By Jerry Spinelli
When I found this novel four years ago, I was excited to find a book about something I was familiar with. It turns out I was way over-estimating myself. Forty pages, I was mortified by the cruelty and violence. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, became the first book I ever quit. Last month, I wanted to challenge myself to give it another chance. I picked it up again to finish where I left off. Immediately (for the second time), Misha’s life became a part of mine.
A small boy dodges someone’s outstretched hand and runs from the shouts and the bakery, a loaf of bread cradled in his arms. This is the rough life of a boy without a name, or one long lost. He knows himself as Stopthief, and that’s what I knew him as for the first few pages.
One day, Stopthief is taken in by a large, red-haired boy named Uri, who soon becomes a major part of his life, for good and for bad. Uri is very wise and holds all of his young friend’s trust. He teaches Stopthief about the real world: how to survive, how to thrive. That is, until the days when Uri starts disappearing.
When Misha (Uri took the liberty of naming him) meets spunky, six-year-old Janina for the first time, he is in the middle of stealing some ripe tomatoes. After a lecture from the young girl, they begin talking. Throughout the book they develop a strong bond, like brother and sister.
However, this is not just a book about a friendship between a boy and a girl. Milkweed is a book about a lot of things, but it’s based in the violent time of the Holocaust.
Bombs. Tanks. Glass, broken. Jackboots. Guns. Violence is breaking out everywhere. When the Jews are shepherded into the ghettos with nothing but their clothes, Misha’s innocence and curiosity lure him in. There he stumbles into Janina’s family, who take him under their wing. Life is tough in the ghetto, and after a few months even the children on the street have nothing left but rags and dead eyes. Barely a difference between the living and dead, except for the faint pounding in the chest.
Smuggling is dangerous, and many smugglers are hanging from ropes tied to street-signs, but food is food. Through a two-brick gap in the wall, a small boy and a smaller girl disappear every night in search of food to feed their family, now brother and sister.
I love the writing in this book. I have always liked great run-on sentences, and Jerry Spinelli uses them so amazingly, almost like poetry. The writing in Milkweed has a very elegant feeling to me, but also conveys a sense of simplicity to me. As the book went on I found I looked out for Misha more and more, like a little brother. I wish I could have warned him.
One morning, when Misha comes back through the hole, he finds a group of people in the street yelling. One man is louder than the others. He tries to convince people the trains bring you to ovens, not resettlement, but no one seems to listen. That night, as Misha prepares for a long night on the other side of the wall, (in “heaven”) he is told by Mr. Milgrom to flee, to take Janina and never come back.
The trains. Janina’s downfall, luring her closer. Abrubtly, the end.
There are so many books about the horrors of the holocaust that I didn’t think any more could be said, but while reading Milkweed I realized when you focus on one person’s life, when you get to know them well, it slaps you in the face way harder than if you just hear numbers or names. I really got to identify with the characters, making this one of the only books I have read that was powerful enough to make my eyes water at the end.
Tamir Eisenbach Budner
Age: 13, 7th grade
Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a very interesting book about a family in Denmark. This book takes place around World War II when Germany starts to invade other countries. One of the main characters is Annemarie, who is a brave, strong and smart girl. It is very hard for Annemarie’s family and her friend Ellen and Ellen’s family. The Nazis have something against Jews and Ellen’s family are Jews.
German soldiers are searching for Jews and sending them to concentration camps, where Jews were tortured and killed. Annemarie’s uncle tries to hide Jews so they won’t get caught. Ellen’s family has to go into hiding to avoid being sent to a concentration camp, and Ellen has to be separated from her parents for a while. When soldiers come over to Annemarie’s house (where Ellen was hiding), they immediately make up an excuse. For fear of being found, Ellen’s family leaves the next day. Annemarie was brave because she had to know nothing and remain calm so she and Ellen’s family would be safe.
Annemarie’s Uncle Henrick is part of the resistance helping Jews, taking them across the water to Sweden where the Nazis would not invade. Annemarie’s bravery continues when something terrible happens and it is up to her to save the day. Along with Uncle Henrick, Annemarie’s bravery shows up when Ellen’s family faces obstacles and cannot get to Sweden. Will Annemarie save the day and Ellen’s family get to Sweden safely? Will anyone get hurt or, even worse, killed? You will just have to read the book.
In my opinion, the book is titled Number the Stars because the Star of David is used in the book to guide people to freedom. It also reminds me of how slaves escaped using stars. I can compare slaves and Jews because they were both treated unfairly. Also, the title makes me think of how many Jews were killed with each life represented by a star. How many stars could there be in the sky from fallen Jews?
Age: 11, 5th grade
By Richard Mosher
Zazoo is a marvelous book that all adults and children should read. I would recommend it for those who enjoy a story of friendship and a small hint of mystery. This story takes place in France and features a Vietnamese girl named Zazoo as the main character. As she, a handsome young boy and a caring older man uncover secrets about Zazoo’s guardian, Grand Pierre, this young girl’s life is changed.
This book is sad at some points, and romantic at others. And if you are cozy in your bed or lie under a tree in the shade, you will find it quite calm and relaxing.
When I began to read this book, I admit, it didn’t reach out and pull me into the story like some fantasy novels about crazy pirates or robots did. I found myself wanting to avoid reading it. But by the third chapter, it pulled me into the story unlike any other book I had read before! I found myself in France with Zazoo, her friends, and Grand Pierre. That’s what amazing books do. They make you feel like you’re right in the story, rubbing elbows with the characters. Zazoo is certainly a good book. You will not regret reading it.
Many books are enjoyable, that’s for sure. Books about ghosts and superheroes and pirates for instance. But do they teach you anything? Not often. But this story makes you understand war and how families are affected by it. Do stories of murders and detectives that adults enjoy teach you important things? Some do, some don’t. But Zazoo absolutely does. It’s not a boring textbook at all. It’s not a newspaper. It’s enjoyable and while you’re enjoying the author’s perspective and the amazing plot…you learn a thing or two about friendship and family as well.
In this book there aren’t iPhones or flatscreen TVs. Cars aren’t even mentioned in the story. It makes me wonder what my life would be like if I traveled by boat all the time and spent my days bird-watching and watching water flow down the canal. It made me really think about myself and the characters, and I am positive it will do the same for you.
In conclusion, I find Zazoo a very enjoyable, relaxing book for all ages. I know you will as well. Read this book and you will find yourself thinking about love and friendship in a whole new light.
Keilan Luke Morrissey
Age: 10, 5th grade
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
By Judith Kerr
In When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Anna and her family escape the wrath of the Nazis in Germany when they leave their home in Berlin and make a getaway to the safety of Switzerland. Because Anna and her family are Jews, it is not safe for them in Germany
anymore. They leave their home in Berlin to escape to the safety of Zurich, Switzerland. Their father has reserved a room for the family in a fancy, expensive hotel.
After a fun day of sightseeing in Zurich, Anna falls dreadfully sick. She has high fevers, and all the glands in her neck are swollen. They have names too, as Mama says, “fat pig”, “slim pig”, and “fraulen lambeck,” which Anna names in German. She is so sick and dazed that she can make out an ostrich in the folds of a curtain, and make it gallop across the room.
Because Hitler made a law that nobody can say anything against him, Anna’s father can’t get any of his articles posted
in German papers. He barely has enough money to support the family. When Anna finally gets better, she receives some surprising news, and can’t bear to believe what her brother told her.
The phrase “Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” relates to a part in the end, after she is well again. Anna and her brother, Max, have a little talk, in which Max releases the information that the Nazis took all of their belongings from their house in Berlin. Anna regrets that she had taken the wooly, brown dog instead of the pink rabbit, and she is under the impression that Hitler is cuddling it right at that moment.
Age: 11, 5th grade
La Jolla, CA
Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
The book Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, is about two families in Denmark during World War II. One family is the Johansens and the other family is the Rosens. The Rosens are Jewish, and Annmarie Johansen is friends with Ellen Rosen. The Johansens hid Ellen while her parents hid somewhere else. The Nazis got the addresses from the temple. When the Nazis came to the
Johansens’ house, the Johansens pretended that Ellen was Annmarie’s sister that died. Later, they took her to a boat and she saw her parents. They hoped that they will be able to sail her to Sweden, because it is a neutral place.
What I liked about this book is that it’s adventurous, and you never know what is going to happen next. I also liked how it is based on a true story. I learned from this book a lot more about World War ll, for instance, and what Jewish people had to deal with. I think it would be really hard to be in a time like that. I will never forget Annmarie and Ellen, because they are very brave. I liked how they took lots of risks and they faced their fears. I would recommend Number The Stars to all of 4th and 5th graders because it is an exciting and adventurous book and you do not know what’s coming next.
Age: 9, 4th grade
If you like to read or even if you don’t, you will love the book Number The Stars. The story takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II and the Holocaust. Jewish people weren’t allowed to be in Denmark and in alot of other places in Europe. If you were a Jewish person, you were in terrible danger.
A young Danish girl named Annemarie has a best friend, Ellen. Ellen and her family were Jewish and needed to be hidden in order to survive. Annemarie and her family help keep Ellen’s family safe. Annemarie has a younger sister, a mom and a dad. Annemarie’s older sister died in a car accident before she got married. Her fiancé was very important in the Holocaust, though. He helped spy on the Nazis. They all try to help different Jews find safety in Sweden. There is a lot of sadness, happiness and adventure in the novel.
In this book, there are things you can’t forget. I can’t forget certain characters. Annemarie is very special in this book, Her best friend is in terrible danger, but Annemarie stays strong. She takes a lot of risks to help save Ellen and other Jews. She is very courageous and clever because she helps smuggle different things to save people. I recommend this book because there is a lot of mystery and action. Even though at times it is a little scary, there is always a little bit of humor. The book really connects with you if you are a Jew or even if you’re not. After I read it, I felt attached to the characters although it was just a story. I felt sad for Ellen because I could never imagine going through what she endured. I learned a lot about how hard it was for the Jewish people, but also how hard it was for everyone else. When you read Number the Stars, you feel as if you’re in the book. You never know what’s going to happen next. This is a story you’ll never forget.
Age: 12, 6th grade