Theme Guide: Jewish Heritage

We’ve compiled a reading list that focuses on Jewish history, customs and culture and can be used in classrooms and libraries.

Picture Books

The Bagel King
Written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by Sandy Nichols
Kids Can Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-77138-574-9
IL: Ages 3-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Every Sunday morning, no matter the weather, Eli could count on Zaida to bring bagels from Merv’s Bakery. But one Sunday, Zaida didn’t come. This meant Eli had no Sunday morning bagels. And neither did Zaida’s friends, who had been receiving their own weekly deliveries from Zaida. Will they all go hungry for bagels on Sunday? Or is there something Eli can do?

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A Sack Full of Feathers
Written by Debby Waldman
Illustrated by Cindy Revell
Orca Book Publishers, 2006
ISBN 978-1-55143-332-5
IL: Ages 4-7 RL: Grades 2-3

Yankel loves to tell stories, as long as they are someone else’s. He does not see the hurt that his stories cause, the way they spread and change. Then the rabbi hands him a bag of feathers and tells him to place one on every doorstep in the village. Yankel is changed by what happens and finds himself with his best story yet, one of his very own.

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Something From Nothing: 20th Anniversary Edition
Written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman
Scholastic Canada, 2012 ©1992
ISBN 978-1-4431-1946-7
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3

Joseph’s grandfather made him a beautiful blanket when he was a baby, but now it’s frazzled and worn, and Joseph’s mother says it is time to throw it out. Joseph doesn’t want to part with his special blanket, and he’s sure that his grandfather can fix it. Sure enough, Grandfather miraculously alters the blanket into useful items again and again. But when Joseph loses the final item, even Grandfather can’t make something from nothing. But maybe Joseph can?

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Yitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-812-9
IL: Ages 5-9 RL: Grades 2-3

On the eve of Hanukkah, the People of Chelm receive a giant menorah, a gift from the Mayor of Lublin. Every night, the villagers meet to watch the lighting of a candle on the menorah and they wonder how to thank the Mayor. Finally, on the last night of Hanukkah, Yitzi orchestrates the perfect surprise thank you gift

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Junior & Intermediate Fiction

Finding Sophie
Written by Irene N. Watts
Tundra Books, 2002
ISBN 978-0-88776-613-8
IL: Ages 10 and up RL: Grades 6-7

Sophie Mandel was only seven years old when she arrived in London on the first Kindertransport from Germany. She has grown up with a friend of her parents, a woman she calls Aunt Em, and despite the war and its deprivations, she has made a good life for herself in England with her foster mother. She has even stopped thinking about the parents she left behind. Now the war is over, and 14-year-old Sophie is faced with a terrible dilemma. Where does she belong?

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Ice Cream Town
Written by Rona Arato
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007
ISBN 978-1-55041-591-9
IL: Ages 8-11 RL: Grades 4-6

Sammy has learned to live by his wits on the voyage from Poland to the Jewish immigrant community that is to be his new home in New York City. It is here he discovers that the vibrant, noisy streets of New York are alive with challenge — even more of a challenge than his new school. Will it be Sammy’s wits, or his beautiful singing voice that will keep him out of trouble in the games of stickball in the rough-and-tumble streets?

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The Sound of Freedom
Written by Kathy Kacer
Annick Press, 2018
ISBN 978-1-55451-970-5
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-5

It’s 1936 and life is becoming dangerous for the Jews of Krakow. When Anna and her father barely escape from a group of violent thugs, it becomes clear that the family must leave. But how? There seems to be only one possibility. Bronislaw Huberman, a world-renowned violinist, is auditioning Jewish musicians for a new orchestra in Palestine. If accepted, they and their families will receive exit visas. Anna and her grandmother boldly write to Huberman asking him to give Anna’s father an audition, but will that be enough to save them?

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Stealing Home
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Tundra Books, 2006
ISBN 978-0-88776-765-4
IL: Ages 8-10 RL: Grades 3-5

It is 1947 and Yankee fever grips the Bronx. When Joey’s mother dies, he is sent to live with his mother’s estranged family. Joey is whisked away to Brooklyn. Though it’s just across town, it might as well be a different world. His grandfather, his aunt Frieda, and his 10-year-old cousin Roberta are not only white, they are Jewish. Joey knows nothing about Brooklyn or Judaism. The only thing that’s constant is the baseball madness that grips the community.

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Young Adult Fiction

Playing With Matches
Written by Suri Rosen
ECW Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-77041-182-1
IL: Ages 13-15 RL: Grades 7-8

Sixteen-year-old Raina is expelled from her Manhattan private school and sent to live with her aunt in Toronto. In a tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she’s good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “Matchmaven,” Raina sets up hopeless older singles, but her double life is catching up with her! A heartwarming story about a girl finding happiness for others and redemption for herself.

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Rachel’s Hope
Written by Shelley Sanders
Second Story Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-927583-42-5
IL: Ages 13 and up RL: Grades 8-9

Rachel Paskar and her remaining family members have finally made it to the safety of San Francisco. No longer facing persecution because she is a Jew, Rachel confronts different challenges. Nothing, however, will stop her from following her dream to be a journalist — not even the great San Francisco earthquake. But will Rachel ever see her childhood friend, Sergei, again?

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Stones on a Grave
Written by Kathy Kacer
Orca Book Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4598-0659-7
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

After the orphanage where she lives burns down, Sara follows clues about her parentage to Germany. There she learns about her Jewish heritage and, with the help of an English-speaking German boy, she discovers the facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.

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What World Is Left
Written by Monique Polak
Orca Book Publishers, 2008
ISBN 978-1-55143-847-4
IL: Ages 12 and up RL: Grades 7-8

A pampered child used to having her own way, Anneke Van Raalte lives outside Amsterdam, where her father is a cartoonist for the Amsterdam newspaper. Though Anneke’s family is Jewish, her religion means little to her. Anneke’s life changes in 1942 when the Nazis invade Holland, and she and her family are deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

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Non-Fiction

Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album
Written by Karen Levine
Second Story Press, 2012
ISBN 978-1-92692-036-8
IL: Ages 9-12 RL: Grades 4-6

On the 10th anniversary of the publication of Hana’s Suitcase, the beloved story now in a new book with over 60 pages of added materials. In 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children’s Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan, marked “Hana Brady, May 16, 1931.” The center’s curator searches for clues to young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis.

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The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus
Written by Rona Arato
Second Story Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77260-018-6
IL: Ages 10-14 RL: Grades 5-6

After surviving the Holocaust, 11-year-old Rachel Landesman, her mother and sister have boarded the Exodus, a dilapidated vessel smuggling 4,500 Jewish refugees risking their lives to reach Palestine and safety. Rachel and the other refugees refuse to give up hope when warships surround them. Their fight, and the worldwide attention it brought, influenced the UN to vote for the creation of the state of Israel.

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