Jewish Biographies for Children:


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Lillian Hellman, Rebel Playwright

By Ruth Turk
Young people may seek information on Hellman for many reasons--because of their interest in her as a distinguished writer for stage and screen or because of her autobiographical memoirs. And for students interested in American history, Hellman's critical voice during the years when the House Un-American Activities Committee was operative and during the 1960s can provide insight into several turbulent periods. Turk presents some details about Hellman's childhood, and she handles the controversial aspects of Hellman's personal and professional adult life (for example, her association with Dashiell Hammett and allegations that she lied in her memoirs) straight on. Without overwhelming readers with details, she forcefully draws the disparate strands of Hellman's story into a coherent portrait, at the same time deepening the impression of the writer's lifelong energies.

Description from Booklist

Theodor Herzl :
Architect of a Nation
Characterizing Herzl as a driven visionary who gave his life to his dream of a Jewish homeland, Finkelstein presents young readers with a portrait of a man they won't soon forget. The author shows how this young and talented journalist and playwright, raised by assimilated Hungarian-Jewish parents, became a fervent Zionist as he witnessed savage Russian pogroms, pervasive Austrian anti-Semitism, and the Dreyfuss Affair in France. Finkelstein clearly documents Herzl's arduous up-and-down struggle to convince the world of the need for a Jewish state and the toll exacted on his family and his own energies. Relying on primary sources and an acute sense of the historical forces which influenced Herzl, the author focuses on the ideas that he gave to the Zionist movement and on the grand diplomacy and political maneuvering to which he devoted his life. Herzl's unfulfilled family life is only sketchily drawn, although valuable black-and-white photographs of his childhood and family fill in some of the gaps. The book sheds valuable light on a man whose short, eventful life set into motion forces which helped create and shape the state of Israel.

From School Library Journal

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom

By Richard Michelson and Raul Colon
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Their names stand for the quest for justice and equality.

Martin grew up in a loving family in the American South, at a time when this country was plagued by racial discrimination. He aimed to put a stop to it. He became a minister like his daddy, and he preached and marched for his cause.

Abraham grew up in a loving family many years earlier, in a Europe that did not welcome Jews. He found a new home in America, where he became a respected rabbi like his father, carrying a message of peace and acceptance.

Here is the story of two icons for social justice, how they formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.

Description from Publisher

Michelson (Tuttle's Red Barn) deftly draws comparisons between Martin Luther King Jr. and the German-born rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as he describes what led them to walk together in the famous 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. His brisk narrative, divided in two parts, chronicles their parallel experiences: both have parents who instill self-respect, both encounter discrimination and hatred, and both follow their fathers into religious careers. The first half, which Colón renders in earthy hues, covers King, while the blue palette of the second half focuses on Heschel. (Blue reminded the illustrator of "old movies about Europe in the World War II era.") Similar language in both sections, e.g., the titular "You are just as good as anybody," as well as scenes that echo each other, drive home the connections. Subtle variations in wording and layout keep the parallels from feeling contrived. Colón's (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart) trademark mixed-media illustrations incorporate wavy, etched lines full of movement, suggesting the dynamism of a pastor and rabbi who insisted on bringing about change.

Description from Publishers Weekly

*Starred Review*
In this powerful, well-crafted story about a partnership between two great civil rights leaders, Michelson shows how the fight for human rights affects everyone. Martin Luther King and Polish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel each grew up in a loving, religious household, where each was taught clear messages about self-respect. As an adult, Heschel escaped the Nazis and immigrated to America, but he lost much of his family during the Holocaust. Driven to fight bigotry in all its forms, he became a supporter of King. Michelson writes in poetic language that gracefully uses repetitive sentence structures and themes to emphasize the similarities between the two men’s lives. Also admirable is Michelson’s ability to convey complex historical concepts, such as segregation, in clear, potent terms that will speak directly to readers: “Martin was thirsty, but the signs said WHITES ONLY.” In both palette and style, Colón’s colored-pencil and watercolor art, with gauzy textures and frequently used sepia tones, suggests the past, but his themes carry right into today’s headlines. Scenes of terrifying, chaotic, violent struggle give way to the gorgeous, closing image, which shows King and Heschel marching arm in arm. Stirring opening quotes and an appended page of more biographical facts close this exceptional title for sharing and discussion.

Description from Booklist

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Man of Spirit, Man of Action

By Or Rose
Abraham Joshua Heschel -- theologian, teacher, author, beloved rabbi, civil rights activist, and modern prophet of social conscience -- was one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th century.

Perhaps best known by most Americans for his headline-making participation in the 1965 Selma, Alabama demonstration alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Heschel was also an extraordinary Jewish educator and the author of nearly two dozen books. He inspired millions of Jews and non-Jews alike throughout the world with his writings and his campaigns for social causes.

Description from Publisher

"In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible." With amazing quotes from Heschel's own speeches and writings, this direct, very readable biography of the influential Jewish rabbi, educator, and civil rights activist moves from his strict Hasidic education through his escape from the Holocaust and his emigration to the U.S., before focusing on his inspiring role as religious leader, writer, teacher, and, especially, passionate supporter of the African American civil rights movement. The many photos include the famous picture of him marching with Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, no source notes are included, not even a bibliography of Heschel's own writings; and there's occasional fictionalization. But in accessible language, Rose celebrates a leader who connected his own experience with his scholarship, religion, and politics to show that "the evil of prejudice is indivisible."

Description from Booklist

The Great Houdini
(Step-Into-Reading, Step 4)

By Monica Kulling
Harry Houdini was the stage name of Ehrich Weiss, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who became world famous for his showmanship as an escape artist. It wasn't easy. Harry practiced thousands of hours and read thousands of books about magic and illusion. His tricks--such as the disappearing elephant, and escaping from handcuffs, ropes, and straight jackets--amazed audiences in Europe and America. His success was due to hard work, perseverance, and skill, which serve as a good example today. This early reader will also appeal to older kids who are having difficulty developing their reading skills.

Description from Children's Literature

Harry Houdini: Escape Artist

(Level 2)

By Patricia Lakin and Rick Geary
This easy-reader gives an overview of the life of Ehrich Weiss, known to the world as Harry Houdini. The early years of poverty, his hard work to help support his family, and his interest in magic at a young age are simply presented. Readers will learn that magicians need quick, strong hands as well as self-confidence. However, there is an abrupt jump from the time he was 17 and changed his name to the statement on the next page that "After years of struggling, Houdini was finally famous." Children are sure to wonder why and how he suddenly became so successful. The time line states that Houdini became the greatest magician the world has ever known and lists several of his most amazing tricks but none of those details are included in the body of the book. The illustrations of Houdini's life are large and colorful, and will hold readers' interest, but the text itself seems incomplete.

Description from School Library Journal

Level 2: Reading Independently
  • More complex stories
  • Varied sentence structure
  • Paragraphs and short chapters

    Find out how a little boy named Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini -- the greatest magician the world has ever known!

    Description from Publisher

  • The Great Houdini, Daring Escape Artist

    By Louis Sabin
    Follows the life and exploits of the renowned magician and escape artist.

    Description from Publisher

    Frontier Merchants :
    Lionel & Barron Jacobs and the Jewish Pioneers How Settled the West

    By Jerry Stanley
    Alongside the cowboys, miners, railroad builders, and soldiers whose role in the settlement of the American West is well known there was another, equally important figure: the pioneer merchant who supplied the rapidly growing towns of the West with manufactured goods. In Taming the West, Jerry Stanley tells the story of Lionel and Barron Jacobs, who in 1867 set out from California for Tucson with a wagonload of canned goods. After a two month trek across the desert, they arrived in Tucson--then a lawless one-street Wild West town--and set up shop. Within a week they were sold out; within two years, they had established a prosperous mercantile business. As Tucson grew, so did Lionel and Barron's business, expanding first to money exchange and loans and finally into the Arizona Territory's first formal bank.

    From their gritty beginnings in an open wagon to their eventual role among Tucson's wealthiest and most influential citizens, Jerry Stanley tells Lionel and Barron's story with vigor and an eye for colorful period detail. Weaving threads of Jewish history and immigrant history, and the settlement of the frontier, Taming the West is a rich and fascinating look behind the scenes of the American West.

    Description from Publisher

    In this impressive biography, Stanley illustrates two aspects seldom highlighted in histories of the U.S.: business development in pioneer communities and the role of Jewish immigrants in building the economic foundation of the American West. Sons of a Polish merchant who went to California with the gold rush, the Jacobs brothers grew up in San Diego and soon joined the family firm. While still in their 20s, they departed for Tucson, Arizona Territory, in 1867, driving a 12-mule freight wagon loaded with goods to stock a new venture in the unfamiliar desert frontier. Their struggles, adventures, and eventual successes are interspersed with information about the Jewish-American experience, 19th-century business practices, and the relationship of the Jacobs' lives to larger events occurring throughout the "Wild West." As related in Stanley's well-wrought chapters, it all makes fascinating reading.

    Description from School Library Journal

    Albert Kahn: Architect of Detroit

    By Roger Matuz
    A biography of the German-born Jewish architect who, from the 1880s through the early 1940s, designed elegant homes, factories for Henry Ford, and industrial plants to support the United States' war effort.

    Albert Kahn was an architect at the dawn of the automobile age, when the Motor City came into its own. This biography tells young readers how he overcame numerous disadvantages to make that indelible mark. Raised in a poor family, Kahn's formal education ended when he was 12. He was colorblind and was fired from his first architectural job for "lack of talent." Yet through skill, determination, and self-confidence he turned hardship to advantage and realized his dream of becoming an architect.

    Although Kahn attributed much of his success to the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, he exemplified hard work and perseverance. Matuz's account conveys that example for young readers who can see the results of Kahn's determination in their own world.

    Description from Publisher

    Ezra Jack Keats: A Biography With Illustrations

    By Dean Engel & Florence B. Freedman
    Based on conversations with Keats and on his autobiographical writings, this tells the story of the artist's life. It concentrates on his childhood and youth but includes his winning of the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for The Snowy Day and his death in 1983.

    Born Jack Ezra Katz, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Keats loved to draw and paint as a child. Encouraged by his mother and discouraged by his father, who feared that his son would never earn his living, Keats followed his dream to become an artist. Anecdotes and conversations make his story quite readable. The use of artwork from Keats' books works very well visually, but since the connection between the pictures in his books and incidents in his life aren't always made in the text, it's often hard to know how closely an illustration reflects an actual experience--and using a detail from Clementina's Cactus, set in the desert of the Southwest, to illustrate Keats' trip to Appalachia seems absurd. Scenes from the picture books are bright, attractive additions, but more intriguing are reproductions of the artist's early paintings. A large-format book with big type, this would be a good resource for classroom units on authors.

    Description from Booklist

    Engel and Freedman, both friends of the deceased artist, have produced a simply and lovingly written biography, said to be based on their conversations with Keats and on his autobiographical essays. They trace his beginnings in Brooklyn, NY, as Jack Ezra Katz, and describe his early years during the Depression and the obstacles he had to overcome to realize his dream of becoming an artist. Appropriately, the text is accompanied by his paintings, sketches, and illustrations from some of his more than 20 children's books. Readers are treated to beautiful full-color reproductions from such titles as The Snowy Day, Goggles!, The Trip, Louie's Search, and Apt. 3. Unfortunately, the book has neither a bibliography nor endnotes. Nonetheless, this attractive, oversized volume is a must read for Keats's many fans and a marvelous way to introduce (or reintroduce) children to his work.

    Description from School Library Journal

    Teddy Kollek,
    Builder of Jerusalem
    After only one year in office, Teddy Kollek was growing bored being mayor of Jerusalem; then the 1967 Six Day War brought him monumental challenges. The war resulted in the reunification of the ancient city, and Kollek became mayor not only of the newer, Jewish portion of Jerusalem but also of the old city with its Arab residents and Christian, Muslem, and Jewish holy places. Rabinovich conveys the persuasive and personal leadership style and the unwavering dedication that earned Kollek respect as he oversaw Jerusalem's reconstruction. Renowned for his 28-year tenure as Jerusalem's mayor, he led a productive and full life prior to taking office. How he came to be a pioneer in Palestine, his work as a secret agent for the Jewish Agency--the unofficial government of the Jewish people in Palestine -- helping European Jews escape Nazi clutches, and his job procuring weapons for the new state of Israel make fast and fascinating reading. With generously, if sometimes disjointedly, interspersed anecdotes of behind-the-scenes incidents and insights into Kollek's personality and character, this biography will fill a gap in contemporary Israeli history collections.

    Description from Booklist

    A Hero and the Holocaust: The Story of Janusz Korczak and His Children

    By David A. Adler
    A brief biography of the Polish doctor, author, founder of orphanages, and promoter of children's rights, who lost his life trying to protect his orphans from the Nazis.

    Description from Publisher

    A biography of the Polish doctor and children’s author who became director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, in which capacity he comforted hundreds of children during the Holocaust. Korczak, himself Jewish (born Henryk Goldzsmit), took up his pen name as a child to appeal to a Gentile audience; as an adult, he dispensed homely advice over the radio, still downplaying his Jewish identity. In his capacity as director of the orphanage, he offered resistance to the Nazis and succor to the children. Korczak emerges as a virtual saint who, as the children were forced into the ghetto, led them in a parade so they would not be frightened. Farnsworth (Great Stone Face) delivers somber and atmospheric watercolors, painting a genial yet dignified Korczak. (Although, frustratingly, he declines to illustrate the green flag of Korczak’s character King Matt, mentioned in the text twice, which the children carried on the way to the ghetto and then to the trains to give them heart.) Adler (A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower) does a creditable job of placing Korczak in history, describing simply the looming anti-Semitism of pre-war Poland and leading Korczak, children, and reader into the Warsaw Ghetto together. However, this work must be read or taught in concert with others on the same subject. The author sidesteps the actual nature of the concentration camp to which Korczak and his children were taken, writing only that the "train took [the Jews] to Treblinka. . . . There were signs for trains to other cities. But for Jews, there were no trains out of Treblinka. Janusz Korczak died there with his children." Introducing the horrors of the Holocaust to youngchildren is no easy feat, but surely treating them honestly is better than such disingenuousness. Reading in isolation, children will wonder what is heroic about a man who calmly led children he loved to these mysterious deaths. Worthy, but needs supplementation.

    Description from Kirkus Reviews

    You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

    By Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho
    In this striking picture book biography, an old-timer tells us what made Sandy Koufax so amazing. We learn that the beginning of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was rocky, that he was shy with his teammates, and experienced discrimination as one of the only Jews in the game. We hear that he actually quit, only to return the next season—different—firing one rocket after another over the plate. We watch him refuse to play in the 1965 World Series because it is a Jewish high holy day. And we see him in pain because of an overused left arm, eventually retiring at the peak of his career. Finally, we are told that people are still “scratchin’ their heads over Sandy,” who remains a modest hero and a mystery to this day.

    Accompanied by sidebars filled with statistics, here’s a book sure to delight budding baseball fans.

    Description from Publisher

    Estee Lauder :
    Beauty Business Success
    (Book Report Biographies)

    By Rachel Epstein
    The name Estee Lauder has become synonymous with glamour, wealth, and beauty. As a high school student named Esther from Queens, New York, she helped her chemist uncle promote skin creams and cosmetic potions. As a young wife and mother, she launched the Lauder family business--even her young son helped make the lipsticks. Her rise to the top of the cosmetic industry was the result of belief in herself and in her products, as well as her ability to connect with people and help them feel positive about themselves. Her keen business sense led to her company's growth and diversity into other best selling lines, such as Clinique and M - A - C.

    Description from Publisher

    This story chronicles the life of Esteé Lauder, the namesake of the noted beauty products line. Ms. Lauder was born Esther Mentzer around the turn of the century in Queens, New York, and as a young girl worked in her father's clothing store. Throughout her childhood, Ms. Lauder was fascinated by beautiful clothes and all the routines that women performed to make themselves look more beautiful. When her uncle came to America and started a laboratory that created creams for women's skin, Ms. Lauder began selling the creams door to door in her neighborhood. During the 1930s and 40s, Ms. Lauder continued to sell her uncle's creams and lotions to ladies through clubs, card parties and luncheons. Her real career began when she began selling the products at a beauty salon and later at a boutique. As her creams became more popular, Ms. Lauder approached a wellknown department store and requested counter space. By now, she had changed her name from Lauter to Lauder and changed her first name to the more dramatic Esteé. The rest is history. Esteé Lauder cosmetics are now seen in nearly every department store in the world. This often overdramatized story relates the sheer grit and determination of one woman who had a dream, and who realized that dream through hard work. The book includes a chronology of the Esteé Lauder Corporation, a glossary of terms, an indeX and resources for finding further information about the cosmetics industry. Occasional blackandwhite photos accompany the text. Part of the series, "Book Biography Reports."

    Description from Children's Literature

    Joseph Lieberman:
    Keeping the Faith

    By Barbara Silberdick Feinberg
    Joseph Lieberman Has A Solid Record As Senator From Connecticut. This Moderate Democrat Is The First Jew Ever Nominated For Vice President Of The United States, Running On A Ticket With Al Gore. This Biography Explores His Life, His Career, And The 2000 Presidential Race

    Description from Publisher

    Story of Reb Baruch Ber Lebowitz:

    The Kamenitzer Rosh Yeshiba - Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz and His Successor, Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky

    By Tzvi Zev Arem
    Recounts the story of Baruch Ber Leibowitz and his son-in-law Reuven Grozovsky, rabbis and Torah scholars from Eastern Europe who kept their vision alive both there and in the United States.

    Description from Publisher

    Our Golda :
    The Story of Golda Meir
    (Women of Our Time)

    By David A. Adler
    When she was a schoolgirl, Golda Meir stood on a box on a street corner and made speeches about the need for a Jewish homeland. Golda devoted her life to the land that would become Israel, moving rocks and planting trees, arguing with workers, soldiers, and kings. From her childhood in Russia and America to her years as Israel's Prime Minister, Golda worked for her dream of shalom, peace.

    Description from Publisher

    Golda Meir
    (The Importance of Series)

    By Deborah Hitzeroth
    Following the successful format used for other biographies in this series -- reliance on quotes from primary and secondary sources, relevant sidebars, chronologies, well-chosen black-and-white photos, bibliographies, and endnotes -- this clearly written narrative recounts the eventful life of Israel's most famous female political leader. Hitzeroth begins with a description of Meir's fearful and perilous childhood in Czarist Russia and an account of how her family fled pogroms and persecution, eventually settling in Milwaukee, WI. The author follows Meir's unsettled family life through adolescence, after which the woman became involved with the Zionist movement, married, moved to pre-Israeli Palestine, and raised a family. Hitzeroth highlights the conflict Meir had to face as she tried to balance her family responsibilities against her increasing involvement in Israel's political life and documents the triumphs and failures of her political leadership. This admiring and informative portrait emphasizes Meir's lasting contributions to the development of the state of Israel and communicates to young readers the heroic dimensions of her rich and full life.

    Description from School Library Journal

    A Sister in White:
    The Story of Schvester Selma

    By Miriam Zakon
    Selma Meir left the pristine cleanliness and order of life in Germany to become the head nurse at Sha'arei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, braving epidemic, filth, and war. Schvester Selma, as she was affectionately known, stayed on from what was meant to be a three-year stay, for seventy years, treating the ill, adopting the orphaned, and transforming a primitive, disorganized hospital into a clean, well-functioning one. Here we meet Dr. Wallach, the fiery founder of the hospital; Dudu, the sharp-tongued washerwoman; and, of course, Schvester Selma, tiny, yet determined, devoting her life to helping others.

    Description from Publisher

    Myriam Mendilow: Mother of Jerusalem

    Do Not Forsake Me when I Grow Old
    An inspiring book whose subject can be a role model for us all. Educated in Palestine and France, Mendilow taught in the Alliance Schools for many years. After her marriage, she learned English and eventually taught it in the Hebrew University where her husband was a professor and administrator. Upon returning to Jerusalem, she became aware of the poor, elderly Jews from Eastern countries who sat idly around the marketplace, and decided to open a club/workshop where they could regain their dignity and earn some money. She later tackled other problems of the elderly poor, fighting for health, dental, and foot-care clinics. She also originated the "Meals on Wheels'' program. What is particularly appealing about this book is that it shows what can be done through dedication and devotion at a grassroots level to change a disastrous social situation. There are also interesting descriptions of life in pre-state Israel. The writing is conversational and anecdotal. Abundant, good-quality black-and-white photographs appear throughout.

    Description from School Library Journal

    Story of Reb Nachum'ke

    The Nineteen Century Tzaddik - a Legend in His Time

    By Shimon Finkelman
    Examines the life of the nineteenth-century Lithuanian rabbi who embraced the cause of the downtrodden and the poor and is still remembered by his people for his scholarship and holiness.

    Description from Publisher

    Yoni Netanyahu :
    Commando at Entebbe

    (JPS Young Biography Series.)
    Few rescue missions have succeeded like "Operation Thunderbolt," the Israeli plan led by Yoni Netanyahu on July 4, 1976, to rescue 105 hijacked Jewish passengers held captive in Uganda's Entebbe Airport. In this gripping biography, Devra Newberger Speregen introduces young readers to one of Israel's bravest soldiers, offering a dramatic portrait of the young man who came to embody Judaism's highest values through his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

    Description from Publisher

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