|From Osnat and Her Dove by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi|
Whether you have small children, pre-teens or teens, with Hanukkah starting Sunday evening, November 28 – or for any time at all – you’ll want to check out these books.
Author Kathy Kacer has two Holocaust-themed novels for young people out in 2021: Under the Iron Bridge (available from Second Story Press here) and Call Across the Sea (available from Annick Press here).
Under the Iron Bridge is fast-paced and exciting and manages to get across some of the horror of life in Nazi Germany. It’s compulsive reading. You certainly want to get this for the young teens in your life (ages 12–14).
In Dusseldorf, Germany, 15-year-old Paul is pressured into joining the Hitler Youth. He despises the Nazis and especially how they’re treating Jews, but Paul has no way to express his opposition until he stumbles on the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of young people who have begun to resist – distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets, painting slogans on walls, and sabotaging Gestapo cars.
Paul attends Hitler Youth rallies by day and engages in resistance by night – until Kristallnacht. Amidst the burning of the Dusseldorf synagogue and the destruction of Jewish homes and businesses, Paul comes across Analia, a girl he’s had a crush on, being rounded up with other Jews for shipment to a concentration camp. At great peril, Paul is able to rescue Analia, but in doing so, exposes where his true loyalties lie. For the next seven years, until the end of the war, he will have to go underground.
As with Kathy Kacer’s other novels, Under the Iron Bridge has accurate historical underpinnings. The characters are imaginary but the Edelweiss Pirates were real and Yad Vashem recognized them as Righteous Among the Nations.
Under the Iron Bridge is part of Second Story Press’s on-going Holocaust Remembrance Series for young readers – which includes the very well-known book Hana’s Suitcase, and some 18 other books (see here).
Call Across the Sea is part of Kathy Kacer’s Heroes Quartet, four Holocaust-themed books for children aged 9–12 (available from Annick Press here).
Young Henny Sinding has grown up sailing her father’s boat the Gerda III, but with the Nazi’s occupying Denmark, Henny joins the resistance, and when the Jews are about to be deported, she suggests smuggling them to Sweden aboard Gerda III.
Like Under the Iron Bridge, Call Across the Sea is a good adventure story based on accurate history. The Gerda III was one of some 300 ships that helped Denmark’s Jews escape to Sweden, and Kacer includes a short note at the end of the novel about the real-life Henny Sinding.
Author Joanne Levy, published two books in 2021 for children aged 9–12, both with Orca Books: The Sun Will Come Out and Sorry for Your Loss (both available here):
In the Sun Will Com Out, 11-year-old Bea goes to Camp Shalom for the first time. But what should be the best summer of her life, turn out to be the most anxious, and anxiety makes Bea break out in hives – great big ugly splotches all over her face.
Mean girls make Camp Shalom anything but peaceful. There’s a boy Bea’s crushing on, but he’s crushing on her best friend. Plus, there’s an odd-looking kid who seems to work in the camp infirmary – where poor Bea ends up spending a lot time, what with those mysterious hives all over her face. As it turns out, this odd-looking boy has problems far larger than Bea’s, and between them, they learn much about friendship and about ometz lev – courage.
This is a wonderful story, fast-paced and fun, full of humour and heart.
Sorry for Your Loss is a miraculously good novel. Evie Walman wants to be a funeral director when she grows up – not so odd considering she already works in her family’s funeral home. She’s just 12, so she doesn’t work with the grieving families – until Oren Katzman loses both his parents in an accident that also leaves him wounded, inside and out.
The heart of this story is Evie and Oren’s growing friendship. But Evie also brings Oren deeply into the workings of a Jewish funeral home, which is both fascinating and strangely comforting for Oren and perhaps also for the reader.
The Good Fight by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Josh Rosen (2021, Scholastic Canada available here) is a graphic novel geared to kids in grades 6 and up.
It’s 1933. Sid and his family live at the edge of the Ward, an immigrant slum in a Toronto rife with prejudice. Sid’s in with a gang of pickpockets, but when he’s caught, the police coerce him into becoming an informant. They’re after a union organizer – a communist, according to the Police Chief.
But the real heart of the story is the rising tension between Toronto’s homegrown Nazis and the Jewish and other immigrant communities – a tension that erupts into a historic riot following a baseball game at the Christie Pits.
This is a tough, gritty story, ably illustrated with tough gritty artwork. Kids will eat it up.
Osnat and her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi (2021, Levine Querido, winner of the Jewish Book Award available here).
Picture books rely as much on the art as on the text and it’s a lucky author indeed who gets as talented an artist as Vali Mintzi to illustrate her book. Full of deep reds, blues and yellows, Mintzi’s illustrations suggest a world of mystery, wonder and miracles that very much evokes the tone of this beautiful book.
Set in 16th Century Mosul in what it now Iraq, Osnat is the daughter of Rabbi Samuel Barzani, builder and rabbi of the Mosul yeshiva, who takes the extraordinary step of teaching his daughter to read. Osnat becomes such a good Torah scholar that her father agrees to her accepting a husband only if he’ll excuse her from chores so she can continue to study. Eventually her father and her husband pass away and Osnat becomes the head of the yeshiva. Not only that, but (as with any legendary rabbi worth their salt) she becomes a miracle worker.
This is a simply gorgeous book that children and adults alike will adore.
Other Canadian books of Jewish interest for young people:
A Struggle for Hope by Carol Matas (2021, Scholastic Canada, set in Auschwitz in 1943 and in Israel in 1948, for grades 6 and up, more info and available here).
The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Sandy Nichols (2021, Kids Can Press, a Picture Book for ages 4–7, more info and available here).
Boy from Buchenwald by Robbie Waisman, with Susan McClelland (2021 Bloomsbury Children’s Books, a survivor memoir for ages 12 and older, more info and available here).
Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure by Anne Dublin (2021, Second Story Press, historical fiction for ages 9–12 more info and available here.)
The Little Synagogue on the Prairie: The Building that Went for a Ride … Three Times! by Jackie Mills (2019, self-published nonfiction picture book for ages 6–9, more info and available here).
Read Part 1 of "The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids" here. Also, check out 7 great gift ideas for writers for Hanukkah or for that other winter holiday coming up soon here, more great books to buy here, and 77 more gifts for writers here.
Brian Henry is a writer, an editor, and the publisher of Quick Brown Fox. He teaches writing courses for adults, including writing Kid Lit. He’s written book reviews for the Toronto Star and for Books in Canada, and opinion pieces for the Toronto Star and the National Post. He was also a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and to the Engage and Harry’s Place websites in the UK.
See Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.