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8 Great Books for Jewish Children of Color

8 Great Books for Jewish Children of Color

Collage of the covers of all the childrens books listed in this piece

Cultural representation in literature is incredibly important, especially for kids. When children of color see characters that look like them in the books they read, they realize that their identities are just as valid as everybody else’s – that they can be just like the heroes in their favorite stories.

For Jewish children of color, living with such a rich and complex background means that it is especially important, both for them and their white Jewish friends, to read about characters with equally complex cultural backgrounds and unique stories that co-create the colorful mosaic of the Jewish experience. 

Just in time for the eight nights of Hanukkah, here are eight illustrated books (and their official synopses, straight from the publisher) that are sure to bring smiles to the faces of the young Jews of Color in your life.

1. Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz 

Age Range: 6-10 years 

When Isobel is invited to Aunt Luisa’s for Hanukkah, she’s not sure what to expect. Aunt Luisa has recently arrived from Mexico. “At Aunt Luisa’s you’ll get to celebrate the Hanukkah Moon,” Isobel's father promises. Isobel’s days at Aunt Luisa’s are filled with fun and surprises – a new camera, a dreidel piñata filled with sweets, and a mysterious late-night visit to welcome the luna nueva, the new moon that appears on Hanukkah. An unusual Hanukkah story with a multi-cultural focus, this title celebrates a little-known custom of the Latin-Jewish community.  

2. Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family History by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau 

Age Range: 7-10 years 

An elderly black grandmother passes on the story of the family’s Jewish origins to her young granddaughter, Carol Olivia. As family members flee the Spanish Inquisition, are kidnapped by pirates and eventually sail to America, one daughter in each generation is given the name Olivia, from the Hebrew Shulamit meaning peace, to honor the Jewish part of their ancestry. Critically-acclaimed author Carolivia Herron (Nappy Hair) shares this engaging, multicultural tale is based on her own family's heritage. 

3. Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso 

Age Range: 4-8 years 

Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs tells the fascinating and little-known story of the Cryptojews, while illustrating the universal importance of faith for people of all religious denominations. Jacobo loves to visit his abuelita, his grandmother, especially at Easter time. But Abuelita has a big secret. During semana santa, Holy Week, his grandmother never makes bread, only tortillas made without yeast. She never eats pork, and she lights two candles on Friday nights. But whenever Jacobo asks her questions, she answers, "Ah, mijito, my child, it is the way of our family." One day, Abuelita is finally ready to share her secret. "Sit with me on the porch. It is time to tell you the secret of our family..." 

4. Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar 

Age Range: 4-7 years 

In this sweet and humorous picture book, Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, a multi-cultural family (Mom's Indian; Dad's Jewish) celebrate Hanukkah while incorporating traditional Indian food. Instead of latkes, this family celebrates Hanukkah with tasty Indian dosas. To her brother's chagrin, little Sadie won't stop climbing on everything both at home and at the Indian grocery store, even while preparing the dosas. As the family puts the finishing touches on their holiday preparations, they accidentally get locked out of the house. Sadie and her climbing skills just may be exactly what is needed to save the day. 

5. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman 

Age Range: 8-12 years 

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for "star") Feinstein has a lot more than the Torah on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn't seem to be enough time to hang out with her lifelong friend, Ben-O (who might also be her boyfriend) and her best friend, Rebecca, who's getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruins. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith. 

6. Jalapeño Bagels by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla 

Age Range: 5-8 years                       

When Pablo's teacher asks him to bring something from his "culture" to school for International Day, he is faced with a tough decision – his mother is Mexican and his father is Jewish. Pablo’s mother suggests he pick something from the bakery their family owns. On Sunday Pablo wakes up before the store opens to first help his mother make span dulceempanadas de calabaza, and chango bars; then helps his father make bagels and challah. Finally Pablo makes jalapeno bagels – his parent’s special recipe – with both his mother and father. Pablo must decide what he will pick before the bakery opens. As he glances over the pastries and breads that he’s helped make that morning, he finally decides: jalapeño bagels with cream cheese and jam. When his father asks why, Pablo answers, “Because they are a mixture of both of you. Just like me!” 

7. Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illustrated by Vicki Wehrman 

Age Range: 8-11 years 

Take a trip to Italy, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, and beyond to see how Hanukkah is celebrated around the world. Join the torch relay in Modi'in, Israel; the Ladino concert in Istanbul, Turkey; and the candle lighting on the beach in Sydney, Australia. Try the delicious and unusual recipes for fried burmelos, latkes, and precipizi that recall the miracle of the little jug of oil in the Hanukkah story. 

8. Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer, illustrated by Deborah Melmon 

Age Range: 6-7 years      

Sophie enjoys special time spent with each of her grandmothers, and eating their delicious chicken soup. Both her Jewish Bubbe and her Chinese Nai Nai have a special family recipe, and both compete for a special place in Sophie’s heart. With a little creativity, Sophie helps Bubbe and Nai Nai see that love is no competition, and they are a lot more alike than different. “A little Jewish, a little Chinese – a lot like me.”

These and other wonderful books for children are available to your family raising Jewish children by our partners at PJ Library.

Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH, and holds a degree in creative writing and film studies. He grew up at Payne A.M.E. Chapel in Hamilton, OH, and converted to Judaism at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, MI, to reconnect to his ancestral roots. He has a passion for writing, Jewish studies, cinema, and staying active while at the gym and exploring New York City.

Chris Harrison
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