By Katherine Locke
Jewish children’s literature is blooming, and I love to see it. As a Jewish children’s book writer who grew up in a time where I could find few books not about the Holocaust or pogroms featuring Jewish characters, I am thrilled that kids today can see a wide breadth of Jewish experiences in books, though we have a long way to go still! I’d love to see more Jewish books from Jewish authors of color and more Jewish books from disabled Jewish authors. And I’d love to see more Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish books published in the US.
The books I’ve listed below are books for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike, introducing Jewish characters and some Jewish concepts, all as a part of a larger, compelling story whether it’s told in eight hundred words or eighty thousand words. I hope both Jewish and non-Jewish readers pick them up and include them both at home and in the classroom or library. Exploring the full range of the Jewish experience helps Jewish readers see themselves, and their own view of their Jewishness, on the page, and helps dispel stereotypes and hate that have persisted for centuries.
Without further ado, here are some recent favorites for readers of any age!
Gitty and Kvetch by Caroline Kusin Pritchard, illustrated by Ariel Landy
I am cheating a little bit with this one because it doesn’t release until August 31, but that’s so soon! This fantastic, funny, dynamic, beautifully illustrated book will be in your hands in no time. Gitty and Kvetch is about a girl and her best friend, who happens to be a bird, and features Yiddish humor and an opposites-attract friendship that both parents and children will love. The illustrations are playful and bright, and I see this being one of those books kids read over, and over, and over again. Prepare to schlepp this one everywhere you go!
The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin
A timely book about a Jewish scientist and the pursuit of a way to prevent polio. This book features gorgeous, welcoming illustrations, and walks the reader through Salk’s childhood, studies, and scholarship in an approachable way. I even learned things from this text. Perfect for read alouds at home or in the classroom.
The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron
I am obsessed with Chris Baron’s verse books, and the way he makes so much use of space and words to draw characters so deftly. I suspect his books would play well with reluctant readers too, or readers intimidated by the size and heft of some middle grade books this year. Etan has selective mutism and he befriends Malia, who stopped coming to school because of her skin condition. Their friendship blossoms, even as the teasing increases. Etan thinks he can help Malia—if only he can get people to listen to him. Jewishness plays an important part in Etan’s life throughout, especially through his relationship with his grandfather.
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family by Sarah Kapit
I’m a huge fan of Kapit’s debut, Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen, an epistolary novel about an autistic girl writing letters to her favorite pitcher—who writes back. And Kapit knocks it out of the park again with her second book. In this book, Lara starts a detective agency, and her little sister, Caroline, wants in. Their first mystery gets more complicated with every twist, and the suspicion between the sisters grows too. I loved this story of these two autistic sisters woven into a mystery. Plus, sister detective agency!
On Your Radar: Aimee Lucido’s Recipe for Disaster, which is the quintessential perfect middle grade book. A bat mitzvah, schemes, baking, friendship rivalries and family secrets! Releasing September 14, 2021, just around the corner!
Strange Creatures by Phoebe North
Phoebe North should have already been on your radar, with their brilliant, and extremely Jewish, sci-fi duology of Starglass and Starbreak. But with their newest young adult novel, North blew me out of the water. This exquisitely wrought book about siblings, family, trauma, magic, and more importantly, who tells stories, and who keeps them, and how we tell stories to wrestle with the big, unspeakable things. North’s writing and their ambition shine in this book.
Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler
In this fun, queer summer romance, both main characters are Jewish, though they observe differently and I loved that they shared those differences on the page. Their Jewishness isn’t the main story—it’s whether Lara is going to come to terms with the summer fling she had with Jasmine, when Lara’s long-time crush Chase finally noticed her. Adler has a keen sense of character and realistic teen drama, and this felt uncomfortably real sometimes. You know, the kind where you have secondhand embarrassment or agony for the character on the page? That’s when you know it’s hitting the mark. Plus it broke me out of a months-long reading slump.
On Your Radar: The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros will linger with you long after the last page. A gothic horror that is unapologetically Ashkenazi, this book is one of my favorites of 2021, and favorite Jewish YAs I’ve ever read. Releasing October 5th, 2021.
Katherine Locke lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of The Girl with the Red Balloon, a 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and 2018 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book, as well as The Spy with the Red Balloon. They are the co-editor and contributor to It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories and This Is Our Rainbow: Sixteen Stories of He, Her, Them and Us, and a contributor to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and t Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They are also the author of Bedtime for Superheroes and What are Your Words? Their next Young Adult book is This Rebel Heart. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairytales in disguise. They can be found online at KatherineLockeBooks.com and @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.