Jewish Historical Fiction
for Middle School and Young Adult Readers:

Biblical Times


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Tenth of Av
(Do-It-Yourself Jewish Adventure Series)

By Kenneth Roseman
In the Hebrew calendar, Av 10 marks the date when, in the year 70 CE, the Second Temple was destroyed by the conquering Romans. The holiday of Tisha B'av is observed by Jews as a day of mourning in commemoration of the destruction. This book details the events in and around Jerusalem from 70 to 200, as individual Jews made choices of what to do. Roseman uses the participation format, asking readers to make decisions: e.g., in escaping from Jerusalem and the Romans do you join a peaceful group of religious students living at Qumran, or do you go to Masada, still hopeful of defeating the Romans? Readers who follow all of the choices will learn much about conditions during that period. This is history only slightly fictionalized; there is no characterizationjust "you are there" factual descriptions. This is a good hi-lo examination of that period.

Description from School Library Journal

Alexandra's Scroll:
The Story of the First Hanukkah

By Miriam Chaikin
A young girl's account of life in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E.

When the hated Syrian-Greek king fills ancient Jerusalem with statues of Greek gods and destroys the Jewish temple, feisty Alexandra takes up reed pen, ink, and sheet of papyrus and turns "scribe."

In her scroll Alexandra records the everyday happenings of her life, as well as the events of the Jewish rebellion led by the Maccabees. When her father joins the resistance against the Greek authorities, Alexandra must leave her friends and the city she loves. The victory of the Maccabees three years later returns the family to Jerusalem — to old friends, new ones and, for Alexandra, a new life.

Place and time are recreated in this story of a girl caught up in the events that led to the rebuilding of the temple, the miracle of oil that burns eight days, and the celebration of the first Hanukkah.

Description from Publisher

Masada : The Last Fortress
Miklowitz personalizes history in this account of the fall of Masada as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish man helping to hold the fort, and of the Roman commander who is trying to foil the Jews' last stand. Seventeen-year-old Simon ben Eleazar, son of Masada's commander, is an excellent narrator who explains how the Jews have come to be at the mountain fortress, what they are fighting for, and how, in the end, they choose to commit suicide rather than give the Romans the satisfaction of taking them as prisoners. As for Flavius Silva, the Roman commander, Miklowitz succeeds in making him multilayered: true to his job, furious at the Jewish holdouts, yet admiring of their strength, and disgusted by one of his military leaders who fights without honor. The historical facts, a blend of the everyday and the dramatic, show how people can find hope, beauty, and even love in the midst of the most dire of circumstances--and how history is made up of real people, not so different from those reading about it. A powerful offering.

Description from Booklist

Pharaoh's Daughter :
A Novel of Ancient Egypt
In his introduction to this engrossing novel of ancient Egypt, Julius Lester says, "It is difficult not to see Charlton Heston when one thinks of Moses." But not in this book. Lester's Moses is a bungling teenager, scared and confused as he tries to find the courage to decide who he is and what he believes in. Raised as the pampered grandson of Pharaoh, he enjoys the attentions of three mother figures: Yocheved, his birth mother, who constantly implores him to return to his own people; Almah, his older sister, who has left her traditions to dance naked as a priestess of the goddess Hathor; and Batya, Pharoah's daughter, who saved him from death when he was a baby. But now his anger at his unresolved split identity has goaded him into a terrible act of violence--an act that will have a vast impact on history.

Lester uses midrash, the Jewish tradition of exploring a text through one's imagination, in portraying the life of Mosis (Moses). The first half of the novel is told by Almah, the biological sister of Mosis who becomes the adopted daughter of the Pharaoh Ramesses. Almah recounts the events surrounding the placement of Mosis in the bulrushes and adoption by Princess Meryetamun, daughter of Ramesses. Almah becomes a privileged member of the court and ultimately forsakes her family's Hebraic beliefs to become an Egyptian priestess. Fifteen-year-old Mosis, who has spent nearly his entire life as a cherished member of the Pharaoh's family, then narrates the second half of the novel. Upheaval in the court results in Mosis' decision to defend "his people," who have been slave laborers for Ramesses. Forced to kill a highranking court advisor to protect Almah, Mosis escapes to the desert. Almah's voice returns in an epilogue that explains the court intrigue and current exile of Mosis. Lester has created a multilayered story with many wonderful characters. The parent-child difficulties seen in the relationships of Almah and her mother, Ima, and of Meryetamun and Pharaoh Ramesses add to the story's depth. Coming-of-age elements mix with mystery and history to create a compelling tale.

Lester's attention to detail brings Egypt during the reign of Ramesses vividly to life with images of cobras, crocodiles, gods and goddesses, and slave labor. Readers might be challenged by the multiple roles of Almah, Meryetamun, and Ima, as well as by some of the Hebraic spellings. Lester's introduction states that the writing of Pharaoh's Daughter involved him "intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually" and that hebecame enthralled with ancient Egypt. Readers will become equally involved in and enthralled by this highly recommended title.
Keeping Faith in the Dust
Keeping Faith in the Dust
This is a unique recounting of a familiar story-the siege of Masada in the first century C.E.-from the diary of a teenage girl. Hannah begins her journal as a young girl of thirteen, wide-eyed at family trips to the bustling market in Jerusalem and eagerly anticipating her imminent womanhood. Yet she confides her skepticism of Judaism, a religion that requires total devotion and much personal sacrifice.

Yet as Hannah's family is forced to move first to Jerusalem, and then to Masada, her religious awakening provides her with the strength and inspiration to endure persecution, terror and shattering personal loss. By the end of her diary, Hannah embraces Judaism as fully as she embraces life-and ultimately death-among a band of courageous martyrs fighting for the survival of Israel.

Description by publisher

Miriam

By Beatrice Gormley
Miriam, the sister of Moses, comes center stage in this novel about the life of the Hebrews in the land of the pharaohs. Although the events of the familiar biblical story of Moses in the bulrushes is here, this is really a coming-of-age novel. Miriam arranges for her baby brother, Moses, to be found by the pharaoh's daughter after a decree that Hebrew male babies will be killed. She then makes sure that her mother will be Moses' wet nurse, and that she, too, will live in the palace. But as Miriam becomes more enamored of palace life, she begins to lose both her gift of second sight and her allegiance to her people. Given the opportunity to live at the palace indefinitely after her mother must leave, Miriam has to decide which life is more important. The book's structure is initially jarring; some chapters are told in the first person from Miriam's viewpoint, others in the third person from the perspective of the princess' lady-in-waiting. But once readers adapt, they will enjoy the biblical setting and appreciate Miriam as a strong heroine. Miriam's ability to see into the future gives the story an extra dimension that also will appeal.

Description from Booklist

Miriam, the sister of Moses, comes center stage in this novel about the life of the Hebrews in the land of the pharaohs. Although the events of the familiar biblical story of Moses in the bulrushes is here, this is really a coming-of-age novel. Miriam arranges for her baby brother, Moses, to be found by the pharaoh's daughter after a decree that Hebrew male babies will be killed. She then makes sure that her mother will be Moses' wet nurse, and that she, too, will live in the palace. But as Miriam becomes more enamored of palace life, she begins to lose both her gift of second sight and her allegiance to her people. Given the opportunity to live at the palace indefinitely after her mother must leave, Miriam has to decide which life is more important. The book's structure is initially jarring; some chapters are told in the first person from Miriam's viewpoint, others in the third person from the perspective of the princess' lady-in-waiting. But once readers adapt, they will enjoy the biblical setting and appreciate Miriam as a strong heroine. Miriam's ability to see into the future gives the story an extra dimension that also will appeal.

Description from School Library Journal

Jason's Miracle:
A Hanukkah Story

By Beryl Lieff Benderly
At 12, studying for his Bar Mitzvah, Jason Cohen doesn't consider himself a kid anymore. So why does he feel so mixed up about Hanukkah and not celebrating Christmas? What relevance can it possibly have to a modern kid's life? Late that night, he finds a young intruder, Aaron ben Moshe, who has been sent from Judea to find a member of the Cohen tribe. Judah, the Judean leader, needs help, and only a Cohen will do. Jason gets caught up in Aaron's excitement, and quickly packs some peanut butter, bananas, bread, a flashlight, and his new binoculars. He follows Aaron and is soon transported back to Judea. There are sentries—is Jason a spy? They aren't sure—after all, the name Jason is Greek. That's just his cover name, he tells them; he has a good Hebrew name, Joseph ben David HaKohen. Is using a different name a part of what his dad meant about people accommodating a conqueror's demands? Benderly's descriptions of Judah Maccabee as a dynamic leader are very strong. An awful lot of history has to be explained very fast, and she manages that quite well, too. Jason's modern "smarts," and the things he takes for granted (like multiplication and that flashlight), make the story move quickly.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

The Deeper Song
Judith, the daughter of a high priest working on King Solomon's temple, feels there is no place for her in G-d's patriarchal form of Judaism. So at great personal risk, she joins the goddess cult of Asherah. After a massacre at the sacred grove, Judith is discovered, and the servant girl who brought her to the initiation is murdered by order of Judith's father. At the initiation ceremony Judith meets Samuel, a cousin who understands how she feels about being a smart, educated young woman in a society that doesn't know what to do with such a creature. But Samuel has a plan for Judith. Since her greatest talent is storytelling, he wants her to write down the oral tradition of the Jewish people, creating a book that will become Judaism's cornerstone. At first, Judith does not want to do anything to help her father's religion. She comes to see, however, that she has the ability to do what no other scribe can--incorporate the lives and the power of Jewish women into the stories.

It is likely that few teens have any knowledge of the biblical war between Judaism and the goddess-cult religions, circa 550 B.C.E., but even without that underpinning, readers will quickly come to understand what is at stake for Judith. She's a strong character, but like Samuel (a caring supportive '90s kind of guy), she has a modernity to her characterization that often fits uncomfortably into the setting. The theory that a woman may have written parts of the Old Testament came to public attention in Harold Bloom's The Book of J (1990), which Pfitsch only credits briefly. After Judith takes on her own role as writer, the book comes to a too-quick conclusion; however, the irony of a woman writing down the sacred stories is well developed and one of the book's strongest points.

From Booklist

The Money in the Honey: A Midrash About Young David, Future King of Israel

By Aidel Backman
When a wealthy widow, Rochel, living in King Saul’s Israel, prepares for a long, distant journey, she faces one dilemma: where to safely hide her fortune of gold coins while she’s away. Rochel’s clever solution? To hide away her money in large jars of golden honey! But her plan backfires when she later finds all her coins stolen. What’s worse, is that the thief turns out to be a trusted friend!

Who will save Rochel from ruin? Where can she turn for help?

In The Money in the Honey, a classic Midrashic tale adapted for young children, the story of Rochel and her adventures with legendary biblical figures while trying to recover her fortune comes alive.

In her travels to and from ancient Jerusalem, Rochel encounters a young shepherd in a field—a mere boy—who ultimately is the only one who can solve the mystery of how to prove that Rochel did indeed fill honey jars with her life’s fortune.

Rochel’s hero, it turns out, is none other than a wise and courageous young David, future King of the Israelites! In this appealing story, young readers are introduced to him as an unknown lad, during the time of his first meeting with king Saul.

Specially adapted for young readers, ages 7-10, this is an exciting book for children ready to tackle their first short story on their own.

Description from Publisher

The Burning Light

By Betsy Ramsay
Two young time-travelers are caught up in the adventure and heroism of the Hanukkah story. They quickly discover that the Maccabees have to fight not only Antiochus and the Greek empire, but the many Jews who have accepted the ways of the Greeks and their gods.

  1. Ideal for ages 9-12 because it views the historical action through the eyes of this age group.
  2. Well researched so that the child learns of places and people recorded in history.
  3. Reveals some of the conflict that occurred within the Jewish camp between those who wanted independence and those who were completely assimilated.


Description from Publisher

Tirzah
Fleeing with Moses from captivity in Egypt, twelve-year-old Tirzah learns a song of hope as she tries to survive to reach the promised land.

Moses in Egypt
(Prince of Egypt)
My son, I have nothing I can give, but this chance that you may live. With these words, a Hebrew mother places her infant son, Moses, in a basket and sets him adrift on the Nile River. From his carefree days as a prince of Egypt to his flight into the desert, nothing can fully prepare Moses for what is to come. Lynne Reid Banks, author of the best-selling novel The Indian in the Cupboard, brings the timeless story of Moses to life in this spirited retelling. Enriched with a full-color insert depicting characters and scenes from the film, this is a popular format that will enable older children to experience the movie again and again.

Banks is best known for The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels. Choosing an accomplished author for this novel based on the movie results in an immensely readable tale rather than the usual stilted fare produced as a movie tie-in. Although the book and movie both claim Exodus as the original source, they have made alterations to increase the tension between the main characters. In this version, Moses is brought to the palace and adopted by pharoah's wife, rather than by his daughter. Thus, Moses grows up as a brother to Ramses, who will later resist his requests to release the Hebrew slaves. In usual Hollywood fashion, a romantic interest is planted; Moses' future wife Tzipporah is a beautiful, strong-willed Bedouin girl. The liberties taken with the narrative do not detract from the biblical themes presented.

Description from Children's Literature

Brothers in Egypt
(Prince of Egypt)
Growing up as princes of Egypt, Moses and Rameses share a life full of action, adventure, mischief, and brotherly love. But all that changes when Moses learns of his true identity and his connection to the Hebrew slaves who toil for his father. Focusing on the relationship between Moses and Rameses, this compelling chapterbook follows the life of the two brothers--up until the fateful day when Moses leaves the palace and flees into the desert. Written in an accessible style, with simple sentences and short chapters, this is an ideal way for intermediate readers to recapture the drama and excitement of The Prince of Egypt.

Description from Publisher
Escape from Egypt
Escape from Egypt : A Novel
Levitin has written a book that is troubling, moving -- and that forces its readers to think. Quite a combination, especially when presented in that much-maligned genre, historical fiction. The story Levitin tells is hardly new. It is the biblical tale of the Exodus, the Israelite flight from Egypt, here seen from the point of view of two teenagers, Jesse, a Hebrew slave, and Jennat, a half-Egyptian, half-Syrian girl. The pair meet when they work together learning jewelry-making, but their burgeoning relationship is dwarfed by momentous events. Moses has come to gather the Jewish people; he is going to make Pharaoh let them go. The biblical setting provides the wider context for a drama that is primarily a human one. Plagues and miracles swirl around real people who are so enmeshed in their own lives and passions that, at times, they seem almost oblivious to the spectacle threatening to engulf them. This human scale is the great strength of the novel. Levitin makes myth manageable, bringing it right into the lives of modern-day readers.

Description by Booklist

The Cow of No Color: Riddle Stories and Justice Tales from Around the World

By Nina Jaffe and Steve Zeitlin

Awards:
  • NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
  • Alabama Children's Choice Book Award
Recommendations:
  • Booklist
  • New York Times Book Review
  • School Library Journal
  • Wilson Library Bulletin

In this outstanding multicultural collection from the authors of the prizewinningWhile Standing on One Foot, readers must try to outsmart evil kings, answer questions from Death, even puzzle with angels over the justice of God. Every tale returns to the most basic question: What is fair?

With tales from Africa, Asia, and Europe, from Irish, Jews, and Muslims, from American schools and courtrooms, The Cow of No Color is truly an international gathering. Ranging from tricks to watch for in playground games to big issues to ponder for a lifetime, here is a book with insights and challenges for every member of every family.

Description from Publisher

Joseph's Wardrobe
King Solomon's fleet commander narrates the story of his mission to bring personal belongings of Joseph remaining in Egypt after his death to Israel where they can be enjoyed by Joseph's descendants.

Description from Publisher

Deborah

By Carol L. Fitzpatrick
A long time ago in Israel, G-d chose a woman named Deborah to be the judge of Israel. She relied on G-d's help for every decision and now G-d wants her to lead His people to battle. How can they fight the massive army? Will she trust G-d?

Description from Publisher

Bustenai
The story of Bustenai, last surviving Prince of the house of King David. An epic tale of war, politics and an unkown hero in Persia.

Description from Publisher

Caleb's Daughter

By Kay Flowers
Born during Old Testament Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Achsah is the only daughter of Caleb, one of the twelve esteemed warriors sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan. Caleb dotes on his daughter and her every whim is granted without regret. Their relationship is close and loving and when she calls for her father, he always answers, "What is it you want?" Beautiful and headstrong, Achsah grows up learning life’s lessons the hard way. She experiences the demise of her handmaid and her own near-death when poisonous snakes invade the camp as punishment for Israel’s murmuring against God. She is sickened at the extent of Canaanite wickedness when her beloved pet goat is savagely butchered for sport. Through a bold, secret meeting with Rahab the harlot, she inquires about the ways of men and learns much more, and much less, than she had anticipated. Although her cousin Othniel loves her, Achsah has her heart and her mind set on the handsome but greedy Shemida. Her father Caleb strongly disapproves, but this doesn’t stop Achsah from naively continuing to meet with the warrior of her choice. During a heated argument regarding betrothal, Caleb rashly vows to give Achsah as the bride-prize to the warrior who takes the city of Debir. Shocked and furious, Achsah faces an unknown future. Will she be given to a man she doesn’t even know? Is she doomed to a loveless marriage? Follow Achsah on her journey of faith during the upheaval of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, a promised and yet very foreign land.

Description from Publisher

Biblical Era | Middle Ages, Renaissance, & the Spanish Inquisition | Immigration & The American Experience | European History | Holocaust | Israel





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