Milkweed By Jerry Spinelli. Summer reading review. Genre. Historical Fiction. Setting. World War II (1939-1945) Warsaw, Poland On the streets, in abandoned buildings and later in the ghettos. Protagonist. Misha Misha assumes multiple last names throughout the book. Major Conflict:
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Milkweed By Jerry Spinelli Summer reading review
Genre • Historical Fiction
Setting • World War II (1939-1945) • Warsaw, Poland • On the streets, in abandoned buildings and later in the ghettos.
Protagonist • Misha • Misha assumes multiple last names throughout the book. • Major Conflict: • Misha, a homeless orphan struggles to survive during the German occupation of Poland.
Characters • Misha • Uri • Uri’s gang • Kuba • Enos • Ferdi • Olek • Big Henryk • Jon • JaninaMilgrom • Janina’s Family • Mr. Milgrom • Mrs. Milgrom • Uncle Shepsel • Doctor Korczak • Jackboots • Herr Himmler • Buffo • Misha’s (eventual) family • Vivian • Katherine • Wendy
Misha • “a child of indeterminate age and background” • Small, short orphan boy who uses his size and quickness to steal food and escape danger. • Has no recollection of his past or his family; acquires multiple identities throughout the novel.
Uri • A “scrappy, slightly older boy” described as “fearless on the streets.” • Ringleader of a group of orphans/thieves. • Takes Misha under his wing and helps him escape danger and learn to fend for himself on the streets.
Uri’s Gang • Kuba • Calls Misha “the clown.” • Enos • A “grim-faced” boy. • Ferdi • Quiet boy who blows “more smoke than words.” • Olek • Has only one arm; is eventually hanged. • Big Henryk • A large boy who will “say yes to everything.” • Jon • Doesn’t speak; is thrusted onto the cart of dead bodies and taken away during the novel.
JaninaMilgrom • A small young jewish girl with curly hair. • Frequently becomes frustrated, upset and pushy throughout the novel. • A “fiery young friend” of Misha and frequently mimics him. • Misha later gives his granddaughter the middle name Janina in memory of his friend.
Janina’sFAmily • Mr. Milgrom • Janina’s father, a pharmacist who makes medicine, but is forced to work illegally after restrictions are put on the Jews. • Ms. Milgrom • Janina’s mother, who is sick throughout the novel and dies on her mattress. • Uncle Shepsel • Janina’s uncle, who tries to escape persecution by converting to Lutheranism.
Dr. Korczak • A bald man with a goatee and mustache. • Takes care of orphans. • Kind hearted and caring.
The Jackboots • Nazi soldiers, named for the shoes they wear. • At one point in the novel, Misha says he wants to be a Jackboot. • Herr Himmler • A head Jackboot who has “half a little black mustache… [and] a scrawny neck… [and] looks like a chicken…” • Buffo • A slow, fat Jackboot who kills Jews with his hands and uses his belly to suffocate children to death.
Misha’s (eventual) family • Vivan • A “normal, sensible person” who enjoys listening to Misha talk about his past. • She marries Misha, but then leaves him after five months, pregnant with his child. • Katherine • Misha’s daughter, a friendly “young woman… [with] dark brown hair.” • Wendy • Misha’s four-year-old grandaughter (Katherine’s daughter), to whom Misha gives the middle name “Janina.” • Calls Misha “Poppynoodle.”
Exposition • Misha meets Uri and joins his band of orphan/thieves. • Misha and Uri are out stealing when they witness the German Jackboots capture Poland. Misha is amazed and declares that he wants to be a Jackboot. • Uri creates a false identity for Misha: • Misha is a Russian Gypsy, the son of a fortune teller, the sibling of seven brothers and five sisters, and the owner of a beloved horse named Greta. Misha is separated by his family by bombs and hateful Polish farmers and ends up an Orphan in Warsaw.
Rising Action • While running away from a Jackboot, Misha meets Janina, a little Jewish girl, who invites him to her seventh birthday party. Misha is unfamiliar with birthday cakes and believes that the cake is on fire when he sees the candles. He blows it out quickly and flees. • Jackboot control of Poland tightens and a curfew is imposed. Misha is shot in the earlobe one night for being out too late. • City conditions worsen: food supply is low and people are losing electricity and eventually their houses. • Eventually all Jews in Warsaw are moved into ghettos. Mishamoves too, after he tells everyone that his last name is Milgrom and he is Jewish.
Rising Action (cont.) • The conditions in the ghetto are worse than they were in the city– Uncle Shepsel describes it as if living in a closet. • Misha and eventually Janina begin sneaking out at night to steal food for the family. They are able to leave the walled ghetto through a hole that is “two bricks wide.” • News of deportations spread, and Mr. Milgrom tells Misha that when he takes Janina out to steal, they need to run away. Unfortunately, Janina refuses to leave her family.
Climax • One night when Misha and Janina are out stealing, they return to find the hole in the wall has been covered. They sneak through the crowd of Jews boarding the train back into the ghetto, but find their apartment deserted. Janina runs towards to train, desperate to find her father. Misha loses her in the crowd, but sees her being forced onto the train. Misha is hit with a club and then kicked before Uri, who appears to be a Jackboot, shoots him.
Falling Action • Misha awakens, confused. He is found by a farmer who takes him home and allows him to work on the farm and sleep in the barn with the animals for 3 years. • Misha rides trains until he is back in Warsaw, where “there [is] rubble and [there] is nothing.” • Misha makes his way to America and changes his name to Jack. He talks wildly about his past in the streets. A woman named Vivian stops to listen to him and eventually marry him. After five months of marriage, however, Vivian leaves.
Resolution • Years later, Misha (Jack) is working in a grocery store when he meets his daughter Katherine for the first time. • Katherine has been searching for Misha (Jack). She has a daughter, Wendy, to whom she has never given a middle name, as she wanted her father (Misha) to have that honor. • Misha gives Wendy the middle name “Janina.” Katherine and Wendy take Misha in to live with them for the rest of the novel. • Wendy calls her newly found grandfather “Poppynoodle.”
Themes • The search for identity. • Antisemitism(Persecution of Jews) during WWII. • The importance of family.
Theme: Identity • At the beginning of the novel, Misha has no identity and longs to know who he is. He creates, imagines or is given multiple identities throughout the story: He is Misha Pilsudski, the Russian Gypsy; Misha Pilsudski, aspiring Jackboot; MishaMilgrom, the Jew; Misha, the farm hand; Misha, the vagrant. Misha seems unable to rest until he knows who he is. Coming to America, he creates a new identity again: Jack, the man of so many stories. Finally, he is given the identity that he is comfortable with: Poppynoodle.
Theme: Anti-Semitism (and other prejudices) during WWII • During World War II, Jewish people were persecuted throughout Europe for their supposedly unclean genetic background. Hitler believed that Jews were inferior to Aryans (people of Nordic descent), and launched a genocide to rid the world of them. He killed approximately 6 million Jews. • Hitler also targeted other groups of people, including people of color, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the disable and mentally ill.
Theme: Family • In addition to identities, Misha cycles through a few families or psuedo-families: Uri’s gang, Dr. Korczak’s orphans, the Milgroms, the farmers, and eventually the family he creates himself—Wendy and Katherine. • His search for a family mirrors his search for an identity, and asks the reader to stop and ask the question, “How much of a person’s identity is created by their family?” • The idea of family also implies a sense of taking care of each other, which Misha has throughout the novel. He always shares a portion of any food he steals with anyone who needs it, whether its just a potato for the orphans or a rat for Uncle Shepsel.
Symbols • Milkweed • A plant that grows in the ghetto, despite the harsh conditions. • Symbolizes hope, the knowledge that it is possible to thrive through hardships. • Misha (Jack) plants a milkweed in his backyard at the end of the novel. • Angels • There is an angel statue in the ghetto. • Symbolizes hope, the afterlife, the idea that there is something better waiting on the other side. • When Misha sees Janina board the train, he notes that he almost can see her get her wings, indicating that she will die, but that it will be better for her.