Milkweed Book Poster Image




Disturbing book on Holocaust provokes discussion.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn about what it was like in the Warsaw Ghetto. That said, there's not a great deal of historical background given.

Positive messages

The book shows the brutality of the Nazis to create a tale of sympathy. Lots of anti-Semitic talk from everyone, and, of course, the genocidal treatment of the Jews in Warsaw.

Positive role models

The main character and his friends steal to survive. Even though that behavior isn't commendable, in the circumstances, it shows the courage and the lengths to which people had to go to stay alive.


This is a Holocaust story so there is lots: torture, clubbing, beating, hanging, dead bodies left on the street, piling up in wagons, etc.  


The boys moon the Nazis; a Jew is stripped in public.


Mild, bathroom-themed language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a very disturbing book -- and it is meant to be. The plot deals with the realities of being Jewish in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, as seen through the eyes of an innocent child forced to steal food and change his name to survive on the streets. There are also mentions of human torture, explosions, death and, of course, the Holocaust.

What's the story?

He's a boy who has lived on the streets of Warsaw as long as he can remember. He remembers no name, other than Stopthief, no parents, no home. But he's small and quick, so he manages to find enough to eat, and places to sleep -- until the Nazis come.

By then he has a name, Misha, given to him by another street boy. He has also befriended a girl, Janina, who has a family. So when Janina's family is herded into the newly created Jewish ghetto, Misha goes with them. He is able to slip in and out of the ghetto at will, so he brings food for Janina's family, as well as for Dr. Korczak's orphanage. But even for a survivor like Misha, conditions soon become unbearable -- and Misha must decide where he belongs.

Is it any good?


This is a well-written book about the Holocaust, it's worthwhile and valuable. Yet coming from Jerry Spinelli, it is still somewhat disappointing. This is an author who is known for highly original and stylized fiction that packs an emotional wallop. But this straightforward novel keeps the reader at a certain emotional distance, and provides little historical context, either in the story or in any author's notes or even references. Children reading it, who do not already know about the Holocaust, will not find it very informative. The story moves right along, keeping the reader turning the pages but it somehow doesn't pack a huge emotional punch. Perhaps Spinelli was trying to protect his readers a bit. If so, he has been too successful.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the real-life events that led to the circumstances described in the story . Why were Jewish people singled out by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis?

  • What other types of people were targeted for imprisonment in Nazi"death camps"?

  • What would it have been like to be Jewish during thistime?

  • What types of sacrifices would Jewish families have had to makein order to survive? In terms of the book, how do you think Mischamanages to remain hopeful despite the horrors of the Holocausthappening around him?

  • Would you have been able to survive on your ownas he did?

Book details

Author:Jerry Spinelli
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:September 13, 2003
Number of pages:208
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14

This review of Milkweed was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • A moving, funny, lyrical tale with big appeal.
  • Offbeat, moving tale of coping with grief.
  • Exciting, moving story explores racism, myth making.

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 11 years old June 6, 2009

awesome book

i thought that the book was good but taught that w need so stay with our friends till the end
Parent of a 17 year old Written byRain -n- Roses November 1, 2009
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written bynerdgirl96 January 16, 2011

awesome, very educational

I love this book so much, and it's definitely one of the best Holocaust books there are (and I've read a lot). Somehow, all the tragic events are all the worse from such a naive perspective. It's the first book I've read that addresses the Warsaw Ghetto rather than the concentration (really death) camps. Definitely a must read.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Family Media Agreement