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Jewish Novels
for Older Children


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The Singing Mountain

By Sonia Levitin
Since her parents' fatal accident, 15-year-old Carlie has lived with her cousin, Mitch, and his parents, Vivian and Harry. Now, once again life sideswipes her. Her 18-year-old cousin is not returning from Israel, where he went to spend the summer. Previously oblivious to his Jewish identity, Mitch has become observant, is planning to study in Israel, and is even considering emigrating. An outraged Harry sends Vivian and Carlie to convince Mitch to return home. It is an awkward reunion, in the midst of which a terrorist bomb explodes and Carlie is injured. Afterward, family secrets are unveiled, Carlie and Mitch realize the depth of their feelings for one another, and Vivian recognizes her son's right to make his own choices. Told from Mitch's and Carlie's points of view, this plot-driven novel bristles with questions about faith, love, family, acceptance, and self-determination.

Description from Booklist

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

Each chapter of this emotionally engrossing book alternates between Mitch Green, the only son of a non-observant Jewish family, who has decided to study Orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem, and the family he left behind in California. Mitch's parents fear he has been ensnared by a cult. They can't imagine any other reason why the son who rarely attended synagogue wants to forego UCLA in favor of an entirely Jewish education. Mitch isn't sure why he feels like a parched man guzzling water in the desert. But he is unable to leave this spiritual nourishment, even after his mother and cousin come to Jerusalem in an effort to bring him home. Mitch's feelings for his cousin Carlie present another enigma. After the death of Carlie's parents, they have lived like brother and sister. Yet the feelings they have seem to go beyond friendship. The complicated emotions of all the characters are skillfully and believably drawn. The reader empathizes with everyone. Levitin's depiction of both sides of a family conflict is a tour de force.

Description from Children's Literature
About the B'Nai Bagels

By E. L. Konigsburg
Mark Seltzer thought he had enough aggravation studying for his Bar Mitzvah and losing his best friend. It's the last straw when his mother becomes the new manager of his Little League baseball team and drags his older brother, Spencer, along as the coach.

No one knows what to expect with a mother for a manager, but soon Mark and the other players are surprised to see how much they're improving due to coach Spencer's strategy and helpful hints from "Mother Bagel."

It looks like nothing can stop them from becoming champs--until Mark hears some startling news!

Description from Publisher
Dybbuk: A Version

By Barbara Rogasky
This retelling of an early-20th-century play based on a Jewish legend is uneasily balanced between an evocation of European shtetl life and a ghost story. Leah and Konin were promised to one another by their fathers even before they were born. However, when Leah is old enough to be married, Sender, her father, wants her betrothed to a rich man. Konin, now a poor orphaned scholar, meets Leah and they fall instantly, irrevocably in love. Thwarted by Sender's greed, the young man studies the Kabbalah, searching for a way to obtain the necessary wealth. When he fails, he dies and comes back as a dybbuk–an unhappy spirit that possesses Leah's body and speaks through her lips. Though an exorcism is performed, she chooses to rejoin Konin and dies before she can marry the man her father has selected. Stories of the supernatural have undeniable appeal, but this one, with its archaic setting and strongly religious connections, seems too specialized for most collections. Rogasky's writing, which is full of inverted phrases (e.g., Pious and sincere they were or Old it is, centuries old), is distancing--even though she addresses readers directly at times (Forgive me, Dear Reader. I cannot explain the meaning of all that happened….). Fisher's dramatic black, white, and brown-toned illustrations add to the hard-edged, unyielding nature of the tragic tale.

Description from School Library Journal


A Jewish legend about a girl's possession by a dybbuk, or restless spirit, is strikingly retold in a picture book that fits as smoothly into collections of children's Judaica as it does in sections of scary Halloween stories. Rogasky chooses to tell her version in a narrative longer than a traditional picture book, but she doesn't expend words idly; her storytelling is rich and powerful, as adept in conveying a sense of Hasidic culture as it is in narrating moments of sheer terror. These are terrifying indeed: Rogasky's dybbuk is a poor, orphan boy who dies when his destined fiancee is promised to another, and returns as a ghost to be united with his true love. Extending the horror are starkly composed, monumental oils in inky blacks and moonlit grays by venerable illustrator Fisher. Particularly noteworthy is Rogasky's distinct treatment of various voices, ranging from the narrator's intimate tone to the villagers' gossipy banter to the ghost's creepy pronouncements. With some artful adaptation, this will work well for readers' theater or storytelling performances.

Description from Booklist
Seymour, the Formerly Fearful

By Eve B. Feldman
Seymour Goldfarb is afraid of a lot of things, and he hides his fears from the world with quick thinking. When his cousin Pessach comes to visit from Israel, however, Seymour meets his match while trying to show a 'normal' guy how Americans have fun.

Description from Publisher

All Seymour's energies are spent fabricating excuses to avoid situations that frighten him. Then his seemingly fearless older cousin arrives from Israel and plunges a terrified Seymour into one adventure after another.

Description from Horn Book Of Heroes, Hooks, and Heirlooms
Of Heroes, Hooks, and Heirlooms

By Faye Silton
Mia doesn't know how to participate in her class's study of family history because her parents lost all their belongings save one photograph in the Holocaust. An understanding neighbor helps her to reclaim the family gift of crochet and make a new heirloom. The story about struggling with loss and defining heroism is a moving one.

Description by Horn Book Dear Elijah
Dear Elijah

By Miriam Bat-Ami
Using the Passover holiday not only as a setting, but also as symbol, this story, told in diary form, chronicles 11-year-old Rebecca Samuelson's life after her father's heart attack. Rebecca decides to address her diary to Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, who, legend has it, visits Jewish houses at Passover. To "E" (as she calls him), Rebecca confides her fears for her father, her soul-searching about her own life, and lots and lots of details about Passover. The story is at its best when Rebecca gets to the truth about what life is for a kid and when she muses about religion, both her own and others. There are certainly too few books that deal with that topic.

from Booklist
The Saturday Secret

By Miriam Rinn
Jason Siegel thinks his stepfather's new religious observances have gone far enough. First only kosher food at home. Then he is forced to wear a kippah (yarmulke). Now no baseball games on Shabbat! Jason is determined to play ball -- no matter what. But his plan backfires and Jason finds himself entangled in a situation that hurts his teammate’s feelings and jeopardizes his relationship with his mother and step-father.

Description from Publisher

Far from the heavy didacticism of much religious fiction, this moving first novel leaves you thinking that "sometimes knowing what's right can be very hard." The religious message grows out of action and character. Jason hates the restrictions his devout stepfather, David, imposes on the family: Why must they eat only kosher food? Why must Jason wear a yarmulke (he takes it off the minute he leaves home). Worst of all, why can't he play on the baseball team on Saturday afternoons? (Jason lies about where he is and secretly joins the game.) Of course, part of the family tension is not about religion but about a son's grief for his dead father and resentment of the replacement. Jason's reluctant bond with David grows when David roots for him against a bullying coach and when David defends Jason's black friend in a public racial confrontation. What makes the story convincing is that there is real anger. Jason lies, but David is far from perfect, as he admits after losing his temper and yelling at Jason (He apologizes, saying, "The Talmud tells us that insulting someone or calling them names is like killing them.") The ending, when he shows and tells of his love for Jason, is a tearjerker and makes us know that "following the rules in the Torah is not a substitute for doing the right thing." Middle readers will love the baseball, the friendship story, and, above all, the father-son moral conflict and love. The book's last line is a perfect climax.

Description from Booklist
The Mystery of the Coins

By Chaya M. Burstein
Burstein cleverly has interwoven historical stories with suspense in this mystery that will sustain the interest of young readers. When Jamie and Sarah find a package of coins in the false bottom of an old trunk, they, with the help of a coin history book and a book of Jewish history, solve the mystery of their Uncle Otto's coins. Each of the coins coincides with a period of Jewish history, and each has a story of its own. The framing story is lively, with likable characters, and the historical stories are well constructed individually as well as providing a unified whole. Sources for all of the coins, which are aptly illustrated, are appended. A delightful and unusual book.

Description from School Library Journal
Saying It Out Loud

By Joan Abelove
A mother's death leaves her daughter not so much empty as full -- of memories, understanding, appreciation.... More than anything, Mindy longs to be told the truth. From the doctors, from her father. Mom isn't going to get better, she isn't going to leave the white room in the hospital ever again, isn't going to come home to fill the candy bowl with its magical stash of M&M's. But it's the silence, the avoidance and denial, that hurts Mindy the most. The year is 1961 -- clearly evoked in the music and movies (there is a powerful scene involving Spartacus). Mindy's father has absented himself emotionally from her adolescence, after stating, in his absolute way, that she will date no one who's not Jewish. Facing the death of her mother from a brain tumor, Mindy feels like an orphan, and, like her mother, excluded from life -- until friends get her laughing again, until she can see her mother and their relationship squarely and lovingly. This is a book that, though dark at its center, casts light on all sides, with extraordinary tenderness.

Description from Publisher
The Kingston Castle: A Mystery

By Ruth Abrahamson
When the Rosenbergs decide to vacation in Kingston, it is to get away from the bustle of city life. Little do they know that the town and its famous castle hold in store the adventure of a lifetime. The Rosenberg kids become fast friends with the Sandler family. The Sandlers live as traditional Jews, and the Rosenbergs begin to discover a world about which they know little.

Description from Publisher
The Golem of Prague

By Gershon Winkler Experience one of the most startling and controversial metaphysical Jewish events of all time: the creation of a golem, a man crafted out of clay by the exalted Rabbi Yehudah Loevy ben Bezalel (the Maharal) of Prague to protect sixteenth-century Jews from persecution. The author skillfully captures the essence of the golem and examines its aftermath objectively. Features a dramatized adaptation of the documented adventures of the golem and includes a comprehensive overview of Jewish mysticism, black magic, demonology, miracles and science, plus a summary of other golems in Jewish history. Read it for pleasure as well as perspective.

Description from Publisher
Sacred Stones:
The Return of the Golem

By Gershon Winkler This fascinating mystical adventure, the sequel to the best-selling book
The Golem of Prague, is gripping reading. Readers will be swept along in an adventurous story as the ancient breastplate of the kohen gadol (high priest), affixed with twelve sacred stones, is discovered--and stolen. As the threat of war looms, the saintly Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehudah Loevy ben Bezalel, is compelled to recreate the awesome Yossele the Golem to rescue the Jews and avert disaster. Culled from more than two dozen sources, the introduction to The Sacred Stones provides the reader with a historical backdrop to the era and focuses briefly on the life and philosophy of the Maharal. Ages 8-14.

Description from Publisher
Chernowitz!

By Fran Arrick A boy who suffers anti-Semitic abuse at the hands of a classmate during his ninth and tenth grade years plots revenge against his tormentor.

Description from Publisher
Matzah Ball :
A Passover Story

By Mindy Avra Portnoy Aaron must bring a bag lunch to the baseball game during Passover, but while his friends are off at the concession stand, something wonderful happens.

Description from Publisher

Blending baseball and Passover facts, this contemporary, fast-paced story demonstrates that "It's not always easy being Jewish, but sometimes it can lead to miracles." Aaron's happiness at going with his friends to see the Baltimore Orioles is tempered by his mother's reminder that it is Passover and that he can't eat pretzels, crackerjacks, or ice cream. His non-Jewish friends eagerly devour his special lunch, which he refuses to eat. Aaron dislikes being different, especially when the others make one last trip to the concession stands. Surprised when an elderly man (could it be Elijah?) sits down beside him, Aaron listens to the man's memories of Jewish baseball fans going to games at Ebbets Field and receives a special piece of matzah that miraculously helps him catch a home-run ball hit into the bleachers. Bold, detailed watercolors perfectly complement the text's realistic language and emotions. This will be a hit with sports lovers and anyone seeking an added dimension to a holiday story

Description from School Library Journal
Mystery in Miami Beach :
A Vivi Hartman Mystery

By Harriet K. Feder
Vivi Hartman, a rabbi's daughter, visits her grandmother in Florida during her winter break. While on the plane, she reads a front-page Miami Herald story about an Israeli tourist attacked by a gang. The woman is her grandmother's friend, also visiting in Gram's apartment. In quick succession, Vivi meets a teenaged boy and begins to notice that a rash of red birds, umbrellas, tall men with British accents, and other suspicious characters seem to be popping up everywhere. This is a fast-paced mystery, the premise of which is rooted during the Holocaust -- specifically with the ship St. Louis, which was not allowed to land in either Cuba or Miami in 1939. The ship returned to Europe, where most of the 907 Jewish passengers died. Hebrew terms and Jewish customs are woven seamlessly into the story; indeed, much of this information is crucial to the plot, and all of it adds depth. If Vivi remembers to utilize pilpul -- rabbinical logic -- to solve the ensuing mysteries, she could be a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who also happens to be a nice, bright American Jewish girl.

Description from School Library Journal
Mystery of the Kaifeng Scroll :
A Vivi Hartman Adventure

By Harriet K. Feder
This sequel to Mystery in Miami Beach finds 15-year-old Vivi jetting off to Istanbul, Turkey, for a summer visit with her mother. Vivi is concerned when Mom fails to meet the plane, sending a young Arab girl named Shari in her stead. Vivi learns that her mother has left Istanbul to authenticate an ancient scroll that may or may not be a Torah taken to China during the 1400s. Later, Vivi overhears a whispered conversation that convinces her that Mom has been kidnapped by Shari's brother, a Palestinian terrorist. Using her considerable linguistic talents as well as her knowledge of the Torah, Vivi unravels the mystery and rescues her mother. Feder portrays Vivi as a strong, savvy, and thoroughly modern young woman who takes her strict Jewish upbringing seriously. Universal themes of trust and independence combine with the specific issue of conflict between Arabs and Israelis to make this a timely and appealing mystery.

Description from Booklist
Death on Sacred Ground :
A Vivi Hartman Mystery

By Harriet K. Feder
In this third title in the Vivi Hartman mystery series, tenth-grader Vivi and her rabbi father travel to the funeral of a young Orthodox Jewish girl. It seems that pretty, rebellious Mindy Solomon was shot to death during a high-school archery club outing, and the police want to know why she died on snake-ridden Seneca Indian sacred ground, well away from the rest of the group. To complicate things, Seneca teen Jimmy Cloud is missing, and his Jewish girlfriend confides to Vivi that she is being stalked. As Vivi snoops around the tense little town, she discovers other suspects, including local teens who resent the Senecas; members of a born-again-Christian group who have been recruiting Jewish teens; and even Mindy's father. Secondary characters are somewhat flat, but Vivi and her father are appealing, and there's plenty of authentic atmosphere. A multicultural mystery for larger collections.

Description from Booklist

Instead of spending winter break in Florida, Vivi Hartman must accompany her rabbi father to Pike's Landing, some sixty miles south of Buffalo. Rabbi Hartman has been asked to preside over a young girl's funeral service in the small town. Making matters worse, Vivi is required to do an ethnography for a social studies project. This means she has to follow a particular person around and study the individual's life. There are several surprises in store for Vivi when she arrives in Pike's Landing. Her assignment for the ethnography is Paula Ash, a girl about her own age. Questions have arisen about the death of the young girl, who it turns out has been violently murdered. Vivi and Paula become involved in an investigation that uncovers secret resentments between Jewish, Christian and Native American residents of Pike's Landing. To get to the bottom of the mystery, Vivi invokes pilpul, a method of logic that Jews practice to understand the Torah. This novel should induce thought-provoking discussion about both Native American and Jewish cultures.

Description from Children's Literature
The Secret of the Mezuzah
(Passport to Danger, No. 1)

By Mary Reeves Bell
Thirteen-year-old Constantine--Con, for short--prefers life on his grandparents' Wyoming ranch to living in stuffy, old Vienna, Austria, with his mother and new stepfather. He complains to the friendly neighborhood baker, Branko, who tells Con that the old city is an exciting hub of espionage, with 1 out of every 10 adults working as an undercover spy. Together with school chum and fellow American, Hannah, Con determines to make life in Vienna more interesting by tracking down a spy. He could never have suspected that the spy he finds would be his mother and that he and Hannah would become involved in the life-threatening pursuit of murderous neo-Nazis. Written to enlighten readers about the Holocaust and how the passive submission and even willing cooperation of European citizens permitted the Nazis to wreak their horror, this suspenseful novel, which has believable and likable protagonists, cloaks its lessons of grim historical realities and contemporary threats of anti-Semitism in a gripping adventure that will rivet readers.

Description from Booklist
The Mozart Season

By Virginia Euwer Wolff
Allegra Leah Shapiro is happily making the transition from seventh-grade softball season to summertime when she can concentrate on her violin lessons. At their first session, her teacher informs her that she has been chosen as a finalist in a competition for young musicians, probably the youngest of those selected. Allegra, a gifted violinist, plays in a youth orchestra in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, but she is also a three-dimensional, real 12-year-old who wrangles good-naturedly with her older brother, chafes at her parents' restrictions on late-night bike riding, is loyal to her friends, and is intensely curious about the world around her. As the summer progresses, several themes weave in and out of Allegra's consciousness and growth as she struggles with the Mozart concerto she will play in the competition. A strange dancing man who appears at outdoor concerts, the mysterious sadness surrounding her mother's friend Deirdre, and a very special gift from her grandmother in New York--all these find their way into Allegra's awareness and eventually into her own interpretation of the concerto. With a clear, fresh voice that never falters, Wolff gives readers a delightful heroine, a fully realized setting, and a slowly building tension that reaches a stunning climax at the competition. Wolff interweaves the themes of adolescence, music, and striving for excellence with great success. A book that will richly reward its readers.

Description from School Library Journal
Unfinished Dreams

By Jane Breskin Zalben
Mr. Carr is a principal any student would love, joking on the intercom, coming to school once a year in his pajamas, and lending support to all. An aspiring violinist, sixth-grader Jason has received great encouragement from Mr. Carr, so when the principal falls ill and students make cracks about his being a "fairy," Jason feels both puzzled and distressed. As Jason's everyday life unfolds (violin lessons, a family celebration, Hebrew school), he gradually learns more about AIDS and about tolerance. Jason is a likable character, but his first-person narrative articulates every little feeling and thought Zalben wants to convey, and Mr. Carr is far too good to be true. The book's strength lies in Zalben's refreshingly ordinary depiction of Jewish family life and in her portrayal of a young musician's love of his craft. Although heavy-handed in places, this clearly reflects the author's desire to promote understanding about an important topic.

Description from Booklist
The Great Shalom

By Peter J. Dyck
Safe and happy in the forest, the animals and birds try to find a way to stop the farmer from cutting down trees and destroying their home.

Description from Publisher

This book along with the sequel, Shalom At Last are two of the most wonderful animal/environment books I have read. As touching as "Charlotte's Web" the reader ends up truly caring about the animals. The authors love for Gods magnificent creation and creatures is evident yet the story does not have any "religious" wording that would make it unreadable in my public school classroom. My second grade students especially loved the picture of Mr. Dyck at the end of the book in front of the recycled materials playhouse he and his grandchildren built.

Description from Amazon.com Customer Review
Shalom at Last

By Peter J. Dyck
In this sequel to The Great Shalom, the forest animals make a real peace with Mr. Farmer, and he turns his forest into an environmental education center.

Description from Publisher
Tell It Like It Is
The title better suits a sociological text than it does this novel, written by a mother and her eighth-grade daughter, about the challenges confronting Sarah Eisenberg as she begins high school. Eager to be accepted, Sarah is flattered when a popular clique favors her with its attention. But she soon learns to choose friends with more care as these new companions reveal their petty and demeaning motives. Fortunately, Sarah has strong moral convictions and sound judgment, for each chapter finds her facing yet another crisis--anti-Semitism, gang intimidation, a friend's attempted suicide, drugs, and sex.

The way Sarah negotiates her way through these dilemmas is a parent's dream-come-true. That's not to say that the 14-year-old doesn't test her parents' authority: Sarah does rebel against some of her family's traditional Jewish observances. But her strong sense of self allows her to hold on to the customs that have meaning for her. Although few readers may navigate the obstacle course of social perils and freshman-year traumas as handily as Sarah, all will eagerly turn the pages to see how she fares. On the way, they will acquire some knowledge of Jewish traditions and may gain courage to stick up for what they believe is right.

Description from Booklist
Earth to Andrew O. Blechman

By Jane Breskin Zalben
Zalben's latest novel concerns an aspiring fourth grade comedian whose hero is Henny Youngman. Andrew learned about Youngman from Mr. Pearlstein, an old vaudevillian who lives in the apartment upstairs. Andrew and Mr. Pearlstein make a deal: Mr. Pearlstein will teach Andrew all of his routines, and in return the boy will prepare Mr. Pearlstein for the Bar Mitzvah that the old man never had. Then Andrew learns that Mr. Pearlstein has asked his grandmother for a date--What if they get married?

Description from Publishers Weekly

This novel takes place in Manhattan and tells the story of a young boy who wants to be a comedian when he grows up. An old man who lives in apartment 5B of his brownstone is a comedian. He's supposedly the warm-up act for Henny Youngman, and he wants to be bar mitzvahed. They strike a deal: Andrew will give Mr. Pearlstein Hebrew lessons in exchange for Lou Pearlstein will give him his act from the old days and love of comedy. There are many subplots, but the love between these two characters becomes strengthened over time. As the author, I got to have lunch with Henny Youngman and he ultimately read the book in part at one of his luncheons at the Friar's Club. The book initially was inspired by my son who told Henny Youngman jokes when he was nine years old at the shiva after my father's funeral, not unlike Andrew Blechman. The book was placed on the Bank Street School's Best Books list the year after it came out as well as numerous lists for good Jewish novels.

Description by Author
A Gift for Mama

By Esther Hautzig
A young Jewish girl is determined to buy her mother a store bought present for Mother's Day.

As soon as Sara sees the beautiful black satin slippers in the shoe store window, she know they're the perfect Mother's Day gift for Mama. Sara has always made gifts for her family on special occasions, but this time she's determined to give a store-bought present--just like grown-ups do. But grown-ups have spending money, and Sara does not. Until she makes a plan...
Shani :
Her Adventures Beyond the Sambatyon

By Shimon Bakon
Ancient legends about the River Sambatyon say that it is impossible for anyone to cross it or to visit the mysterious land beyond it. Nine-year-old Shani has an urgent mission to perform there, so Elijah the Prophet teaches her the secret way to make her journey from America to the Land of Beyond-Sambatyon. Her adventures there blend entertainment and fantasy with traditional Judaic themes and personalities.

Description from Publisher

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