As someone just starting to raise a Jewish kid, I’m super aware that I want to give my child a full picture of the diverse spectrum of Jewish life. I don’t want him to think that Jews are supposed to look or be a certain way.
And, of course, I want him to know that being a Jew also means looking beyond yourself and fighting for a more just world. As someone who grew up with a house full of books — and who wants to instill a love for reading to her children — I figure the best way to start in on these topics are with some gorgeous Jewish books that touch on these issues.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when we celebrate the birth of the civil rights icon, is an ideal time to beef up the bookshelf with books that celebrate our diversity, and our commitment to a more just world. Below are a list of 18 delightful reads that range from simple picture books that happen to include diverse Jewish families and traditions, to compelling stories of Jews who were moved by the plight of others to fight for social justice.
For Toddlers and Infants:
1. My Face Book (Hebrew/English) by Star Bright Books
This book showcases a diverse collection of faces and details their expressions in Hebrew and English. It’s simple and sweet, and bonus: Infants and toddlers love looking at pics of their peers.
2. It’s Tot Shabbat! by Naomi Danis, photos by Tod Cohen
Similarl to My Face Book, this book shows the faces of a diverse Jewish congregation, and it also tells the story of how and why Shabbat is celebrated. A real twofer!
For Young Children:
3. Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla
Joey finds a way to celebrate his Mexican and Jewish heritage in quite possibly the most delicious way possible: by making jalapeno bagels. This beautifully illustrated book teaches some Yiddish and Spanish words, too.
4. Hanukkah Moon by Deborah De Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz
This beautifully illustrated picture book explores the Hanukkah customs of Latin American Jewish families. It’s told through the story of Isobel’s visit with her aunt Luisa, a new immigrant from Mexico. Isobel plays with a dreidel piñata and learns about celebrating the luna nueva, the new moon that appears on Hanukkah.
5. Emma’s Poem by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
Let your children discover the story of Emma Lazarus — a young woman who came from a wealthy Sephardic family in New York City, and who was moved by the plight of immigrants in Ellis Island. The Jewish poet wrote “The New Colossus” whose words are proudly featured on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
6. Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Teach your kids about coexistence with this beautiful book that depicts the relationship and religious traditions of two neighbors: Yaffa, who is Jewish, and Fatima, who is Muslim. It’s a lovely way to teach your kids about Islam and loving your neighbor.
7. Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
This book features a multicultural Jewish and Indian family celebrating Hanukkah and one curious and perky little girl! It’s a delight.
8. Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wizlig illustrated by Vicki Wehrman
In this book, author Tami Lehman-Wizlig explores Hanukkah traditions from countries all around the world, including Turkey and Uzbekistan, to name just a few.
9. Always an Olivia by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
In this pretty children’s book that’s based on the author’s remarkable family history, a girl’s great-grandmother tells her about her the story of her family’s Jewish and African American heritage.
10. What Makes Someone a Jew? by Lauren Seidman
What makes someone a Jew? Is it what they look like, or what they do? According to the author of this book — and to us, too! — it’s what’s in your heart.
11. Elan, Son of Two People by Heidi Smith-Hyde, illustrated by Mikela Prevost
This book tells the story of Elan, the son of a Jewish father and a Native American Pueblo mother, who undergoes both a bar mitzvah and the pueblo ceremony that takes one from childhood to manhood.
12. As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson, illustrated Raul Colon
This is the story of two amazing civil rights icons, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched for freedom together.
For Middle Readers:
13. Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz
In 1947, a biracial Jewish kid with a passion for baseball faces alienation in both his African-American community and in the Jewish community of Brooklyn.
14. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
Aside from the challenge of learning her bat mitzvah Torah portion and dealing with the usual challenges of a girl her age, Tara (Hindi for “star”) deals with how to balance her Indian and Jewish identity, as well as what it’s like having a bat mitzvah while you’re questioning your faith.
15. This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
David is preparing for his bar mitzvah, dealing with drama between his Jewish grandma and his Chinese grandma and… building a fallout shelter? A fun story about growing up Chinese and Jewish.
For Young Adults:
16. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
This coming-of-age story of Suzette, who is Black, Jewish, and bisexual, and her relationship with her stepbrother, Lionel, who has bipolar disorder. As Lisa Borten writes for for our sister site, Alma: “The intersectionality and emotional honesty in this book are unmatched, and anyone looking for a realistic portrayal of mental illness and well-developed characters will enjoy this book.”
17. Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
A young Cuban-Jewish immigrant to American adjusts to life in New York City while dealing with the aftermath of a terrible car accident in this dramatic coming of age tale.
18. Black, White & Jewish by Rebecca Walker
Rebecca Walker, the daughter of Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal, tells the story of growing up amid her parents’ divorce and juggling her mixed-race, black and Jewish identity during the civil rights era.