New Books for Young Readers 

Shira has seen people bristle before. People bristle when there’s too much or not enough Hebrew in a service—when there’s too much or not enough God—when there’s too much or not enough salt in a soup. Shira does not want her new friend to bristle. She says, “Do you know the Yiddish saying, Got hot zikh bashafn a velt mit kleyne veltlekh?

Esther translates. “God created for himself a world with many little worlds’?”

“Yes. Even in Idylldale there are people who pray just in their homes, or in theaters, or in synagogues, or in the woods, or they don’t pray at all. Some people arrive for services every Friday night and Saturday morning but they only come to synagogue to be seen, and some people like you?” Shira holds out a hand to her new friend—“have never been to synagogue but have deep faith.” She squeezes tight. “My father always says they are all in one of the worlds that God created.”

Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut by Anna E. Jordan (Chronicle, $17.99)
Two girls who were born on the same day in the same hospital are reunited as almost thirteen-year-olds. Each is searching to fulfill a dream that’s different from what her single parent hoped for: one to learn about her Jewish faith and the other to act on stage. Narrated with Yiddish inflection by the local deli man, this suspenseful story is set in a declining Borscht Belt world.

The Witch of Woodland by Laurel Snyder (Walden Pond Press, $16.99)
Zipporah (Zippy) Chava McConnell, daughter in an interfaith family, narrates this middle grade novel with authorial savvy. Unlike many around her, she is a believer in magic. When her mother decides it’s time for her to prepare for her bat mitzvah, Zippy searches for—and finds—surprising support for reconciling her Jewish heritage with her vivid and serious feelings of being a powerful witch.

Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen (Heartdrum/ HarperCollins, $24.99)
Lying to both her parents, Mia, a Jewish day school student, uses her bat mitzvah gift money to travel on her own by bus from Los Angeles, where she lives with her mom and stepfather, to Oklahoma to visit her dad and his family and learn about her Muscogee heritage. Luckily, there are open minded and wise elders in both her tribes. This middle-grade graphic novel is inspired by the author/illustrator’s own life.

Ruth First Never Backed Down by Danielle Joseph, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo (Kar-Ben, $19.95)
Ruth First was born in South Africa in 1925 to a Jewish family that had fled Eastern Europe, and was critical of apartheid. She became an anti-racism activist as a student, and as a journalist helped spread the ideas of Black activists. She defied new laws that forbade resistance to apartheid, was arrested, imprisoned, then forced to leave South Africa.

She never shifted her position or lost faith in her cause, and continued her fight for equality until 1982, when she was killed by a bomb sent to her in Mozambique by the South African Security Police.

The Do More Club by Dana Kramaroff (Rocky Pond Books, $18.99)
“My life/can sorta be split/into/before/and/after. /before the swastikas were graffitied/all over/my middle school/and now/ after.” In his new neighborhood, Josh, narrator of this novel-in- verse, would rather his classmates not know he is Jewish. With the support of his school’s only Black teacher, the principal and an intervention team teaching, among other things, the difference between being a starter, a follower and a leader, Josh eventually initiates a school club to make things better.

Phoebe’s Diary by Phoebe Wahl (Little Brown, $17.99) It’s 2006 in Washington State, in this fictionalized semi-auto- biographical journal of 15-year-old Phoebe, a talented aspiring artist and actress, the younger sister in a Jewish family that does a seder, Hanukkah, and Christmas too. Her words and pictures create an immersive experience of teenage angst and vulnerability, introducing the friends she makes, romantic crushes, falling in love, wanting to have sex, worrying about wanting it, predicaments with her parents, adolescent risk- taking behavior, plus favorite vintage outfits and playlists.

The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet by Jake Maia Arlow (Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99) 
If everyone else really does poop, narrator Al—short for Allison— asks the reader, why does no one ever talk about it? She has grown up with a single mom who hovers too much. They live above a kosher bakery whose owner, also a single mom, has a son who is Al’s best friend. Al is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and in spite of her skepticism joins a sup- port group of peers and eventually finds that aspects of her identity she has always tried valiantly, to keep apart (that, for example, she likes girls—really likes them) collide in a scary, complex but ultimately rewarding way.

Nothing Could Stop Her: The Courageous Life of Ruth Gruber
by Rona Arato, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz (Kar-Ben, $8.99)
With her typewriter and her camera, Ruth Gruber (1911–2016) achieved so much. Born in Brooklyn, she skipped three grades in elementary school and later won a grant to study in Germany in 1931, where she watched Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and became a newspaper reporter. At 24, she was a foreign correspondent assigned to the remote Siberian Arctic region of the Soviet Union. Many many years later, she would be able to say that wherever she saw Jews in trouble, she covered the story.

Eve and Adam and Their Very First Day by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Irina Avgustinovich (Apples & Honey Press, $17.95)
Eve, here imaginative and not afraid of anything, helps kind Adam, who has a beautiful smile, to lyrically name unfamiliar creatures, and optimistically endure a first thunder- and- lightning storm, and then sunset, in this midrashic picture book. How is she so terrific? “Eve came second, [created after Adam] and, well, practice makes perfect.”

Counting on Naamah: A Mathematical Tale on Noah’s Ark by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles (Intergalactic Afikoman, $14.99)
Midrashically reimagined as an inventive math genius—even as a young girl—Naamah conveniently grows up to become Noah’s wife. A problem solver, she figures out the space requirements to accommodate all the different-sized residents on the ark. She even amuses them during the forty days with challenging deck-athon activities. She was so successful that Noah named the ark Naamah in her honor.

Like the Sea and the Sky: a Mysterious Mollusk and Its Magical Blue Ink by Jordan Namerow, illustrated by Michelle Simpson (Brandylane Publishers, $25.95) Seven-year-old Zinni is fascinated by sea creatures, especially mollusks, and draws pictures of them in her jellyfish notebook while her classmates play ball at recess. Her mom, a rabbi, shares with her that the fringes on her tallit, according to ancient tradition, are dyed blue, techelet—from the ink of a mollusk, which Zinni dreams of finding.

Naomi Danis is an editor emerita at Lilith and the author of many popular children’s books, most recently “Bye, Car.