Jewish Historical Fiction
for Older Readers:

Middle Ages, Renaissance, and European History Through 1700

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Freedom Beyond the Sea

By Waldtraut Lewin
Fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a Jewish girl disguises herself and signs on as a ship’s boy, little knowing that she is headed for unknown waters with Christopher Columbus.

In Spain at the end of the 15th century, Jews are persecuted, robbed, expelled from their homes, and murdered. Esther, the daughter of the Rabbi of Cordoba, flees from home dressed as a boy. She is the only one in her family who escapes the bloodhounds of the Inquisition.

Esther is lucky: Through craft and bribery, she manages to sign on as a ship’s boy to get out of the country. At last she thinks she is safe. But she soon finds out that her ship is on a dangerous journey, sailing west across the ocean into unknown waters, searching for a new route to India. Her captain’s name? Christopher Columbus -- a man who proves to have a keen eye for deception. It seems only a question of time before he discovers Esther’s secret.

Description from Publisher

The Star and the Sword
Two Jewish children, Benedict and Elvira, are suddenly orphaned after a pogrom in twelfth-century Yorkshire, England, shattering their contented and comfortable lives. Alone in a hostile world, they set out for Oxford, where they have relatives. Along the way, they meet Robin Hood and his men in Sherwood Forest. Many exciting adventures follow, including a hazardous journey to London with a Crusader knight. The Knight has in his bag a relic of his travels, the significance of which proves more remarkable as the story unfolds.

Description from Publisher

Out of Many Waters
Kidnapped from their parents during the Portuguese Inquisition and sent to work as slaves at a monastery in Brazil, two Jewish sisters attempt to make their way back to Europe to find their parents, but instead one becomes part of a group founding the first Jewish settlement in the United States.

Description from Publisher

Secrets in the House of Delgado

By Gloria D. Miklowitz
Fourteen-year-old Maria is alone and has nowhere to turn but the Catholic church. Fra Adolfo places her as a servant--and a spy--in the home of the Delgados. They are Conversos, Jews who have converted to Catholicism, and the monk is suspicions they might be Judaizers, sympathetic to Judaism or followers of the old ways. There are many stock characters: Dr. Delgado is good and wise; his daughter, to whom Maria is a companion, is alternately willful and sweet; and son Juan Pablo is as good as his father and handsome to boot. Maria, treated like a member of the family, grows to love the Delgados, but she turns resentful when she realizes Juan Pablo will never return her affection. Called in by Fra Adolfo, she makes accusations against the family, and then, remorseful, tries to undo the harm she has done. Miklowitz does a fine job of making the Spanish Inquisition seem frighteningly real, and the story shows depth and dimension, although some of the characters do not. Use this in conjunction with history classes but recommend it as a page-turner, too.

Description from Booklist

The year is 1492, the place is Spain, and fourteen-year-old Maria is on her own. Her parents and little brother are dead. She hasn't seen her only living relative, her uncle, who is a sea captain, in years. Desperate, she goes to the church her family attended to ask for help. The church helps her to get a position as a maid to a wealthy family, the Delgados. The Delgados are Conversos. They are Catholic now, but in the past, the family was Jewish. The church has placed her in the Delgado home as nothing more than a spy to find out if the family is secretly practicing their old religion. At first Maria is repulsed by the idea of working for a family that was once Jewish, but she comes to see that the Jews are not the evil villains the church has portrayed them as. When suspicion of heresy falls on the Delgados, she is forced to make a difficult choice. I highly reccomend this well-written and fascinating historical novel.

Description from Amazon.com Customer Review

One Foot Ashore
Kidnapped from their Portuguese home and taken to work in a Brazilian monastery in the mid 1600s, Maria and her younger sister, Isobel, stow away on separate boats headed for Amsterdam. In Out of Many Waters, Greene told Isobel Ben Lazar's story. This companion novel follows Maria during the same period. The beginning of the book relates Maria's experiences as a stowaway--hiding, stealing food, and befriending a family of rats. Once in Amsterdam, she's taken into the household of Rembrandt, who employs her to help his wife run the household. He also introduces her to his friends in the Jewish community, and they help Maria find her parents. Greene creates a concrete, convincing sense of the time and place. Even the risky introduction of Rembrandt as a character is handled so skillfully that he emerges as a complex character rather than a wooden figure of reverence. Maria's love for her pet rat Domingo adds a very personal dimension to the story. An intriguing historical novel that will lead to requests for sequels, since it ends with Maria and her parents embarking on the voyage that will reunite them with Isobel in New Amsterdam--if all goes well. Readers who have come to care about the characters will want to follow them to the New World.

Description from Booklist

My Guardian Angel

By Sylvie Weil
Feisty and smart, Elvina is not your average 12-year-old. She adores reading, writing, and studying like the boys. And she detests silly girls' chores, like keeping chicken eggs warm until they hatch. But she is also skilled in the art of healing, a skill that ultimately gets her into trouble.

It's the 11th Century in France, and the Crusades are on a campaign to rid France of the Jews. The Jews live in terror and are on high alert that danger is drawing near to their town. One night, while Elvina is alone in her house, she hears a rap on the door. Can her guardian angel keep her safe?

Description from Publisher


Troyes, France, 1096, and Crusaders are heading to Jerusalem. The Jews, including Elvina, the 12-year-old granddaughter of the famed rabbi and Talmudic scholar Solomon ben Isaac, are terrified of the soldiers and their evil leader. Unlike most females of her time, feisty Elvina is literate, adores studying, and loves writing as much for its tactile satisfaction as for the intellectual exercise. She derives strength from this as well as from her mazal (Hebrew for guardian angel), whom she addresses in times of trouble and doubt. Elvina has much to ask from and tell her guiding spirit in the course of her tale: she secretly aids a wounded young deserter, a brazen act of charity that will have dangerous but ultimately joyful consequences for her and her community. Readers don't have to be Jewish to appreciate this beautifully written story and its wonderfully realized characters and fascinating setting. Elvina, her grandfather (also known as "Rashi"), and their family members actually lived. Lovely.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

The Cardinal's Snuffbox

By Kenneth Roseman
The year is 1492. You are the child of a wealthy Jewish family in Spain and have just been presented with an awesome decision, convert to Catholicism of leave Spain forever. Which do you choose? The Cardinal's Snuffbox is an educational tool that casually but effectively introduces the pre-teen reader to Jewish concepts, historical figures, and important places.

An adventure story set during the Spanish Inquisition, in which an eleven-year-old Jewish child must decide whether to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain forever. The reader makes decisions that determine the outcome of the plot.

Description from Publisher

Don Yosef Nasi:
A marrano's rise to power
A dramatization of the story of Don Yosef Nasi and his mother-in-law, Dona Gracia, marranos who rose to be among the most influential figures in Europe and Asia.

Description from Publisher
The Cross by Day, Mezuzzah by Night
The Cross by Day, Mezuzzah by Night
Isabel Caruso de Carvallo, a devout Catholic girl, is shocked to learn that in reality she is Ruth de Cojano, a secret Jew, part of a group referred to derogatorily by the Spanish Catholics as Marranos. In 1492 on her thirteenth birthday, the age of Jewish adulthood, Ruth is told about her great-grandparents, who were forced to convert to Christianity or die. For 100 years, the de Cojanos have lived in Seville as the Caruso de Carvallos, practicing ancient Jewish rituals and reciting Hebrew prayers in secret. Although all Marranos are in danger, Ruth's family has been especially on guard: her father is the chief royal tax collector of Seville, and the Inquisition relishes making examples of people in high positions. If its true religion is revealed, the family faces torture and burning at the stake. So Ruth, her parents, and her infant brother prepare to flee their beloved Spain with the tens of thousands of Jews being expelled. Through a gripping first-person narrative, Ruth relays her feelings, her fears, and her confusion. This commanding novel jars us through its portrayal of the senseless brutality of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Spain's Jews in the fifteenth century. It is a lesson related with suspense, emotion, and lasting impact.

description by Booklist

The Cure

By Sonia Levitin
"You are a criminal, Gemm 16884...aggressive, hostile, nonconforming. We have noted tendencies toward diversity in your gait, in your dreams, and most especially in your repeated persistence in "...the Elder cleared his throat..."making music."

Branded a deviant--and therefore a threat--to the utopian society of Conformity, Harmony, and Tranquility that exists in the year 2407, Gemm 16884 is given the choice between being recycled or undergoing a painful and mysterious cure. Gemm chooses the cure, and suddenly finds himself living the life of Johannes, a 16-year-old Jewish musician in starsbourg, Germany, in 1348, at the onset of the Black Death. As the pestilence spreads, the townspeople begin the accuse the Jews of causing the disease. Surrounded by hatred and horror, Johannes struggles to hold on to his family and faith as well as his belief in the basic goodness of human beings. But can he return to the future and become Gemm again after having known such emotions as pain. . .and love?

Description from Publisher

It is the year 2407, when everyone wears a mask to emphasize conformity, and tranquility has been implemented via genetics, drugs, and therapy. It is also the year 1348, the time of the Black Death in Strasbourg, France, and 16-year-old Gemm has been sent back from the future to cure his nonconformist desire to create music. In the past he is known as Johannes, the son of a wealthy moneylender in a small Jewish community that finds comfort and strength in the daily rituals of Judaic faith. But as the plague sweeps the land, terrified people in city after city scapegoat the Jews as the cause of their problems. Officials find it convenient to have someone to blame, and realize that they can wipe out their debts by torturing and burning the moneylenders and their families--but they play music all the while to make the horrible scene less dismal.

Sonia Levitin, whose exceptional young adult novels are often based in Jewish culture and identity (Escape from Egypt and The Singing Mountain , among others), draws on historical fact for this story's powerful emotional impact. The vivid details of ghetto life in the Middle Ages--the Sabbath peace, the enforced humiliations of moneylenders, Johannes' joy at his betrothal to his love Margarite--make the final holocaust scene overwhelmingly real, with layers of meaning that apply to our own times. The futuristic framing device adds additional flavor, evocative of Lois Lowry's The Giver . This is a book that both fantasy fans and pragmatic young readers will devour, and one that's rich with thoughtful ideas about racism, conformity, and the lessons of history.

Description from Amazon.com
Plots and Players
Plots and Players
1594 and a young Shakespeare is working on a new play, The Merchant of Venice, amid growing anti-Jewish sentiment in England. Three Jewish children try to save Queen Elizabeth's Jewish physician when he's falsely accused of spying for Spain. Can the children help Shakespeare see the prejudice of his work? Can they save the doctor?

Shylock's Daughter

By Mirjam Pressler
As the beautiful daughter of a wealthy moneylender, Jessica leads a relatively privileged life in the Jewish Ghetto. But during her rare walks through the main streets of Venice, she has caught glimpses of the colorful, exciting world outside. Then, by chance she meets a handsome aristocrat named Lorenzo who has, it seems, everything that Jessica longs for, and who promises to make her his wife. There is one painful condition, however: She must convert to Christianity. Will Jessica follow her desires, even if it means leaving behind everyone she loves, and abandoning her religion? Will her father, Shylock, survive this betrayal?

Mirjam Pressler cleverly expands upon Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, offering a richly complex portrait of life in sixteenth-century Venice. This fascinating historical novel has been beautifully translated by Brian Murdoch, whose afterword gives readers a meaningful perspective on the difficult relations between Christians and Jews during that period.

Description from Publisher

Anyone who has seen or read Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice has wondered about the motives of the main characters. What are Lorenzo's true feelings about Jessica? Why does Shylock remain so insistent on his pound of flesh? Does it bother Jessica to leave her heritage behind? Pressler looks beyond Shakespeare's words and comes up with a revelatory story, one in which the players take the opportunity to display more of their strengths and expose more of their foibles. The book also sheds a bright light on the world in which these characters planned, loved, and dreamed. Late-sixteenth-century Venice was a place where Christians and Jews interacted under the most unevenhanded conditions; where life in the Jewish ghetto, while rigorously proscribed, offered familiarity and even a kind of safety; but where the burdens of being "other" could crush men's souls. Here, setting is context.

Still, for those not burdened by religion, Venice in the 1500s was a place of opulence and festivity. It is no surprise that 16-year-old Jessica, Shylock's headstrong daughter, is bewitched by the outside world. When a young Italian nobleman, Lorenzo, shows he has designs on her, Jessica is stunned, frightened, and delirious at the thought she may escape the rule-heavy sameness of her life. Yet there are other people to be considered: her nurse, Amalia, who has loved her since the death of her own mother; foster sister Dahliah, a squinty-eyed girl who is devoted to Jessica; and, of course, her miserly, maddening father, Shylock. Even so, when it comes to other people's feelings versus the freedom she might feel by marrying Lorenzo (which brings with it automatic baptism into the Christian faith), Jessica is determined to follow the path that she is sure will bring her happiness.

German novelist Pressler does some impressive things here. The multisided views of the characters she offers are not unexpected, but they are done extraordinarily well, perhaps because the author goes beyond personality and mixes in motive. By adding new characters, like Dahliah (who gets her own first-person chapters) and Amalia, Pressler expands what we think we know about those who inhabit The Merchant of Venice and gives us a glimpse into what Jews living during the Middle Ages must have thought and felt. No one here can be seen through a single lens. As loathsome as Shylock can be, here even more than in the play, readers will react to his cry that Jews are like everyone else: "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Jessica will certainly resonate with young readers. She wants what she wants. Yet by the end of the book, she realizes full well what she has given up, even as she understands she must go forward with her life because there is no going back.

Throughout, Pressler's writing choices are strong, often unexpected, and her style is sharp and observant, yet iced with a cool pity for her characters. It is not often that a YA author can make adult characters as intrinsically interesting as young people, but here, too, Pressler succeeds, perhaps because everyone's hopes and fears are so tightly laced together.

As translator Brian Murdoch explains in his fascinating afterword, Pressler also successfully takes on the job of mirroring many Shakespearean conventions, such as dressing girls as boys and using the play-within-a-play technique, thus extending her own story but also furthering Shakespeare's original.

Although excellent as a read-alone, Shylock's Daughter will be an outstanding novel to teach, especially in conjunction with The Merchant of Venice. It is not only a complex examination of motives and actions; it is an unwavering look at history. Without ever saying the word, it shows how prejudice warps the spirit and shatters lives. Neither victim nor victimizer comes away unscathed.

Description from Booklist

Prisoner in Time :
A Child of the Holocaust

By Pamela Melnikoff
Twelve-year old Jan lives with his loving family in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. But his life has begun to change, for it is 1942 and the Nazis have marched into Prague-and Jan is Jewish.

When the Nazis take his family away to the concentration camp at Terezin, Jan finds shelter with friends. But a year's confinement in their attic becomes too much for him to bear and he recklessly ventures into the dangerous streets of the city.

Now Jan's only refuge is the ancient Jewish cemetery and the tomb of Rabbi Loew, who created a legendary giant - the Golem - to save his people from oppression hundreds of years earlier. Miraculously, Jan travels back in time to the momentous events of the sixteenth-century Prague. Perhaps he, in turn, will find a way to escape from the fate that would befall a million and a half Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Description from Publisher

While Jan, 12, is hiding from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1942, he finds an amulet that takes him back to sixteenth-century Prague, where he helps the famous Rabbi Loewe create the legendary monster Golem to scare the racists who accuse the Jews of murdering Christian children. When Jan returns to his own time, he's transported to Terezin concentration camp. The historical parallels are important (anti-Semitism didn't begin with the Nazis, and many readers will want to pursue the Golem legend), but most of this honest docunovel is about what it was like to be a teenager in Terezin. Through Jan's eyes, Melnikoff presents the daily horror and brutality, and she includes some famous people (among them, Friedl Dicker-Brandejsova, who ran secret art classes for children) and true events, like the Nazis' prettying up of Terezin for Red Cross inspection. Unlike Jane Yolen's Devil's Arithmetic, there's no slick upbeat ending to the time travel. Like nearly every one of the 15,000 children at Terezin, Jan is sent to a death camp.

Description from Booklist

The Broken Bracelet
To escape the persecution of the Inquisition, the four members of Rabbi Zacuto's family leave Lisbon for Constantinople but become separated on the way and are only reunited after many years of harrowing adventures. A tale of family and adventure that will not be put down till the end.

Description from Publisher

Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng

By Xin Xu and Beverly Friend
Chinese Jews!

A curious pairing, but strange as it may seem, there have been Jews in China for more than a thousand years. The country's Jewish community, located in Kaifeng, once the capital city, numbered several thousand at its height. Because of China's tolerance and openness, its members attained success in many fields - commerce, crafts, government service, the military. Their synagogue, a unique amalgam of Chinese architecture with Judaic tradition, was one of the city's most striking sights. The story of Chinese Jewry is both historically interesting and profoundly inspiring. Long isolated from other Jews because they were living in a land that sought to cut itself off from the rest of the world, they tenaciously maintained their traditions and identity. Though they adopted Chinese customs and intermarried with their neighbors, Kaifeng's Jews held together as a community until well into modern times. Even today there are people in Kaifeng who remain aware of their ancestry and register as Jews on official census forms.

Of the many fascinating tales related in this beautifully illustrated, lovingly written book, perhaps the most touching is the one about Kaifeng's Jews and the first Christian missionaries in China. The Jews, never having heard of Christianity, assumed that anyone who believed in one God must be a coreligionist. The missionaries, never having imagined there might be Jews in China, assumed they were lost Christians. When the misunderstanding was cleared up, the Christians set about trying to convert the Jews but to no avail, because Kaifeng's Jews were adamantly loyal to their heritage.

Description from Publisher

Daughter of Venice

By Donna Jo Napoli
As the daughter of a Venetian nobleman in 1592, 14-year-old Donata lives a sheltered and prescribed life. According to custom, her oldest sister will marry, either she or her identical twin Laura will stay home as the maiden aunt to care for her brother's children, and the other will go to a convent with their younger sisters. The girls spend their days doing chores, winding yarn onto giant bobbins for the family's wool trade, studying music, or going to parties where their oldest sister is examined as a marriage prospect. All that changes the day Donata dons boy's clothing and goes exploring outside the walls of the family's palazzo. Evading a bully, she ends up in the Jewish ghetto where she befriends a young man, NoŠ, who makes her question the privileges of her class, and at the same time she gains permission from her father to start studying with her brothers' tutor. When her parents announce a surprise betrothal that will curtail her studies and leave Laura convent-bound, Donata takes an action that drastically affects the whole family. While a current trend in historical fiction presents a girl with modern sensibilities chafing under the strict rules of her time, nothing about Donata seems forced. Even when acting rebelliously, her actions and thoughts feel authentic to the time and world that Napoli portrays. Even Donata's love for NoŠ is tempered by the knowledge that she could never convert to Judaism. Napoli's many fans will not be disappointed by this engrossing and exotic novel.

Description from School Library Journal

Napoli returns to the locale of Stones in Water and For the Love of Venice, this time for a costume drama set in the late 16th century. At 14, Donata Mocenigo and her twin sister watch carefully as their noble parents set about finding a husband for their older sister. Venetian economics dictate that one daughter of a noble family will surely wed, but only with luck will a second daughter be married the remaining daughters either enter convents or care for a married brother's children. Eschewing a traditional romance, Napoli forges a plot with contemporary elements. Donata wants to see Venice and receive the same education as her brothers; she studies the family business and embraces what facts she can uncover about Venetian history and politics. Obtaining a working-class boy's clothes, she disguises herself and sets out on furtive daytime explorations of her beloved city. Soon she is befriended by an attractive young Jewish boy, who helps her find a morning job as a copyist (even though she can't read or write); with help from her sisters, her escapades go unnoticed by her parents. Enjoying the tour of historical Venice and the taste of its complex society and government, readers may not mind Donata's seeming immunity to the mores and prejudices of her day not even when, to avoid an arranged marriage, she anonymously and falsely denounces herself as a convert to Judaism and still earns herself a happy ending.

Description from Publishers Weekly

More Precious than Gold

By Evelyn Mizrahi Blatt
Sara's parents will do anything to live and raise their children as Jews. In Spain during the 1490's, that means leaving wealth, valuables and a comfortable life behind to set sail for the Ottoman Empire. Sara is reluctant to leave her familiar childhood home until she understands what her priorities really are. Will Sara be able to save her friend from the clutches of the Inquisition? Will she rescue a precious heirloom challah plate from the heartless Spanish soldiers? And will she ever be up to the challenge of baking a perfect challah all by herself?

Description from Publisher

The Exiles of Crocodile Island

By Henye Meyer
The story of a community of children torn from their homes by the Inquisition and their defiant struggle to keep their faith.

Description from Publisher

An awesome and moving fictionalized account of the Jewish children abducted from Portugal by the church, and sent to colonize the island of Sao Tome, and become christians. The book describes the desperate attempt of the children to hold on to the religion of their parents. The fictionalized account of the children's struggle is backed by historical evidence. According to Gloria Mound, of the institute for studies of the inquisition in Tel Aviv, there are residents of Sao Tome to this day who still identify their Jewish ancestry.

Description from Amazon.com Customer Review

Biblical Era | Middle Ages, Renaissance, & the Spanish Inquisition Historical Fiction | Immigration & The American Experience European History After 1700 | Holocaust | Israel





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