Diverse Jewish Families

Resource Roundup

Diverse Jewish Families

By: Emily Teck  |

Contemporary families have evolved and Jewish families are no exception. Families exist in incredible variety. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find children’s books that depict Jewish families in all the shapes, sizes, colors and combinations that exist in our communities.

This resource roundup provides a collection of books which in a very natural, organic way, includes families structures that embrace members with a variety of abilities, ethnicities, exceptionalities, and challenges.

These books are great for school, synagogue, and home to help spark conversations, support children’s understanding of diversity in their communities.and to help readers - children and adults- remember to practice Jewish values every day. For more resources to teach and learn about Jewish values that relate to this topic, explore: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself, Act with Loving Kindness, Honor Humanity, Be Inclusive (Don’t Place a Stumbling Block) and Learn From Everyone.

Little Kids

I Love Jewish Faces by Debra B. Darvick
We are brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends. We are smiling, laughing, crying, cheering. We are all ages, colors, lifestyles, and abilities. We are the face of Jewish life today.

In ninety-four words and thirty-plus photos, I Love Jewish Faces turns the image of the Yiddishe punim (Jewish face) on its head. Debra Darvick's delightful picture book mirrors today’s emerging Jewish reality: a Jewish face is dark-haired and dark-eyed and blonde and blue-eyed. A Jewish face belongs to a Chinese adoptee and to a newborn from Guatemala. It’s the face of an African American convert and that of a festively dressed bride from India. I Love Jewish Faces sings the long overdue song of Jewish diversity with passion, honesty, and celebration. Children adopted from other countries need to see themselves in their Jewish books, says Darvick. Their friends and classmates need reminding that not all Jewish faces resemble those of European Jews. I Love Jewish Faces affirms identity, embraces diversity, and celebrates Jewish life, all in one remarkable little book.

What Makes Someone a Jew? By Lauren Seidman
What makes a person a Jew? Is it the way that they look or the things that they do?

Is being Jewish a matter of how you look, or how you live? Using everyday examples that children can relate to, this colorful book helps all young Jewish readers understand what it really means to be a Jew.
A vibrant and fun way for children to develop a broader knowledge of Judaism and the Jewish People, this book gently guides children down their own path of Jewish spiritual discovery … and reminds us all that being Jewish is about our deeds, thoughts, and heart.

The Purim Surprise by Lesley Simpson, illustrated by Peter Church

It seems Naomi's mother has forgotten her birthday, but delivering Purim treats to the neighbors brings Naomi a special surprise.
This sweet story features a single mom demonstrating Jewish values with her family.

Elan, Son of Two Peoples by Heidi Smith Hyde, illustrated by Mikela Prevost
"Always remember you are the son of two proud nations,” Elan’s parents tell him when he turns 13. After celebrating his Bar Mitzvah in San Francisco, Elan, with his Jewish father and Native American mother, travels to New Mexico, where he takes part in a Pueblo manhood ceremony.
Based on a true story.

The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne
Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads he makes a surprising decision.

Rebecca's Journey Home by Brynn Olenberg Sugarman, illustrated by Michelle Shapiro
A Jewish family adopts a baby from Vietnam and her new brothers eagerly await her homecoming.

The Flower Girl Wore Celery by Meryl G. Gordon, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Emma can't wait for her cousin Hannah's wedding. She's going to be the flower girl. That means she'll wear a celery dress and walk down the aisle with the ring bear, leading the way for the happy bride and groom. Or at least, that's what Emma assumes. But nothing turns out to be quite what she's expecting. Emma is surprised as the story unfolds by many things she did not anticipate- one of which is that the wedding is a celebration of marriage between two women.

Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla
While trying to decide what to take for his school's International Day, Pablo helps his Mexican mother and Jewish father at their bakery and discovers a food that represents both his parents' backgrounds.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
The family depicted in this story includes a child, a mother, and a grandmother.
Sara sees an old man pick up a bruised apple from the discarded pile next to the local market. She wonders if he's hungry, as she eats her own breakfast. She wonders if he's lonely, as she shares Shabbat dinner with Mom and Grandma. As Hanukkah approaches, a season of light and hope, Sara discovers that tzedakah can be as bright and colorful as a Hanukkah cookie with sprinkles.

A Tale of Two Seders by Mindy Avra Portnoy, illustrated by Valeria Cis
When her parents get divorced, a little girl is worried about many things, including how she will celebrate the Jewish holidays in two different households. The holiday of Passover gives her a chance to celebrate separately with each parent. Over the course of three years and six seders, she and her family work to adjust to this new world, creating happy new lives and new family traditions.

Bigger Kids

Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz
When Isobel is invited to Aunt Luisa s for Hanukkah, she’s not sure what to expect. Aunt Luisa has recently arrived from Mexico. “At Aunt Luisa’s you ll get to celebrate the Hanukkah Moon,” Isobel's father promises. Isobel’s days at Aunt Luisa’s are filled with fun and surprises --a new camera, a dreidel piñata filled with sweets, and a mysterious late night visit to welcome the luna nueva, the new moon that appears on Hanukkah. An unusual Hanukkah story with a multicultural focus, this title celebrates a little-known custom of the Latin-Jewish community.

Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
Herron, a Jewish-American of African descent, tells the unique story of her family's history. An elderly black grandmother passes on the story of the family's Jewish origins to her young granddaughter, Carol Olivia. As family members flee the Spanish Inquisition, they are kidnapped by pirates and eventually sail to America. One daughter in each generation is given the name Olivia, from the Hebrew Shulamit meaning peace, to honor the Jewish part of their ancestry.

Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz
Joey’s story takes readers to a time when America’s favorite pastime became a battleground for human rights.
It is 1947 and Yankee fever grips the Bronx. Nine-year-old Joey Sexton joins the neighborhood kids who flock to the park to team up and play. However, Joey is of mixed race and his skin is lighter than the other kids’. He is seldom picked.
When Joey’s mother dies, he is sent to live with his mother’s estranged family. Joey is whisked away to Brooklyn. Though it’s just across town, it might as well be a different world. His grandfather, his Aunt Frieda, and his ten-year-old cousin Roberta, are not only white, they are Jewish. Joey knows nothing about Brooklyn or Judaism. The only thing that’s constant is the baseball madness that grips the community. Only this time, the heroes aren’t Joey’s beloved Yankees. They are the Brooklyn Dodgers, especially Jackie Robinson, a man whose struggle to integrate baseball helped set the stage for black America’s struggle for acceptance and civil rights

Tweens and Tweens
Magical Princess Harriet: Chessed: World of Compassion by Leiah Moser, illustrated by Magdalena Zwierzchowska
This story features compelling characters that address the issues of autism spectrum disorder and transgender identity.

“To put it simply, Harris Baumgartner was late to school on the first day of the seventh grade because something he saw in the abandoned lot at the end of his street changed his life forever…”
Middle school can be tough, especially when you can’t figure out whether you’re supposed to be a boy or a girl. Homework and gym class are hard enough to deal with, but what exactly do you do when a pushy angel shows up insisting you’re a magical princess and that it’s your job to defend your school from the forces of darkness? For Harris Baumgartner, only one thing is certain — life is about to get a lot more complicated!
If you've ever been watching your favorite magical girl anime and thought to yourself, "This is great and all, but it'd be even better if the main character was transgender... and Jewish!", then this is definitely the book for you!

What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Nora Raleigh Baskin
"I'm assuming I'll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not. But being womanly is something you definitely have to learn. Girls probably don't even know they're learning it. But one thing for sure is that it has to come from a mother. And a mother is one thing I don't have."

Unlike most kids faced with the prospect of having a stepmother, Gabby Weiss isn't the slightest bit resistant to the idea. Gabby wishes her father would hurry up and marry someone who knows more about womanhood than she does, someone who understands her obsession with all that is happening (and, worse, not happening!) to her body. For a while, it seems as though her father's girlfriend, Cleo, might soon be filling the role of mother, but when things fall apart, Gabby has to find her own solution. So she travels to the last place she remembers seeing her mother, searching for a memory. But what she finds is something even better.

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
After her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia's mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions—questions Sonia doesn't always know how to answer—as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren't part of the "in" crowd.
At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she's dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent—it's hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia's father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are—and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole.
What greater praise than to be compared to Judy Blume!--"Each [Blume and Hiranandani] excels in charting the fluctuating discomfort zones of adolescent identity with affectionate humor."--Kirkus Reviews, 

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
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 confines 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 book for anyone mending from childhood wounds.”—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street 

I hope this list can help our community expand out understanding of our membership. It is my sincere prayer that more books and resources will be published and shared, so please email me with any feedback about this resource roundup or suggestions for additional inclusions. 


Emily Aronoff Teck, EdD
Director, JewishLearningMatters.com

Posted in  hidenews