Books including topics on antisemitism
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- The following lists include destigmatizing and validating books that you can use in discussing antisemitism with your kids.
- For the sake of speed, my notes are added in no particular order, and are formatted for experienced BFL readers who know how my reviews work.
- Transparency: Antisemitism is pretty far out of my lane (I’m agnostic, raised lapsed-Catholic & Chinese Buddhism/Ancestor Worship.)
Quick & Messy Book List:
Requests & Challenges:
- “Talking to your kids about antisemitism in the present day, not necessarily focused on the Holocaust” (via Megan, from our Collaborator Laboratory).
- I’m currently keeping an eye out for books relating to this topic, and am planning to actively search for them in May, when I actively focus on freedom of religion, understanding faith, and religious persecution. – Ashia
Biographies of Famous Jewish Folks Who Faced Antisemitism
- (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark – Badass, love it.
- (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) No Truth Without Ruth – severe reservations on this one.
The art is gorgeous. However – the intro sentence makes me wary, and I’ve learned to read this author (Krull) and the illustrator (Zhang) with caution from experience with their larger bodies of work.
“We may take it for granted now that women should be treated as equals, that daughters are valued just as much as sons. But girls and women used to face unfairness every day—in their families, schools, and workplaces.”
USED TO? What kind of sweet ass life does Krull have where sexism is no longer a problem? Who actually thinks that? Language continues in the book to imply that sexism is over “That was the way things were then.” Despite this, it’s a helpful book to discuss sexism (focuses more on sexism than antisemitism, with only one paragraph addressing antisemitism) and a couple points about how organized Judaism was/is sexist, which is ironic given that it’s one of the more gender progressive organized religions. “She was the ‘camp rabbi,’ the leader of religious services —decades before women were allowed to become real rabbis.” As a gentile, I’m not sure how to feel about the word ‘real’ in here, which implies practicing non-certified religion outside some form of higher organization (which is, from my understanding, not a thing in Judaism the way it is in Christian faiths).
This book works for women’s history, religious discrimination, sexism, anti-semitism, and general discrimination topics.
Towards the middle (once she meets her husband and gets out of college) Q (age 5.5)’s attention started to wane, so best for older kids. Illustrator is Asian woman of color (Zhang is Chinese expat, I think, who lives in Berlin) who has been complicit in a few other books with problematic whitewashing/casual sexism. Krull is well-known for failing to do even rudimentary fact-checking and only using other picture books as source material (seriously!) and churns out quantity over quality in biographies.
- (Irving Berlin) – Write On, Irving Berlin – Our fave biography on Berlin. Starts with him escaping a pogrom (content warning: burning building), gently (more gently than I’d like) discussed antisemitic sentiment at the time about a Jewish immigrant writing ‘God Bless America’ and ‘White Christmas.’ Addressed on his loving relationships with wives, but missed the opportunity to highlight his interfaith second marriage with a Catholic and how they raised their daughters. This is a lovely book about hard work and tenacious dedication, although it fails to show any of his failures or much hardship at all, which is a missed opportunity.Do NOT confuse with: Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing – which features a convoluted story, falls pray to the bootstraps trope, and makes breaking glass ceilings in America look so easy you can do it in your sleep. Doesn’t really address antisemitism or his interfaith marriage AT ALL.
- Regina Persisted – Sasso – #OwnVoices, written by another woman rabbi. Because she was focusing most on the issue of sexism, the references about being a Jewish woman in Berlin in 1935 are surprisingly tame. Mentioning it here since …uhh, on top of everything she did to become the first female rabbi, she was Jewish – in Berlin. In 1935.
- Speak up Tommy – speaks with accent (Hebrew, from Israel) and new to learning English alphabet. Kids make fun of him until he shows he can speak with police dog trained in Israel, new kid at school, English language privilege, immigrants, Judaism
- The only one club (nailiboff) – NOT RECOMMENDED.I wish this had been handled differently. Only one Jewish girl in class. While everyone else celebrates Christmas, she celebrates Hanukkah (because there are only two religions, and no one comes from an interfaith family, I guess.) She makes an ‘only one’ badge because she’s proud, which obviously makes other people feel bad. So they decide to make a ‘not the only one’ group (yikes) and she comes in and gives everyone a badge that says they are the only one in different ways. Which feels like a shit-ton of reverse racism, tone-policing, and fragile criticism against targeted groups finding pride in their identities. Valdating for this ONE thing where you might be Jewish in a school of Christians, but not something Ii would read to my kids, as it insinuates they have to go above and beyond to placate the dominant group. It’s clumsily handled and I kind of dislike the main character. Written for 4+, but nah.. Judaism, Feeling left out, Reverse racism, problematic.
- A is for Abraham – Michelson – Beginner intro for older readers (older than 6, kind of unengaging, no story). Intro points out that this is an attempt at pan-jewish cultural to begin discussion, but rituals and beliefs vary by denomination and locale – so it’s nice to see that there are many different branches of the faith, such as reform, conservative, orthodox, unaffiliaed, reconstructionist, renewal, humanistic. Designed for gentiles – answered some details of things I was vaguely aware of but never got around to googling, like why having a homeland in Isreal is such a big deal, the western wall, and how Judaism influences what a Jew can and can’t contribute to the art world. religion, judaism, history
Allegories for Antisemitism
These are going to require some work on the part of adults to draw similarities between current events and the allegories in the stories.
- Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins(Kimmel) – Was too scary for Q a 2-3, and still feels too scary with cartoon goblins. They aren’t THAT bad, but they are still creepy enough that I was nervous Q would stay up all night talking about night fears at 5.5. But we tried it anyway, and 3.5 and 4.5 actually go through it pretty well. They DID find some of the illustrations shockingly unsettling. Hershel has to remain steady against the aggression of the goblins to save the town and allow them to celebrate Hanukkah (the goblins won’t let anyone light a menorah). He tricks and outsmarts them. Addresses mini lessons on greed, dreidels (says the rules are 3/4 symbols the goblin gives him his gold, the 4th is he does nothing – pretty sure these are not the actual rules). The light and witty text makes the goblins less scary, so that helped a lot. But Q did ask for monster spray at bedtime for the next few months. Monsters, Judaism, Hanukkah, greed, clever, pogroms, resistance, light
- Oskar And The Eight Blessings – Alludes to ‘the night of broken glass’ which didn’t explicityly point out the holocaust or the fact that his parents are doomed, but gave us an opening to discuss the holocaust when we were ready. Q asked, and I prepared him, and we discussed it at 5y. Then we saw the ways to look for blessings as he walked to his aunt’s house through manhattan. How he can be blessed by small acts of kindness and compassion, and he can return that blessing – but it’s not necessary and non-transactional. Very touching book that takes place on the last night of Hanukkah, but also mentions Christmas, as NYC shows Christmasy things and the holidays co-exist peacefully, radical kindness, interfaith friendships/community.
- The Yellow Star (Deedy) Fictional folktale on solidarity. Wonderful story, illustrations are clean, but dated ashcan style and unengaging. Danes throughout Denmark – Nazis come and demand to hang Nazi flag at the palace. King christian of Copenhagen took it down and insisted that if they killed soldiers for taking it down, he’d take it down himself. (Why would Nazis not shoot the king?) Was directed to put yellow stars on Jewish citizens and was stuck in a bind – citizens would be killed no matter what, so he asked (not commanded) everyone wear stars including himself. More of a ‘what if’ folktale of the real King christian who really did ride unescorted and who threatened to wear the yellow star, although Nazis never did demand them to wear stars. Lack of transparency at the beginning, since this feels like real history, only to find it’s historical fiction, feels like a slap in the face. Does speak to the fact that only Denmark managed to rescue the majority of its Jews via the Helsingor Sewing Club. White accomplices, Good leadership
- The Secret seder (rappaport) – Frank with the violence about what happened in the holocaust. Did well for 5.5, wouldn’t read for anyone below 4.5. Was the most informative, helpful way to get kids to really understand why people do the rituals they do during the seder for passover, much more engaging than any cutesy book on passover we’ve read, and addresses the history of escaping from the pharaoh, and it explains the bitter herbs, the unleavened passover matzah, the questions, the plagues against the pharaoh, why we call it passover, being expelled from Spain & Portugal, “I think tonight is different because tonight all over Europe, Jews are being murdered.” it worked well because we had a lot of time to sit with the pain of the story and discuss it. Q would ask questions and I’d answer them, and then those same questions were addressed a couple pages later. There is a LOT to unpack in such a short book. Despite the gray illustrations, Q was pulled into the story quickly. The characters all embody a commen perspective- the little boy we see this through as the next generation who are learning of the past, who encompasses hope for the future. his father who focuses on the good and endurance and gives the boy comfort and strength, and the old man who is bitter after a life of trial, who is justified in his violence and bitterness “The old man calls out to God, “Pour your wrath upon the nations that do not recognize you…”No one tells him to calm down, but it’s left to the reader to decide what to do with the old man’s bitterness, to hold space for it and the awfulness and discomfort of it. We discussed how that is not our way, to pour wrath on those who harm us, but how it’s also easy for us to say as people with privilege who have had comfortable lives. Complicated and solid. Should be mandatory reading as we get more people who are growing to forget how horrifying the holocaust was. judaism, seder, passover, genocide, violence, holocaust, tone-policing, perspective, hope, despair
- Queen Esther Saves Her People -Most of this is politics and intriguing webs of relationships and characters, more like a west wing episode than a kids’ book. my main complaint is that this has really little to do with Esther, and much more to do with Mordecai, Hamen, and her husband Ahasuerus. Hamen and Ahasuerus are jerks, and Mordecai and Esther (the jews) are benevolent, so I’m interested to hear the other side of this story. It IS a great story to learn the significance of the day, and I love the sub (sub, sub) story of how Esther had to risk her own life approaching her husband without being called, then flattered him and Hamen, in a request to save her people. Although in this story, it seems more like coincidence and Mordecai that can claim credit for that. Esther is shown as light-brown and blue-eyed. There is decent amount of skin shades in the book, and even a slightly heavier (still thin) woman who is still considered ‘beautiful.’ Hamen’s wife, however, who is a bitch, is heavy, so caveats for anti-fat nonsense. Q couldn’t keep track of all the intrigue and coincidences (or divine intervention, I guess?) at 5.5, so might be better in small chunks, or for older kids. It was a great starter book to teach gentiles about Purim though! – Judaism (Purim), sexism (kinda), Women’s history (Persia)
- The Wooden Sword (Stampler)- Too advanced for 4, didn’t get a chance to screen, but would be okay for age 6. Afghani Jewish folktale retold by a white-presenting (maybe Jewish?) woman. End notes credit both Afghani Jewish and Muslim folks she consulted to make sure she wasn’t being disrespectful.
Curious (if a bit meddlesome) (Muslim) Shah and poor (Jewish) shoemaker. Shah keeps manufacturing ways to make shoemaker lose hope and revert to selfishness, Shoemaker just goes with the flow and has faith things will work out (but also innovates ways to compensate for what has been taken away.) Interesting perspective o the flexibility of keeping faith open despite hardships, but there are elements to the story that are weird – why does the shah insist on testing this poor shoemaker who never bothered or asked the shah for anything? Why does the shah never apologize for making this poor guy’s life harder? The story doesn’t paint a particularly kind image of Muslims for kids who don’t otherwise see them in books every day. Bonus: one of the only books I’ve found featuring Jews of color. Faith, flexibility, Judaism (non-white), Afghanistan history, Southeast Asian history
- The Most Magnificent Mosque (Fowles) – Q enjoyed for 1 read, but only because the boys were mischievous at the beginning. They grew up to be responsible and kind, and pulled together to save a mosque in Cordoba from being destroyed by the Christian king. Story is short and not hugely entertaining, illustrations are meh, but it’s good for a single read, particularly in a collection about interfaith friends pulling together for collective action. Can’t find anywhere WHEN this takes place, although it’s supposed to be a true story, my guess this is about the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, taking place around 711-788 CE. One amazon reviewer gets their panties in a bunch because the book isn’t inclusive enough – it doesn’t include Atheists. (EYEROLL.) Religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), interfaith friendship, collective action, Cordoba Spanish History.