This list of Read in Color recommended reads explores what it means to be Jewish and shares experiences from the Jewish community. These titles are recommended by Little Free Library’s Diverse Books Advisory Group and others. The list of books includes options for early readers, middle and YA readers, and adults and advanced readers.
View all of the Read in Color Recommended Reading lists. These lists are far from exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for exploring different perspectives. We recognize that categorizing books can be limiting and are working to show the intersectionality within our reading lists.
Jewish (Early Readers)
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The Adventures of Hershel of Ostropol
The Adventures of Hershel of Ostropol by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (64 pp, Holiday House, 2019). Hershel of Ostropol can out-wit anyone! This funny collection of stories follows the celebrated Jewish folk hero as he gulls a stingy innkeeper, fierce bandits and even his own father. Quick-thinking, clever, and funny, the legendary Hershel of Ostropol is one of folk-lore’s greatest tricksters. Ages 8-12.
The Book Rescuer
The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (48 pp, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2019). Over the last forty years, Aaron Lansky has jumped into dumpsters, rummaged around musty basements, and crawled through cramped attics. He did all of this in pursuit of a particular kind of treasure, and he’s found plenty. Lansky’s treasure was any book written Yiddish, the language of generations of European Jews. When he started looking for Yiddish books, experts estimated there might be about 70,000 still in existence. Since then, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient has collected close to 1.5 million books, and he’s finding more every day. Ages 0-5.
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Meyer, illustrated by Deborah Melmon (32 pp, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016). Two grandmas. Two delicious recipes. And one granddaughter caught in the middle! Sophie loves Bubbe’s Jewish chicken soup, made with kreplach. She also loves Nai Nai’s Chinese chicken soup, with wonton. But don’t tell Bubbe and Nai Nai that their soups are the same! Can Sophie bring her whole family together for a warm and tasty surprise? An inclusive look at a multicultural family, and a little girl’s unique approach to combining her family’s traditions. Ages 4-9.
Dear Mr. Dickens
Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe (32 pp, Albert Whitman & Company, 2021). In Eliza Davis’s day, Charles Dickens was the most celebrated living writer in England. But some of his books reflected a prejudice that was all too common at the time: prejudice against Jewish people. Eliza was Jewish, and her heart hurt to see a Jewish character in Oliver Twist portrayed as ugly and selfish. She wanted to speak out about how unfair that was, even if it meant speaking out against the great man himself. So she wrote a letter to Charles Dickens. What happened next is history. Ages 8-12.
Gitty and Kvetch
Gitty and Kvetch by Caroline Kusin Pritchard, illustrated by Ariel Landy (48 pp, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021). In this hilariously sweet story about an opposites-attract friendship, chock-full of Yiddish humor, a girl and her best bird friend’s perfect day turns into a perfect opportunity to see things differently. Ages 2-6.
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story about Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (40 pp, Schwartz and Wade, 2016). Mrs. Goldman always knits hats for everyone in the neighborhood, and Sophia, who thinks knitting is too hard, helps by making the pom-poms. But now winter is here, and Mrs. Goldman herself doesn’t have a hat-she’s too busy making hats for everyone else! It’s up to Sophia to buckle down and knit a hat for Mrs. Goldman. But try as Sophia might, the hat turns out lumpy, the stitches aren’t even, and there are holes where there shouldn’t be holes. Sophia is devastated until she gets an idea that will make Mrs. Goldman’s hat the most wonderful of all. Readers both young and old will relate to Sophia’s frustrations, as well as her delight in making something special for someone she loves. Ages 4-8.
Here Is the World
Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal (48 pp, Henry N. Abrams, 2014). Here Is the World is a joyous celebration of the Jewish holidays throughout the year for young children. Beginning with the weekly observance of Shabbat, readers join a family through the holidays and the corresponding seasons. From sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to lighting the menorah for Chanukah to rattling a grogger for Purim, and on through the Jewish year, the joy and significance of each holiday beautifully come to life. Ages 4-7.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins: 25th Anniversary Edition by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (32 pp, Holiday House, 2014). On the first night of Hanukkah, a weary traveler named Hershel of Ostropol eagerly approaches a village, where plenty of latkes and merriment should warm him. But when he arrives not a single candle is lit. A band of frightful goblins has taken over the synagogue, and the villagers cannot celebrate at all! Hershel vows to help them. Using his wits, the clever trickster faces down one goblin after the next, night after night. But can one man alone save Hanukkah and live to tell the tale? Ages 4-8.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (40 pp, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016).Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—in the first picture book about her life—as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable! Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements. Ages 4-8.
The Keeping Quilt
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco (32 pp, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2001). “We will make a quilt to help us always remember home,” Anna’s mother said. “It will be like heaving the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night. And so it was. From a basket of old clothes, Anna’s babushka, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havalah’s nightdress and an apron of Aunt Natasha’s become The Keeping Quilt, passed along from mother to daughter for almost a century. For four generations the quilt is a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket that welcomes babies warmly into the world. In strongly moving pictures that are as heartwarming as they are real, patricia Polacco tells the story of her own family, and the quilt that remains a symbol of their enduring love and faith. Ages 4-8.
The Key from Spain
The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (32 pp, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019). When Flory’s ancestors are forced to leave Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, they take with them their two most precious possessions–the key to their old house and the Ladino language. When Flory flees Europe during World War II to begin a new life in the United States, she carries Ladino with her, along with her other precious possessions–her harmoniku and her music. But what of the key Discover the story of Ladino singer Flory Jagoda. Ages 3-8.
Matzah Craze by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh, illustrated by Lauren Gallegos (32 pp, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2021). When Noa refuses to swap food from her lunch one day, her friends wonder why. She explains it’s because it’s Passover. For the rest of the week, she brings Passover foods to school to share with her friends to let them enjoy the holiday fun. Ages 4-9.
Osnat and Her Dove
Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi (40 pp, Levine Querido, 2021). Osnat was born five hundred years ago – at a time when almost everyone believed in miracles. But very few believed that girls should learn to read. Yet Osnat’s father was a great scholar whose house was filled with books. And she convinced him to teach her. Then she in turn grew up to teach others, becoming a wise scholar in her own right, the world’s first female rabbi! Ages 4-8.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Evan Turk (48 pp, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021). As an observant child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees–and, after seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers’ rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too. Ages 4-8.
Red and Green and Blue and White
Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (32 pp, Levine Querido, 2021). It’s a holiday season that both Isaac, whose family is Jewish, and Teresa, whose family is Christian, have looked forward to for months! They’ve been counting the days, playing in the snow, making cookies, drawing (Teresa) and writing poems (Isaac). They enjoy all the things they share, as well as the things that make them different. But when Isaac’s window is smashed in the middle of the night, it seems like maybe not everyone appreciates difference. Ages 4-7.
A Synagogue Just Like Home
A Synagogue Just Like Home by Alice Blumenthal McGinty, illustrated by Laurel Molk (40 pp, Candlewick Press, 2022). A new rabbi’s efforts to fix up his aging synagogue are a labor of love–and a comedy of errors–until his congregants fondly pool their talents in this lighthearted celebration of community. Ages 4-8.
Tía Fortuna’s New Home
Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey by Ruth Behar, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (32 pp, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022). A poignant multicultural ode to family and what it means to create a home as one girl helps her Tía move away from her beloved Miami apartment. Ages 4-8.
Jewish (Middle Readers)
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All Three Stooges
All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl (240 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018). Spoiler alert: This book is not about the Three Stooges. It’s about Noah and Dash, two seventh graders who are best friends and comedy junkies. That is, they were best friends, until Dash’s father died suddenly and Dash shut Noah out. Which Noah deserved, according to Noa, the girl who, annoyingly, shares both his name and his bar mitzvah day. Now Noah’s confusion, frustration, and determination to get through to Dash are threatening to destroy more than just their friendship. But what choice does he have? As Noah sees it, sometimes you need to risk losing everything, even your sense of humor, to prove that gone doesn’t have to mean “gone for good.” Ages 10-12.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemer (336 pp, Delacorte Press, 2020). Inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores discrimination and antisemitism and reveals their dangerous impact. Would you defend the indefensible? That’s what seniors Logan March and Cade Crawford are asked to do when a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution — the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people. Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand, and soon their actions draw the attention of the student body, the administration, and the community at large. But not everyone feels as Logan and Cade do–after all, isn’t a school debate just a school debate? Ages 12-17.
The Book Thief
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (608 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2007). It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. Ages 12-14.
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine (416 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2021). In A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine tells a moving and ambitious story set during the expulsion of Jews from Spain, about a young Jewish girl full of heart who must play her own role in her people’s epic history—no matter the sacrifice. Ages 8-12.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (144pp, Amulet Paperbacks, 2012). Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons! Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it! Ages 8-12.
How to Find What You’re Not Looking for
How to Find What You’re Not Looking for by Veera Hiranandani (384 pp, Kokila, 2021). New historical fiction from a Newbery Honor-winning author about how middle schooler Ariel Goldberg’s life changes when her big sister elopes following the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, and she’s forced to grapple with both her family’s prejudice and the antisemitism she experiences, as she defines her own beliefs. Ages 8-12.
The Last Words We Said
The Last Words We Said by Leah Scheier (320 pp, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021). All the Bright Places meets If I Stay in this heart-wrenching, romantic novel about a tight-knit group of teen girls coping with a devastating loss and what happens when your best friend is also your first love…and your first heartbreak. Ages 12 and up.
Linked by Gordon Korman (256 pp, Scholastic Inc., 2021). Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into school and vandalizes it with a swastika. Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing? Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever. Ages 8-12.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (160pp, Pantheon Books, 1986). The first installment of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker). A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma. Grade 7 and up.
Not Your All-American Girl
Not Your All-American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg (256 pp, Scholastic, 2020). Lauren and her best friend, Tara, have always done absolutely everything together. So when they don’t have any classes together in sixth grade, it’s disastrous. The solution? Trying out for the school play. Lauren, who loves to sing, wonders if maybe, just maybe, she will be the star instead of Tara this time. But when the show is cast, Lauren lands in the ensemble, while Tara scores the lead role. Their teacher explains: Lauren just doesn’t look the part of the all-American girl. What audience would believe that she, half-Jewish, half-Chinese Lauren, was the everygirl star from Pleasant Valley, USA? Ages 8-12.
Playing with Matches
Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen (256 pp, ECW Press, 2014). When 16-year-old Raina Resnick is expelled from her Manhattan private school, she’s sent to live with her strict aunt ― but Raina feels like she’s persona non grata no matter where she goes. Her sister, Leah, blames her for her broken engagement, and she’s a social pariah at her new school. In the tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she is good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “Match- Maven,” Raina sets up hopeless singles desperate to find the One. A cross between Jane Austen’s Emma, Dear Abby, and Yenta the matchmaker, Raina’s double life soon has her barely staying awake in class. Can she find the perfect match for her sister and get back on her good side, or will her tanking grades mean a second expulsion? Ages 13-17.
Recipe for Disaster
Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido (352 pp, Versify, 2021). In this heartfelt middle school drama, Hannah’s schemes for throwing her own bat mitzvah unleash family secrets, create rivalries with best friends, and ultimately teach Hannah what being Jewish is all about. Ages 8-12.
Today, Tonight, Tomorrow
Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon (384 pp, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020). It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time. When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other. As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams. Ages 12 and up.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein (400 pp, Yearling, 2021). Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he’s forced to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster; go to a school dance; swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with the turtles he collects. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell. Ages 10-14.
The Unfinished Corner
The Unfinished Corner by Dani Colman, illustrated by Rachel Tuna Petrovicz (224 pp, Wonderbound, 2021). Twelve-year-old Miriam doesn’t know much about Jewish mythology. She’s not even sure she wants to be Jewish. So, imagine her confusion when a peculiar angel whisks her off to finish the mythological Unfinished Corner, a place full of monsters and mystery. Ages 8-13.
The Way Back
The Way Back by Gavriel Savit (336 pp, Algonquin, 2013). For the Jews of Eastern Europe, demons are everywhere: dancing on the rooftops in the darkness of midnight, congregating in the trees, harrowing the dead, even reaching out to try and steal away the living. But the demons have a land of their own: a Far Country peopled with the souls of the transient dead, governed by demonic dukes, barons, and earls. When the Angel of Death comes strolling through the little shtetl of Tupik one night, two young people will be sent spinning off on a journey through the Far Country. There they will make pacts with ancient demons, declare war on Death himself, and maybe– just maybe–find a way to make it back alive. Ages 12-17.
White Bird by R. J. Palacio (224 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019). In R. J. Palacio’s bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend. Ages 8-12.
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon (400pp, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019). Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon. But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules. When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive. These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving? Ages 14 and up.
Jewish (Adult Readers)
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A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka
A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin (320 pp, Doubleday, 2014). Lev Golinkin’s memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It’s also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible . . . and say thank you. Written with biting, acerbic wit and emotional honesty in the vein of Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Bezmozgis, Golinkin’s search for personal identity set against the relentless currents of history is more than a memoir—it’s a portrait of a lost era. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging.
The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl
The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl by Marra Gad (235 pp, Agate Bolden, 2019). Marra B. Gad’s biological parents were a black man and a white Jewish woman. In 1970, at three days old, she was adopted by a white Jewish family in Chicago. For them, it was love at first sight—but the world was not ready for a family like theirs. In black spaces, Marra was considered “not black enough” and encountered antisemitism. In Jewish spaces, she was mistaken for the help, asked to leave, or worse. She even faced racism within her own family. Marra’s family cut ties with relatives who refused to accept her—including her once beloved and glamorous Great-Aunt Nette. But after fifteen years of estrangement, Marra discovered that Nette had Alzheimer’s, and that she was the only one able to reunite Nette with her family. Instead of revenge, Marra chose love, and watched as the disease erased her aunt’s racism, making space for a relationship that was never possible before. The Color of Love explores the idea of yerusha, which means “inheritance” in Yiddish. At turns heart-wrenching and heartwarming, this is a story about what you inherit from your family—identity, disease, melanin, hate, and most powerful of all, love.
The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century
The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century by David Laskin (400 pp, Viking, 2013). In tracing the roots of this family—his own family—Laskin captures the epic sweep of the twentieth century. A modern-day scribe, Laskin honors the traditions, the lives, and the choices of his ancestors: revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, scholars and farmers, tycoons and truck drivers. The Family is a deeply personal, dramatic, and emotional account of people caught in a cataclysmic time in world history. A century and a half ago, a Torah scribe and his wife raised six children in a yeshivatown at the western fringe of the Russian empire. Bound by their customs and ancient faith, the pious couple expected their sons and daughter to carry family traditions into future generations. But the social and political crises of our time decreed otherwise. The torrent of history took the scribe’s family down three very different roads. One branch immigrated to America and founded the fabulously successful Maidenform Bra Company; another went to Palestine as pioneers and participated in the contentious birth of the state of Israel; the third branch remained in Europe and suffered the onslaught of the Nazi occupation.
The Golem and the Jinni
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (544 pp, Harper Perennial, 2020). Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay by a disgraced rabbi knowledgeable in the ways of dark Kabbalistic magic. She serves as the wife to a Polish merchant who dies at sea on the voyage to America. As the ship arrives in New York in 1899, Chava is unmoored and adrift until a rabbi on the Lower East Side recognizes her for the creature she is and takes her in. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert and trapped centuries ago in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard. Released by a Syrian tinsmith in a Manhattan shop, Ahmad appears in human form but is still not free. An iron band around his wrist binds him to the wizard and to the physical world. Chava and Ahmad meet accidentally and become friends and soul mates despite their opposing natures. But when the golem’s violent nature overtakes her one evening, their bond is challenged. An even more powerful threat will emerge, however, and bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their very existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
House on Endless Waters
House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon, translated by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel (336 pp, Washington Square Press, 2020) Renowned author Yoel Blum reluctantly agrees to visit his birthplace of Amsterdam to promote his books, despite promising his late mother that he would never return to that city. While touring the Jewish Historical Museum with his wife, Yoel stumbles upon footage portraying prewar Dutch Jewry and is astonished to see the youthful face of his beloved mother staring back at him, posing with his father, his older sister…and an infant he doesn’t recognize. This unsettling discovery launches him into a fervent search for the truth, shining a light on Amsterdam’s dark wartime history—the underground networks that hid Jewish children away from danger and those who betrayed their own for the sake of survival. The deeper into the past Yoel digs up, the better he understands his mother’s silence, and the more urgent the question that has unconsciously haunted him for a lifetime—Who am I?—becomes.
How to Find Your Way in the Dark
How to Find Your Way in the Dark by Derek B. Miller (368 pp, Mariner Books, 2021) Twelve-year old Sheldon Horowitz is still recovering from the tragic loss of his mother only a year ago when a suspicious traffic accident steals the life of his father near their home in rural Massachusetts. It is 1938, and Sheldon, who was in the truck, emerges from the crash an orphan hell-bent on revenge. He takes that fire with him to Hartford, where he embarks on a new life under the roof of his buttoned-up Uncle Nate. Sheldon, his teenage cousins Abe and Mirabelle, and his best friend, Lenny, will contend with tradition and orthodoxy, appeasement and patriotism, mafia hitmen and angry accordion players, all while World War II takes center stage alongside a hurricane in New England and comedians in the Catskills. With his eye always on vengeance for his father’s murder, Sheldon stakes out his place in a world he now understands is comprised largely of crimes: right and wrong, big and small.
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (272 pp, Knopf Doubleday, 2020). From the acclaimed, best-selling memoirist, novelist and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets, comes a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test: an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love. In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father was not her biological father. Over the course of a single day, her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her. Inheritance is a book about secrets. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in, a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters
The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion (576 pp, William Morrow, 2021). Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland—some still in their teens—helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these “ghetto girls” paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town’s water supply. They also nursed the sick, taught children, and hid families. Yet the exploits of these courageous resistance fighters have remained virtually unknown. Powerful and inspiring, featuring twenty black-and-white photographs, The Light of Days is an unforgettable true tale of war, the fight for freedom, exceptional bravery, female friendship, and survival in the face of staggering odds.
The Lost Shtetl
The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross (416 pp, HarperVia, 2020). For decades, the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol existed in happy isolation, virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared by the Holocaust and the Cold War, its residents enjoyed remarkable peace. It missed out on cars, and electricity, and the internet, and indoor plumbing. But when a marriage dispute spins out of control, the whole town comes crashing into the twenty-first century. Pesha Lindauer, who has just suffered an ugly, acrimonious divorce, suddenly disappears. A day later, her husband goes after her, setting off a panic among the town elders. They send a woefully unprepared outcast named Yankel Lewinkopf out into the wider world to alert the Polish authorities. Venturing beyond the remote safety of Kreskol, Yankel is confronted by the beauty and the ravages of the modern-day outside world – and his reception is met with a confusing mix of disbelief, condescension, and unexpected kindness. When the truth eventually surfaces, his story and the existence of Kreskol make headlines nationwide. Divided between those embracing change and those clinging to its old world ways, the people of Kreskol will have to find a way to come together . . . or risk their village disappearing for good.
Night, by Elie Wiesel (120 pp, Hill and Wang, 2006). Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man. Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.
On Division by Goldie Goldbloom (290 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). On Division Avenue, just a block or two up from the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Surie Eckstein is soon to be a great-grandmother. Her ten children range in age from thirteen to thirty-nine. Her in-laws, postwar immigrants from Romania, live on the first floor of their house. Her daughter Tzila Ruchel lives on the second. She and Yidel, a scribe in such demand that he makes only a few Torah scrolls a year, live on the third. Wed when Surie was sixteen, they have a happy marriage and a full life, and, at the ages of fifty-seven and sixty-two, they are looking forward to some quiet time together. Into this life of counted blessings comes a surprise. Surie is pregnant. Pregnant at fifty-seven. It is a shock. And at her age, at this stage, it is an aberration, a shift in the proper order of things, and a public display of private life. She feels exposed, ashamed. She is unable to share the news, even with her husband. And so for the first time in her life, she has a secret—a secret that slowly separates her from the community.
People Love Dead Jews
People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn (272 pp, W. W. Norton & Company, 2021).
Renowned and beloved as a prizewinning novelist, Dara Horn has also been publishing penetrating essays since she was a teenager. Often asked by major publications to write on subjects related to Jewish culture–and increasingly in response to a recent wave of deadly antisemitic attacks–Horn was troubled to realize what all of these assignments had in common: she was being asked to write about dead Jews, never about living ones. In these essays, Horn reflects on subjects as far-flung as the international veneration of Anne Frank, the mythology that Jewish family names were changed at Ellis Island, the blockbuster traveling exhibition Auschwitz, the marketing of the Jewish history of Harbin, China, and the little-known life of the righteous Gentile Varian Fry. Throughout, she challenges us to confront the reasons why there might be so much fascination with Jewish deaths, and so little respect for Jewish lives unfolding in the present.
The Weight of Ink
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (592 pp, Mariner Books, 2018). Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”
The World That We Knew
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (400 pp, Simon & Schuster, 2020). At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Her desperation leads her to Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi whose years spent eavesdropping on her father enables her to create a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Hanni’s daughter, Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked. What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never-ending.