Jewish Historical Fiction
for Older Readers:

Immigration and "The American Experience"


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For nonfiction history books about Jewish immigration to the United States, go to the Jewish-American History Books Page

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

Hannah's Journal :
The Story of an Immigrant Girl

(Young American Voices)

By Marissa Moss
As life in 1901 Lithuania grows more dangerous for Jewish people, Hannah's family seizes an opportunity to send Hannah to America with her cousin Esther. At age 10, insatiably curious Hannah is more courageous than 14-year-old Esther and must push her through each door that brings them closer to their new life. Along the way the girls encounter a young orphan boy, and together, the three withstand the grueling journey across the ocean in the steerage compartment of the ship. But even after they've laid eyes on the Statue of Liberty, they're still not home free. They spend almost a month on Ellis Island, waiting for their American sponsor to find them, dreading the possibility of being deported before they ever set foot on the mainland. Hannah records her experiences and childlike drawings in a journal her "Papashka" (father) gave her before she departed.

Like Marissa Moss's popular Amelia series, this handwritten, fictionalized journal of America's peak immigration years in the early 1900s is tremendously appealing to adventurers and anyone who can trace family ties to another country. Moss is the author of several other titles in the Young American Voices series (Emma's Journal: The Story of a Colonial Girl and Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl ). Her skill in weaving personal tales with real historical information makes reading the journals an education and a delight.

Description from Amazon.com

In her third fictional diary, Moss tells the story of ten-year-old Hannah, a spunky and self-confident girl in a Lithuanian shtetl in 1901. Although Hannah loves her family dearly, she is thrilled when her Uncle Saul offers her a ticket to America. While her mother is torn between wanting her only daughter to have a better life or keeping her close at hand, a pogrom in the village tilts the scale and she is convinced to let Hannah go. In the journal that her father has given for her tenth birthday, Hannah chronicles her trip. Setting out with her 14-year-old cousin Esther, she realizes that she will have to be the leader of the pair; Esther, although older, is timid, fearful, and doesn't believe they will ever make it. Hannah manages to get them both onto the steamship, where they travel in steerage ("I think it should be called storage because we are packed together like potatoes in a bin"). It's not all misery, though; she blissfully describes her first taste of an orange (after being told that you don't eat the rind), and enjoys watching the first-class passengers in their finery. Finally the girls reach New York and, after several anxious weeks on Ellis Island, find themselves on New York's Lower East Side. "Other people from our shtetl live in the same rooms. . . . So although it's a strange new home, it's also cozy and familiar." Children will be fascinated by Hannah's tale, and perhaps amazed that she's allowed to undertake the trip on her own. Teachers will find the book useful when covering units on immigration, although they will also want to use other sources to illustrate the poverty, the abominable working conditions andthe harshness of immigrant life in this period. Moss's illustrations (purportedly drawn by Hannah and thus in a deliberately childish style) are charming and informative and the handwritten text on lined paper adds to the sense of authenticity. The subject of Jewish persecution and emigration is seldom treated on so young a level, but the youthful tone of the narrator presents exactly the right balance of fear and hope.

Description from Kirkus Reviews

Dreams in the Golden Country :
The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl
(Dear America)
Zipporah Feldman, a 12-year-old Jewish immigrant from Russia, uses diary entries to chronicle her family's activities as they acclimate to life on New York City's Lower East Side. The hopes and dreams of a young girl are beautifully portrayed through Lasky's eloquent and engaging narrative. Readers are quickly drawn into Zipporah's world of traditional Jewish ritual and celebrations and will identify with the girl's desires to aspire to greatness in her new home. She absorbs the freedom of America, wanting to share her enthusiasm with her parents, encouraging her father to pursue his love of music and trying to persuade her mother to shed some of her strict religious ways. The story's historical significance is evident in the Feldman's arrival at Ellis Island and the subsequent procedures immigrants had to endure, and in the description of the factory fire in which Zipporah's friend dies, which is based on the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory of 1911. Characters are portrayed as strong individuals, and their motives are believable. Readers learn in an epilogue that Zipporah pursued her love for the theater and eventually rose to stardom. Archival photos, accompanied by a recipe for hamantaschen and the traditional Jewish song to welcome the Sabbath, bring the reality of the novel to light. A story of hope and of love for one's country.

Description from School Library Journal

Freedom Beyond the Sea

By Waldtraut Lewin
Fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a Jewish girl disguises herself and signs on as a shipís 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 shipís 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 captainís name? Christopher Columbus -- a man who proves to have a keen eye for deception. It seems only a question of time before he discovers Estherís secret.

Description from Publisher

Melting Pot :
An Adventure in New York

(The Do-It-Yourself Jewish Adventure Series)

By Kenneth Roseman
As a young Jewish immigrant from Russia in the turbulent Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century, the reader must make decisions that could mean success or failure as he tries to establish himself in his new country. Your decisions determine your family's future.

Description from the Publisher

The Other Side of the Hudson : A Jewish Immigrant Adventure
(The Do It Yourself Jewish Adventure)
Following a plot-your-own-story format, these short vignettes describe choices available to a male Jewish immigrant who arrives in New York City in 1851 from Neustadt, Germany. From there, readers can travel with him up the Hudson River to Albany, west to San Francisco, or south to New Orleans, with several stops in between. Roseman cleverly integrates historical figures, such as Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, Lazarus Straus, and Ulysses S. Grant, with events in American history. Most of the scenarios involve a development in American-Jewish life, either religious or social. Black-and-white archival photographs, maps, a glossary, and a bibliography of mostly adult titles increase the book's usefulness.

Description from School Library Journal

The Rabbi's Girls

By Johanna Hurwitz
In Carrie's eleven years, the Levin family has moved six times, Her father's a rabbi, and they have to go where a congregation needs them. Carrie and her four sisters all hope that this time, they'll settle down.

Nineteen twenty-three is a year of changes for the Levins. In their new home, the whole family is overjoyed at the birth of a baby sister. At school, though, being the only Jewish girl in her class is sometimes tough for Carrie. But through good times and bad, even when a terrible tornado strikes the whole town, their papa's love and faith help support them all.

Description from Publisher

Rabbi Levin teaches his daughters that life is both bitter and good in this account of a crucial year for the Levin family, as "seen through the eyes of 11-year-old Carrie. And fine eyes they are, that create with a sense of strength and gentleness, joy and sadness, and draw characters that are convincingly and memorable."

Description from Language Arts

One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping:
The Diary of Julie Weiss


By Barry Denenberg
This special edition, a first in the Dear America series, vividly captures World War II in two disparate but dramatic cities, beginning in Vienna and continuing in New York. In Part One, twelve-year-old Julie Weiss's world crashes around her when Hitler's invasion of Vienna forces her way to flee to the only home she has ever known. Leaving her beloved father behind, she heads off to America in Part Two, and starts a new life in New York City with an extended family she has never met. Through this transition from war zone to safe haven Julie is feisty and brave, emotional and real.

Description from Publisher

Dave at Night

By Gail Carson Levine
"Gideon the Genius" and "Dave the Daredevil," their father called them: two Jewish boys growing up in 1920s New York, playing stickball and--in Dave's case--getting into trouble. But when their father dies, Dave finds himself separated from his older brother and thrust into the cold halls of the HHB, the Hebrew Home for Boys (which he later dubs the "Hopeless House of Beggars" and the "Hell Hole for Brats," among other things).

Eager to escape the strict rules, constant bullying, and tasteless gruel of the orphanage, the Daredevil hops the wall one night to explore the streets of Harlem. He hears what he thinks is someone--or something?--laughing, but traces the sound to a late-night trumpeter shuffling backward into a wild "rent party." And just as quickly as he'd found himself stuck in the HHB, Dave is immersed in yet another world--the swinging salons and speakeasies of the Harlem Renaissance. Cramped, crazy parties packed with the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen give Dave refuge from life at the orphanage and awaken his artistic bent. And Dave's new friends, among them a grandfatherly "gonif" ("somebody who fools people out of their money") and a young "colored" heiress who takes a shine to him, help turn things around for him at the HHB.

The skilled Gail Carson Levine, Newbery Medal-winning author of Ella Enchanted , clearly tells this tale from her heart, as the story is based on her own father's childhood spent in the real-life HOA (Hebrew Orphan Asylum).

Description from Amazon.com

A cross between Oliver Twist and a fairy tale, this charming story set on the edge of Harlem in 1926 features feisty troublemaker Dave. His father has died; neither his stepmother nor his poor, immigrant relatives feel they can support him. Thus, he is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys, known by its "inmates" as the "Hell Hole for Brats," and is stripped of all of his possessions, most importantly an exquisite Noah's Ark that was carved by his father. Most of the adults Dave encounters are petty and brutal. He forms an alliance with the other "elevens" but vows to escape as soon as he recovers his carving. He sneaks out at night, and the sound of a "laughing trumpet" lures him to a nearby building where a dollar bill, a veritable fortune, wafts down from a window. He meets Solomon Gruber, a fortune teller, who makes Dave an unofficial grandson and whisks him off the streets into a party where he meets Irma Lee, a young black heiress whose mother runs salons for artists, authors, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. This chance encounter proves to be the boy's ultimate salvation. As in all fairy tales, characters are clearly good or evil, and Dave's story ends almost happily ever after. The magic comes from Levine's language and characterization. This novel will provide inspiration for all children while offering a unique view of a culturally diverse New York City. Readers will celebrate life with Dave and will recognize that fortitude and chutzpah are keys to his success, with a generous helping of good luck and good friends thrown in for good measure.

Description from School Library Journal

All-Of-A-Kind Family
There's something to be said for a book that makes you wish you'd been part of a poor immigrant family living in New York's lower east side on the eve of World War I. Sydney Taylor's time-honored classic does just that. Life is rich for the five mischievous girls in the family. They find adventure in visiting the library, going to market with Mama, even dusting the front room.

Young readers who have never shared a bedroom with four siblings, with no television in sight, will vicariously experience the simple, old-fashioned pleasures of talk, make-believe, and pilfered penny candy. The family's Jewish faith strengthens their ties to each other, while providing still more excitement and opportunity for mischief. Readers unfamiliar with Judaism will learn with the girls during each beautifully depicted holiday. This lively family, subject of four more "all-of-a- kind" books, is full of unique characters, all deftly illustrated by Helen John. Taylor based the stories on her own childhood family, and the true-life quality of her writing gives this classic its page-turning appeal.

Description from Amazon.com

More All of a Kind Family
Sydney Taylor grew up among immigrant families on New York City's Lower East Side prior to World War I and wrote the All-of-a-Kind Family stories for her daughter. Based on her family and childhood, these charming books capture the everyday life of a home with little money but lots of love and good times to share. Each book shares the ups and downs in the lives of this special family, through the eyes of Ella, Charlotte, Henny, Sarah, Gertie, and their little brother Charlie.

Description from Publisher

All of a Kind Family Downtown
Sydney Taylor grew up among immigrant families on New York City's Lower East Side prior to World War I and wrote the All-of-a-Kind Family stories for her daughter. Based on her family and childhood, these charming books capture the everyday life of a home with little money but lots of love and good times to share. Each book shares the ups and downs in the lives of this special family, through the eyes of Ella, Charlotte, Henny, Sarah, Gertie, and their little brother Charlie.

Description from Publisher

Ella of All-Of-A-Kind Family
World War I has ended, and Ella, the oldest of the five sisters, who dreams of singing and dancing in the theater, is discovered by a Broadway talent scout. It seems that she will have her chance at a theatrical career after all, starting in vaudeville. But her thoughts are also on Jules, just returned from the War, and marriage. Once again a loving family provides the support needed to make the right decision.

Description from Publisher

The Chosen
A Reader's Catalog Selection: The 40,000+ best books in print

Few stories offer more warmth, wisdom, or generosity than this tale of two boys, their fathers, their friendship, and the chaotic times in which they live. Though on the surface it explores religious faith--the intellectually committed as well as the passionately observant--the struggles addressed in The Chosen are familiar to families of all faiths and in all nations.

In 1940s Brooklyn, New York, an accident throws Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a secular Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son and rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. Together they negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, the crisis of faith engendered when Holocaust stories begin to emerge in the U.S., loss, love, and the journey to adulthood. The intellectual and spiritual clashes between fathers, between each son and his own father, and between the two young men, provide a unique backdrop for this exploration of fathers, sons, faith, loyalty, and, ultimately, the power of love. (This is not a conventional children's book, although it will move any wise child age 12 or older, and often appears on summer reading lists for high school students.)

Description from Amazon.com

The Promise
A Reader's Catalog Selection: The 40,000+ best books in print

"A superb mirror of a place, a time, and a group of people who capture our immediate interest and hold it tightly." THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Young Reuven Malter is unsure of himself and his place in life. An unconventional scholar, he struggles for recognition from his teachers. With his old friend Danny Saunders--who himself had abandoned the legacy as the chosen heir to his father's rabbinical dynasty for the uncertain life of a healer--Reuvan battles to save a sensitive boy imprisoned by his genius and rage. Painfully, triumphantly, Reuven's understanding of himself, though the boy change, as he starts to aproach the peace he has long sought....

Description from Publisher

The War Within:
A Novel of the Civil War

By Carol Matas
Through a series of diary entries, Hannah Green relates her experience as a Jewish Southerner during the Civil War. Devoted to the Confederate cause, her family runs the general store in Holly Springs, near Vicksburg, Mississippi, and her father and two older brothers are serving the Confederacy. Older sister Joanna has fallen in love with a captain in the Union army. Hannah is incensed by General Grant's order that all Jews must leave the area, but when the Confederates retake Holly Springs, they demolish her home. Forced to make their way north, the Greens face hardships; Hannah must confront contradictions within herself, as she compares prejudice toward Jews with her feelings of superiority to blacks in general and her own slaves in particular. Matas takes on a number of complex issues and creates a series of interesting conflicts, perhaps too many for such a short book. Still, readers will find themselves swept along by the riptide of action and the appealing cast of strong, vivid characters. The civilian's point of view and the Jewish experience give a decidedly different slant to this Civil War novel.

Description from Booklist

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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