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

Fire at the Triangle Factory
Minnie and Tessa have worked together in the shirtwaist factory since they were only 10 years old and needed to hide from the inspector. Now, at 14, they are old enough to work, and both operate sewing machines to help their families scrape together a living. In 1911 New York City, Jewish Minnie and Catholic Tessa can only be friends at the factory, but this friendship pays off when the famous and tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire takes the lives of many of their coworkers and threatens theirs. The story builds in suspense as the girls help each other in their struggle to escape from the burning factory. The numerous, large color drawings by Mary O'Keefe Young are a wonderful asset to the story, which young readers will find exciting as well as touching.

Description from Booklist

Angel Square

By Brian Doyle
It's 1945 and Tommy lives in the tough multi-ethnic neighborhood of Lowertown, Ottawa, where someone who hates Jewish people has attacked his best friend's father. Adopting the persona of his favorite radio hero, Tommy, aka. "The Shadow," teams up with friends "Killer" Bodnoff and CoCo Laframboise to find out who did it, but soon realizes that the quest will lead them straight to Angel Square - a fearsome battleground where Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish kids fight each other daily. Still, if Tommy can find the culprit, he's convinced Mr. Rosenberg will recover and his pal Sammy will return from the faraway town where his dad is hospitalized. And could it be that, in the process, Tommy will also manage to impress the girl of his dreams, Margot Lane? In the course of his search, Tommy learns about the forces that divide communities, as well as those that unite them.

Description from Publisher

One-Way to Ansonia

By Judie Angell
The story of a young girl, Rose Olshansky, from her days in New York when she was just a girl, until she decided she was going to Ansonia, Connecticut to begin her new life. Filled with vivid portrayals and moving moments, this journey with Rose is a non-stop adventure!

Description from Publisher

The story of Rose, one of a large Russian Jewish immigrant family, begins as she buys a ticket to Ansonia at Grand Central Station in 1899. Sixteen, she is taking her baby away from the squalor of tenement life. . . . {The story} then goes back to the arrival, six years earlier, of Rose and her siblings in New York; they were to be a surprise for their father's new wife, but they were all hastily put in separate but equally crowded homes and put to work. Rose was the rebel . . . secretly going to night school--secretly because Papa wouldn't approve.

Description from Bull Cent Child Books

L'Chaim :
The Story of a Russian Emigre Boy

By Tricia Brown
Zev Tsukerman is a 12-year-old boy who was born Jewish in the former Soviet Union, where he and his family were unable to practice their religion freely. Now living in San Francisco, Zev studies Hebrew and learns the prayers and practices of his faith. Award-winning author Tricia Brown details a culture and a way of life.

Description from Publisher

Together, Brown and Kobre present a charming composite of 12-year-old Zev Tsukerman, Russian emigre, Orthodox Jew, contemporary San Francisco youngster. Colorful photographs show Zev at home, in his Jewish day school, celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and playing with his friends. The layout is attractive, with ample white space and clear type. Some of the photos, however, look too posed, and a few seem rather yellowish in tone and slightly blurred, as if taken from a family album. Yet the pictures certainly capture Zev as an appealing, likable child and make him, despite the unfamiliar aspects of his orthodoxy, seem remarkably like the happy "kid next door." The unpretentious text, written as though Zev were speaking, explains how Judaism, denied to Zev in his native country, now encircles and enriches his life.

Description from Booklist

Pageant

By Kathryn Lasky
Sarah Benjamin, a Jewish teenager on the brink of Kennedy's New Frontier, wonders if she can endure four more years of Stuart Hall, Indianapolis's most exclusive, very Christian, and impossibly stuffy school for girls.

Description from Publisher

This novel, set in Indianapolis, traces the life of Sarah Benjamin, a Jewish teenager attending a conservative Christian private high school, from 1960 to 1963. "Structured in four parts, each introduced by Sarah's participation in the school's annual Christmas pageant (always as a shepherd), the storytakes Sarah from her initial excitement at the prospect of Kennedy's electionand its promise of new possibilities to the . . . events in her life during the weekend of his assassination.

Description from School Library Journal

In this complex portrayal of an upper-middle class Indianapolis family, Lasky has returned to the sure voice she found in The Night Journey.. . . Only the ending, despite its evocation of the immediacy with which mostAmericans felt Kennedy's assassination, betrays some impatience on the author's part, as she compresses her heroine's resolution and telescopes her future. The balance of the book is toward wit, vivid development, and characterization equally piercing of adolescents and adults.

Description from Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

For anyone who lived through the Kennedy years, the dreams and glory of that time are tough to communicate, especially to younger people. Kathryn Lasky, in her lovely new novel, Pageant, has finally done it. . . . {Sarah's} story is a gift to parents longing to pass the legacy of those extraordinary times on to their children.

Description from The New York Times Book Review

Sarah, Also Known As Hannah
As if life weren't difficult enough for a Jewish family in the Ukraine at the turn of the century, 12-year-old Sarah's father dies, leaving his widow alone to raise four children. Knowing no other way to cope, Sarah's mother plans to send her two daughters to her brother in America, but he can pay passage only for one girl and requests 16-year-old Hannah. At almost the last minute, however, Mama decides she needs Hannah's help and income; therefore, Sarah is to go in Hannah's place. Heartsick at leaving her family, troubled to think she's a burden to her mother, and terrified by the trip she faces alone, the 12-year-old recounts her experiences on the long journey and, finally, the tentative reunion with her uncle and aunt on Ellis Island. Retelling her own mother's story, Ross has written a moving testament to the courage, resilience, and hopefulness born of desperation that motivated young immigrants such as Sarah and her mother. Cogancherry's black-and-white drawings effectively reinforce the adventure's realities.

Description from Booklist

Lone Star

By Barbara Barrie
It's fall 1944, and 10-year-old Jane Miller has moved from Chicago to Corpus Christi, Tex. A Jew and a "Yank," Jane is further alienated from her classmates by her family's sudden poverty--the result of her indulgent father's having embezzled funds from the insurance company he works for. As Mr. Miller tries to repair the damage he's done to his family, Jane longs desperately to fit into her strange new environment. Her beloved Orthodox grandfather visits, but fails to console her: "Friends are not as important as living a life of dedication," he declares. When Jane's new friend Sally invites her to help trim a Christmas tree, Jane is enchanted and wants a tree of her own. In her first novel, actress Barrie sets Jane's wrestling with her own identity against a sensitively and economically drawn backdrop of family conflict, all overshadowed by the gradual revelations of the atrocities Hitler has wreaked on European Jewry. Although the dialogue is occasionally stiff and a few characters are not fully evoked, Barrie's protagonists are original, and her story both memorable and moving.

Description from Publishers Weekly

Forced to move from Chicago to Corpus Christi, Texas because of her father's business, ten-year-old Jane Miller explores her Jewish heritage as she struggles to fit in with her primarily Christian classmates. Set in the 1940s, Jane's family's problems are magnified by worry about what is happening in Europe. Her brother, Jeff, has just reached draft age, and many relatives in Poland have disappeared. Jane's grandfather, an Orthodox Jew, believes obeying all Jewish laws is more important now than ever, while her father understands Jane's desire to have a Christmas tree and attend holiday parties with her new friends. On her own she tries to understand religious differences as well as the tensions between her parents. Each family member feels guilt and anger about their current situation; their conflicts and love are realistically described. Non-Jewish readers will gain a greater understanding of Jewish beliefs and holiday rituals. The evocative story has a strong sense of time and place and is also successful in capturing the point of view of a child.

Description from School Library Journal

This is a close and honest look at a child's struggle with being different. A stranger to two worlds, Jane is also threatened by her brother's leavingto become a soldier, by her parents' constant fighting, and by her grandfather's exclusive definitions of Jewish tradition. . . . This is a tightly focusedbook, its pace heightened by dramatic scenes (especially Jane's trips downtown with her grandfather to sell his tacky line of dry goods), closely observed character dynamics, an ending that leaves important questions open for readersto think about, and enough emotional momentum to insure that they will.

Description from Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

The Swastika on the Synagogue Door

By J. Leonard Romm
When a Long Island synagogue is defaced with a swastika and an anti-semitic slogan, a teenage brother and sister try to solve the mystery with the help of their rabbi and a Holocaust survivor.

Description from Publisher

The Secret Code and Other Stories

By Gershon Kranzler
From a hijacking in London to a rescue at Brighton Beach, these exciting stories depict modern Jewish boys faced with challenges and tests of character, in the midst of fast-paced adventure.

Description from Publisher

Table of Contents:

  • A Bar Mitzvah Boy's Revenge
  • Chanukah in Stalag 32
  • The Friendly Pawnshop
  • The Secret Code
  • Divine Gift
  • Higher Duty
  • The Contest
  • The Daily Psalm
  • The Siddur
  • A Real Champ
  • The Hitchhike
  • For the Sake of the Sabbath
  • Rescue from the Ocean
  • The New Teacher
  • In Business for Himself
  • The Value of a Cheescake
  • Meeting at Kfar Eliyahu
  • Hijack
  • A Treasure is Recovered

Night Flight

By Gerald Hausman
Jeff's cool friend Max is anti-Semitic: What would he do if he knew Jeff was half-Jewish? In this first-person narrative, based on a real event in the author's childhood, 12-year-old Jeff Hausman confronts his identity. Max blames the Jews for poisoning the dogs in his lakeside community, and reluctantly, Jeff is drawn into Max's plans for revenge. To his shame, Jeff is haunted by a secret, a nightmare he can't forget, involving a time when Max shot a burlap bag full of live kittens, and Jeff stood by passively. The plot creaks with contrived parallels and heavy metaphors, including a patched-on episode about burned books and a Gypsy librarian-poet who spells out wise messages. The history will confuse kids: the story is set in the 1950s; Jeff's father left Hungary long before World War II; Max's father, however, was a Nazi. Still, Hausman writes with poetry and immediacy about coming to America ("We left farms and family and turned our faces to the faceless sea" ) and about the moral conflict of a boy who finally finds the courage to identify with his Jewish father and know himself.

Description from Booklist

The Streets Are Paved With Gold

By Fran Weissenberg
Awards:
Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award

Deborah Gold chronicles her eighth-grade year in this poignant coming-of-age novel. Debbie's Jewish immigrant family lives simply and traditionally, but though the girl cherishes her heritage, she desperately wishes to be like the modern American children in her school. Debbie struggles to achieve a delicate balance as she confronts first love, new friendships and familial responsibility. She begins to understand the vital connections between her home life and the everchanging world outside. Authentic dialogue and precise details bring 1920s Brooklyn vividly to life, while Debbie's first person narration lends immediacy and emotion to her experiences. The integrity and generosity of the Gold family will impress readers young and old. Weissenberg provides a glossary of Yiddish terms so that no reader will feel excluded.

Description from Publishers Weekly

Allegra Maud Goldman

By Edith Konecky
This comic novel, first published in 1976, about a feisty Jewish girl child growing up in a wealthy bourgeois Brooklyn family in the 1920s is evoked by a conciousness witty, authentic, and memorable. Alone, Allegra must learn about what it means to be female, about sex, and about death. She must reconcile the bigotries and limitations of her difficult family, and give and receive love however she can. There are memorable scenes in school and summer camp, with friends, and with older girls and women. Throughout, the voice of Allegra remains compellingly defiant and lovable--and, as Tillie Olsen says, "braided with laughter."

Description from Publisher

"Allegra Maud Goldman. There's a whole plot in that name...I knew from the beginning that I would never fit that name." For Allegra, growing up is challenging on every front. Her father is rarely happy, her mother is rarely home, and her older brother just wants to practice the piano. Grandma stays in the background, except at Passover - then she is in the kitchen. Allegra questions everything, coming up with her own answers to what she sees through her young eyes, and her observations are fun and refreshing. She is the kind of child who drives her parents and teachers crazy: she's not bad, she's not mean, people call her precocious. But as Allegra observes: "...they never said it as though it were anything good to be." When she is forced to take home economics, she remembers her teacher as "a large, jolly-looking woman with a heart of stone." Her friend Melanie wonders about the home economics course: "if they're preparing us to be housewives and mothers, why don't they teach us something really useful like sexual intercourse?" To which Allegra remarks: "That's the kind of girl she was. Brainy." By the end of the novel, through Allegra's laughter and tears, we feel excitement for her future and realize she does indeed fit her name.

Description from 500 Great Books by Women

Jewish Cowboy
Dreaming of a better life, Isaac leaves behind the slums and sweatshops of New York’s Lower East Side to become a cowboy on a horse ranch in North Dakota. The novel reflects the experiences of the author, who, like his fictional hero Isaac, actually became a cowboy in North Dakota, and later was a tobacco farmer in Connecticut. The events portrayed take place in the early 1900s.

Description from Publisher

Memories of Clason Point

By Kelly Sonnenfeld
An engaging memoir of growing up as a bootlegger's daughter in the Bronx. Here is an unusually evocative picture of family life during the Depression that transports the reader back through time with sensual imagery, dialogue, and minutely descriptive detail. Kelly Sonnenfeld's extraordinary recall has allowed her to re-create the lively scenes, pastimes, and characters of her own childhood, all centered on one block in the famous multi-ethnic Bronx neighborhood of Clason Point. From the Hooverville camps of squatters, homeless, and unemployed to an endless succession of boarders and stray dogs, a caravan of unforgettable faces and personalities travels through young Kelly's life. But most memorable of all are the looming figures of her own people: her regally proud maternal grandmother, who will buy her grandchildren fancy, starched dresses before putting food on their table; her anxious but granite-willed mother; her endearingly optimistic father, whose adventures in bootlegging bring the family close to peril on several occasions and eventually propel him from the pocket of an influential judge to prison on Rikers Island. For fans of Depression Era and gangster lore, for readers of any age who love losing themselves in another time and place, this memoir is a remarkable journey to one of the most colorful destinations in American history.

Description from Publisher

Old Ways, New Ways

By Tana Reiff
A Russian-Jewish family in New York is thrown into emotional turmoil when the son rejects his father's traditional lifestyle.

Description from Publisher

Ike and Mama and the Once-A-Year Suit

By Carol Snyder
It's the early 1900s, that time of the year again, time for the boys to get new suits, some for Passover, some for Easter. Ike's mother is the expert on how to get the most for their once-a-year suit. Mama, the acknowledged "best bargainer" in the Bronx, takes her ecumenical group of fourteen neighborhood boys on a shopping adventure.

Description from Publisher

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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