Gail Lern­er orig­i­nal­ly shared her Jew­ish Book Month read­ing rec­om­men­da­tions with JBC’s email list this past week. Below is the letter.

Hanukkah is ear­ly this year! No need to squint in dis­be­lief at your cal­en­dar. I’m break­ing it to you now: pre­pare to light your first can­dle on Decem­ber 7. Those of us lucky to have kids, nieces, nephews, and young­sters of all vari­eties in our lives are going to be hit­ting the streets in search of gifts and gelt before we’ve even fin­ished Thanks­giv­ing leftovers. 

Lest you find your­self in a pick­le (or a pick­le jar, a fate which befalls a greedy gob­lin in one of the sto­ries I’m about to rec­om­mend) about what to buy for the lit­tles you love, I’m excit­ed to share a Hanukkah chil­drens’ book wrap up (we’re talk­ing pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, and YA) with some of my old and new favorites. 

They say that a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words so let’s start with pic­ture books, which are worth thou­sands upon thou­sands. A new favorite of mine is Osnat and her Dove: The True Sto­ry of the World’s First Female Rab­bi by Sigal Samuel with vibrant illus­tra­tions by Vali Mintzi. Based on a true sto­ry, Osnat takes place in six­teenth cen­tu­ry Mosul (mod­ern day Iraq) and tells the sto­ry of a girl who defied every con­ven­tion and expec­ta­tion of a young Jew­ish woman of her time. Her jour­ney to becom­ing a Torah schol­ar and rab­bi will inspire not just the chil­dren that the book is pri­mar­i­ly writ­ten for, but the adults lucky enough to be col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly read­ing this beau­ti­ful­ly told tale. 

One of my chil­drens’ favorite Hanukkah sto­ries was Her­shel and the Hanukkah Gob­lins by Eric Kim­mel and whim­si­cal­ly illus­trat­ed by Tri­na Schart Hyman. When gob­lins take over a town on Hanukkah, leg­endary prankster Her­schel of Ostropol out-tricks the trick­sters and saves the town. And if you guessed that one of these greedy grinch­es falls vic­tim to a pick­le jar — well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. 

No Hanukkah book list would be com­plete with­out a sto­ry about Chelm, the world’s most famous town of schlemiels and schli­mazels. My favorite has always been Isaac Bashe­vis Singer’s icon­ic sto­ry about a carp that dares to slap a rab­bi with its tail and is sum­mar­i­ly sen­tenced to death by drown­ing. Check out The Wise Men of Chelm and the Fool­ish Carp, puck­ish­ly illus­trat­ed by Vik­to­ria Efre­mo­va. It’ll delight chil­dren and adults alike. 

I could rec­om­mend pic­ture books for days, but I can’t leave my beloved mid­dle grade read­ers emp­ty-hand­ed. For lovers of book series, check out Sarah Mlynowski’s trio of Best Wish­es sto­ries, in which a wish-grant­i­ng bracelet makes its way across Amer­i­ca, jump­ing from own­er to own­er and grant­i­ng wish­es that don’t turn out quite as hoped. The first nov­el in the series has an emphat­i­cal­ly Jew­ish hero­ine but the plot doesn’t turn on reli­gion, which is one of my favorite kinds of ways to show Judaism in lit­er­a­ture. We’re not just about hol­i­days and per­se­cu­tion. We’ve got room for mag­ic-infused jew­el­ry, too. And my own recent mid­dle grade nov­el, The Big Dreams of Small Crea­tures, weaves togeth­er friend­ship, activism, and tikkun olam as we fol­low Eden, a Black and Jew­ish ten-year-old, on her quest to help insects and peo­ple live togeth­er joyfully.

For graph­ic nov­el lovers, look no fur­ther than Bar­ry Deutsch’s delight­ful Here­ville: How Mika Got Her Sword. The cov­er promis­es a sto­ry about yet anoth­er troll-fight­ing eleven-year-old Ortho­dox Jew­ish girl.” If that doesn’t send you run­ning to your local book­store, noth­ing will. 

And what to get the teenag­er who’s too cool for every­thing? Emi­ly Barth Isler’s dev­as­tat­ing nov­el After­math is so grip­ping and time­ly that it will make even the most jad­ed high-school­er put down their phone. 

Final­ly, I have to give a shout-out to the ulti­mate clas­sic of Jew­ish chil­drens’ lit­er­a­ture: Syd­ney Taylor’s All-Of-A-Kind Fam­i­ly series, which chron­i­cles the every­day exploits of five sis­ters nav­i­gat­ing life in the ten­e­ments of the Low­er East Side in 1912. Our mod­ern world is a case study in mate­ri­al­ism run amok. Whether you’re a first-time read­er or eter­nal fan, you’ll adore this icon­ic trip back in time to a lost world that cel­e­brates find­ing joy and beau­ty in every­day delights, like eat­ing can­dy in bed, rum­mag­ing in junk shops, and get­ting into scrapes with your sisters. 

Hap­py reading!


Gail Lern­er is a tele­vi­sion and film writer/​director for beloved shows such as black-ish, Grace and Frankie, and Will & Grace. She has gar­nered mul­ti­ple award wins and nom­i­na­tions, includ­ing a Peabody, six NAACP Awards, mul­ti­ple Emmy and Gold­en Globe nom­i­na­tions, and an Acad­e­my Award nom­i­na­tion. She holds an MFA in The­ater Direct­ing from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. This is her first novel.