Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Hope you’re all well! This is a little bit of a departure from my regular posts, but I felt it was important. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of Chanukah or Hanukkah, depending on the way you spell it, because there is no wrong way, even though Chanukah is the right way, because that’s the one I use, but anyway, no matter the spelling, Jews all over the world are celebrating. It’s a beautiful holiday, filled with joy, lighting candles, singing songs, giving gifts, and perhaps the best part of all, eating latkes and jelly doughnuts. And yet, this year feels different. This year feels a little sad in many ways, because I don’t recall a time in my life where anti-Semitism was so prevalent. Don’t get me wrong, because people who hate Jews have always been there, but yet over the last ten years or so, it’s seemingly been increasing in numbers and intensity every year. I’ve faced it a lot in my life, and still don’t feel any of the instances are as bad as they are now.
This can’t go on and change needs to occur. It can’t begin with the adults who won’t change opinions, but it can with younger kids who are impressionable. If they learn hate, they’ll grow up hating. If they’re unfamiliar with something, it’ll seem strange and alien. If they see more stories with Jewish characters and see Judaism as part of the world around them, there’s a chance they won’t grow up hating the unknown. So, this post is basically a call for more Jewish characters for younger readers, and especially for Middle Grade. It’s important for parents, teachers, and librarians, to promote books with Jews in them. Jewish books are Diverse books.
So, for this holiday season, while you’re sitting there and fretting over what to get, don’t worry any longer. Because, I now have fantastic news for you! I’m going to tell you about some really great books to go pick up just in time for the end of the Chanukah, which also make for wonderful reading for Christmas!
Now, admittedly, there aren’t a lot of Middle Grade books which are Chanukah-based. There are plenty of them for younger readers who like picture books, but not for the older ones. I’m going to have to rectify that. Get me my agent on the phone! But, to fill in the void, I’m going to suggest some great books by Jewish authors, which would make great gifts for the bibliophiles you care about.
So, without further ado, we’ll start with a couple that are actually centered on Chanukah. I haven’t read this one, but it looks like so much fun!
Dreidels on the Brain, by Joel Ben Izzy:
One lousy miracle. Is that too much to ask?
Evidently so for Joel, as he tries to survive Hannukah, 1971 in the suburbs of the suburbs of Los Angeles (or, as he calls it, “The Land of Shriveled Dreams”). That’s no small task when you’re a “seriously funny-looking” twelve-year-old magician who dreams of being his own superhero: Normalman. And Joel’s a long way from that as the only Jew at Bixby School, where his attempts to make himself disappear fail spectacularly. Home is no better, with a family that’s not just mortifyingly embarrassing but flat-out broke.
That’s why Joel’s betting everything on these eight nights, to see whether it’s worth believing in God or miracles or anything at all. Armed with his favorite jokes, some choice Yiddish words, and a suitcase full of magic tricks, he’s scrambling to come to terms with the world he lives in—from hospitals to Houdini to the Holocaust—before the last of the candles burns out.
No wonder his head is spinning: He’s got dreidels on the brain. And little does he know that what’s actually about to happen to him and his family this Hanukkah will be worse than he’d feared . . . And better than he could have imagined.
The next one is:
Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell
FRESH, FEISTY, FUNNY.
In this Hanukkah story, Penina fi nds that a glass of cold milk and a hot potato pancake go a long way. Penina Levine is the only member of her family who isn’t looking forward to Hanukkah. Not only is it another chance for her annoying sister to steal the spotlight, but her favorite teacher is taking a mysterious leave of absence, and her best friend is deserting her to go on a dream vacation to Aruba. Then Penina discovers why Mrs. Brown must go away and hears that a snowstorm may ruin Zozo’s trip, and Penina knows she’s the one who must bring some holiday spirit to her friends. Readers of all backgrounds will relate to Penina as she turns a pile of problems into a Hanukkah to remember.
How I Saved Hanukkah by Amy Goldman Koss
Marla Feinstein, the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, hates December. While everyone else is decorating trees, she’ll be forgetting to light the candles and staring at a big plastic dreidel. The holidays couldn’t get much worse. So Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah’s really about—and soon she and her family have made the Festival of Lights the biggest party in town!
Now, some non-Chanukah books by Jewish Authors, which feature Jewish characters:
Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
Kat Greene lives in New York City and attends fifth grade in the very progressive Village Humanity School. At the moment she has three major problems—dealing with her boy-crazy best friend, partnering with the overzealous Sam in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and coping with her mother’s preoccupation with cleanliness, a symptom of her worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.
With nowhere to turn, Kat reaches out to the free-spirited psychologist, Olympia, at her new-age private school in New York’s Greenwich Village. Olympia encourages Kat to be honest. Eventually, Kat realizes that sometimes asking for help is the best way to clean up life’s messes.
This is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer
Abby was born for the spotlight. Now it’s her time to shine!
Abby is twice exceptional—she is gifted in math and science, and she has ADHD. Normally, she has everything pretty much under control. But when Abby makes one HUGE mistake that leads to “The Night That Ruined My Life,” or “TNTRML,” she lands in summer school.
Abby thinks the other summer-school kids are going to be total weirdos. And what with her parents’ new rules, plus all the fuss over her brother’s bar mitzvah, her life is turning into a complete disaster. But as Abby learns to communicate better and finds friends who love her for who she is, she discovers that her biggest weaknesses could be her greatest assets.
Hilarious and heartwarming, This Is Not the Abby Show is for everyone who knows that standing out is way more fun than blending in.
Apple Pie Promises: A Swirl Novel by Hillary Homzie
Lily has lived with her mom since her parents got divorced several years ago, and her dad has recently remarried to a woman with a daughter her age named Hannah. But now, Lily’s mom has gotten a once-in-a-lifetime work opportunity in Africa and she’ll be gone for a year, so Lily is moving in with her dad―and new stepmom and new stepsister. It’ll be as easy as apple pie, right?
Wrong. Lily promises her dad that she’ll try to get along with everyone, but she is not happy about it. Her stepmom is nice, but she’s no replacement for her real mom, and Lily feels like she barely gets any one-on-one time with her dad anymore.
The real problem, though, is Hannah. What starts out as tension between the new stepsisters becomes a full-on war, both at home and at school. Harmless pranks turn into total sabotage. Can Lily survive the year―or is her family fractured beyond repair?
Takedown by Laura Shovan
Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.
Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.
Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.
In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart
Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family’s bowling center even if though he could be killed by a bolt of lightning or a wild animal that escaped from the Philadelphia Zoo on the way there.
Amy is the new girl at school who wishes she didn’t have to live above her uncle’s funeral home and tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after.
Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way . . . and that’s when it all begins.
These are just a few, and there are many more that I don’t have space for, and if I forgot some, it sincerely wasn’t intentional, but please consider getting books with Jewish characters in them, or supporting Jewish authors. Because again, Jewish books are Diverse books. Say it with me. Let’s all remember it. Jewish books are Diverse books.
Anyway, I want to wish all of our readers a very Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and everything else under the sun!
With that being said, I need to go, because Dorian Cirrone warned me not to make this post longer than the eight days of Chanukah, and I think I might’ve failed that edict.
But before I go, there’s one more thing! If you want a Christmas book written by a Jewish author, you can go pick up my own Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies! (Shameless insertion of self-promotion now complete)
Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.
That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.
Again, I thank all of you for reading, and until next time . . .