May is Jewish Heritage Month and we’re paying tribute to our Jewish authors and characters by reading books that celebrate their history and culture. Which will you dip into first?
Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson
Middle school is full of challenges.
Everyone knows how much brainy Bri likes the spotlight (not). So why did she ever agree to something that forces her to learn a new language, give a speech, help organize a party, and juggle drama at school and home?! As the big event inches closer, Bri wonders if it’s all worth it. . . .
Told in alternating past and present chapters, Bri’s heartwarming story unfolds over the eight months leading up to her bat mitzvah—as well as over the course of the big day itself.
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel and Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger
At the Sèvres Children’s Home outside Paris, Rachel Cohen has discovered her passion—photography. Although she hasn’t heard from her parents in months, she loves the people at her school, adores capturing what she sees in pictures, and tries not to worry too much about Hitler’s war. But as France buckles under the Nazi regime, danger closes in, and Rachel must change her name and go into hiding.
As Catherine Colin, Rachel Cohen is faced with leaving the Sèvres Home—and the friends she made there—behind. But with her beautiful camera, Catherine possesses an object with the power to remember. For the rest of the war, Catherine bears witness to her own journey, and to the countless heroes whose courage and generosity saved the lives of many, including her own.
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine
Surrounded by her large family, Loma is happy living in the judería of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and wants nothing more than to someday have a family of her own.
Still, when her intimidating grandfather, her Belo, decides to bring her along on his travels, she’s excited to join him. Belo has the ear of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and Loma relishes her adventures with him, adventures that are beyond the scope of most girls of the time. She soon learns just how dangerous the world is for the Jews of Spain, and how her grandfather’s influence keeps their people safe.
But the older Loma gets, the more she longs to realize her own dreams—if Belo will ever allow her to leave his side.
Chunky by Yehudi Mercado
- Also check out the sequel, Chunky Goes to Camp–now on-sale!
Hudi needs to lose weight, according to his doctors. Concerned about the serious medical issue Hudi had when he was younger, his parents push him to try out for sports. Hudi would rather do anything else, but then he meets Chunky, his imaginary friend and mascot. Together, they decide to give baseball a shot.
As the only Mexican and Jewish kid in his neighborhood, Hudi has found the cheerleader he never had. Baseball doesn’t go well (unless getting hit by the ball counts), but the two friends have a great time drawing and making jokes. While Hudi’s parents keep trying to find the right sport for Hudi, Chunky encourages him to pursue his true love—comedy.
But when Hudi’s dad loses his job, it gets harder for Hudi to chart his own course, even with Chunky’s guidance. Can Chunky help Hudi stay true to himself or will this friendship strike out?
The Light of Days Young Readers’ Edition by Judy Batalion
As their communities were being destroyed, groups of Jewish women and teenage girls across Poland began transforming Jewish youth groups into resistance factions. These “ghetto girls” helped build systems of underground bunkers, paid off the Gestapo, and bombed German train lines.
At the center of the book is eighteen-year-old Renia Kukielka, who traveled across her war-torn country as a weapons smuggler and messenger. Other women who joined the cause served as armed fighters, spies, and saboteurs, all risking their lives for their missions.
Never before chronicled in full, this is the incredible account of the strong Jewish women who fought back against the seemingly unstoppable Nazi regime. It follows the women through arrests, internment, and for a lucky few, into the late 20th century and beyond.
The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
When the German army occupied Holland in 1940, Annie was only eight years old. Because she was Jewish, the occupation put her in grave danger. Most people thought the war wouldn’t last long, but Annie knew that if she wanted to stay alive, she would have to go into hiding.
Fortunately, a Gentile family, the Oostervelds, offered refuge to Annie and her older sister, Sini. For two years they hid in the cramped upstairs room of the Oostervelds’s remote farmhouse. There, Annie and Sini would struggle to hold on to hope—separated from their family and confined to one tiny room—as a frightful and seemingly endless war raged on outside their window.
Just A Girl by Lia Levi, illustrated by Jess Mason and Translated by Sylvia Notini
1938, Italy. Six-year-old Lia loves to build sandcastles at the beach and her biggest problem is her shyness and quiet, birdlike voice—until prime minister Mussolini joins forces with Hitler in World War II, and everything changes.
Now there are laws saying Jewish children can’t go to school, Jews can’t work, or go on vacation. It’s difficult for Lia to understand why this is happening to her family. When her father loses his job, they must give up their home and move from city to city.
As war comes closer, it becomes too dangerous to stay together, and Lia and her sisters are sent to hide at a convent. Will she ever be “just a girl” again?
Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack
- Also check out the sequel, Anya and the Nightengale–on sale now!
When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.
Alias Anna by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson
When the Germans invade Ukraine, Zhanna, a young Jewish girl, must leave behind her friends, her freedom, and her promising musical future at the world’s top conservatory. With no time to say goodbye, Zhanna, her sister Frina, and their entire family are removed from their home by the Nazis and forced on a long, cold, death march. When a guard turns a blind eye, Zhanna flees with nothing more than her musical talent, her beloved sheet music, and her father’s final plea: “I don’t care what you do. Just live.”
Recipe For Disaster by Aimee Lucido
Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish. Not that she really thinks about it. She’d prefer to focus on her favorite pastime: baking delicious food! But when her best friend has a beyond-awesome Bat Mitzvah, Hannah starts to feel a little envious…and a little left out.
Despite her parents firm no, Hannah knows that if she can learn enough about her own faith, she can convince her friends that the party is still in motion. As the secrets mount, a few are bound to explode. When they do, Hannah learns that being Jewish isn’t about having a big party and a fancy dress and a first kiss — it’s about actually being Jewish. Most importantly, Hannah realizes that the only person’s permission she needs to be Jewish, is her own.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleishman
“Why am I talking to you?” he asked aloud.
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“You want to know the truth,” replied the dybbuk,
“Neither do I. But here I am.”
Avrom Amos likes to crack jokes. He loves the spotlight. And if he wants something, he knows how to get it. He’s just like any other boy, except for one thing: He’s a ghost—a dybbuk. During World War Two he’d been murdered by the Nazis, right after he saved the life of a young ventriloquist named Freddie.
Freddie doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to return the favor. Because the dybbuk wants revenge, and he knows exactly how to get it.
Zlateh and the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Chelm is a village of fools. The most famous fools—the oldest and the greatest—are the seven Elders. But there are lesser fools too: a silly irresponsible bridegroom; four sisters who mix up their feed in bed one night; a young man who imagines himself dead. Here are seven magical folktales spun by a master storyteller, that speak of fools, devils, schlemiels, and even heroes—like Zlateh the goat.