I find middle-grade books with Jewish protagonists fairly rare. Even in making this list of Jewish middle-grade books, I was careful to choose those written by Jewish authors. But please let me know if I have erroneously included any non-OwnVoice stories. I’ve read several on this list and I can report that they were fun, but impactful reads. While some feature history (Jewish Holocaust); others are strong family stories; friendship stories; stories about illness, both mental and physical; and, of course; food and culture stories.
One last thing: these books aren’t just middle-grade books by Jewish authors, but middle-grade books by Jewish authors about Jewish kids. I’ve tried to stick to books in which the kids’ Jewish identity is an integral part of the story. So, there’s either a b’nai mitzvah, Hebrew school, Hanukkah, the Holocaust, or some other element of Jewish culture or religion in these stories.
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Best Jewish Middle-Grade Books
Here are 25 great Jewish middle grade books:
The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah
Published: March 25, 2008
I put my fingers up to my throat and touched the pointy Star of David, my grandmother’s necklace, a delicate chain made up of countless tiny links. If I wear this, will people think I am Jewish?
Is that what I want to be?
Seventh-grader Caroline Weeks has a Jewish mom and a non-Jewish dad. When Caroline’s nana dies around the same time that Caroline’s best friend, Rachel, is having her bat mitzvah, Caroline starts to become more interested in her Jewish identity.
Published: September 10, 2019
In Broken Strings, Shirli Berman has her eyes set on a role in her school’s play. It’s 2002, just after the Twin Towers and the death of Shirli’s grandmother (Bubie). Even though she doesn’t eventually score her desired role, she ends up playing another one of the key roles anyway. To add to it, her stage husband is Ben Morgan, the most popular boy in school.
At the same time, Shirli is also learning about her family’s history from her grandfather (Zayde) who has been silent on the matter his entire adult life. When she’s in the attic looking for costumes and props for the play, she stumbles on some of her grandfather’s personal items that raise many questions in her mind about his past and may explain some of his present behavior, like why he doesn’t let anyone sing in the house, for example.
The Jake Show
Published: May 23, 2023
For TV-obsessed Jake Lightman, his parents’ divorce is like his favorite show getting canceled: The worst. Now he’s stuck between playing the role of “Yaakov” for his mother and “Jacob” for his father.
On Jake’s first day at a new school, Caleb and Tehilla barrel into his life. Suddenly, he has two friends who seem to like the real Jake. And when they invite him to Camp Gershoni for the summer, Jake knows he has to go—even if his parents won’t let him.
With help from Caleb and Tehilla, Jake concocts a web of lies to get to camp. But he struggles to keep up the ruse—and be a good friend at the same time. As the cost of lying grows, he must decide what’s truly important, or risk losing the people he cares about the most.
It’s My Party and I Don’t Want to Go
Published: September 15, 2020
Ellie is a young Jewish girl with undiagnosed social anxiety. She gets physically sick — sweaty, lightheaded, shaky, fainting at times — at the thought of being the center of attention, and even worse when her worst fear actually happens. Her latest anxiety trigger is the thought of her fast-approaching bat mitzvah.
Ellie is dreading standing up in public, reciting sections of the Torah, lighting candles, and all the other associated rituals. So she co-opts her best friend, Zoe into helping her sabotage the event. The girls do everything from hiding invitations, canceling the venue, and putting off the caterer — and the results are simultaneously sad and funny.
Honey and Me
Published: October 18, 2022
Honey is Milla’s best friend. She loves the warmth of Honey’s boisterous family and wants to spend every moment with them. That is, until Honey transfers to her school and suddenly, everyone seems to like Honey more than they do Mila. This sweet slice-of-life story grew on me with every chapter. Milla and Honey are both Orthodox Jews, so this book includes many details about the religion.
All Three Stooges
Published: January 9, 2018
Spoiler alert: This book is not about the Three Stooges. It’s about Noah and Dash, two seventh graders who are best friends and comedy junkies. That is, they were best friends, until Dash’s father died suddenly and Dash shut Noah out. Which Noah deserved, according to Noa, the girl who, annoyingly, shares both his name and his bar mitzvah day.
Now Noah’s confusion, frustration, and determination to get through to Dash are threatening to destroy more than just their friendship. But what choice does he have? As Noah sees it, sometimes you need to risk losing everything, even your sense of humor, to prove that gone doesn’t have to mean “gone for good.”
Equal parts funny, honest, and deeply affecting, All Three Stooges is a book that will stay with readers long after the laughter subsides.
Lucky Broken Girl
Published: April 11, 2017
In this unforgettable multicultural coming-of-age narrative—based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s—a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie’s plight will intrigue readers, and her powerful story of strength and resilience, full of color, light, and poignancy, will stay with them for a long time.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
A Sky Full of Song
Published: April 11, 2023
It’s the year 1905, and Shoshana, her mother, and sisters have fled their home in Ukraine and moved to reunite with her father and older brother in North Dakota. There, the family lives in a prairie dugout and Shoshana and her big sister Libke start attending school.
Soon, the girls–especially Shoshana–begin to experience prejudice because of their Jewish religion and culture. Shoshana is tempted to blend into the mostly Christian community around her, but is that the right path to acceptance? Her sister Libke certainly disagrees.
This is a moving, enlightening, and important middle grade book about immigration, prejudice, and life on the prairie.
Published: January 5, 2011
Meet the All-of-a-Kind Family — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie — who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century.
Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa’s shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises.
But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!
Looking for Me: …in This Great Big Family
Published: April 17, 2012
One of 12 siblings growing up in depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, Edith feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees prospects for a future all her own. Full of joy, pain, humor, and sadness, this novel in verse is a wonderful look at the life of Edith Paul, the author’s mother, and is an enduring portrait (complete with family photos and an author’s note at the end) of one family’s pursuit of the American dream.
Shira and Esther
Published: October 10, 2023
When Shira and Esther first meet, they can hardly believe their eyes. It’s like looking in a mirror! But even though they may look identical, the two girls couldn’t be more different. Shira dreams of singing and dancing onstage, but her father, a stern and pious rabbi, thinks Shira should be reading prayers, not plays. Esther dreams of studying Torah, but her mother, a glamorous stage performer, wishes Esther would spend more time rehearsing and less time sneaking off to read books. Oy vey! If only the two could switch places . . .
Would Shira shine in a big-time televised talent show? Would Esther’s bat mitzvah go off without a hitch? What’s a little deception, when it means your dreams might finally be within reach? One thing is certain: Shira and Esther are going to need more than a little chutzpah to pull this off. But if they do, their double dream debut is sure to be the performance of a lifetime.
A Place at the Table
Published: August 11, 2020
In A Place at the Table, Sara’s has moved from her smaller Islamic school to the larger neighborhood middle school. Unfortunately for her, her Pakistani mother has also started teaching after-school cooking classes (in addition to her catering business) at the school. Sara is forced to attend those since her mother won’t let her stay home alone — despite the fact that she’s in sixth grade. Many of the kids in the class are rude and make fun of her mother’s dishes while pretending not to understand her accent. But one student, Elizabeth seems to enjoy learning to cook.
Elizabeth’s British mother is dealing with depression after the death of her mother and is struggling to adapt to American culture and her husband’s Jewish customs. On top of that, Elizabeth is the only girl at home, her best friend is pulling away from her, and she’s worried about her parents’ relationship seemingly falling apart. Sara and Elizabeth form an unlikely friendship when they discover that both their mothers are studying to pass the American citizenship test.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
Published: October 1, 2013
During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for star) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion 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 best friend Ben-O–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other 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 ruined.
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. With the cross-cultural charm of Bend It Like Beckham, this delightful debut novel is a classic coming-of-age story and young romance with universal appeal.
Wishing on Matzo Ball Soup
Published: September 5, 2023
When Ellie accidentally overhears that her family deli is most likely going to close, she does the only thing she can think of. She makes a wish on matzo ball soup.
Eleven-year-old Ellie is feisty, determined, and a little bit anxious. She considers Lukshen Deli part of the family—after all, it’s been around for four generations, ever since her great-grandmother opened it. Along with her BFF, Ava; her sisters, Anna and Mabel; her lunch buddies, Aanya, Brynn, Nina, and Sally; and her grandparents, Bubbie and Zeyda, Ellie is determined to prove that old-fashioned Jewish delis can get with the times—but if her plan doesn’t work, the deli will be sold for good.
The Length of a String
Published: May 1, 2018
Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.
Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. Then her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, and Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York.
Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adoptive family of her own. And as Imani reads the diary, she begins to see her family, and her place in it, in a whole new way.
This Is Just a Test
Published: June 27, 2017
David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy.
That includes his friend Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate — and David’s best friend — Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.
Published: August 28, 2018
Chaya Lindner is a teenager living in Nazi-occupied Poland. Simply being Jewish places her in danger of being killed or sent to the camps. After her little sister is taken away, her younger brother disappears, and her parents all but give up hope, Chaya is determined to make a difference. Using forged papers and her fair features, Chaya becomes a courier and travels between the Jewish ghettos of Poland, smuggling food, papers, and even people.
Soon Chaya joins a resistance cell that runs raids on the Nazis’ supplies. But after a mission goes terribly wrong, Chaya’s network shatters. She is alone and unsure of where to go, until Esther, a member of her cell, finds her and delivers a message that chills Chaya to her core, and sends her on a journey toward an even larger uprising in the works — in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Though the Jewish resistance never had much of a chance against the Nazis, they were determined to save as many lives as possible, and to live — or die — with honor.
Absolutely Positively Natty
Published: May 9, 2023
Reeling from the impact of her mother’s depression on their family, Natty decides she’s going to be “Good Vibes Only.” She even starts a pep rally club in her cheerless new town. But her pursuit of positivity wears on her friendships and her–until the facade starts to crumble. An insightful exploration of toxic positivity and how kids can manage tough situations instead.
Not Your All-American Girl
Published: July 7, 2020
In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren is Jewish and Chinese. It’s the 1980s and Lauren and her best friend — who’s blonde with blue eyes — do everything together. So when they don’t have any sixth-grade classes together, they’re bummed! They decide that they will audition for their school’s musical so that they can at least have that time together. Lauren’s audition goes swimmingly, and she’s obviously the better singer than Tara (even better than any of the other kids), but when the cast list is released Lauren is only part of the ensemble and Tara is cast as lead. Upon confronting the director, she explains that Lauren’s half-Jewish, half-Chinese looks don’t match the role of “all-American girl” in the “all-American town” depicted in their musical.
This is a vital look at racial prejudice in the 1980’s through a fun, engaging lens. This middle-grade book showcases a strong biracial protagonist (Jewish-Chinese) who learns to embrace her identity with the help of her family and two boisterous grandmothers.
Published: May 5, 2020
Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. His science teacher finds out about the turtles he spent his summer collecting from the marsh behind school and orders him to release them back into the wild. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he has to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. Unfortunately, Will hates hospitals.
At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster, go to a concert and a school dance, and swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with his turtles. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.
Published: September 1, 2020
In No Vacancy, Miriam Brockman’s family — who are Jewish — has just moved into a motel they bought in upstate New York. On top of the change from city to small town, Miriam has to work with her parents and uncle (who comes to help) to renovate the motel. Her parents are also struggling because the motel is in poor financial state, contrary to what the sellers had initially told them. This jeopardizes their plan to renovate and then sell the motel so they can buy a home.
Next door to the hotel is a diner owned by a Catholic elderly couple, whose granddaughter, Kate, befriends Miriam. Miriam also begins working at the diner, peeling grapes for grape pie. In a bid to help draw customers to the motel, both girls create the illusion of a Virgin Mary apparition in a local abandoned drive-in. Their plan works, and customers start flooding the motel, but Miriam can’t shake the guilt, even as she explores other questions about religion and disability.
Published: August 15, 2023
Mia is part of two tribes, although she’s only known one for most of her life. She lives with her Jewish mom and stepfather in California but has always been curious about her father and his Muscogee heritage. Her mom and dad did not have an amicable divorce, so her mother doesn’t like to talk about her dad. Eventually, Mia’s curiosity gets the best of her, and she uses her Bat Mitzvah money to travel to her father in Oklahoma, telling her mom that she’s at a Jewish camp. There, she learns about her Muscogee family and their culture. But of course, her mom finds out, and Mia is in a fix. Can she embrace both sides of herself even when she’s in California?
Death by Toilet Paper
Published: August 5, 2014
Benjamin is about to lose a whole lot more than good toilet paper. If he doesn’t make tons of money fast by selling candy bars and winning contests—like the Royal-T Bathroom Tissue slogan contest—his family will get kicked out of their apartment. Even with his flair for clever slogans, will Benjamin be able to win a cash prize large enough to keep a promise he made to his dad before he died? Or will he lose everything that matters to him?
That’s What Friends Do
Published: January 28, 2020
In That’s What Friends Do, Sammie and David are best friends who first met at Little League. As the only girl on the baseball team, Sammie enjoys being one of the guys and she and David get along excellently. She also thinks all the other girls do “girly” things which she feels are not her style. She’s convinced herself that she’s just better being friends with the boys. Things are great until a new boy, Luke moves into the neighborhood.
Luke is taller than David and keeps trying to flirt with Sammie even though it obviously makes her uncomfortable. While Sammie looks to David for support, David — who has a crush on Sammie — is preoccupied with being jealous of Luke’s seemingly “smooth” skills. As a result, David starts to focus on making his affections known to Sammie just as Luke seems to be doing. Eventually, an incident on the bus between David and Sammie jeopardizes their friendship and forces Sammie to re-examine the meaning of true friendship.
Abby Tried and True
When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen. But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.
There they are: 25 of the best Jewish middle-grade books aka middle-grade books with a Jewish protagonist. This list is just about as short as my list of Muslim middle-grade books and Muslim YA books, which means: we need more of these!
What are your favorite Jewish middle-grade books? Which ones have I missed on this list; what would you add? Please let me know in the comments!