29 Books that Celebrate All Aspects of Jewish Life | Jewish American Heritage Month

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a time to remember and celebrate generations of Jewish Americans who helped shape American history and culture. Share these 29 titles that encompass the whole of the Jewish experience with your readers this month and all year long. 

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a time to remember and celebrate generations of Jewish Americans who helped shape American history and culture. Share these 29 titles that encompass the whole of the Jewish experience with your readers this month and all year long. 


Picture Books

Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey by Ruth Behar. illus. by Devon Holzwarth. Knopf. Jan. 2022. ISBN 9780593172414.
K-Gr 3–Estrella’s favorite aunt, Tia Fortuna, left Cuba years ago and now lives in Miami. Estrella loves visiting Tia Fortuna and hearing stories about her life and their shared heritage as Sephardic Jews. When she left Cuba, after Castro came to power, Tia Fortuna took the key to her Cuban casita, as Sephardic legends encourage, and wore it around her neck as a sign of hope going forward. Now Tia Fortuna is leaving Seaway, her Miami home, to go to a house for the aged. Before Estrella leaves, Tia Fortuna gives her the key to Seaway, continuing the tradition of hope.

A Queen to the Rescue: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah by Nancy Churnin. illus. by Yevgenia Nayberg. Creston. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781939547958.
K-Gr 4–This biography of the founder of the Jewish women’s charity effectively introduces a lesser-known, influential woman to a wider audience. A worthwhile addition for any library looking to expand picture book content on powerful women, this will be especially appreciated in libraries serving Jewish populations.

Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin. illus. by Bethany Stancliffe. Albert Whitman. Oct. 2021.  ISBN 9780807515303.
Gr 1-5–It is difficult to find children’s books that focus on the severity of anti-Semitism that aren’t about the persecution of the Jewish people during eras such as the Holocaust, pogroms, or the Inquisition. Churnin, known for her feel-good picture biographies about unlikely heroes, examines a less-familiar period in history in her newest work. The story centers on real-life Eliza Davis, a devoted reader and fan of Charles Dickens, who took it upon herself to write to the celebrated author about her concerns with the depiction of the Jewish thief, Fagin, in Oliver Twist. What unfolds in the story proves that with pen and paper, and some courage, we can persuade our own role models to make their wrongs right.

A Perfect Fit: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion by Mara Rockliff. illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal. Clarion. Apr. 2022. ISBN 9780358125433.
Gr 1-4–At 16, Lena Bryant joined her sister in New York City to escape poverty and antisemitism in Europe. Sewing from dawn till dusk in the garment district allowed her to work with “Lace! Ribbons! Silk! [and] sewing machines!” She soon met and then lost her husband, David Bryant, becoming a widow with an infant and a pair of diamond earrings. Undaunted, she used the earrings to buy a sewing machine and got to work making clients fabulous gowns without benefit of patterns or tape measures. She went on to transform the clothing industry by designing clothes for all body shapes and sizes. This biography deftly covers the highlights of Bryant’s life in an enjoyable and accessible manner, a one-of-a-kind origin story of a retail success whose foundations were based on helping others feel great. 

B Is for Bagel by Rachel Teichman. photos by Rebecca Wright. The Collective Book Studio. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9781951412470.
PreS-Gr 2–The versatility of the bagel is celebrated in this specific and charming alphabet book. The first pages describe the process of making bagels in rhyming text rich with sensory descriptions. Next is the alphabet section, which has a bright and consistent design that will appeal to young readers. This winsome alphabet book, both informative and appetizing, is recommended for general purchase.

Can Sophie Change the World? by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. illus. by Aura Lewis. Chronicle. Mar. 2022. ISBN 9781452181561.
PreS-Gr 3–It is almost Grandpop’s birthday, but Sophie, a young girl with pale skin and red hair, cannot think of the right gift to give him. Grandpop, also pale-skinned, warmly tells Sophie that he genuinely wants nothing more than for her to change the world by doing mitzvahs, the Jewish commandment of doing good deeds. How can Sophie possibly change the world all by herself? 

Older Readers

Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow. Dial. Jun. 2021. ISBN 9780593112939.
Gr 5 Up–A delightful middle grade debut exploring first crushes and family relationships. Dalia is upset to discover that her father has had a girlfriend for the past six months and is now getting married. Dalia always thought she and her father were close, so this comes as a shock. But the worst part isn’t Vanessa, her dad’s fiancée; it’s Vanessa’s college-aged daughter, Alexa. Alexa seems angry and uninterested in getting to know Dalia, but their parents want the girls to bond. A secret roller-coaster obsession plays a key role in how these would-be stepsisters chart a new path toward family.

Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9780063092044.
Gr 2-4–On the last day of third grade, Harriet’s pregnant mother is put on strict bed rest until the baby comes—which isn’t supposed to happen until August. This, coupled with her father’s busy work schedule, is the reason Harriet is shipped off to her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast on Marble Island for the entire summer. As much as Harriet loves the island and Nanu, she is understandably angry at the situation and struggles to adapt. Her first-person narration showcases her conflicting actions as she tries to understand her complex emotions.

Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science by Jeannine Atkins. Atheneum. Mar. 2022. ISBN 9781665902502.
Gr 5 Up–In brief verses that paint vivid pictures, Atkins, the author of Finding Wonders, Grasping Mysteries, and other biographies of famous women, presents the complicated and often tragic life of Lise Meitner, the Austrian physicist who was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission. With her portrait of a determined, brilliant physicist, Atkins presents a moving, lyrical tale that reveals the struggles of female scientists and of European Jews between the two world wars.

Alma Presses Play by Tina Cane. Random/Make Me a World. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9780593121146.
Gr 6-9–It’s 1982, and Alma Rosen is 13. She is in her final year of middle school and can feel her world changing around her. Her parents are on the cusp of divorce, she just started getting her period, and she can see her friendships growing and changing. This beautifully written, emotionally charged look at growing up and moving through life’s changes is a great addition to upper middle grade collections looking for detailed and nuanced coming-of-age stories.

Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Mar. 2022. ISBN 9780062881724.
Gr 4-7–Marco Honeyman and Isaac Castillo are next-door neighbors and best friends, despite their apparent differences: Jewish-Mexican Marco is small and book-smart, while Isaac, who is also Latinx, is a gifted and hard-working basketball player who struggles to manage his homework. At every turn, Isaac and Marco support each other in this affirming story of basketball, middle school, friendship, and family, and choosing kindness and determination over easy cowardice or cruelty.

RBG’s Brave & Brilliant Women: 33 Jewish Women to Inspire Everyone by Nadine Epstein. illus. by Bee Johnson. Delacorte. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9780593377185.
Gr 3-6–In 2019, the author began working with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to compile a list of 33 individuals from ancient times to today and from all over the world who “were guided or shaped by Jewish beliefs or values” and “transcended what was expected, allowed, or tolerated for a woman of their time.” An exceptional resource, it can be read from cover to cover or just flipped through for ideas and inspiration.

We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman. Viking. Jun. 2021. ISBN 9780425290804.
Gr 9 Up–After his brother dies from an overdose, Aaron is alone and adrift. His friends have all graduated, his mom has left town, and the family bookstore is literally falling to pieces around him. It seems inevitable for him to sell the store, but once it’s sold, an old friend of his brother’s named Chad suddenly convinces Aaron to make it wheelchair-accessible, and a local crew of unemployed lumberjacks decides to assist in the renovations. Aaron doesn’t have the heart to tell them about the sale before everything spirals out of control.

They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman. Listening Library. Aug. 2021. ISBN 9780593398012.
Gr 9 Up–Stella and Ellie are sisters who are only 14 months apart. They share a gift and a love for cross-country running. However, their very different personalities reveal a host of secrets that divide them as well. When a talented new girl threatens the sisters’ dominance on the team, they befriend her in different ways, but when she goes missing, Stella and Ellie are suspects in her disappearance.

A Million Quiet Revolutions by Robin Gow. Farrar. Mar. 2022. ISBN 9780374388416.
Gr 10 Up–Aaron and Oliver are trans boys beginning their senior year of high school. Their plans of a future together come to a halt when an incident causes Aaron’s family to move away. To cope with his loneliness, Oliver dives into history to find stories of queer people. What he finds is a tale of two Revolutionary War soldiers who may have been trans men in love. Aaron and Oliver decide to adopt the names of these soldiers and write letters to each other, hoping to keep their love alive until their next meeting.

[READ: 7 Books to Celebrate Jewish Life]

As if on Cue by Marisa Kanter. S. & S. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9781534445802.
Gr 9 Up–When budget cuts lead to dramatic reductions in the arts at her high school, junior Natalie Jacobson is furious. She and her fellow drama club members band together with students from other clubs to convince the school that the arts matter. Natalie, Reid, and their families are Jewish, and Jewish culture is deftly incorporated into the text, while Natalie’s friend group includes people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations. Serious topics including microaggressions, anti-Semitism, and sexism are seamlessly woven into an entertaining and humorous story.

Lessons in Fusion by Primrose Madayag Knazan. Yellow Dog. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781773370682.
Gr 7 Up–Sarah Dayan-Abed is a 16-year-old multiracial, Ashkenazi Jewish and Filipinx teen who loves cooking, writing for her fusion cooking blog, and watching her favorite reality show, Cyber Chef, created during the pandemic. When an opportunity to star in Cyber Chef: Next Gen arises, Sarah jumps at it. However, it becomes clear that the show is in search of someone Filipinx. Sarah identifies more with her Jewish heritage, so her backstory is rewritten to fit the program’s demographic desire. The book superbly tackles issues of identity, both in the ways we see ourselves and the ways the world perceives us.

Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy. Orca. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781459827073.
Gr 3-7–When her relationship with her best friend, Sam, came to an abrupt end, Evie decided to give up friends. It’s easy to do; she is bullied by classmates because her parents run a funeral home. She’s excited when her mother asks for her assistance with a grieving family with a son who is Evie’s age. Oren is the sole survivor of a car crash that killed both his parents. While Evie’s attempts to comfort Oren initially backfire, the two become close, despite Evie’s stance on friendship and even though Oren has not spoken since the accident. Soon it’s clear Oren is helping Evie as much as she is helping him; the two need each other to process their trauma.

Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson. illus. by Terri Libenson. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. ISBN 9780062894540
Gr 4-6–Brianna’s mom has a way of talking her into taking center stage, but when Brianna reluctantly agrees to have a Bat Mitzvah, she realizes that things have gone too far. Not only must she be in the spotlight but she also has to write and perform a speech and read passages in Hebrew, a language she doesn’t know, in front of her friends and family. Her mom has gone into preparation overdrive, her parents are fighting constantly, and the whole school thinks that this will be the party of the year. Will Brianna survive the school year—including a change in social status and friend drama—while still managing not to embarrass herself at the big event? 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Lockhart. illus. by Manuel Preitano. DC Comics. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9781401293222.
Gr 8 Up–Sixteen-year-old Willow Zimmerman lives in Down River, a borough of Gotham City. She is an activist for school funding and befriends a new classmate, Garfield, who has just moved to town after growing up in Nigeria. Willow struggles to balance personal, social, and professional goals, especially when a big payday requires her to compromise her morals. Willow and her mom are Jewish, and there is information about Gotham’s Jewish history and culture, dialogue about mitzvahs and tikkun olam, and settings ranging from a synagogue to stores with names like Moishe’s, Rosen Bros. Delicatessen, and Shelsky’s Bagels.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe. Levine Querido. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9781646141258.
Gr 3-7–After losing her father in a terrible accident, 11-year-old Aviva Jacobs and her mother move into a small apartment above the local mikvah, a traditional bathhouse for orthodox Jewish women. Aviva’s mother takes care of the mikvah and those who visit it, and Aviva takes care of the dybbuk, a mischievous spirit in Jewish folklore. As she juggles the stresses of school, friends, and an increasingly tense situation at home, Aviva discovers her inner strength and the resilience of her community.

Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido. Versify/Clarion. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9780358386919.
Gr 4-6–Hannah relates to the world through recipes and baking, usually along with Grandma Mimi, older brother Sam, and best friend Shira. Hannah is a strong narrator, and the narrative is engagingly interspersed with charming handwritten recipes with notes and scratch-outs, poems that follow a recipe-like format, and passages from the Torah. Food, family, friendships, and Jewish identity are the focus of this moving coming-of-age story.

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern. Candlewick. Oct. 2021. ISBN 9781536215588.
Gr 4-7–Maple Mehta-Cohen has a secret, and she has worked hard to make sure no one finds out. Maple loves to tell, and spends much of her time dictating, her stories about her half-Indian, half-Jewish sleuth into her recorder. But despite her storytelling ability and expansive vocabulary, Maple doesn’t know how to read. For young people who struggle with reading or feeling different because of other academic issues, Maple is a welcome protagonist.

Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs by Laurie Morrison. Abrams/Amulet. May 2021. ISBN 9781419741258.
Gr 4-6–Thirteen-year-old Ivy knows what she is good at: being kind to others. Like many middle schoolers, Ivy is grasping for an identity, and has decided that being kind is her “thing,” the way sports or academics are for other kids. Ivy is not so good at being kind to herself, however, and her relationships with her family and friends suffer. Ivy is always ready to help others, but won’t share or let herself be helped in turn.

Strange Creatures by Phoebe North. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jun. 2021. ISBN 9780062841155.
Gr 9 Up–Fantasy, trauma, abuse, and grief are explored through the lives of white Jewish siblings who feel they are a soul shared between two bodies, their lives and minds braided together in ways that seem otherworldly. A devastatingly tragic and deeply immersive masterpiece.

From Dust, a Flame by Rebecca Podos. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9780062699060.
Gr 9 Up–When Hannah wakes up on her 17th birthday with the eyes of a snake, her eccentric mother, Mali, promises she can fix Hannah’s ailment, and then leaves without a trace. Hannah and her brother, Gabe, receive notice that their Jewish grandmother, Jitka, whom they have never met, has died. They head to the small town of Fox Hollows to meet their mom’s family for the first time, hoping for answers.

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros. Inkyard. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9781335402509.
Gr 9 Up–It’s 1893 in Chicago during the World’s Fair and Jewish Romanian immigrant Alter Rosen, born sick and named to confuse the Angel of Death, finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery. Jewish boys all around the city have gone missing and been found murdered. Yakov, his close friend and roommate, is the most recent to be found dead. Strange things begin happening to Alter and he discovers that he’s possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk—a spirit that occupies a person’s soul until they accomplish a goal. In this case, the goal is tracking down Yakov’s killer, and Alter must do so before the dybbuk takes over entirely.

Before We Were Blue by E. J. Schwartz. North Star. Sept. 2021. ISBN 9781635830699.
Gr 8 Up–Set in a facility for girls with eating disorders, the story unfolds from two perspectives. Shoshana is a Jewish girl who has a passion for cheerleading. Her parents are very supportive of her choices, but when she stopped eating, they sought professional help. Rowan has been in and out of treatment centers over several years and tries to play the system in her efforts not to eat. The two try to escape the facility, and when that fails, the friendship becomes extremely rocky. This will be popular with readers who like to read about teens having to combat great personal challenges.

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick. Fitzroy. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9781646032037.
Gr 6-9–Abe Pearlman is just an ordinary kid. He has a crush on Mitzy Singer, the blue-haired girl he has liked since fourth grade. Abe meets a strange fortune-teller who tells him he must save a life, and soon he is transported to the slums of Whitechapel in London’s East End during the time of Jack the Ripper. After a short time there, he realizes that Mitzy has been transported back in time as well, only she must travel on a ship to complete her fortune. Can Abe and Mitzy solve the mysteries of the fortune-teller’s curse, or will they be stuck in the 1880s forever? Vernick mixes fantasy, a bit of mystery, and historical fiction to bring middle school readers a story of Jewish life in London’s East End in the late 1800s.



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