10 fantastic children's books featuring Jewish characters
Published on: 24 February 2021 Author: Keren David
Author Keren David's new book What We're Scared Of focuses on two Jewish teens and their experiences of antisemitism.
Here, Keren highlights ten other brilliant books for children which feature Jewish characters and traditions...
The problem with putting together a list of 'Jewish' children's books is that there are so few of them, and the ones that do exist are so Holocaust-focused, which can be frightening for Jewish children.
I look for authenticity above all, and a positive sense that the Jewish children are at the centre of their own story - not there to be saved by others. The best reflect the long history of the Jewish people, and the wide breadth of our experience.
1. The All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor
This American series is delightful - five chapter books telling the story of a family in New York in the early 1900s, children of immigrants Mama and Papa. The focus is very much on gentle, everyday stories, but woven into them are details of Jewish life and celebrations.
2. Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig
This book introduces children to the way Denmark's population worked to save the country's Jews from the Nazis. I love it for the Jewish character Anton - brave and strong and no one's passive victim.
3. When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
Based on the true story of Liz's father's escape from the Nazis in Europe, this is probably the best children's book I have read about the Holocaust - unsentimental, authentic, heartbreaking and essential reading.
4. The Queen Who Saved Her People by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Ilene Richard
A gorgeous picture book which bounces through the story of Queen Esther in rhyming couplets.
5. Passover Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illustrated by Elizabeth Wolf
This is a non-fiction picture book which shares insights into the varieties of Jewish traditions for this key festival - from Ethiopia to Morocco to America. An unusual emphasis on Sephardi traditions helps children to realise there is more to Judaism and Jewishness than the usual Ashkenazi narrative.
6. Saving Hanno: The Story of a Refugee Dog by Miriam Halahmy
Miriam packs so much into this chapter book – the fate of Jewish children entrusted to the Kindertransport, the jeopardy for household pets as war looms... It's a book that deserves a wide readership.
7. It's a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
If you want to get an idea of the breadth of the American Jewish teenage experience it is all here, from Modern Orthodox teens celebrating Shabbat away from home to gay kids falling in love at summer camp. I loved it - and would love there to be a British version.
8. Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks by Ellie Phillips
A YA book about Sadie's search for her sperm donor Dad - Jewishness is just one part of her identity, woven in without fanfare.
9. Dan and the Mudman by Jonny Zucker
When Dan is bullied at school for being Jewish, he finds his own way to fight back. This story, which draws on Jewish folklore, is the rarest of things - a contemporary British Jewish story.
10. My Grandmother's Stories by Adele Geras
I loved reading these stories to my children - they're full of wisdom, history and folklore, and so beautifully written.
Keren's book What We're Scared Of (Scholastic) is out now.
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