The $150,000 Rugelach follows Jillian and Jack, two kids with opposing personalities and a shared love of food and cooking. JIllian’s mom died a year ago and her dad is working two jobs to keep them afloat after her mother’s restaurant closed. They’ve also had to move in with Jillian’s grandma, Rita. So when Jillian finds about a cooking competition hosted by major corporation CEO Phineas Farnsworth II, she thinks it’s a good opportunity to make money to help out the family. Jack is also hugely interested in the contest as Farnsworth is his role model. When the two kids are assigned as teammates, Jack’s loud attitude clashes with Jillian’s quieter personality, but even worse, the kids realize that Farnsworth has a more sinister plan for the contest than they could have imagined.
This book follows 12-year-old Ariel whose life is upturned when her big sister (the best of them all), Leah, elopes with her Indian-American boyfriend after the Loving vs. Virginia ruling. Ariel’s parents are upset, Ariel is struggling with being able to write well at school, and she can’t stop thinking about her sister and everything happening in the world.
Linked is Gordon Korman’s latest middle grade offering, set in Chokecherry, Colorado, a small town where everyone knows everyone and all the kids have been together since kindergarten. There are a few new kids — one of whom is Jewish — whose parents work as paleontologists digging for dinosaur fossils in town. The small town is thrown into an uproar when a swastika is painted in the school building — and multiple swastikas continue to pop up throughout the school.
Chunky is a new graphic memoir in which Yehudi (Hudi) conjures an imaginary friend/mascot, Chunky to support him through a challenging time in his life. Hudi is a funny kid with a serious interest in comedy Because of childhood illness, Hudi has had one lung removed. He is also chubby with zero athletic prowess, in a family of athletic people. His dad won so many sports trophies in school and encourages Hudi to pick a sport. His mother thinks sports will also help Hudi regulate his weight. And so Hudi begins to try sport after sport — with hilarious results, and Chunky cheering him all the way.
The Magical Imperfect is a middle grade verse novel about a boy named Etan. Etan develops selective mutism after his mom has to go to a treatment facility for a mental disorder in 1980’s San Francisco. Around that time, mini-earthquakes are frequent and Etan tries to keep up his daily schedule, which is basically school and then time with his grandfather. Sometimes, he helps an older shopkeeper in the neighborhood walk her dog and run errands. It is while he is on one of those errands that he meets Malia, a Filipina-American girl with severe eczema.
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.
It’s My Party and I Don’t Want to Go is quite the mouthful, but the quirky title encapsulates this book’s nature. 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.
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.