Jewish Historical Fiction
for Older Readers:

Immigration and "The American Experience"

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Biblical Era | Middle Ages, Renaissance, & the Spanish Inquisition | Immigration & The American Experience (Page 1) (Page 2) (Page 3) (Page 4) (Page 5) | European History | Holocaust | Israel
Keystone Kids
Keystone Kids

By John Roberts Tunis
Spike and Bob Russell are baseball-playing brothers, toiling in the minor leagues. While playing for the Nashville Volunteers, they get the call they've been dreaming about -- a promotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Major Leagues. But their excitement proves short-lived as they are embroiled in a contretemps surrounding Brooklyn's new Jewish catcher, Jocko Klein. This excellent story, with a subplot of prejudice, discrimination, and their ultimate resolution, written by perhaps the foremost children's sports author of his generation, is sure to captivate young readers.

Description from Children's Literature

Nothing Here But Stones : A Jewish Pioneer Story

By Nancy Oswald
A Russian Jewish family struggles to make a new start in America

To Emma, Colorado seems as barren as an unfinished house. The land is too poor to farm, so Papa must work long hours in the mines. The trials of frontier life are especially hard for these Russian Jewish immigrants, who speak no English and practice a different religion from the others in the area. With a harsh, hungry winter coming, the settlement needs some good luck. Can Emma make it happen?

Based on the real struggles of an exceptional group of pioneers who came west in 1882, this is a finely crafted portrait of a family striving to make a home out of nothing.

Description from Publisher

In 1882, a small group of Russian Jews left the inhospitable environment of Tsarist Russia to establish a colony in America where they could own land and grow crops. Though 11-year-old Emma and her family have come with high hopes, they face difficulties in establishing the Cotopaxi Jewish Colony in Colorado. Bitter cold and snow, bears and rats, hunger, loneliness, and death must be faced, and though the colony proves unsuccessful, the dream and the bravery shine in this testament to a people finding their way in a new world. Emma's first-person story is nicely realized; sensory language and strong dialogue carry the tale, inspired by Oswald's discovery that the remains of the Cotopaxi Jewish Colony are on land she now owns. A strong addition to the growing body of immigrant stories.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

Getting Even

By Miriam Chaikin
A young Jewish girl growing up in the Brooklyn of the 1940's explores the power of friendship and jealousy.

Molly is hurt and angry when her best friend Tsippi seems to avoid her in favor of playing with Big Naomi. To get back at Tsippi, Molly lets it be known that Tsippi's parents are Communists, a fact that both embarrasses Tsippi and causes schoolmates to call her parents spies.

Description from Publisher

There is lots of warmth here and plenty of color in Chaikin's evocation of an early 1940s Brooklyn neighborhood.

Description from Booklist

The Last Mission

By Harry Mazer
In 1944, as World War II is raging across Europe, fifteen-year-old Jack Raab dreams of being a hero. Leaving New York City, his family, and his boyhood behind, Jack uses a false I.D. and lies his way into the U.S. Air Force.

From their base in England, he and his crew fly twenty-four treacherous bombing missions over occupied Europe. The war is almost over and Hitler near defeat when they fly their last mission -- a mission destined for disaster. Shot down far behind enemy lines, Jack is taken prisoner and sent to a German POW camp, where his experiences are more terrifying than anything he'd ever imagined.

Description from Publisher

In 1944, Jack Raab, a 15-year-old Jewish boy who dreams of being a hero, lies his way into the U.S. Air Force. From their base in England, Jack and his crew fly 24 treacherous bombing missions over occupied Europe. Hitler is near defeat, when Jack is shot down behind enemy lines and taken to a German POW camp.

Journey to America

By Sonia Levitin
It was 1938, and something terrible was happening in Germany. Suddenly, there were more and more restrictions for the Jews: yellow stars they had to wear, schools they could not attend, things they were forbidden to do. The Nazis were in power. And Lisa Platt was scared.

Her father knew they had to escape, and he left for America in the middle of the night. He promised to send for Lisa, her mother, and her two sisters when there was enough money. Until then, they were to live in Switzerland. And so they did, waiting, in hardship none of them could ever have imagined.

Description from Publisher

Silver Days

By Sonia Levitin
This sequel to Levitin's Journey to America, takes up exactly where the earlier book ended--in 1940, with the family reunited in New York City. In a first-person narration, Lisa, the middle daughter, tells the story of their "silver days'' from 1940 to 1943, conveying the strength and spirit that enabled the family to not only survive being uprooted from their comfortable home in Germany, but also to make a new life for themselves. Much of the humor in the book comes from Lisa's father, a hard-working, energetic, and optimistic man. The girls' mother is a strong-willed woman who is almost undone by the death of her mother, who chose to stay in Germany. Lisa is also strongly influenced by her beautiful and intelligent older sister and a lively, sensitive younger sister. A move to California leads to more disruption but ultimately results in more economic security and a chance for Lisa to study dance seriously again. Because of the episodic nature of the story, readers get to know these people well, experiencing their highs and lows, and in the end can only wish them well. Although this book is a sequel, it can be read independently without any difficulty.

Description from School Library Journal

Annie's Promise

By Sonia Levitin
The end of World War II forms the backdrop for this third book about the Platt family. The chronicle began with Journey to America, which told of the family's escape from Nazi Germany. In Silver Days, the middle daughter, Lisa, describes the family's difficulties in assimilating into American life. Here Annie, 13, continues their tale in a realistic, honest coming-of-age story. Readers will be immediately drawn to this likable heroine whose sensitivity and intelligence are keenly felt. Levitin juxtaposes the family's problems with Annie's need to become more independent and "American.'' When a school guidance counselor offers her the chance to go to a Quaker summer camp, she is thrilled, but she worries that her parents will not let her go. To her surprise, they agree. After normal newcomer's jitters and homesickness, she becomes a star camper and befriends a black girl whose background is totally different from her own. Annie's candor throughout is refreshing, and though some things do work out happily for her, there are frustrations, disappointments, and disillusionments as well. A novel that promises and delivers.

Description from School Library Journal

The Platt family, driven from their home in Germany by WWII, struggles to adapt to their new life as Americans. For 12-year-old Annie, there's the additional challenge of establishing her independence from her old-fashioned parents. When Annie is invited to attend a summer camp in the California mountains, it's a chance for her to find her own identity--and to discover some surprising strengths and flaws in herself and in her family.

Description from Publisher

{Annie} is a tough-minded and highly likable heroine; perhaps the most American of the Platt sisters. . . . She must absorb American values and those of the Quaker camp, where she finds new strengths and interests, and reconcile them with her parents' hopes, rules, restrictions and expectations. Sonia Levitin offers involvement with a complicated and beautifully evoked family, and 'Annie's Promise' does not shirk the difficult and sometimes harsh nature of family connections or the ambiguities of history.

Description from New York Times Book Review

Look to the Hills
At 15, Sally Gottesman, a Jewish girl growing up in Colorado in the 1880s, meets Daniel Rabinowitz, a poor Russian immigrant. He has arrived in Denver with his terminally ill mother, who is under the care of Sally's physician father. At the woman's deathbed with her father, Sally hears a surprising exchange between Daniel and his mother, in which he intimates that Sally, whom he scarcely knows, is his shayne maydel (Yiddish for beautiful girl). Although Sally is already involved with a wealthy young man considered a "good catch," she gradually comes to believe that Daniel is a true soul mate and eventually breaks off with the other man, declares her love to Daniel, and promises to wait for him to complete medical school while she finishes her own schooling.

The cultural details of the romance add rich texture. The novel's strength lies in its likable characters, especially Sally--a charming, intelligent girl.

Description from Booklist

The Rose Horse

By Deborah Lee Rose
It's 1909 in New York and Lily's little sister, Rose, is born prematurely. Rose and her mother are sent to Dreamland on Coney Island, to a world-famous clinic that will allow the child to be cared for properly. While they are there, Lily's mother finds that she can nurse more than her own child, and literally saves at least one tiny baby's life. And Lily gets to explore Coney Island and ride on the beautiful palomino her uncle has created. To help keep track of the six weeks until her mother comes home, Lily's aunt uses a Jewish calendar, brought from Russia. Some discussion of Jewish customs and the pogroms that forced the family to leave Kishinev add to the drama. This is a fascinating look at a vanished time and place.

Description from Children's Literature

Less a story than a rich evocation of a time and place, this chapter book is about the Jewish immigrant community on Coney Island, New York, in the early twentieth century. The focus is on Lily, who came to America on a big boat when she was a baby. Now her sister, Rose, has been born prematurely and is being cared for in a special incubator clinic on public display. Lily rides the local wooden carousels, which are carved by Jewish craftsmen. Yiddish words are an integral part of the story (explained in a glossary at the back), and so are Jewish religious holidays and customs (the story takes place in the seven weeks between Pesach and Shevuos).

Description from Booklist

Kids ages 8-12 will appreciate this story of Lily's early Coney Island experiences, as she helps her father and cousin in their carousel shop and rides the Rose Horse. Black and white line drawings by Greg Shed illustrate the gentle story of a premature sibling's struggle to survive.
Description from Midwest Book Review

A Russian Jewish Family

By Jane Mersky Leder
A Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies.

In A Russian Jewish Family, you will meet the Shurov's, a family that succeeded in leaving their home in St. Petersberg, to search for a better life.

Description from Publisher

The goal of this series is to "give readers a better understanding of the daily struggles and joys of a refugee family." These books do that and more. Once the families are introduced, a useful historical section precedes the specific situation that made these people leave their homelands.

The Shurov family, who came to this country in 1990, was living well at home, and the younger son could not understand why they were leaving. He did not know that his father had been denied permission to leave the USSR years earlier. Nor had the children been taught anything about Jewish traditions because the parents feared discrimination.

Description from School Library Journal In this unique and striking new series called Journey between Two Worlds, authors look at the lives of refugee families in order for us to gain a better understanding of their daily struggles and joys. Boris and his family left Russia to practice their Jewish religion freely and to escape an Anti Semetic government. In Chicago, he has learned to love Michael Jordan and McDonalds. The series' power can be attributed to the meshing of the factual history of the country with the sensitive story of a family.

Description from Children's Literature

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

Star of Luis

By Marc Talbert
Luis's life changes dramatically when his father joins the army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the boy and his mother move from L.A. to New Mexico to be with her dying father. In the early pages, the author notes the casual racism of the times, especially toward Asians. As this motif develops, it becomes central to the tale-Luis, a practicing Catholic, is surprised to learn that his mother's family are Jewish descendants of those who outwardly converted to Catholicism in Spain during the 1400s but retained some of their ancestral beliefs and customs. He comes to love the slower, more interrelated ways of Las Manos, especially as-for the first time in his life-he is surrounded by his extended family. After his grandfather dies, his mother decides to return to L.A., and Luis takes back with him his newfound confidence and expanded sense of self; renews his friendships with Stan, a Jewish boy, and Eduardo, who is almost belligerently Hispanic; and decides to explore his heritage. If `40s L.A. does not seem greatly removed from today, Las Manos certainly does-even Luis is surprised by the musty smell of an old adobe house and a stroll to the outhouse in the evening. The occasional, mild profanities are appropriate indicators of the boys' personalities, and Luis is a complex and well-rounded character. Because of the author's dexterous touch, this novel is both leisurely and fast paced.

Description from School Library Journal

Escaping to America :
A True Story
In an ancient forest near their home, Ida and Sammy picked wild berries for breakfast and wild mushrooms for soup. But a terrible war was being waged throughout their land. Ida and Sammy and baby Ruthie were in great danger. In 1921, the children's mother and father decided they all must flee. Despite the risks of travel, they knew that their best hope for a new life lay far away in America.

This intensely personal yet universal story tells vividly of the losses suffered and hopes that triumphed. With great variety, the pictures reflect a full range of changing emotions. Accurate in every detail, they portray the times in a way that gives readers the unforgettable sense of being present during the struggle, and witnessing one family's enduring spirit.

Description from Publisher

In this outstanding addition to the growing body of immigrant stories, the author tells why and how her Jewish grandparents and their children left Poland in 1921 for a new life in America. The lively, compelling text and the inviting, colorful illustrations (with especially vibrant blues) perfectly capture the beauty of the once-peaceful town; the dangers as war enveloped the land; the excitement of the trip to America; and, finally, the pure joy upon arriving and meeting family already here. In varied, striking layouts, the illustrations burst forth onto white borders, inviting readers to search out details. Schanzer has provided an absorbing, personal account of the journey of her own family, but the experiences-the fears, sufferings, losses, and hopes for a better life-mirror what many of today's immigrants have endured, making this book timeless.

Description from School Library Journal

Two Suns in the Sky

By Miriam Bat-Ami
Star-crossed lovers are the stuff of romantic dreams, but in Two Suns in the Sky Miriam Bat-Ami pursues this theme in an unlikely setting: the grim refugee camp at Oswego, New York, during World War II. Chris Cook, 15, is fed up with the boring town of Oswego but is fascinated by the exotic strangers living so close by. She and her friends sneak into the camp where she meets Adam Bornstein, a Yugoslavian Jew. "For stony limits cannot hold love out," says Shakespeare, and neither can the quarantine fences around the Emergency Refugee Shelter. The two fall passionately in love, in spite of their differences of language and religion--and the angry resistance of Chris's father to anything "foreign." Their voices, as distinctly different as their cultures, alternate in telling the story of their ill-fated attraction.

Miriam Bat-Ami, like Norma Fox Mazer in Good Night, Maman, has drawn on a forgotten piece of American history for her setting: the Emergency Refugee Shelter, the U.S. government's sole attempt to rescue Jews fleeing Hitler's persecution. Bat-Ami captures the collision of cultures in not only the poignant love story, but in the complex emotions of the townspeople, whose good will is tempered by a naive suspicion of strangers, and in the mixed feelings of the refugees themselves, whose gratitude for a place of warmth and shelter is dimmed by their frustration at finding themselves corralled behind barbed wire in the supposed land of the free. Quotations from former residents of the camp and a substantial Author's Note add to the strong authenticity of this intriguing novel.

Description from

During World War II, a group of European refugees are sent to Oswego, NY. The story is told through the eyes of Adam Bornstein, a 15-year-old Jewish boy from Croatia; and Chris Cook, a 15-year-old Catholic Irish-American girl. Adam is, of course, confused by the new country, but he's also achieved a certain wariness and street smarts through his experiences. Chris, on the other hand, is a naive and bored teenager for whom the war is mostly a distant abstraction. The young people come alive through the author's effective, alternating first-person narrations through which readers gain a sense not only of the characters' feelings, but the feelings of the two different communities as well. Eventually, Chris and Adam are attracted to one another, which leads to hands groping under sweaters and two socks removed. Chris's father reacts negatively to this relationship and kicks his daughter out of the house. This leads the teens to take a day trip to New York City (upon her return, Chris is forgiven). However, the love story is really secondary to the story of two communities adjusting to one another: the refugees living in barracks must learn about Americans; the residents of Oswego must learn to live with the refugees in their midst. These trials and adjustments are particularly well conveyed. This is a fine novel based, in part, on real-life incidents now more than 50 years passed, but still relevant today

Description from School Library Journal

In the fall of 1944, approximately one thousand refugees from liberated Italy were brought to a refugee shelter set up by the U.S. government at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York; Miriam Bat-Ami has used this little known camp as the basis for a thought-provoking novel. She tells her story in two voices: that of Adam Bornstein, a fifteen-year-old refugee from Zagreb, Yugoslavia; and Christine Cook, a fifteen-year-old resident of Oswego. The two story lines begin to intertwine, and we are witness to Chris's inner awakenings as she grapples with the problems her growing attachment to Adam brings, especially as they come into contact with her Catholic upbringing and her father's strong prejudice against the refugees. Adam's story — his family's escape, his journey to America with his mother and younger sister, his life in the camp, and his feelings for Chris- has the stronger momentum. His relationship with his younger sister Mira is particularly poignant as he keeps alive her special memories of their father. The relationship between the two young people moves events towards a mutual understanding of who they are, what they mean to each other, and what they want in a postwar world. Bat-Ami's story is most timely, reflecting not only what is happening now in many places in the world, but also America's attitude towards immigrants and refugees. Adam brings home the crux of America's issue with refugees when he says, "To many of you we are not people...we are a problem you have not solved." Never didactic, Bat-Ami uses her story to probe this issue with sensitivity and depth.

Description from Horn Book

Yankee Doodle Boychik

By Jack "I" Stillerman
Jack known on the street as Jake and Boychik to his ma, was born on the Fourth of July on Chicago’s Southside, smelling distance from the stockyards.

Yankee Doodle Boychik starts in 1919. Jack is four and living packed “like herring in a barrel” behind Pa’s shoe store. The struggles and triumphs, poignant and funny, to become a real American boy are portrayed through his eyes. The story takes the reader through forty chapter stories to his bar mitzvah when he invites the neighbors to their first Jewish party.

It was the magic time of radio and Babe Ruth, of Paul Whiteman’s band serial movies on Saturday morning. Jake confronts his immigrant Ma’s old country values, convincing her that there is time in his day for sports as well as study and its all right for a Jewish boy to play the sax in a jazz band, rather than a fiddle in a concert hall.

This is not the usual coming of age story. In Yankee Doodle Boychik, a Jewish boy grows up in a functional family. Discipline is tempered by Ma’s love and conflicts resolved without sacrificing religious principle.

By the last chapter, the reader will have laughed and cried with Jake as he pursues the wins and losses of his dreams.

Description from Publisher

Amy Moves In

By Marilyn Sachs
It's hard being the new kid on the block!

The first in a series of highly praised books about a poor, Jewish family living in the Bronx in the 1940s. Amy moves into a new neighborhood, and learns to choose the right kind of friends, and the consequences of lying.

Description from Publisher

Marilyn Sachs was pretty daring to write about life as it really was (and still is) in lower-middle-class New York. The heroine, Amy, is a realistically unpleasant little girl whose behavior is not justified or explained even by her dad's irresponsibility which impoverishes the family.. it's just laid out for you to see. Amy ingratiates herself with people she admires even after she sees they're racist bullies. She has to find her own answers; there weren't any kindly "counselors" back then. As for the idea that the boys seem "superior" to girls, face it; physically, at that age, they are. What Amy goes through with the boys in the park is an everyday reality that can't be changed by all the politically correct girls-can-do-anything wishful thinking in the world. There's more to identify with in the Amy stories than with all the unrelentingly cheerful Sweet Valley books in the world. Besides, I just love Rosa and I'd like to have a ball like that, too.

Description from Customer Review

Laura's Luck

By Marilyn Sachs
Laura knows she won't be happy at camp...but could she be wrong?

In the second of three books about a poor family living in the Bronx in the 1940s, Laura, the older sister, has to cope with the pleasures and pains of going off to camp.

Description from Publisher

Amy and Laura

By Marilyn Sachs
Sisters stick together--don't they?

In the final book in a series about a poor family living in the Bronx in the 1940s, two sisters come to grips with their own envy, resentment and love for each other.

Description from Publisher

Great for both the big and little sister, Amy and Laura concludes the three part "Amy and Laura" trilogy that has been out of print for years. Now back in print, it's a chance for all sisters to read this book and really understand the meaning of sisterly love.

Amy is ten and a half, her sister Laura twelve. They don't look alike and don't act alike either: Laura's a bookworm, Amy is loud and boisterous. She makes friends with the wrong crowd, Laura's friends are mainly her books and her refuge isn't the schoolyard, it's the library.

But they share something in common. Mama's coming home from the hospital after a long stay, and both girls are excited to see her again. But when Mama comes home, she's changed -- and Laura and Amy aren't used to the changes. But through it all, they learn just what it's like to have a sister that looks up to you or you look up to her, and how they are friends underneath all that.

Description from Customer Review

Biblical Era | Middle Ages, Renaissance, & the Spanish Inquisition | Immigration & The American Experience (Page 1) (Page 2) (Page 3) (Page 4) (Page 5) | European History | Holocaust | Israel

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