He's a boy called Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. Runt. Happy. Fast. Filthy son of Abraham.He's a boy who lives in the streets of Warsaw. He's a boy who steals food for himself and the other orphans. He's a boy who believes in bread, and mothers, and angels.
For this WWII tale set in Warsaw, Spinelli (Wringer) invents a narrator akin to Roberto Benigni's character in Life Is Beautiful. The narrator intermittently indicates that he has some distance from the events, but his perspective affords him no insight, so readers may be as confounded as he. As the novel opens, Uri, a larger boy, chases down the narrator and pries away the loaf of bread he has pinched: " `I'm Uri... What's your name '... `Stopthief.' " After Uri realizes that the boy truly does not know his own name, Uri gives him one-Misha Pilsudski-as well as a past (befitting the boy's "Gypsy" appearance). Simple-minded Misha admires the Nazis, whom the boys call "Jackboots" ("They were magnificent. There were men attached to them, but it was as if the boots were wearing the men.... A thousand of them swinging up as one, falling like the footstep of a single, thousand-footed giant"). Misha comes off as a clown, and for children unfamiliar with the occupation and its horrors, the juxtaposition of events and Misha's detached relating of them may be baffling (Nazis force Jews to wash the street with their beards, and hang one of Misha's friends from a street lamp). At times, he seems self-aware ("I had no sense. If I had had sense, I would know what all the other children knew: the best defense... was invisibility"), yet these moments are aberrations; he never learns from his experience, and a postlude does little to bring either his perspective or the era into focus. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Knopf Books for Young Readers
December 31, 2000
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
I am running.
That's 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.
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 didn't seem to notice us. The sirens were screaming like babies. At last we plunged into a dark hole.
"You're lucky," he said. "Soon it won't be ladies chasing you. It will be Jackboots."
"Jackboots?" I said.
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.
"You're lucky I didn't kill you," he said. "That lady you took this from, I was just getting ready to snatch it for myself."