Graduating from PJ Library – suggestions?

My daughter Ella is turning eight this summer, and will not be receiving her monthly PJ Library fix much longer. She’s also beginning to  consider herself too old for picture books. And while I disagree (I’m 43, and I still read picture books) I want to make sure she has plenty of age-appropriate chapter books to satisfy her reading fix. (She’s one of those kids who tries to walk down the stairs without taking her nose out of a book.) I also want to make sure she continues to read Jewish books from time to time.

So, I’ve started looking for suggestions for Jewish middle grade books. I’ve given her All of a Kind Family and Hereville and I’m looking for a few more recommendations.


To get the ball rolling, I’ve got one of my own. I had the privilege of meeting Erica Perl when I went to NYC for the Jewish Book Council author event. She has a new novel called When Life Gives You OJ, about an eleven year old Jewish girl, Zelly, who is struggling to fit in after her family moves from Brooklyn to Vermont. More than anything, Zelly wants a dog, so her yiddish-spouting, eccentric, and very lovable grandfather concocts a scheme to help her convince her reluctant parents. It involves a jug of OJ,  a leash, and some very creative simulated dog-poop.


Ella is on the cusp of the tween years – just starting to be concerned with issues of cliques, embarrassing siblings and even-more embarrassing parents. This book captures that insecurity without plunging into the sturm und drang of popular young adult fiction. My only critique is that sometimes I felt the “Jewish” parts of the story weren’t woven in as seamlessly as many of the other themes. I suspect that I this was a result of an editor’s insistence that Erica add explanations to the Yiddish and cultural references. But it very nicely introduces an issue that Ella has no real experience of – not fitting in because you are Jewish. And, it’s quite funny.

Here’s Erica’s book trailer. While we are on the topic of book trailers, did I mention I’m struggling to make one for my new book The Shabbat Princess, coming out in September? It’s a lot harder than it looks, so I have great appreciation for Erica’s work. And after watching, don’t forget to weigh in on your recommendations. Thanks!

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posted June 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

What about any of Sonia Levitin’s books? (The Return, Journey to America, Silver Days, Escape From Egypt) I loved those books when I was 8-10.

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posted June 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

Some of the younger-oriented Judy Blume books might work — how about Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself?

For non-Jewish books, I’d try the Ramona Quimby books and the Little House books.

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posted June 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I still love the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. Some others include: The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate (Concept Books by Janice Cohn and Bill Farnsworth and About the B’nai Bagels by E.L. Konigsburg. My son is still 3.5 but when he is ready, I will probably check out the Sydney Taylor book award winners

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Mary Ellen

posted June 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I’m also eager to find books with Jewish content for my kids (9, 11 and 12). There are lots of wonderful picture books, but once kids are out of that reading level it’s hard to find things. The Sydney Taylor award list is a good start.

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Mary Ellen

posted June 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I had forgotten – the site at is currently under construction, but if you hunt around a little under book lists, there is a cool little search function called the Jewish values finder. There are several ways to search this. You can type in the value you’re interested in from a list, select grade level see what comes up. I believe that the database is drawn from notable Jewish children’s books that have been submitted for the Sydney Taylor award.
Some books might be older and hard to find, but it’s a start. One issue I have with Jewish children’s books is the heavy emphasis on books about the Shoah. Of course this is vital for our kids to know, but I wish there were lots more books about kids today who happen to be Jewish and how that affects their lives and life choices.

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Frume Sarah

posted June 22, 2011 at 1:21 am

I really loved “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit.” (In addition to AOAKF series). Julius Lester wrote what I consider to be a modern Midrash called “Pharaoh’s Daughter” that is just stunning. I’ll take a look when I get to my study tomorrow — I know I’ve got a few others to suggest.

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posted June 22, 2011 at 2:23 am

Jewish Young Adult Fiction –

Friends Forever (Amy Ariel)
Ya Ya and Yo Yo: Sliding Into the New Year (Dori Weinstein)
The Lost Children of Tarshish (2 volumes – I don’t recall the author – was out of print but then reprinted)
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

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Erica Perl

posted June 22, 2011 at 10:13 am

Thanks so much for reviewing When Life Gives You O.J.! I’m so glad you and your daughter enjoyed it, and I really hope other P.J. library grads will check it out. I agree with many of the suggestions made here. In addition, Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Friedman… and Otherwise Known as Sheila… are two faves of mine that my older daughter has loved, too. Sheila is great for 8-11’s; Sally skews slightly older, IMHO.

Best wishes,

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Dori Weinstein

posted July 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Stephanie– Thank you for suggesting YaYa & YoYo: Sliding Into the New Year!

Mary Ellen– I could not agree with you more. Your point about books about the Shoah is exactly what inspired me to write my book which celebrates being Jewish in today’s world. I absolutely believe that our children (and everyone’s children for that matter)need to learn about the horrors of the Shoah,to ensure that we never forget and that it never happens again. But equally important is to remember what is it that makes Judaism a vibrant, wonderful tradition and heritage that deserves and needs to be kept alive.

“Sliding Into the New Year” is about Rosh Hashanah and is the first book in the YaYa & YoYo series. The second one, which I’m working on now, is about the holiday of Sukkot. (More info at

As far as other book suggestions, how about the Rebecca Rubin books in the American Girls series? I haven’t read them, but I’ve heard that the kids (particularly girls) love them. I also loved, loved, loved the All of a Kind Family books growing up. And absolutely anything by Judy Blume.

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