where all things literacy come full circle…

Back to the Future Review: Milkweed



Author: Jerry Spinelli

Copyright Date: 2003


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!”



He’s a boy called Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. 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.

He’s a boy who wants to be a Nazi, with tall, shiny jackboots of his own-until the day that suddenly makes him change his mind.

And when the trains come to empty the Jews from the ghetto of the damned, he’s a boy who realizes it’s safest of all to be nobody.

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli takes us to one of the most devastating settings imaginable-Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II-and tells a tale of heartbreak, hope, and survival through the bright eyes of a young Holocaust orphan. (from


I love this book! This is such a powerful book and not just another Holocaust book (which I think is a flooded genre), but a different take on the historical context (which is World War II). When I was teaching 7th grade in Yuma, Arizona, I would frequent the local Barnes and Noble. My eyes came across this book, I picked it up, read the blurb on the inside jacket cover along with the first sentence of the book…I was hooked. I took it home, read it, and was enthralled. I talked about it to everyone…and bought several boxes of the book one year to give to teacher friends and parents.

Misha grabbed me. His story of being an orphan, having many different names, and his story really seemed real to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a story of gains and losses because Misha gains friends (other orphans) and a family who adopts him and he looses friends and adopted family members. It’s also a survival story as well. (Put this book under that genre as well)!

You will love reading this book. Jerry Spinelli is one of my favorite authors and I will be writing more about his books that I have read. It’s a sure bet that a book by Jerry Spinelli will be a terrific read!

This is a great book to use in your class to teach flashback as well as using it as a historical novel. If you have students who get lost in books with long chapters, this would be a great book for him/her to read since the chapters are short. Also, this would be a great book to use when teaching students to write with their senses.


“Sirens were screaming.”

“There were thumping noises, like distant thunder.”

“The sirens were screaming like babies.”

“All sorts of other things glittered in the pile. I saw watched and combs and ladies’ lipsticks and eyeglasses.”

Powerful, simple, precise language is used in this book.

Idea Connection: One thing that did was had my students watch the documentary Paperclips. This is a story about a school who collected paperclips (a symbol of solidarity to Jews during the Holocaust) and was able to own a boxcar that carried Jews to their death to house all of the paperclips. We all signed a copy of the book and sent it to the school. 


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One thought on “Back to the Future Review: Milkweed

  1. This has been a very popular book with the middle school boys when the 8th grade does a unit on the Holocaust. Great suggestion! ANother one they like is Sharenow’s The Berlin Boxing Club.

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