emphasize the horror of the Holocaust for Misha? How are Misha and Janina like Hansel and Gretel? Do you think Mishas wife, Vivian, understands why he rips up the book?

10. he first sentence of Milkweed is “I am running” (p. 1). Later, Uri warns Misha to run from the ghetto to escape the deportation: “‘Get out. Run. Dont stop running” (p. 169). On page 180, Mr. Milgrom tells Misha to take Janina to the other side of the wall and run away: “‘Do not bring back food tonight. Do not return. Run. Run.” Running plays an important role in Milkweed. How does it shape Mishas life and identity? Do you think Misha is able to stop running at the end of the novel?

11. Think about the title—where does milkweed appear in this novel? What does it mean to Misha and Janina when theyre in the ghetto? What does milkweed mean to Misha at the end of the novel when he plants it at the end of his yard? How does it preserve his memories of Poland?

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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:

♥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

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

Spinelli, Jerry
Laurel Leaf Library
World war, 1939-1945
Historical - General
Historical fiction
General Juvenile Fiction
Historical - Holocaust
Children s-Historical Fiction-General
Children s-Historical Fiction-Holocaust
Edition Description:
Mass market paperback
Readers Circle
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 7
6.95x4.24x.66 in. .26 lbs.
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

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

Milkweed New Mass Market
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Product details 240 pages Laurel-Leaf Books - English 9780440420057 Reviews:
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