Jewish Novels
for Older Children

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A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life

By Dana Reinhardt
Simone’s starting her junior year in high school. Her mom’s a lawyer for the ACLU, her dad’s a political cartoonist, so she’s grown up standing outside the organic food coop asking people to sign petitions for worthy causes. She’s got a terrific younger brother and amazing friends. And she’s got a secret crush on a really smart and funny guy–who spends all of his time with another girl.

Then her birth mother contacts her. Simone’s always known she was adopted, but she never wanted to know anything about it. She’s happy with her family just as it is, thank you.

She learns who her birth mother was–a 16-year-old girl named Rivka. Who is Rivka? Why has she contacted Simone? Why now? The answers lead Simone to deeper feelings of anguish and love than she has ever known, and to question everything she once took for granted about faith, life, the afterlife, and what it means to be a daughter.

Desciption from Publisher

Olive skinned and dark eyed, Simone looks nothing like her fair-haired family. She is, nonetheless, the beloved daughter of her adoptive parents and enjoys a close and supportive relationship with her younger brother. It therefore comes as a terrible intrusion in Simone's comfortable life when, after 16 years, her birth mother asks to meet her. After some resistance, Simone makes contact with Rivka, a 33-year-old self-exiled Hasidic Jew who is dying of ovarian cancer. Despite a fairly transparent setup, once Simone and Rivka are brought together, their shared story is developed with skill, attention to detail, and poignancy. Both Simone and Rivka are strong, complicated characters who benefit greatly from each other: Simone is gifted with her heritage and history and thus a richer identity, and Rivka is able to leave the world having known her daughter. Some sexual content and strong language in Simone's friendships and school life may make this an inappropriate selection for younger teens.

Description from Booklist

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

by Judy Blume
A Jewish girl from New Jersey spends a year growing up in Florida just after the close of World War II. Her daydreams mix with her increasingly shrewd observations about herself, her friends, and family
Description from The Reader's Catalog

Who do you tell when you're certain that Hitler is alive, retired, and living in Miami Beach? It's 1947, and Sally J. Freedman full of wild ideas. She's got her eye on handsome Peter Hornstein, the Latin lover of her dreams...on hold Mr. Zavodsky, who looks suspiciously like Hitler in disguise...and on her father, who Sally misses terribly. There are so many things to worry and wonder about. But whatever happens, Sally's school year in Miami Beach will certainly be exciting--and absolutely unforgetable.

Description from Publisher

The Christmas Menorahs : How a Town Fought Hate

By Janice Cohn
Cohn's powerful narrative tells how two children, two families--one Jewish, one Christian--and a community resolve to stand together against the shameful actions that have been happening in their home town. Her story is based on real events that happened in Billings, Montana, in 1993. Farnsworth's beautiful paintings illuminate the message of the power of goodness.

Description from Publisher

Based on a true incident that occurred in Billings, Montana, this story begins when a rock is thrown through a boy's bedroom window in which a menorah is displayed. The boy, Isaac, is frightened and unsure whether he wants to put the menorah back. His parents call the police, and his mother goes on television and to a meeting to talk about hate crimes in the community. Inspired by stories of the Danish people helping their Jewish neighbors during World War II, the people of Billings put menorahs in their windows to take a stand against bigotry. When a schoolmate supports Isaac, he takes his own stand by returning the menorah to its place. Although the plot seems a little stilted at times, Cohn deals with the issues in a way children can readily understand. Throughout the book, realistic, soft-focus oil paintings dramatize the action and personalize the characters. A fine book for parents and teachers who want to discuss prejudice and hate crimes with their children, with background information provided in the introduction.

Description from Booklist

Julia's Kitchen

By Brenda A. Ferber

  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year
  • Sydney Taylor Award
  • VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers
  • Alabama Children's Choice Book Award Master List
  • Indiana Young Hoosier Award Master List
  • Iowa Children's Choice Award Master List
  • Kansas William Allen White Award Master List

Cara Segal is a born worrier. She figures her worrying works like a whisper in God’s ear – if Cara’s concerned about car crashes, kidnappings, or murders, she lets God know, and he always spares her. But Cara never thought to worry about a fire. And one night while she’s sleeping at a friend’s house, her house catches fire, and her mother and younger sister are both killed. Throughout shiva, the initial Jewish mourning period, Cara can’t help wondering about God’s role in the tragedy. And what is her father’s role in her life now? He walks around like a ghost and refuses to talk about the fire. Cara longs for her family and her home, where sweet smells filled the house as Cara’s mom filled orders for her catering business, Julia’s Kitchen. Then one day a call comes in for a cookie order, and Cara gets a wild idea. Maybe by bringing back Julia’s Kitchen, she can find a way to reconnect with everything she’s lost.

Complete with a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, this debut novel is a joyous tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Description from Publisher

The night her mother and sister die in a house fire, 11-year-old Cara is sleeping over at her friend Marlee's. As she gradually tries to adjust to life without them, she struggles with a sense of disbelief at her loss, her anger at her father for his reluctance to discuss the details of the fire and for hiding himself in his work, and her feelings of isolation from her classmates. She questions God's lack of power to keep her family safe, finally realizing that she cannot live without her Jewish faith. Cara takes strength from her beloved Bubbe and Zayde-her mother's parents-and from creating a family scrapbook. But healing and self-assurance finally come with her decision to continue her mother's home-based baking business-Julia's Kitchen. Ferber's characterization of suburban Cara is accurate and believable, although other characters are not as fully developed. A short glossary of Hebrew terminology and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies are appended. The novel's brevity and honesty will appeal to both Jewish and non-Jewish girls.

Description from School Library Journal

Eleven-year old Cara Segal regularly floats prayers up to God, nudging him to protect her family. This changes when Cara's mother, Julia, and sister die in a fire at their home, while Cara is at a sleepover. A few items survive the fire, including Julia's recipes and the several Jewish mezuzahs that once hung in their doorways. With her father lost in grief and unavailable to answer her questions, Cara wrestles with a range of emotions, mostly by herself. Relationships with grandparents and best friend, Marlee, are touching and authentic. After 41 days of being the only one who can make Cara smile, Marlee admits that she misses "the old Cara." Cara boosts her own faith and healing by secretly reviving her mother's home-based cookie business, Julia's Kitchen. The story may be too intense for some readers who are Cara's age, and a few plot details are confusing, but major themes about grief and healing are beautifully addressed in what turns out to be a strong debut novel.

Description from Booklist

The Koufax Dilemma

By Steven Schnur
Eleven-year-old Danny is looking forward to pitching his first baseball game of the season. He is angry and disappointed when his mother reminds him that the game conflicts with the Passover seder. She expects him to celebrate with the family. Danny's usually warm relationship with his mother and coach, and his mixed feelings for his mother's boyfriend and his dad's new family are portrayed in a believable way. His struggles with faith, family and team loyalty make this novel an appealing account of family caring and compromise, as well as a satisfying sports story.

Description from Children's Literature

The Magic Menorah :
A Modern Chanukah Tale

By Jane Breskin Zalben
Stanley Green, 12, doesn't look forward to Chanukah. Every year his house is overrun with annoying relatives, and his grandfather, who normally tells the best stories, gets quiet and sad. This year turns out to be different, though. Stanley is sent to the attic to get a package for his grandfather. In it, he finds a tarnished old menorah. As the boy cleans it up, a shabby little old man appears, demands a nosh, and offers three wishes if Stanley can answer three riddles. Stanley doesn't get the right answers, but Fishel lets him wish anyway. Of course, each wish turns out far differently than Stanley anticipates. He learns that Fame and Fortune come in many forms, and realizes that Happiness has been his all along. He also learns something about his family history and why his grandfather is so sad at Chanukah. This short, simple chapter book is filled with details about traditions of the holiday. Hebrew and Yiddish words are sprinkled liberally throughout, with a glossary at the end. The realistic illustrations, vignettes with text wrapped around them, nicely support the story. An entertaining read-aloud that could easily be adapted as a play or reader's theater script

Description from School Library Journal

Ghosts and Golems :
Haunting Tales of the Supernatural

By Malka Penn
Jewish stories of the supernatural are nothing new. The very first ghost story, in fact, appears in the Bible, when Saul asks the Witch of Endor to invoke the spirit of Samuel. Ghost and Golems is a collection breaking from tradition - between its covers are contemporary tales with twenty-first-century children as the main characters.

The Romance Reader

By Pearl Abraham
The Romance Reader invites us to enter the Hasidic world as few have ever seen it - through the eyes of a young woman on the brink of adulthood. The daughter of a visionary rabbi who dreams of founding his own synagogue and center of learning, Rachel Benjamin lives in an insular environment, seemingly protected from the temptations and freedoms the modern world offers. As the eldest of seven siblings, she is expected to set a moral example within her family and the community: She must wear thick opaque tights with seams; she must never wear a bathing suit in public; she is not to read books in English. Rachel is a dreamer like her father; but her dreams are of the strong, confident men and the beautiful damsels in distress she reads about in romance novels she sneaks under her blankets at night. Secretly she begins to wear sheer stockings to school, concealed under high boots, and takes classes to become a lifeguard. She longs to live not in the dying, desolate community of a bungalow colony in upstate New York, where she can't help but be aware of the presence and allures of the secular world surrounding her, but in Brooklyn - in Williamsburgh or Borough Park - where the Hasidic world is sufficient unto itself and she could more easily be the good Hasidic daughter she is trying to be. Unlike her siblings and friends, Rachel craves the independence she will never have as a Hasidic woman in an arranged marriage. And yet, as her engagement draws inevitably nearer, the strong pulls of family and tradition, weigh against the frightening unknown beyond her - the secular world she knows only through her beloved romance novels.

Description from Publisher

As the oldest child of Rebbe (Rabbi) Benjamin, Rachel, 12, is expected to follow the traditions of her ultra-Orthodox Chassidic family, and to set a good example for her six siblings. She must be modest, chaste, and obedient, even though, she is bursting to explore the world of her classmates. She wants to be a lifeguard, but wearing a bathing suit is "improper." Her parents protect Rachel from straying from the right-and-righteous way, or bringing shame to herself and her family. Every issue becomes a battle of wills, with Rachel always pushing the limits and sidestepping the restrictions. She surreptitiously obtains some coveted romance novels, which are her only source of sex information prior to her arranged marriage at age 18. Rachel is a memorable character, capable, spirited, intuitive, and difficult. Her mother is brilliantly drawn as a complex, high-strung woman who wants the same kind of life for her daughter that has made her own so unhappy. This fast-paced, easy-to-read, coming-of-age story weaves Chassidic laws and customs into Rachel's first-person narrative. Students will sympathize with the girl's struggle to create a meaningful path that differs from that of her family and friends.

Description from School Library Journal

How I Saved Hanukkah

By Amy Goldman Koss
Marla Feinstein, the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, feels like an outsider--especially as everyone gears up for Christmas, including her best friend, Lucy. To make matters worse, her father is out of town, and her mother doesn't take Hanukkah seriously. The best she can hope for is a few candles, a couple of unwrapped gifts, and a dreidel that doesn't spin. Once Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah is really about, however, things turn around. Starting with a genuine dreidel game, her family begins to catch the spirit. Her mom even makes her first latkes (potato pancakes), which leads to a big Hanukkah party for all of their friends--Jewish and non-Jewish alike. A gem of a story, in which a child's persistent curiosity is the means for introducing readers to the background and traditions that make up a delightful holiday.

Description from Booklist A Hanukkah to remember -- finally!

Marla Feinstein, the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, knows what this holiday season will be like. While everyone else is decorating trees and hanging stockings, she'll be forgetting to light the candles and staring at a big plastic dreidel. But when Marla decides to learn what the Hanukkah traditions are really about, things change fast. Soon she's got her family turning latkes into Hanukkah Performance Art and doing a wild hora. And by the end of this funny and heartwarming novel, the Festival of Lights is the biggest party in town!

Description from Publisher Hanukkah is fast approaching, but to fourth-grader Marla Feinstein, it doesn't seem like a very big deal. While all of her neighbors are festooning their houses with Christmas lights and decorations, Marla has to make do with a plain menorah, a plastic dreidel that won't spin, a mom who doesn't even wrap her Hanukkah presents, and a dad who is out of town on a business trip. With her friend Lucy, Maria embarks on a mission to make Hanukkah fun, and soon has her mother making latkes, her little brother winning at dreidel, and the whole neighborhood dancing the hora. The fun and breezy tone and affectionately drawn characters will appeal to readers who will find themselves learning a bit about the meaning of Hanukkah in the bargain. DeGroat's pen-and-ink illustrations complement this warm and funny story

Description from School Library Journal

While her classmates are given red and green paper to do their art projects, the substitute teacher gives Marla blue and white so she can make something for Hanukkah. Marla hates being singled out. What's more, she loves the way her best friend Lucy celebrates Christmas. Marla's mother had always downplayed Hanukkah. This year, Marla has lots of questions for her. With help from her little brother and her best friend, Marla is able to reawaken the joys of family tradition in her home. Her mother makes potato latkes, teaches them the hora, and gives a party for friends and neighbors. Middle grade readers will relate to Lucy and Marla's views of their families. They will enjoy the light-hearted approach to self-acceptance. The black and white line drawings show two friends enjoying each other's company and some symbols of the holidays.

Description from Children's Literature

There's No Such Thing As a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein

By Susan Sussman

1998 Emmy Award Winning Video
Also Available
Christmas is the worst time of year for Robin. That's because she has to face the same question again: Does her being Jewish really mean she can't have a Christmas tree and be a part of all the excitement around her? It doesn't help at all that her classmate, Sandy Goldstein, has a Chanukah bush; it only makes her non-Jewish friends ask Robin more questions. But help does come-from unexpected sources: Robin's grandfather and a Christmas party!

Description from Publisher

Here a truly poignant conflict that minority parents must often tackle -- maintaining one's group identity and integrity in the face of tremendous pressures -- is trivialized. What could have been an important book for the many children who face such pressures in our society turns out to be a let down.

Description from Children's Bulletin

The Storyteller's Beads

by Jane Kurtz
Based in fact, this is an original, powerful story of two Ethiopian girls who become refugees in the 1980s. A year after her family was killed while she hid in a cave nearby, Sahay is routed from her home by her uncle, before enemies arrive to take their land. One of the Kemant people, Sahay fears the evil eye of the "Falasha." Alternating chapters introduce Rahel, a blind Beta-Israel girl who dislikes being called a Falasha, and who summons all her courage to convince her family to include her beloved grandmother on the journey they must undertake. Political events hasten the plans, and Sahay and Rahel are thrown together. After an extreme and terrifying journey, they reach a Red Cross camp in the Sudan where they search for other survivors from their region, certain they will die from sickness or malnutrition. Then Rahel learns of a plan to go to Israel, and convinces Sahay to pretend to be her sister. The story is beautifully told in words and phrases that enhance the exotic locale and situation of the two endangered girls, who are richly portrayed. Kurtz keeps the focus personal but never allows larger events to dissipate in this engrossing tale.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

Two young Ethiopians grow past their antagonism in this sensitive, from-the-heart tale of refugees fleeing a drought-and violence-stricken land. The only survivors of a massacred family, Sahay and her uncle set out for Sudan, joining, to Sahay's dismay, a band of Ethiopian Jews--the Falasha, or strangers, she has been taught to fear and despise. With them is Rahel, blind and accompanied only by her brother. After a grueling, danger-filled journey, the group's men are turned back at the border. The barrier between Sahay and Rahel falls when, moved by compassion, Sahay becomes Rahel's guide until they reach the refugee camp at Umm Rekuba. The inner strength Rahel draws from her flute, a small bag of Ethiopian soil, and especially, her grandmother's necklace (the stories of Queen Yehudit [Judith], Hirute [Ruth], and others are tied to the beads) helps both girls survive the terror, despair, anger, and grief of being uprooted. Ultimately, Sahay realizes that Rahel and her people are no longer "strangers," and they escape to Jerusalem in a clandestine Israeli airlift. Well versed in Ethiopia's cultures and history, Kurtz brings conditions in that strife-torn country into sharp focus and ends her penetrating story on a note more hopeful than happy.

Description from Booklist

The Safe Place

By Tehila Peterseil
A touching story about an Israeli girl who has a learning disability. Readers are introduced to Kinneret Pfeiffer when she is nine years old. Her parents are well intentioned, but are also disappointed with her academic performance. For Kinneret, school means fear, frustration, humiliation, and anger. She has trouble understanding language and can't concentrate. Some of her teachers have become impatient; they accuse her of laziness and irresponsibility. In her anguish, Kinneret fantasizes about a big white bird that carries her away when the stress become unbearable. Nightmares interrupt her sleep. In fifth grade, she is assigned to the resource room for extra help, where the newly appointed special-education teacher values Kinneret and helps her to gain self-esteem. Slowly, the girl does better. Some of her teachers are persuaded to try new ways of helping her learn, and eventually she finds the safe place she has been seeking, but readers are made aware that a long, perhaps difficult road lies ahead. Characterization is realistic and strong. The teachers are depicted as a varied group with their own stresses. The author has an excellent grasp of verbal and physical interactions among fourth and fifth grade girls. This title may be of interest to those who are older than the heroine because of the subject matter.

Description from School Library Journal

Jewish Detective Stories for Kids

By Dvora Waysman
Detective stories featuring kids that other kids can identify with. These youngsters just can't leave well-enough alone. Inevitably, the more curious they become, the more trouble they get into.

Description from Publisher

Jewish Humor Stories for Kids
Here are four original stories that have three age-old ingredients guaranteed to make you laugh: "Breakfast Without Bagels" tells the story of a middle America family who go to far out lengths to keep their Jewishness intact. "Nothing To Sneeze At" finds our hero spreading germs and laughter as he literally blows people away with his humongous sneezes. "The Three Wishes of Nathan the Wise" is the tale of a young boy with an attitude problem, his gym shoe and a Jewish genie from the old, old country. "Hannah’s Succah" shows, what a determined young girl and her mischievous puppy can do if they their hands and paws together.

Jewish Love Stories for Kids

By Leslie Cohen
Stories include the love of a family for a mentally challenged sibling; the bond between a child and his adopted pet; the attempt by different generations to reach each other; the love between sisters; and the eternal bond between those we have loved and ourselves.

Description from Publisher

Jewish Sci-Fi Stories for Kids
Here are six far out tales unlike anything you have ever read before. They will take you to destinations you have never dreamed of, to meet monsters and mavens your parents forgot to warn you about

Description from Publisher

How I Saved Hanukkah
Marla Feinstein, the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, feels like an outsider--especially as everyone gears up for Christmas, including her best friend, Lucy. To make matters worse, her father is out of town, and her mother doesn't take Hanukkah seriously. The best she can hope for is a few candles, a couple of unwrapped gifts, and a dreidel that doesn't spin. Once Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah is really about, however, things turn around. Starting with a genuine dreidel game, her family begins to catch the spirit. Her mom even makes her first latkes (potato pancakes), which leads to a big Hanukkah party for all of their friends--Jewish and non-Jewish alike. A gem of a story, in which a child's persistent curiosity is the means for introducing readers to the background and traditions that make up a delightful holiday. Illustrations by Diane deGroat add to the fun.

Description from Booklist

Sing Time
'The cantor likes Elvis! But what does Elvis have to do with learning Torah? And does he really think that listening to rock music will make me like Sunday school?'

The protagonist of this new juvenile novel finds the answer to these and other questions in the unlikeliest of places-the office of a cantor. An unnamed ten-year-old boy is wandering the halls of a strange synagogue while his father registers him and his brother for Hebrew school. Suddenly he finds himself in the messiest-and most intriguing-office he has ever seen. And somewhere within this chaos is Cantor Eli Jacobs.

Description from Publisher

Once I Was a Plum Tree

By Johanna Hurwitz
Once Gerry's family name Pflaumenbaum, Which means "plum tree" in German. Now, it's jusy plain Flam, which means nothing at all.

"What religion are you?" is the worst thing anyone could ask ten-year-old Geraldine Flam. Gerry, growing up in the Bronx just after the Second World War, doesn't have any religion at all." We are assimilated," Gerry's father tells her. But Gerry wants more. Here's a funny and warm story about belonging -- to a particular community and to the world.

Increasingly aware of the differences between her family, who are nonobservant Jews, and their Catholic neighbors, 10-year-old Gerry Flam begins to investigate her heritage.

Description from Publisher

Avram's Gift

By Margie Blumberg
Mark thinks that his new home is perfect in every way — except one: Leaning against the wall in the hallway outside his bedroom is a picture of a man with a long, gray, scratchy-looking beard and dark, mysterious eyes. It’s a picture of his great-great-grandfather Avram, and Mark doesn’t like looking at it one bit. Who was Avram? And was he really as stern as he looks in that photograph? One special Rosh Hashanah, Mark learns the answers to these questions from his Grandpa Morris and discovers Avram’s gift.

Description from Publisher

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