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. He's a boy who wants to be a Nazi some day, with tall shiny jackboots and a gleaming Eagle hat 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 of World War II-and tells a tale of heartbreak, hope, and survival through the bright eyes of a young orphan. From the Hardcover edition.
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Notice the writer's style here. The short, one-word bursts help reflect the panic the narrator is feeling.
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Based on the mention of guns, booming, and explosions, what do you think is going on in the setting of this story?
Can this be the narrator's real name? Do you have any explanations for why he claims Stopthief is his name?
You have enough clues now to guess what time period this novel takes place. Are you thinking either sometime just before or during World War II? That means this novel is historical fiction. Watch the video for an important explanation of the elements of this genre. (This annotation contains a video)
Both the narrator and Uri must be
Explain why you think the barber just abandons his shop? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
What is happening at this moment?
The writer uses a great deal of figurative language. Figurative language is found in all types of writing. It helps readers understand things, events, and people in unique ways. It's important to be able to recognize the different types of figurative language. Watch this video for a review and see how many you already know. (This annotation contains a video)
Since this novel is set during WWII, it is important for you to have some basic background knowledge. (Many of you may already know this information.) Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933. After building up the military and the morale of Germany, Hitler set his sights on conquering other countries. In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II soon began. Not only did Hitler want to dominate Europe, he also wanted to eliminate what he felt were inferior groups of people, especially Jewish people. For them, he systematically created discriminatory laws and then began killing these people in masses along with imprisoning them in concentration and labor camps. The narrator, Uri, and the other boys in this novel are probably Jewish and so they must constantly hide from the soldiers.
This is an example of personification since the writer is describing the streetcars as if they have skeletons. What qualities is he trying to reveal about the streetcars?
The narrator sees one of the Nazi Party's symbols, the eagle perched above a swastika, as pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
The writer describes the tanks as "colossal gray long-snouted beetles." What type of figurative language is this?
This is an example of the Nazi soldiers publicly humiliating a Jewish citizen. When the Nazis first took over a country, like Poland for example, many of the citizens welcomed them. It didn't take long, however, for the citizens, especially the Jewish citizens, to suffer under harsh Nazi laws and ridicule. In the picture below, Jews are being forced to kneel down and scrub the street while Nazi soldiers and other Polish citizens look on in amusement. (This annotation contains an image)
The narrator, Stopthief, does not understand. What is Uri trying to tell him?
In Judaism (the religion of Jewish people), men refrain from shaving their beards to honor God. The Nazis knew that the men's beards are an expression of their faith, so forcing them to scrub the street with their beards and cutting off their beards was especially offensive. (This annotation contains an image)
We know that the narrator and Uri steal food and clothes from wherever they can. Do you think their stealing is okay considering their situation? Explain your reasoning.
Remember, a "Jackboot" is a Nazi soldier. (This annotation contains an image)
Even though Uri may be making up a story for Misha (the narrator's new name) we do know now that this novel takes place in Warsaw, Poland 1939. WWII has just begun.
Misha, our narrator, tells this story. When the narrator is a character in the story, we call this type of point of view, first person. Watch this video for a review of the different types of point of view in fiction. (This annotation contains a video)
Misha isn't stupid, but since he's never gone to school or been taught by adults, he is gullible (believes anything he's told).
Misha doesn't know how to read, what his real name is, how old he is, or what the word "late" means? Why?
The event Misha is describing really happened. It was called a pogrom, which is a planned attack. The worst of these pogroms was known as Kristallnaght, or "Night of the broken glass." On this night Jewish businesses were destroyed with their glass window-fronts broken, and the buildings burned with torches throughout Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938. It was just the beginning of the persecution of the Jews in Europe. Soon, laws would be passed that would forbid Jews to even own businesses. Their homes and businesses were taken over by Germans or people who were not Jewish. Below is a picture of Kristallnacht. (This annotation contains an image)
Misha doesn't know whether he is a Gypsy or a Jew, but he also doesn't understand something that we as readers do. Nazis hated Gypsies too, and what Misha doesn't realize is that the Gypsies of Europe will suffer horrible persecution and death in camps just like the Jews. When the reader knows something the character in the story doesn't know, it creates suspense. We call this dramatic irony. Watch the video below for an explanation of dramatic irony. (This annotation contains a video)
Uri knows that being a Gypsy is no safer or more respected than being a Jew.
This chapter begins, "They came in the night." Who are "they"?
The Jewish people of Germany and Poland were required to paint a yellow Star of David (a religious symbol of Judaism) on their businesses to let everyone know that a Jew owned the business. This would keep many customers away because either they didn't want to buy from a Jew, or they didn't want trouble from the Nazis. Below is a picture of the Star of David. Soon all Jewish people would be required to wear this star on all of their clothes. (This annotation contains an image)
Earlier in the story, Uri tells Misha, "Never take more than you need." Now he wants to give the extra loaves of bread to the orphans. What does this show us about Uri?
This is also historically accurate. In all Nazi controlled countries, before the Jews were taken to concentration camps or worse, curfews were set in place that disallowed Jews to be out past a certain time. If a Jew was caught out past curfew, he or she would be arrested and sent to a camp or shot.
Why do you think there is no treasure pile or throwing food around with the group of orphan boys? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Misha is describing the angel whose picture is on one of the introductory pages of the novel. (This annotation contains an image)
You can infer from this paragraph that Enos is feeling
Which of the following statements best explains what Uri means when he says, "I believe in bread"?
Why do you think bread is now so scarce? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
Although there are several different types of figurative language in these sentences, which type is most often used here with the trees?
You've probably noticed that the topic of angels keeps coming up in this novel. Of course, we can't ignore the picture of the angel before the novel even begins. So that tells us that angels will be important in this story. Perhaps they are symbolic of something. Can you make a prediction? Watch the video below about literary symbols. (This annotation contains a video)
Why would a Nazi soldier be in Janina's house?
"Jude" means Jew. The soldier is asking if Misha is a Jew. Remember, by this time, Jews were supposed to wear the Star of David on their clothing with the word "Jude." (This annotation contains an image)
Once again, we have evidence of how little Misha understands. Stealing and running have been his way to live. So to him, stealing isn't wrong. He believes the only thing he's done that he shouldn't have was take the birthday cake from Janina's party. He knows this is wrong only because Uri explained it to him.
It's sad that kids would be so mean to one another. Intolerance of other races and religions is an important theme in this novel. Prejudice is something learned. These children learned to hate Jews and Gypsies from their parents and from society. Do you think children and young people today have learned to hate? Watch the video below about stereotypes and prejudice. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following may be the question Doctor Korczak has "on his face"?
Explain what you think the highlighted sentence means. Did they really catch the man who took the horse from the merry-go-round?
This passage describes the Jewish people of Warsaw abandoning their homes and going to live in the ghetto. They had no choice but to do this or they would be arrested. Over 400,000 Jews of Warsaw were crammed into less than a four square mile area. Germans and other non-Jews would move into their houses. The following clip is from the movie Schindler's List. In this brief scene, Jewish families have packed everything they could carry and walk the streets toward the ghetto, their new home. You will also see people throwing rocks, and a Polish girl, full of hate, telling the Jews goodbye. (This annotation contains a video)
This is what the Jewish white band with the blue star looked like. (This annotation contains an image)
Misha thinks this is a good day for the people walking to the ghetto. He thinks it is a parade. He doesn't understand that these people are being forced to leave their homes.
After the Polish Jews began living in the Warsaw ghetto, the Nazi soldiers forced Jewish men to build a wall that would separate the ghetto from the rest of the city. This wall will be an important part of this story. Below you can see the wall around the ghetto. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Mr. Milgrom's profession?
One of the elements of historical fiction is that it is filled with true historical facts and events woven into a story. The characters of the novel may be fictional, but the historical setting is factual. So you get to enjoy an engaging story while learning about a time in history. List three things you've learned from this novel so far that are historically true.
Hitler and the Nazi party also considered Gypsies and mentally or physically handicap people inferior, like Jews. These "undesirables" were also forced to live in the ghetto.
This shows us that Uri feels responsible for Misha, even when he isn't around. Uri has become Misha's protector.
This sentence contains what two types of literary devices?
What three places has Misha lived since the novel began?
Typhus is an infectious disease that is spread in unsanitary conditions since it is carried by ticks and lice. Many people in the ghettos and the camps died of Typhus.
What does this action by the man tying his shoe suggest?
Why is there rubble in the ghetto?
Can any of us imagine what it would be like to have never tasted an orange? When you try to put yourself as a reader in a character's shoes, it's called making a "Text to Self "connection. Sometimes we connect to a character because we have experienced a similar event or feeling. Other times we connect because we try to imagine what it would be like to experience the same event or feeling. Making connections helps us to better understand what we read.
During WWII times were hard on most people, but it was nearly intolerable for the Jews and those in the ghetto. List three details mentioned on this page that show how desperate times are for these people.
This is such a sad and disturbing scene. Can you make a connection to another book or movie about survival where people resort to eating just about anything?
Why is there barbed wire and broken glass on top of this wall?
Based on recent events, which of the following characters is selfish?
What does Uncle Shepsel mean, "This is it!"?
This is an important paragraph. Think of what you know about Misha, his character and his heart. This paragraph is developing a theme in this story by mentioning again the angel. The angel acts as a ________________ in this novel.
Explain in your own words why you think Mr. Milgrom considers Misha part of his family now. Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
This is what gray coin bags look like. These would certainly not do very well in the snow on a boy's feet. (This annotation contains an image)
This is historically accurate. The Nazis appointed certain Jews to guard and snitch on other Jews. For their service and loyalty, they would be given more food or other privileges. This happened in the ghetto as well as the camps. This tactic would quickly turn Jews against one another. Think what you would be willing to do if you were always hungry?
Do you think Uri's and the boys' actions are justified? Explain.
Heinrich Himmler was a leader in the Nazi Party. He was primarily in charge of the concentration camps. He also formed the Einsatzgruppen, the task force or death squads of Nazi soldiers whose only task was to find and kill Jews. (This annotation contains an image)
What two things does the narrator compare Mrs. Milgrom to that show how sick she is?
The Nazi salute often included the words, "Heil Hitler," which means "Hail Hitler." (This annotation contains an image)
Who are Flops?
What trait does Misha use most often and to his advantage?
Here is another picture of Heinrich Himmler. Physically, he certainly did not look powerful, but he was second in command under Adolph Hitler. (This annotation contains an image)
The situation in the ghetto is getting worse every day for all of the characters. List three details from these first three paragraphs that show how bad things are.
This is a beautiful image to describe Janina's eyes. What type of figurative language is it?
Who is Misha trying to be like?
The colors are symbolic. The ghetto is all gray, but outside in the city it is colorful to Misha. Think about what colors may symbolize here.
This should make us think. During the first half of the novel, Misha does NOT want to be a Jew, and he's thankful he is not. He wants everyone to know that he is a Gypsy, not a Jew. Now he is proud to be considered a Jew. Why?
This adds to our opinion of Misha as a good boy with a big heart. He is the protagonist, or main character, of the novel. Therefore, his character will probably be the most developed by the author. He is also a dynamic character. Dynamic characters change and grow (emotionally) in fiction. We've already witnessed some changes in Misha. Watch the video below on characterization. (This annotation contains a video)
Lice are parasites that attach to human heads to feed. They lay many eggs and are easily spread from one person to the next. If lice is left untreated, the infestation will continue to get worse. (This annotation contains an image)
Whenever there is suffering in the world, it seems much worse when it affects children. Childhood should be a time of innocence, comfort, joy, and security. These children don't have any of those things anymore. Can you think of other times and places in history where children are suffering? When you do, you are making a "Text to World" connection.
Explain why you think the Nazi soldiers and their girlfriends were laughing and taking pictures. Write four sentences of dialogue that may have occurred among the soldiers and their girlfriends.
What tone does the narrator take that makes these first few paragraphs so disturbing?
What Misha means here may be that because he doesn't know a lot about the world and the war, he will do things without really thinking of the danger or consequences.
The Nazi's are referring to Abraham in the Hebrew Bible. God promised Abraham that the Jews would have the promised land. (This annotation contains an image)
Misha feels responsible for Janina the same way Uri feels responsible for Misha. The insults and smacking are what many would call "tough love."
This scene shows that both Misha and Janina are
What incident is Misha remembering at this moment?
The stone angel and a discussion of angels within us all has come up again in this story. When a symbol is mentioned again and again in a novel, you know it must be important to the overall theme or message of the story. Watch this video on theme. (This annotation contains a video)
Heaven to many of these boys is everything they lack: freedom, comfort, and food.
Where are the Nazi's shooting the flames?
This must be important because it's the title of the novel. The image below is a milkweed plant. (This annotation contains an image)
A milkweed puff: (This annotation contains an image)
To describe this scene of the milkweed plant, the author is using a lot of imagery. Imagery is when a writer uses words that appeal to one of the reader's senses: sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell.
Why is a full moon Misha's least favorite?
Explain why you think Janina says this to Misha.
Lice does not go away unless powerful medicine is applied to the scalp that kills the lice. Then you must painstakingly comb through your hair and pick out all of the nits (eggs). Otherwise, the eggs will hatch and more lice will be in your hair.
Here the author shows the reader how desperate and tragic life is in the ghetto through different characters' actions and reactions. List three details from this page that show us how bad things are in the ghetto.
"Tata" means papa or father in Polish.
What do you think is happening to this man with no shirt and shoes on? We've seen the same thing with Uncle Shepsel and the man who was banging his head on the brick wall.
This is a memorable scene. It is probably symbolic that Misha and Janina are placed in a grave for shelter from the bombs. Notice also that Janina has a milkweed pod with only a few remaining seeds. These rise into the air amidst the bombs. Explain what you think all this may symbolize.
It was not uncommon at all to have two or three families sharing the same room in the ghettos during the war.
This again shows how bad circumstances were in the ghetto. Below is a picture of how lice can attach to eyelashes. (This annotation contains an image)
Do you have a prediction of who is throwing over food?
This is a visual image. What type of figurative language is also used in this sentence?
This means that someone in the ghetto was hiding a cow and drinking its milk. Then the Nazis found out. Why do you think the occupants of the ghetto mob the burning cow?
On each night of Hanukkah, a single candle on the menorah (pictured below) is lit. Jewish families often exchange gifts on each night of Hanukkah as well. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated close to the same time as the Christian holiday of Christmas. (This annotation contains an image)
What is happening to Janina?
Why do you think the egg cracks, but does not break or leak yolk?
Explain what you think Mr. Milgrom means when he says to Misha, "The miracle is you."
In these sentences, the author creates a disturbing image created by including both positive and negative things. The positive words, warm and singing, are contrasted with negative words like
The Nazis began deporting mass groups of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the concentration camp of Treblinka in 1942. Any Jews who refused to leave the ghetto or who stayed behind and hid, were shot. Below is a picture of Jews beside the trains that would take them to the concentration camps. (This annotation contains an image)
Where do you think Uri has been this whole time and what do you think he has been doing? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
As readers we know something that Mr. Milgrom, Uncle Shepsel, and Janina do not know. It creates tension for us. It makes us sad and scared for them. What literary device is this called?
Why does Janina run for the trains?
Have you ever heard of the German folktale, "The Pied Piper"? In it a piper rids the town of rats by luring them with his music to water where they drown. Later, because the mayor does not pay him, he plays his music and leads the children away. The writer of this novel knows that many readers will make this connection. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this mean, the listing of streets, one after another?
The old man has been to a concentration camp and has escaped. He is telling the Jews of the ghetto about the electric fences and the crematoriums where the Nazis burn the bodies of Jews.
This creates suspense. We want Misha and Janina to escape the ghetto and run away, but listing the streets reminds us that time is running out.
The Nazi soldiers often had German shepherds and other large, ferocious dogs with them when rounding up Jewish prisoners. (This annotation contains an image)
What type of figurative language is used here that describes even the trains contributing to the panic and chaos?
What happens to Janina here?
What do you think has happened to Janina?
What does Misha mean when he says, "I was in many places, and I was not alone"? What is he doing?
Remember that irony is when something is the opposite of what you would expect. It is ironic that Misha is walking toward the concentration camps. It's ironic that he is telling the man he is a Jew when he isn't and asking the man to take him to the ovens.
In your own words, explain what you can infer from this scene. What do you think the man in the cart told the farmer? What was the shouting in the house about?
When the war was over, any Jews left in the camps were free to go. They woke up one morning and discovered that the Nazi soldiers were gone. Although many were sick, and all were starving, these people just walked until they reached towns. They rode trains or buses in order to get back home. They were desperate for news of their family members since most Jewish families were separated before being sent to the camps. Adults and children were separated as well as males from females.
Here the narrator is referring to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was the largest Jewish revolt in WWII and lasted for over a month. Ultimately, the Nazis were able to overcome the resistance and forced the remaining Jews in the ghetto to the trains for Treblinka, the infamous concentration camp. Below is a well-known picture taken during the final deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Why do you think this picture is so famous? (This annotation contains an image)
Remember, Buffo was a Flop, meaning he was also a Jew. Though he held favor with the Nazi soldiers while in the ghetto, he was ultimately sent to the concentration camps as well. Judging by his appearance now to Misha, he suffered greatly in the camp.
So twice in his lifetime, the narrator is given a new name. Neither has been given to him by his real parents.
Use the Define feature on the word galoot.Which of the following words is most opposite in meaning?
The narrator is suffering from what we now know is Post Traumatic Syndrome or PTS. When you endure a difficult time or tragic event, it is painful and difficult to resume a normal life.
Notice how the writer chooses to cram all of these details--that only make sense to us because we've read the story--into one sentence. Doing this helps show the confusion that people walking by must have felt.
Many survivors of WWII, especially the Jews, have family members and loved ones that they never see again or learn what happened to them.
Explain why it didn't take any time for Jack (Misha) to come up with the name Janina.
Another picture of the plant that reminds the narrator of Janina, of angels, and of hope. (This annotation contains an image)
What are the three names the narrator has in this novel?