As a kid, being Jew­ish made me anx­ious. Though, to be fair, every­thing made me anx­ious: get­ting up in front of a crowd; speak­ing to peo­ple I did­n’t know, sleep­ing in unfa­mil­iar places. It was just that being Jew­ish, at least in my expe­ri­ence, meant doing all those things fre­quent­ly: singing prayers in front of the con­gre­ga­tion; get­ting to know end­less kids from oth­er chap­ters of the Jew­ish youth group at Shab­ba­tons, or sleep­away camp, or dances (danc­ing made me espe­cial­ly anx­ious). I might not have had a word for the anx­i­ety I felt, but I knew I did­n’t like the way my stom­ach roiled or sweat popped out all over my body, or the way I want­ed to run and hide every time my tongue stum­bled on a word I imme­di­ate­ly thought was stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved (and still love) being Jew­ish: the feel­ing of belong­ing to a close-knit peo­ple; our rich his­to­ry, cul­ture, and food; the melodies of the prayers we sing every Shab­bat, and the cozy knowl­edge that oth­er Jews around the world are singing them then, too. It’s true that anx­i­ety is a Jew­ish stereo­type — the ver­dict is out on whether it has a basis in truth or not, but I find it hard to believe that thou­sands of years of dis­place­ment and attacks, both phys­i­cal and metaphor­i­cal, on us as a peo­ple haven’t had an effect.

A thread of anx­i­ety runs through some of my favorite Jew­ish mid­dle grade books com­ing out this year — rang­ing from his­tor­i­cal set­tings to mod­ern set­tings, and look­ing at anx­i­ety sur­round­ing Judaism or anx­i­ety cir­cling oth­er parts of a kid’s life. Is that spe­cif­ic to Jew­ish books, or is anx­i­ety a part of all, or most, mid­dle grade because it’s a part of all, or most, mid­dle graders’ lives? Not sure! But either way, the fol­low­ing books are excel­lent and relat­able for any kid who’s been anx­ious, which I assume is all kids right now, because have you met 2020?

In A Ceil­ing Made of Eggshells by Gail Car­son Levine, the anx­i­ety is pal­pa­ble from the title: the main char­ac­ter, Loma, is a Jew­ish girl in fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry Spain, where vir­u­lent anti­semitism means that the sky above could come crash­ing down on the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion at any moment. Loma asks her grand­moth­er in the very first chap­ter of the nov­el, Will we be safe?” Loma is brave, smart, and resource­ful, but there’s only so much one girl can do against the world, and she knows that.

Not Your All-Amer­i­can Girl by Made­lyn Rosen­berg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang fol­lows sixth-grad­er Lau­ren, the only half-Jew­ish and half-Chi­nese girl at her school in 1984 Amer­i­ca. Like Levine’s book, much of Lau­ren’s anx­i­ety comes from her envi­ron­ment — while she’s the best singer in school, she’s stuck in the ensem­ble of her school’s big play because her dra­ma teacher can’t visu­al­ize a non-white, non-Chris­t­ian per­son as the lead, who’s sup­posed to be an All-Amer­i­can Girl.” She might be anx­ious about where she stands in rela­tion to the rest of town — espe­cial­ly her white best friend — but she’s also hilar­i­ous and spunky as she works through it all.

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit is a nov­el told in let­ters and emails between eleven-year-old aspir­ing pitch­er Vivy Cohen and her idol, Major League base­ball play­er VJ Capel­lo. Vivy is proud­ly Jew­ish, but most of her anx­i­eties don’t stem from that — rather, she’s sub­ject to both ableist and sex­ist taunts, as she is the only girl on her new team and the only kid who has autism. She chafes against her pro­tec­tive moth­er attempt­ing to assert con­trol over her play­ing. If she’s going to knuck­le­ball her team to a win, she’s not just going to have to gath­er the nerve to face her bul­lies, but her moth­er as well. Both Vivy and VJ are com­pelling char­ac­ters as they work through the chal­lenges against them, and I loved the autis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion from an #own­voic­es author.

A Place at the Table by Saa­dia Faruqi and Lau­ra Shovan splits the spot­light between two sixth-graders: Eliz­a­beth, who is Jew­ish, and Sara, who is Mus­lim. Both girls have moth­ers who are immi­grants and study­ing for their cit­i­zen­ship tests, and — among oth­er things — feel anx­i­ety about their moth­ers not pass­ing. Both also expe­ri­ence anx­i­ety relat­ed to their reli­gions: Sara faces a lot of dis­crim­i­na­tion for being one of the only Mus­lim kids in their school, and stress­es out about not fit­ting in, espe­cial­ly on hol­i­days like Hal­loween; Eliz­a­beth wor­ries for her moth­er, a con­vert, who is referred to as a shik­sa by her Jew­ish-by-birth grand­moth­er. Ulti­mate­ly every­thing comes togeth­er in the most deli­cious (lit­er­al­ly) cli­max. I dare you not to drool at the includ­ed recipe.

In Tur­tle Boy by M. Evan Wolken­stein, sev­enth-grad­er Will is afraid of every­thing, and wants noth­ing more than to spend his life hid­ing in his shell from any­thing that might hurt him — whether the hurt is emo­tion­al, like the taunts he takes for his facial dif­fer­ence, or phys­i­cal, like the harm that might result from a roller coast­er crash or floun­der­ing in the ocean. But when he’s forced to vis­it a boy in the hos­pi­tal (which, nat­u­ral­ly, he’s afraid of) as a bar mitz­vah project, he finds him­self hav­ing to poke his head out of his shell and face his fears.

Final­ly, in It’s My Par­ty and I Don’t Want to Go by Aman­da Pan­itch (me!), Ellie can’t breathe and feels sick when she has to talk to strangers or get up in front of a room­ful of star­ing eyes — so how can she pos­si­bly have her bat mitz­vah, which means all those things times a hun­dred? Cue her hilar­i­ous fool­proof, one-hun­dred-per­cent per­fect, no-way-it-can-fail plan for bat mitz­vah sab­o­tage… which after some email hack­ing and food fight­ing quick­ly gets out of hand. Before Ellie knows it, she’s fight­ing with her best friend and fac­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of feel­ing like a kid for­ev­er. The hard­est part about hav­ing a bat mitz­vah and becom­ing an adult might be fac­ing your fears and ask­ing for help. I put a lot of my own expe­ri­ence into Ellie’s, and I hope that kids who are feel­ing anx­ious about the world today are able to con­nect with that and with the oth­er books on this list.

Aman­da Pan­itch spent most of her child­hood telling sto­ries to her four younger sib­lings, try­ing both to make them laugh and scare them too much to sleep. Now she lives in New York City, where she writes dark, fun­ny sto­ries for teens, kids, and the pigeons that nest on her apart­ment bal­cony. Vis­it Aman­da online at aman​da​pan​itch​.com.