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Best Jewish books for Children and Teens

A JPS Guide

Authored by Linda R. Silver MLS

Publication Year: 2010

So many books, so little time! Where do you start? With this book: Linda Silver’s guide to the most notable books for young readers. Here are a top librarian’s picks of the best in writing, illustration, reader appeal, and authentically Jewish content in picture books, fiction and non-fiction, for early childhood through the high school years. You’ll find the classics like K’tonton and the All-of-a-Kind Family books, right on to Terrible Things, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and today’s bestsellers, along with hundreds of others. Chapters are organized by subject and entries within each include a succinct description of the book and author, and Silver’s own insights on what makes it worth reading. There are title, subject, author, and illustrator indexes, title-grouping by reading level, and lists of award winners. A wonderful reference for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians—and, of course, the kids so dear to them.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Front Cover

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pp. i


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pp. ii


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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix

To have a book published by the oldest and most prestigious Jewish publishing house in North America is an honor for which I am very grateful. The editor of the JPS Guide series, Norman H. Finkelstein, has been a pleasure to work with and I thank him for his patience, guidance, and sense of humor. Thanks as well to Carol Hupping, Janet Liss, and the rest of the JPS staff for seeing this book through from proposal to publication and beyond. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Once books for English-speaking American Jewish children began being published, it took several decades for writers to find a voice that spoke to their readers, whose languages and experiences were different from those of their European ancestors. No immigrant group has ever appreciated the freedom and opportunity that America offered more than Jews, despite the hardships that many of them endured. Yet, until the thumb-sized ...

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1. Jewish Rites and Customs

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pp. 1-18

The Jewish year is made up not only of holidays but also of customs and rites of passage that mark major milestones in the life of a Jew. Although observances marking birth, b’nai mitzvah, marriage, and death are traditionally the most widely known and practiced, for contemporary American Jews, new celebrations and ceremonies have been added for events such as adoption, divorce, relations among the generations, and aging. Books for children ...

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2. Holidays

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pp. 19-60

For as long as literature for Jewish children has been published in North America, books about the Jewish holidays, along with Bible stories, have been predominant. Often appearing as religious school textbooks, they came into their own with the publication of The Adventures of K’tonton by Sadie Rose Weilerstein (Women’s League of Conservative Judaism, 1935) and Hillel’s Happy Holidays by Mamie Gamoran (Union of American Hebrew ...

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3. The Bible

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pp. 61-94

Bible stories were among the first books written in English for American-Jewish children and they comprise one of the largest subject categories in books published for Jewish children. These titles began to be published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as teaching the text of the Bible in Hebrew was falling out of practice. American-Jewish leaders realized that the children of immigrants, whose first language was English, needed books ...

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4. Folklore

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pp. 95-124

No literature better reflects the beliefs, history, and values of the Jewish people than our folk literature, whether it originates in the Bible, Talmud, or Midrash or from less canonical sources. And no type of literature written for children is more able to convey profound truths. The setting may be strange or unfamiliar, the characters magical or mysterious, but the story is always meaningful because it imparts fundamental truths—truths ...

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5. History

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pp. 125-146

Writing history for children, either factual books or historical fiction, requires a great deal of skill because younger children have little sense of history and older ones often have only a fragmentary knowledge of it. It isn’t all that uncommon for librarians and teachers to be asked by children some version of a question such as “Was butter invented when you were little? or if the Civil Rights movement came before the Civil War. When the ...

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6. Immigrant Life

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pp. 147-166

Because of the importance of immigration in the Jewish-American memory, and the many books about immigration that have been written for children, a separate chapter has been devoted to books on this topic. Probably the best-known and best loved-children’s book of Jewish content ever written in English, Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels, is an immigration story about a Jewish family, based on the author’s memory of her ...

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7. The Holocaust and World War II

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pp. 167-202

Books for children about the Holocaust offer a real challenge to the authors who write them and to the parents, teachers, and librarians who choose them for children to read. Children’s books are expected to affirm life, to offer hope, and to end on, if not a happy note, then at least a positive one. The realities of war and the Holocaust defy these goals, so it is hard to achieve them without distortion. For example, many Holocaust ...

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8. Israel and Zionism

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pp. 203-232

Narratives about the Land of Israel (also known as Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel), appear in only a few early 20th-century Jewish books for children. The concluding tale in Rufus Learsi’s Kasriel the Watchman (The Jewish Publication Society, 1925) expresses a yearning for Zion as two brothers, long separated, reunite in what the author calls “the Ancient Land.” The first collection of Weilerstein’s K’tonton stories, The ...

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9. Contemporary Issues

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pp. 233-240

Atrend toward more realism in children’s books was jump-started in the 1960s with the ‘publication of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The first is a realistic novel for elementary-age readers set in New York. The second is a “wild rumpus” among fantasy monsters that a little boy named Max imagines. Sendak’s book is realistic is in its exploration of a child’s inner life, including emotions like ...

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10. Famous Jews

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pp. 241-256

Biographies for young people have been a staple of Jewish publishing ever since Think and Thank, a biography of Sir Moses Montefiore was published by The Jewish Publication Society in 1890. Written by a non-Jewish author named Samuel Williams Cooper, its uplifting message of manly courage and self-discipline appealed to the Society’s trustees and became a model for other JPS juvenile biographies.25 Decades later, the Society co-published with ...

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11. Judaism and Other Religions

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pp. 257-270

The books included in this chapter are a testimony to pluralism within the American Jewish community and to a wider-reaching pluralism that aims to inculcate in all children respect for different religious beliefs besides their own. For young children, there are simple pictorial introductions to complex concepts such as God, prayer, and the question, “What does it mean to be a Jew?” The writer and artist Mark Podwal has created some visually stunning, lyrically written portrayals of Jewish symbols. For older ...


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pp. 271-272

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National Jewish Book Award Winners

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pp. 273-278

The National Jewish Book Awards are presented annually by the Jewish Book Council to recognize outstanding books, stimulate writers to further literary creativity, and encourage the reading of worthwhile titles. Awards are given in numerous categories, and two books for children and/or teens are usually selected (although in a few years, no awards were given). The first children’s book to win a National Jewish Book Award was All-of-a-Kind Family by ...

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Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners

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pp. 279-284

The Sydney Taylor Book Award was established by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) in honor of the author of the All-of-a-Kind Family stories to encourage the creation of outstanding children’s books with Jewish content. The award is given to authors who make the most distinguished contributions to Jewish children’s literature each year. The first award was given in 1968. In most years since then, two awards have been given, one to a book for younger ...

Titles by Recommended Reading Levels

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pp. 285-296

Index by Title

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pp. 297-308

Index by Author

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pp. 309-315

Index by Illustrator

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pp. 316-319

Index by Subject

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pp. 320-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780827611214
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827609037

Publication Year: 2010