Honor Jewish culture by reading Jewish books with Jewish main characters! These fictional children’s books fill a much-needed gap in children’s literature because there just hasn’t been enough Jewish representation…and I’m happy to see this body of literature growing in quantity with high-quality books about the Jewish culture, religion, and heritage.
This list of books with Jewish main characters will help you discover exceptional picture books and middle grade books with compelling writing, intriguing stories, and memorable characters. If you’re not Jewish, you’ll learn more about your Jewish friends and neighbors. If you are Jewish, you may see yourself represented in one of these Jewish books.
Jewish Books for Kids with Jewish Main Characters
Shabbat Shalom! by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
Rhyming text shows a family’s Shabbat traditions, including lighting candles, praying, and sharing a meal. It’s a simple glimpse into this weekly Jewish religious celebration of Shabbat.
We Go to Shul by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
When a Jewish family attends shul (temple) on Saturday, the Torah is read and there is singing and prayers. Illustrations show men sitting separately from women and the family walking to and from shul.
Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan
This gentle Hebrew lullaby that celebrates family, nature, and love shows a family of three traveling to a new home. Lilah Tov, says the little girl, to the creatures and landscapes she passes including roosters and hens, bears in their dens, bats in their caves and the beach and the waves. Extraordinary. This will become a new bedtime favorite. When they finally arrive at their new, safe home, the girl’s parents tuck her into bed. Lilah Tov, sweet girl.
Big Dreams, Small Fish by Paula Cohen
Shirley and her family are Jewish immigrants with a store. Shirley wants to sell gefilte fish, but her parents don’t think anyone will want it — so when Shirley helps out, she thinks of an innovative idea! She gives it away so customers will see how yummy it is– and they do. they return for more the next day. I love all the Yiddish words in this story.
Bubbie & Rivka’s Best-Ever Challah (So Far!) by Sarah Lynne Reul
Rivka and Bubbie want to make challah bread so they try and fail but continue to persevere — enjoying their time together and the process of figuring out how to make the bread come out even tastier than before. I love this wonderful story of family, culture, and growth mindset.
The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen
No matter the season or weather, Zaida brings bagels from Merv’s Bakery to Eli’s house on Sundays. And they were the best thing about Sunday! But when Zaida falls, he can’t deliver bagels to Eli or his friends. That’s okay. Eli knows just what to do…he goes to the bakery himself. A glossary in the back defines the Yiddish words.
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Krysten Brooker
Each week, Goldie cooks cholent for Shabbat and invites her neighbors to share in the meal. But one week, she’s too sick to cook, so her neighbors take care of the food for the Shabbat meal. It’s a story of a loving community and hospitality.
Shoshi’s Shabbat by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
When her first owner retires, he sells his ox Shoshi. But Shoshi’s new owner doesn’t observe Shabbat, the day of rest, and can’t understand why his stubborn ox won’t work. When he sees his neighbor and grandchildren resting on Shabbat, he realizes that his ox might be smarter than he is. So instead of working seven days a week, his ox teaches him that they both can take a day of rest.
The Melody by Oded Burla, illustrated by Assaf Benharroch
TRADITIONAL JEWISH STORY
Once there was a melody that searched the world for someone to listen to it. Eventually, he finds a mother and baby, and the melody becomes a lullaby. This is a Jewish tradition of teaching the Torah to the next generation to keep the melody alive.
Soosie The Horse that Saved Shabbat by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt
You’ll love this sweet story of a horse that delivers the challah bread when the delivery boy is sick. Jacob drives all over town with Soosie the cart horse delivering challah bread for Shabat. But when Jacob arrives at the bakery for his deliveries too sick to work, Esther and Jacob know just what to do — send Soosie with the bread and a note. Will it work? Yes! People pay for their bread into Soosie’s tin and she makes it back home safely.
The Boston Chocolate Party by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz, illustrated by Fede Combi
REVOLUTIONARY WAR / HANUKKAH
Joshua’s papa imports chocolate beans and introduces hot chocolate to colonial Boston merchants, hoping it can replace the expensive tea from England. And the Bostonians love it! Joshua proposes a hot chocolate cafe to help his friend Issac’s family earn money. Then, the two families celebrate Janucá, the Spanish word for Hanukkah, together with their own Boston Chocolate Party. I love this sweet story, the different perspective of colonial life than we usually read, and the Jewish representation! Back matter explains more about the Boston Tea Party, Hanukkah, the first Jews in the Americas, and colonial hot chocolate.
Jewish Books with Jewish Main Characters
Lola Levine Is Not Mean by Monica Brown
REALISTIC (CHAPTER BOOK, ages 7 – 10)
Second-grade soccer-loving Lola, daughter of a Peruvian mom and Jewish dad, is misunderstood. I loved the diversity and the realistic topics of life and playing sports –so many kids will be able to relate to this charming story. See also: Lola Levine: Drama Queen.
All of Me by Chris Baron
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE
Ari is bullied for being fat and Jewish. He hates being fat so much that one day, he hurts himself. After that day, his mom helps him start a diet. It works to help him lose weight –but it doesn’t fix everything. As Ari grows into himself, he is supported by a kind rabbi who accepts him unconditionally, offering patience and wisdom. Soon, Ari realizes that he’s more than his weight. This is a moving and powerful story with heart and hope.
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
COMING OF AGE / RACISM / THEATER
Lauren, a girl with Jewish and Chinese heritage, tries out for the school play but despite her talent, she doesn’t get cast as the lead since she doesn’t look the part of someone all-American. Her best friend Tara, who is not as talented, gets the leading role because she fits the look of a so-called American girl. The story is filled with both micro-aggressions and overt racism. Tara finds solace in the music of Patsy Cline and finds her voice.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters (epistolary) and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily?
How To Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani
Written in the second person, this story puts you in the center of a historical fiction book about a Jewish girl named Ariel whose older sister falls in love and runs away to marry a Hindu boy after the Loving vs. Virginia verdict. Ariel misses her sister terribly but her parents refuse to talk about her or let Ariel have her sister’s contact information. Meanwhile, Ariel’s teacher thinks she has a learning disability called dysgraphia. Ariel’s mom refuses to listen to the teacher, triggered by her own experiences of a special ed classroom. Even though Ariel struggles with writing, her teacher encourages her to write poetry to express her feelings and to try the typewriter. As she learns to do both, Ariel finds the courage to look for her sister and help reunite her family. It’s a beautiful story inspired by the author’s family history of love, family, forgiveness, and growing up — you’ll love it.
Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer
Following her father and brother, Shoshana, her mom, and her siblings flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine for North Dakota in 1905. They move into a mud house on the plains. Being Jewish isn’t always accepted, even in this new land…the store owners won’t give them credit and their neighbors can’t imagine why the family isn’t Christian. At school, Shoshana wants to fit in so much that she agrees to participate in the Christmas activities. Her sister Libke is furious at Shoshana’s behavior and insists they value their language, Yiddish, and remember their heritage. Shoshana sees that she must accept herself as a Jewish girl, even if others don’t. Brilliant writing and important history.
Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido
A heart-warming story about family, faith, forgiveness, and learning to define yourself instead of letting others define you. Hannah, a girl who loves cooking and food, wants to figure out what being Jewish means…and have her bat mitzvah. Since her mom forbids her to be Jewish, her Grandma helps her secretly study the Torah with her Aunt Yael, a rabbi and the estranged sister of Hannah’s mother. As she pursues her lessons, other things aren’t going well in her life…her dad and brother argue all the time, her BFF dumps her, and her new friend Vee experiences anti-Semitism graffiti on her house. Ultimately, Hannah will use all of these experiences to discover who she is and who she wants to be in the world. And you’ll love Hannah’s insights into relationships with her unique recipes such as “Recipe for a She-ra” and “Recipe for a Best Friendship.”
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Nan works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem emerges to save her. She and her protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher with trust, love, and friendship growing slowly.
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
Set in the historical Turkic Jewish empire of Khazaria, Ziva’s beloved twin brother with leprosy continues to deteriorate. When she learns he’ll be taken away by her uncle to die elsewhere, she steals him away to search for a cure. Along their journey, they meet a half-demon boy who tells them about a mythical city where the Angel of Death can not enter. They journey toward the city, and Ziva clings to the hope that the city will be the answer to everything. She’ll bargain and beg with Death, but ultimately, she’ll have to accept that in life, there always is death.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler (ages 9 – 12)
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII
Inspired by the author’s family history, three friends from Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa, can’t imagine the direction their lives will take, separating them by war, location, and ideology. Leo and Elsa are Jewish, so their path includes ghetto housing, escape for one of them and prison camp for the other. But Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends aren’t “dogs” or less than human. The conclusion weaves together their stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending that will leave you with a lot to discuss about humanity, morality, hope, and love.
Aviva and the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe
In their Orthodox Jewish community, Aviva and her shut-in mom are struggling five years after the death of her father. Her mom rarely gets out of bed, and there’s a mischievous dybbuk (spirit) causing trouble –for which Aviva must always clean up. After a fight with her former friend at school, the girls’ punishment is to work together to create a fun Mitzvah activity for mothers and daughters. Beautifully written, this is a heartfelt story about grief and healing.
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
After a terrible car accident, Ruthie’s entire body is in a cast. She’s stuck in bed for months, then more months, then over a year with no television (it’s 1960). In a story based on the author’s childhood, we see this hardship punctuated by a vibrant, caring neighbor, a loving school tutor, and a determined physical therapist. Overall, Ruthie feels gratitude that she didn’t die, even on her hardest days, but it’s a challenging time, to say the least, and one that I connected to because of my daughter’s long-term illness.
The Many Mysteries of the Finkle Family by Sarah Kapit
Written in alternating perspectives, autistic sisters Lara and Caroline share their experiences in middle school and home. Lara starts a detective agency to investigate her dad’s bad food and inability to keep a job. And her snooping goes a bit too far. Meanwhile, her little sister, who is non-verbal and uses a computer, makes a friend in middle school who encourages her to pull pranks. She feels terrible about doing them. Both girls’ realize that for Yom Kippor, they can ask for atonement and make better choices.
Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron
After his mom leaves for a mental hospital stay, Etan stops talking. After school, he runs errands for a grocery store, and on one delivery, he meets a girl named Malia, who has a skin condition. She homeschools because other kids call her “Creature.” Etan shares his immigrant grandfather’s special clay from the Dead Sea with Malia, and it seems to help her skin. Etan encourages his new friend Malia to perform in a talent show, but a devastating earthquake changes their best-laid plans with ruinous plans of its own. This heartfelt book is about a friendship, faith, Jewish heritage, mental health, family, and differences, and it is beautifully narrated in verse.
All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl
I loved the richness of this cultural perspective, especially how the main character interacts with his Rabbi. Noah and Dash have always loved comedy — but when Dash’s dad commits suicide, their friendship is shattered. The author contrasts comedy with grief as Noah tries to make sense of what happened.
Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz
It’s 1975, and Joey is a Jewish boy whose family owns a hotel in Atlantic City. He’s a bit sheltered and accidentally gets involved with some shady gangsters. The mob boss tells Joey to hang out with his daughter while she visits for the summer. But he’s asked to hide something valuable, and as events unfold, he thinks about his Jewish faith, lying, legacy, and family. It’s a coming-of-age story with a strong atmospheric (New Jersey) setting.
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine
There aren’t many (any?) children’s books written about this time period in Spain during the Spanish flu and the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were persecuted and forced out of the country or killed. Loma is a super smart Jewish girl and a favorite of her abuelo, who advises the monarchy, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Set in this dangerous time, we see Loma growing into herself while she’s abuelo’s traveling companion. The pacing was a bit sluggishM but the historical information was very interesting.
Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin
Growing up in Cold War Russia, Yevgeny’s Jewish family is crowded into one room of an apartment housing many other families and a KBG spy, so he sleeps under the table –and draws under it, too. His mother works at the ballet and is obsessed with Baryshnikov and finding Yevgeny’s talent — which they discover is art. Even though their lives are filled with secrets and loss, Yevgeny finds happiness with his family and his art.
Books for Jewish High Holidays
Book Club Books
Books About the Holocaust