Jewish Novels
for Older Children

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The Travels and Tales of Dr. Emanuel J. Mitzva: (Doctor of Mostly Everything)

By Yaffa Ganz
Everyone in Cedarville knows Dr. Emanuel J. Mitzvah, Doctor of Mostly Everything (D.M.E.), and now you have the opportunity to meet him yourself! With his loopy stethoscope, his Smile Cream, his Raspberry Throat and Thinking Mints, it was almost a pleasure to be sick if Dr. Mitzvah was your doctor! From sad Indians to despairing Egyptians, to broken shofars and a super special Chanukah menorah, the tales of Dr. Mitzvah will warm the hearts of children and parents alike. From the creator of the Savta Simcha Series, this newest book by beloved author, Yaffa Ganz, is a real winner!

Description from Publisher

Sparks Fly Upward

By Carol Matas
Family means everything to 12-year-old Rebecca Bernstein. Even after a fire destroys their farm and the family must relocate to the bustling city of Winnipeg, Rebecca feels safe and happy as long as everyone is together. But life is hard in the city, and Papa cannot find work. Rebecca’s greatest fears are realized when she is sent into foster care until Papa can earn more money. She is terrified to discover that she’ll be living with a Ukrainian family—Jews and Ukrainians were archenemies in the old country. What if the Kostianuks hate her? Rebecca discovers an unexpected soulmate in Sophie, the Kostianuks’ daughter. Normally shy, Rebecca soon finds herself battling prejudice both in the schoolyard and at home in order to protect the forbidden friendship. Fighting anti-Semitism, Rebecca comes to appreciate what faith means to her and learns some important truths about her parents’ personal and spiritual sacrifices.

Description from Publisher

When their farmhouse burns to the ground, Rebecca Bernstein's family must leave their comfortable Jewish farming community in Saskatchewan and move to Winnipeg. Because her theater-loving father refuses to take just any job and there isn't enough room for the large extended family in the small storefront her grandfather finds, the 12-year-old is sent into foster care with a neighboring family. Worse yet, the Kostaniuks are Ukrainian and very Christian. Although Sophie Kostaniuk, who shares Rebecca's love for reading, could easily be her best friend, Sophie's brother Sasha and her father hate Jews, and fights break out at school between Sasha and Rebecca's favorite uncles, Max and Sam. Scarlet fever brings the two girls closer and they cement their friendship when they rescue small children from a fire in the quarantine hospital where they've been sent. Then Sasha attacks Max with a knife, and Rebecca's grandfather removes her from the foster home and forbids her to see Sophie. How can the timid girl go against him? Good advice comes from the rabbi, who helps her see her own courage and find a way to maintain her friendship and ease the enmity between the boys. The complexity of different approaches to Judaism is dramatized in this large and loving family whose difficulties are typical of immigrants to the U.S. as well as Canada in the early 20th century. The less familiar historical and cultural setting is clearly described. This satisfying friendship story should appeal to middle-grade readers, especially girls.

Description from School Library Journal

This novel about a 12-year-old Jewish immigrant girl in Canada in the early twentieth century is based on Matas' family history. At first the huge cast of characters is bewildering--three generations of Rebecca's extended family are part of her daily life; but Rebecca's first-person narrative is direct and immediate, rooted in her Yiddish culture and reaching out to a wider world. There's lots of action. When a fire destroys the family farm in Saskatchewan and the family moves to Winnipeg, Rebecca's dad can't find work, and Rebecca is forced to live with a Ukrainian foster family. They aren't Jewish; in fact, some of them are anti-Semitic. Even so, Rebecca bonds with Sophie, the daughter in her foster family, and their friendship is the heart of the story. Together the girls withstand everything from school bullying to scarlet fever and a hospital fire. There's no sentimentality in the characterization--even Rebecca's dad surprises her--and the history is well researched. Most compelling, though, is Rebecca's personal struggle with faith, friendship, and loyalty.

Description from Booklist

Older fans of Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind-Family series will welcome twelve-year-old Rebecca Bernstein with open hearts. Rebecca is part of a large Russian Jewish family living together in Canada in the early twentieth century. At first the cast of characters seems like a lot to sort through, since we meet every one of her aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, but each is important to the story as an influence on Rebecca. Coming home one night from a play, the family sees their home go up in flames. Devastated, the family packs what little they have left and moves to Winnipeg, where they must separate. Rebecca goes to live with a Ukrainian family, and she fears that she will experience the same anti-Semitism the Jews experienced from Ukrainians in Europe. Her worries are alleviated when the family's daughter Sophie befriends her, but that friendship is not without its troubles. Rebecca is expected to be part of a circle of Jewish girls led by wealthy bully Rachel, who does not approve of Rebecca's friendship with Sophie. Rebecca is torn in her loyalties, but ultimately chooses to stay friends with Sophie, especially when they experience sickness and disaster together. When Sophie's brother attacks Rebecca's uncle with a knife, Rebecca seeks advice from her rabbi and is brought closer to her family. Ultimately, Rebecca is enriched by her experiences, discovering new secrets about her family and becoming stronger through adversity.

Description from Children's Literature

Yitzy and the G. O. L. E. M.
Twelve year old Yitzy Berg's passion for computer games gets him in trouble with his rebbe and with the FBI! Can Yitzy convince everyone that he's not really a computer hacker? Or will his computer mania land the whole Berg family in jail? Join "Yitz Berg from Pittsburgh" in the hair-raising adventure as he tries to untangle the mystery and score the biggest victory of life!

Description from Publisher

Adventure books for youngsters eight to 12 seem to be difficult to find, especially when the hero or heroine is Jewish. This year that void was filled and a number of exciting, interesting books were published. This book is the first in a series and introduces the reader to Yitz Berg from Pittsburgh. The 12-year-old computer whiz finds adjustment to living in Pittsburgh after the Midwest rather hard at times as he faces the anxieties of school, community and family changes. Yitzy goes to a Torah academy and he's a pretty cool kid until he accidentally gets tangled into a computer mystery. Without spoiling the plot or its outcome, this book will be enjoyable for young boys, especially those interested in computers.

Description from Jewish World News

The Lopsided Yarmulke
Young readers won't be able to put down the exciting adventures of Yitzy Berg and his friends! Presenting another adventure story starring Yitzy Berg and his family. After moving from the Midwest to Pittsburgh, Yitzy's life takes a turn for the worse. His new classmates tease him about the way he wears his yarmulke on the side of his head, he's way behind in his learning, and someone locks him in a dark room in the shul's basement! Young readers will enjoy Yitzy's ultimate triumph over his big pack of troubles.

Description from Publisher

Gemarakup Super Sleuth

(Vol. 1)

Lost on Skull Mountain
(Vol. 3)

Yisrael David Finkel is a sixth-grader whose friends call him Gemarakup (Talmudic mind) the police call him Sherlock Holmes because of his knack for solving mysteries using stories from our sages. Join him, and try to solve a few yourself!

Description from Publisher

The Secret Diary

By Sukey S. Gross
In this sequel to Passport to Russia, Bracha and Sara return as their school travels to Pennsylvania for a special school Shabbaton. On a snowy day, the girls arrive at the Bais Yaakov in Pennsylvania where they are greeted warmly by Zeesy, the daughter of the Rosh Yeshivah, and taken to the Levy home in which they will be staying for Shabbos. The girls are intrigued by the story Zeesy tells them about a mysterious elderly gentleman who lived a very tragic life and left his estate to the Bais Yaakov. Soon, they are confronted by another mystery involving Chava, a girl from Texas who boards in the Levy home. Matters finally come to a head on Shabbos when the girls discover a secret diary during a thrilling treasure hunt in a luxurious old farmhouse. The secret diary provides them with the key to many questions about the past, as well as a number of questions about the future. In The Secret Diary, Sukey Gross has written an exceedingly warm and touching book blending excellent Hashkafos into a page-turning story that will surely thrill and delight young and old readers alike.

The Narrowest Bar Mitzvah /

The Return of Morris Schumsky

By Steven Schnur
Grandpa disappears on the morning of Rebecca's wedding, but returns just in time for the ceremony with a few unexpected but delighted and delightful friends from the local nursing home. His actions are a lesson in loving compassion and bring a special significance to the wedding. This day in the life of a warm, loving Jewish family is filled with the excitement, complications, and last-minute emergencies of getting ready for a wedding. Many Jewish wedding customs and traditions are described. Realistic pen-and-ink drawings illustrate the text.

Description from School Library Journal

With All My Heart, With All My Mind :
Thirteen Stories About Growing Up Jewish
Benjy has nightmares about his upcoming Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rachel's grief over Grandma Hannah's illness turns her away from her temple. Jaci wrestles with peer pressure by day and angels by night, and when Cain and Abel double-date... well, growing up has never been easy.

As these and nine other stories in With All My Heart, With All My Mind demonstrate, growing up Jewish adds its own twists and turns to the challenge. As we approach the end of the millennium, what does "growing up Jewish" mean? How can young people reconcile centuries of tradition with the modern world? Can they embrace their religion "with all my heart, with all my mind"?

Award-winning author and editor Sandy Asher posed these and other questions to thirteen Jewish writers: herself, Eve B. Feldman, Merrill Joan Gerber, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, Johanna Hurwitz, Eric A. Kimmel, Sonia Levitin, Carol Matas, Gloria D. Miklowitz, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Ruth Minsky Sender, Phyllis Shalant, and Jane Breskin Zalben. From the last days of Masada to the future colonization of the moon, these stories provide unique and personal insights. in the interviews following each story, the authors discuss their own experiences growing up Jewish. These are stories that will make you laugh, cry, think, and above all, help you to explore what it means to be a Jew.

A portion of the money generated from the sale of this book will be donated to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Description from Publisher

From this fine group, readers would expect skillful, rewarding work--and they get it.

Description from Horn Book

Tunes for Bears to Dance to

By Robert Cormier
This brief, compelling book conveys the devastating effects of evil, whether its form is as huge and incomprehensible as the Holocaust, or as small and personal as another human being. Henry, a young teenager, is lucky to be employed. Since his brother's re cent death, his father is paralyzed by depression; his mother works long hours to support the family. It's the early 1950s, and, with the return of the servicemen, housing and jobs are scarce. Unfortunately, Henry's boss is a bigoted, abusive individual whose hatred of others is so consuming that he intentionally sets out to corrupt the boy's goodness. He forces Henry to commit an ugly, violent act and betray a friendship with an elderly neighbor who has lost his home and family to the Nazis. As part of his rehabilitative therapy, Mr. Levine lovingly carves his vanished village and its population out of wood. The scenes in which he is "home'' again demonstrate the Holocaust's horror in a deeply moving manner, and Cormier wrenchingly personalizes the man's grief. Tunes for Bears to Dance To , more a parable than a fully realized novel, is sharp, short, and to the point. The characters are fairly one-dimensional and their circumstances are portrayed as black or white. Why they are "good'' or "evil'' is not explained, and little room is left for shades of gray. They simply embody the concepts Cormier is exploring. This book has limitations, but it will not be easily forgotten. It will make fascinating material for group discussion.

Description from School Library Journal

Once again, Cormier explores a child's confrontation with the evil side of humanity. When Mr. Hairston, the racist grocer for whom Henry works, threatens to fire Henry and complicate his family's life if he does not destroy the miniature village a Jewish man has lovingly and painstakingly created, Henry wrestles with his decision.

Description from Horn Book

A masterful portrayal of hatred, prejudice and manipulation that challenges readers to examine how they would behave in the face of evil. Henry meets and befriends Mr. Levine, an elderly Holocaust survivor, who is carving a replica of the village where he lived and which was destroyed in the war. Henry's friendship with Mr. Levine is put to the test when his prejudiced boss, Mr. Hairston, asks Henry to destroy Mr. Levine's village.

Description from Publisher

When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories

by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Eight stories, several based on traditional Jewish tales, written by the master storyteller and Nobel Laureate. In the introduction, Singer says, "In my writing there is no basic difference between tales for adults and for young people. The same spirit, the same interest in the supernatural is in all of them"

Description from Publisher

The Singing Mountain
(Hardcover edition)

Paperback edition to be published in May 2000
Mitch Green, a teenager who enjoys carefree days at the beach, decides not to return home to southern California from his summer trip to Israel. Instead of starting his first year at UCLA, he decides to study the Torah and live and study at a yeshiva. He has never before felt the joy and fulfillment he experiences while living in Jerusalem. His parents are convinced he has been brainwashed, but his cousin Carlie, who has lived with the Greens since her parents' death, isn't sure. In alternating chapters, Mitch and Carlie tell their stories of change, maturation, and love. The young man's spiritual growth and interest in his religion and history are fascinating. His strength of character and thoughtfulness are well portrayed. Carlie also matures both spiritually and emotionally, and is a likable, intelligent teenager. Many issues of religion, politics, and family dynamics are raised and discussed by Mitch and Carlie, as well as their friends and family in Israel and America. Another important and outstanding work by Levitin, this unique novel covers fresh territory

Description from School Library Journal

Another Day By Marilyn Sachs
Olivia Diamond is fourteen years old; and, since her mother walked out on the family, everything in her life seems to have gone wrong. Her beloved grandfather has died, and her grandmother has withdrawn from the world. Her father has retreated into his computers. Olivia is failing algebra, and her awful math teacher is making that fact obvious to all her classmates. Things are not all dismal, however. Ron Kramer, one of the cutest boys in her class, has offered to take her on as one of his clients in his math tutoring business. Olivia's life undergoes many changes during her fourteenth year, and she and her family change in ways that none of them might have expected. This is a warm family story that offers no easy solutions to problems but suggests the power of love, growth, and adaptation to change.

Description from ALAN Review

Loss looms large: Her mom moves out of the house, her grandfather dies, her dad seems lost and preoccupied, her grandmother falls into a depressed funk. To top it off, Olivia is failing algebra and her only hope of passing lies in the not-so-skillful tutoring offered by Ron Kramer, the cutest boy in her algebra class. But to work with Ron, Olivia must suffer the presence of his pet poodle, Lulu. And Olivia is terrified of dogs. But in time, she deals with it all. ... Published this year, Another Day, says Sachs, "is really about loss. It's about death. It's about divorce. It's about how a family copes." That Olivia can work her way through her anger, disappointment and sense of failure is largely due to the wisdom and support of her grandmother, who emerges from her fog of depression after making a new "friend" at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park. Grandma eventually invites him to Shabbat dinner, shocking everyone in her family. "Why, he's not even Jewish!" they exclaim. But they can all see that Grandma is happy once again.

Description from

Unjust Cause
David's father, a world-class mathematician, cannot understand David's learning problem and punishes him for being "lazy". Like thousands of other children with learning problems, David is made to feel foolish and inadequate. Then he enrolls in a Jewish Day School and his life is changed.

Description from Publisher

The Passover Passage
Rebecca Able is having a most memorable Passover. She is sailing the Caribbean with her grandparents aboard their sailboat, the Diaspora. During this special voyage, Rebecca learns first-hand what the Exodus from Egypt must have been like for the Jewish people-at once dangerous and frightening, liberating and wondrous. And a cross-cultural friendship she makes in the Bahamas helps Rebecca recognize and appreciate the opportunities she has in her own life. On this unforgettable trip, Rebecca learns not only how a Passover seder is celebrated on board a sailboat; she also learns important lessons of freedom, family and Judaism.

Description from Publisher

Anya wishes she celebrated Christmas like her friends. Then she receives her grandmother's treasured menorah as a Chanukah gift. As she lights each successive candle, Anya travels back in time to Nazi Germany, and begins to understand she is not the first to face a dilemma of faith.

Description from Publisher

This was an excellent book. I started to read it, and once I started, could not put it down ... The surprise ending turns an otherwise somewhat predicatable book (though with interesting twists and turns) into, basically, one big surprise.

Description from Customer Review

Bluish: A Novel

By Virginia Hamilton
Bluish is unlike any girl 10-year-old Dreenie has ever seen. At school she sits in a wheelchair, her skin so pale it's almost blue. Dreenie, herself new to the New York City magnet school, is fascinated by her, but wary as well. Unaware that the name Bluish could have derogatory connotations ("Blewish," for Black and Jewish), she fixates on the moonlight blue skin tones of this curiously fragile child. Together with Tuli, a bi-racial girl who pretends to be Spanish (often with poignantly comical results), the three carefully forge a bond of friendship, stumbling often as they confront issues of illness, ethnicity, culture, need, and hope.

Description from

At first, Dreenie doesn't know what to make of Natalie, the sick girl in a wheelchair who is part of her fifth-grade class in a New York City magnet school. The kids call Natalie "Bluish," not because of her ethnicity (her dad's black and her mom's Jewish) but because her pale skin has a bluish tint caused by all the chemotherapy she's had for cancer. Dreenie tries to be nice, but she's scared ("What if she dies? What if I die?"), and Bluish demands respect, not pity; she hates people who hover like a helicopter. Hamilton tells rather than shows Dreenie's growing bond with Bluish, but through Dreenie's eyes--in journal entries and sharp vignettes--we watch Bluish becoming part of the dynamic classroom. What's best is the funny, touching portrait of another classmate, Tuli, who is so needy that she pretends to be Spanish ("Hokay, ho-ney, we take care. Cuidado!"). She desperately wants to be Dreenie's best pal, and Dreenie is sorry for Tuli, but it's Bluish who is Dreenie's soulmate. Hamilton gets the way kids talk. Like Bluish, she makes us "stop and look." Many readers will be caught by the jumpy, edgy story of sorrow and hope, of kids trying to be friends.

Description from Booklist

A child coming off chemotherapy wins new friends and acceptance from her class in this short, upbeat tale from Hamilton (Second Cousins, 1998, etc.). At first, Dreenie doesn't know what to make of the girl, Natalie, who is in a wheelchair and knit cap, and who is called ``Bluish'' by the fifth graders not because she's black and Jewish (as Natalie's mother assumes), but because her skin is translucent. New herself, Dreenie quickly finds the right mix of distance and intimacy to be comfortable around her moody, fragile classmate, and soon others are gathering, tooespecially after Natalie presents everyone with a wool cap like hers. Hamilton tells the tale from Dreenie's point of view, moving back and forth between first and third person, sketching feelings and reactions in quick, vivid strokes: ``[Bluish] made me care about what was all so scary, so sad and so hurt with her too. To me she is just Bluish child, Bluish ill serious. Bluish close with us. Someday Bluish just like us./Maybe.'' While Natalie's future remains clouded, the story's tone is set by the pains, and the pleasures, of the moment: exchanging gifts, banter, friendship, and respect. The three children in Leo and Diane Dillons' jacket painting are misleadingly grave, but the designs in their knit caps and scarves evoke the author's poetic, richly textured prose.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

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