Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Annotation: Milkweed is a fictional story of a young orphan boy surviving on the streets of Warsaw, Poland at the start of World War Two. The boy develops a unique identity against the backdrop of the Holocaust and the story is both devastating and endearing because the reader sees atrocious historical events play out through the naïve and innocent perspective of a child who, through the course of the story, comes of age and learns about the possibilities of who he can become.
Review: Jerry Spinelli is best known for writing Maniac Magee, and in Milkweed he once again tells a captivating story through the eyes and mind of a young boy on the run. In the case of Milkweed, we learn from the start that the protagonist has very little in terms of a personal identity. As he subsists on the streets of Warsaw, Poland in 1939, the boy, in fact, does not even have a name; he knows only the names like "stopthief" that he is called by the people from whom he steals food to survive. Throughout the story the boy cultivates a variety of different identities based on his experiences and the people who influence him. Early on, he decides he is a gypsy and eventually, when he takes up with a Jewish family who are evicted from their home and forced to move to an oppressive ghetto, he chooses to identify as a Jew. Through the boy’s changing identity, readers can begin to really understand how trivial it is to judge others based on things like religion and ethnicity, and it makes the horrors of the Holocaust that the characters in Milkweed, and their real life counterparts at that time in history, endured feel that much more outrageously horrific.
Fans of history will not be disappointed with Milkweed, as the plot unfolds amidst historically accurate events, places and people. What makes Milkweed so exceptional though, and sets it apart from other historical fiction about World War Two and the Holocaust, is the perspective of all that history through the eyes of a young boy who often doesn’t understand, or have context for what is happening around him. As a reader, it can be unsettling and rather upsetting when, for example, initially the boy admires the Nazi officers for their handsome uniforms. It may be difficult to believe, but there are actually even moments in Milkweed that are truly funny because of just how disconnected some of the boy’s responses are to what is going on around him. Tension builds throughout Milkweed because most readers will already be familiar with what ultimately happened to the Jews of Poland in the 1940s, but the boy does not. This feeling of discomfort, however, can help readers understand how the Jews of Poland felt at the time; disbelief or incapable of imagining what would unfold over the course of the war. At times, it may feel difficult to read on through Milkweed, but understanding what the experience of the Holocaust was like for those who actually lived it is valuable for anyone interested in this period of history and especially what it might have been like for a young child.

  • 2004 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2004 Golden Kite Award for Fiction
  • 2004 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
Spinelli, Jerry. Milkweed. New York: Knopf, 2003. Print.

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Weetzie Bat

Annotation: Imagine you're a quirky, eccentric teenage girl from the magical city of Losa Angeles and you're granted three wishes by a genie from a magic lamp that all come true; only not the way you expected! So begins the tale of Weetzie Bat who, along with her unconventional family, struggles to find and hold on to love, in the face of all the darkness and pain in the world.

Review: Weetzie Bat is a book for anyone who has ever felt different; whether it’s because of how you look, where you come from or even who you love. Weetzie leads a magical life, cruising around L.A. with her best friend Dirk, hitting all the coolest punk shows and iconic LA hot spots. Any girl would be crazy not to crush on Dirk, and and yet, he has a secret that explains why he doesn’t feel quite the same way about Weetzie. This is one of the first of many challenges that life throws Weetzie’s way and throughout the story, she faces them all head on, though often in less than conventional ways! When Weetzie is granted three wishes from a genie in a magic lamp, they all come true, only not at all in the ways that she imagined!

Just when Weetzie thinks she’s solved all her problems and has created a happy home with her best friends Dirk and Duck and boyfriend “My Secret Agent Lover Man,” life throws another wrench in Weetzie’s plans and she takes a risk that tests the strength of the groups’ loyalty to each other. Tragedies like AIDS, homophobia and the destruction of the environment are just as relevant now as they were when the book was first published in 1989, and they weigh heavily on Weetzie’s family. Even Weetzie, with her seemingly limitless positive energy, struggles with the unraveling of her parents’ marriage. But Weetzie Bat is a story about fighting demons, taking charge and giving in to the magic that is all around. The magic is love and it’s worth fighting for, especially when you can do it with best friends, a sultry boyfriend and your own rules that you figure out along the way!

*Fans of Weetzie Bat will likely enjoy Block’s subsequent stories about the same characters, which have been published as a collection titled Dangerous Angels,as well as in two separate collections, Goat Girls and Beautiful Boys. Also available is Necklace of Kisses, which revisits Weetzie and company twenty years into the future, and the forthcoming prequel to Weetzie Bat, Pink Smog, slated for January 2012 publication.

Watch a live reading of a Weetzie Bat screenplay the author adapted from the novel! 
"Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat Reading Part 1" Online Posting. YouTube, 14 September 2010. Web. 1 December 2011.

  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
  • ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • 1989 Parents’ Choice Gold Award
  • 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Award
  • 2009 Phoenix Award
Block, Francesca Lia. Weetzie Bat. Anniversary ed.
    New York: Harper, 2004. Print.

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