As queer and Jewish books are getting banned all over the country, and transgender rights are under attack, it’s heartening to find many Jewish authors and advocates at the center of the fight — from queen of the banned books, Judy Blume, to all the incredible rabbis and activists at the forefront of the fight against homophobic and transphobic house bills across the nation.
Amidst that fight, I think we all deserve a diversion — and what better way than to sink into a really great book?
Over the past years, I’ve noticed a real boon in excellent, queer Jewish representation in young adult and middle grade fiction. Some of these stories are dark — they grapple with both homophobia and antisemitism. And yet most of them celebrate Jewish queer joy, Jewish queer stories, and give representation to Jewish kids who for a long time didn’t feel like they could see themselves in their favorite books. These books aren’t only beautifully written, they’re tikkun olam in action.
Here are some amazing LGBTQ+ Jewish reads for kids of all ages.
“Purim Superhero” by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne
It’s been 10 years since “The Purim Superhero” came out, a delightful book about a child with two dads who is looking for the best Jewish costume.
“The Harvey Milk Story” by Kari Krakow, illustrated by David Gardner
Unlike other children’s books that tell the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, this one mentions his Jewishness.
“Havdalah Sky” by Chris Barash, illustrated by Sarita Rich
A girl, her ima, her mama and her grandparents mark the end of Shabbat together in this sweet book.
“The Flower Girl Wore Celery” by Meryl G. Gordon, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
A girl leads her cousin Hannah, and Hannah’s bride, down to the chuppah in this truly darling book, which is available on Amazon Kids.
Bonus mentions: There truly aren’t — yet! — a lot of Jewish kids’ and board books that center both Jewish themes and queer families (some books do feature them in passing). Yet the truth is that queer Jews — like Maurice Sendak and Arnold Lobel, may their memories be a blessing — have given us some of the best children’s books of all time. Likewise, some of the best queer kids books were written by Jewish authors — from Leslea Newman’s “Heather Has Two Mommies” and her many subsequent books to Kyle Lukoff’s “When Aiden Became a Brother,” which absolutely belongs in every kids’ library.
“Ellen Outside the Lines” by A.J. Sass
This book by A.J. Sass has all the things I love — neurodivergent and queer characters, doting Israeli dads who pepper their speech with Hebrew, and a beautiful European city as a backdrop. This book takes us to Barcelona through the eyes of Elle Katz, a 13-year-old autistic teen who goes there on a school trip with her abba. It’s a touching and relatable coming-of-age tale about the meaning of friendship and coming to terms with your gender identity and sexuality. Reading it I felt so deeply for Ellen, and it’s truly a book I wish I had as a young teen.
“Ring of Solomon” by Aden Polydoros
JEWISH FANTASY! As someone who grew up on lots and lots of fantasy books, with very little Jewish rep, I am so glad there’s more and more Jewish fantasy for young readers, and the Jewish excellence in the tomes on this list is truly other level.
This book from Polydoros is the first in a trilogy (!) about Zach Darlington, a queer Jewish boy whose mother is obsessed with Judaica. When he accidentally buys her the Ring of Solomon, he gets embroiled in a world of Jewish magic and dark conspiracies and meets a Jewish demon masquerading as a teen. Inspired by the wealth of Jewish folklore, this book is also a tale about what it means to be a modern Jewish adolescent.
“Almost Flying” by Jake Maia Arlow
A book about a queer Jewish girl who’s obsessed with roller coasters — do I need to say more? Dalia joins her future stepsister and her girlfriend along on a ride that ends up being an awakening for her and her feelings for her friend Rani. Arlow’s “How to Excavate a Heart” is also an incredibly Jewish YA holiday romance, and I’m excited for their upcoming “The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet,” which is about a queer Jewish girl with Crohn’s disease — truly long overdue Jewish rep.
“The Puttermans Are in the House” by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman
Family is at the center of this middle grade novel, which takes place in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It follows three teens, all part of the mostly baseball-obsessed Jewish Putterman family — twins Sammy and Matty, and their cousin Becky, whose lives are upended by the hurricane and by the pains of growing up, which, for one of them, means coming to term with their sexual orientation. Feldman writes extremely compelling multiple perspective tales in which you get such a feel for the characters.
Bonus mention: This book is not Jewish, but since we are talking about book bans, I’d be remiss not to include “Answers in the Pages,” about a small town book banning, by David Levithan — an author who has also brought us a lot of excellent Jewish and queer YA, from “Wide Awake” to the “Dash and Lilly” series.
“The City Beautiful” by Aden Polydoros
This Polydoros novel takes place in 1893 Chicago, when the World Fair made it to the Midwestern city. This time, the fantasy author takes on the Jewish folklore tale of the dybbuk. Our protagonist, Alter Rosen, a gay immigrant boy from Romania, falls prey to the dybbuk and then goes on a quest to find a killer who targets Jewish teens. If you love horror and fantasy and historical novels brimming with Jewish details, this is an absolute must-read that tackles antisemitism and internalized homophobia.
“Going Bicoastal” by Dahlia Adler
Adler, who wrote the much-loved “Cool for the Summer,” is back with a new book about a bisexual Jewish heroine (the pun in the title is just chef’s kiss). This book follows Natalya Fox as she explores two summers that could be — one in New York with her father, and one in LA with her estranged mom. Each summer has its own potential for romance and opportunity for Natalya to assert what being Jewish means to her — from not eating pork to celebrating Shabbat. Adler’s books are all engrossing and wonderful, a decadent summer treat for teens (and adults!). The audiobook is narrated by Mara Wilson, which makes it even more delightful.
“Lion’s Legacy” by L. C. Rosen
I have raved about Rosen’s “Camp,” absolutely one of my favorite Jewish summer camp books ever. His newest, “Lion’s Legacy,” is about a Jewish teen who skips Hanukkah to go on an archeological journey with his estranged father, who he once starred with in a treasure-hunting reality show. It’s perfect for this summer which marks the return of Indiana Jones (who, as Harrison Ford has said, would be first in line to punch some Nazis). Rosen’s books are a treasure for teens who may feel like they have to placate others by toning down their identity. They’re about being unapologetically queer and taking ownership of your stories.
“Planning Perfect” by Hailey Neil
Neil continually brings us wonderful asexual Jewish rep. This is her sophomore novel and it’s a lovely tale about a Jewish girl planning a wedding for her mother and working with her long-distance friend Nancy, who volunteers her family’s apple orchard for the event. Her first book, “Once More With Chutzpah,” is absolutely wonderful and a great book for those of you who want to find ways for your teens to connect with Israel.
“This Rebel Heart” by Katherine Locke
Locke’s writing is so devastatingly beautiful in this fantasy novel that takes place in post-war Budapest. It’s about a Jewish teen caught in the heart of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. There’s something really haunting about reading a book about a teenage Holocaust survivor still moored in the land from which over 400,000 Jews were deported and murdered, and this book is full of incredible details about the European city that has a rich and complex Jewish and political history and lots of queer rep, too.
“From Dust, A Flame” by Rebecca Podos
This is a modern sapphic Jewish fantasy tale centered on Hannah, who on her 17th birthday, wakes up with snake-slitted eyes and discovers she’s been the victim of a curse — and that her family’s Jewish history and Jewish folklore may hold the key to breaking it. This book is about connecting to your Jewishness as a young adult for the first time, and I do think that’s such a relatable experience for so many teens who grew up never really exploring their roots.
“When Angels Left the Old Country” by Sacha Lamb
The second season of fantasy series “Good Omens” is coming out next month, and if you love the tale of the demon and angel and their quirky relationship (co-written by Jewish author Neil Gaiman!) then you absolutely need to read this book about Jewish angel Uriel and demon Ash who study Talmud together in a shtetl and who then leave for America. I love the banter, I love the humor, I love the masterful storytelling and the deep, deep Jewishness of it all.
“The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek” by Seth Rudetsky
Excited for the upcoming movie “Theater Camp?” This book by Rudetsky is a perfect companion, about a gay Jewish teen obsessed with Broadway who goes to live with his grandmother in New York City. It has a frenetic, funny, snarky, theater-loving energy.
Bonus mention: Jewish author and YA legend Becky Albertalli’s latest, “Imogen, Obviously,” features a queer Jewish love interest!