The best children’s books with both Jewish and South Asian representation

The Books I Picked & Why

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas

By Pamela Ehrenberg, Anjan Sarkar

Book cover of Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas

Why this book?

This picture book has grabbed me over the years, being a fan of both Hanukkah and dosas. My childhood home and my home now has always been filled with traditional Indian and Jewish foods. I loved the holiday food fusion here and how festive the family is as they blend their traditions together. The story isn’t so much about how and why they blend their cultures the way they do—they just do. It centers around a boy and his very active little sister who ends up saving the holiday with her extra energy. The illustrations by Sarkar are so sweet they just make you want to jump in the book and be part of their dosa-filled Hanukkah celebration.  

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A Place at the Table

By Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan

Book cover of A Place at the Table

Why this book?

I love this accessible and engaging story which weaves together themes of religious and racial identity, food, and family with the complex friendship between two sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl. The book was also written by two authors with similar backgrounds which gives the book a feeling of authenticity. Growing up, I rarely read about characters I could relate to on a cultural level even somewhat and would have appreciated this book. The characters both have compelling and difficult issues going on—Sara’s new at school after leaving her small Islamic school community. Elizabeth’s mother is struggling with depression. This is handled in a direct and honest way that I think young readers will gravitate towards. As a bonus, there are lots of fabulous food descriptions as the girls bond during a cooking class taught by Sara’s mother.

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Lucky Broken Girl

By Ruth Behar

Book cover of Lucky Broken Girl

Why this book?

Ruth Behar writes for both adults and children and is a multi-award-winning writer and a Cuban-American Anthropologist. She’s also Jewish with Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots. Based on the author’s real experiences, we follow ten-year-old Ruthie and her family who are recent Jewish-Cuban immigrants trying to make a new home in 1960s Queens, NY after Castro comes to power. Just as Ruthie is adjusting to school and making new friends, a devastating car accident puts her in a body cast for a year. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring story. I particularly loved her friendship with recent Indian immigrant, Ramu, who has to endure a terrible family tragedy as well. There are some heavy themes here, but Ruthie’s innocent, bright, and brave voice brings the reader along in a hopeful way. There’s some great food (like guava pastries, flan, and samosas) mentioned here, too. 

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My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

By Paula J. Freedman

Book cover of My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Why this book?

Just the title alone makes me excited because if I had a Bat Mitzvah (I didn’t), this is what I might have wanted to call it! It’s a heartfelt and funny middle-grade novel about a girl named Tara Feinstein with a white Jewish father and an Indian American mother who is preparing for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. I like the way the themes of intersectionality are layered with classic middle-school concerns--friends, crushes, parental pressure, and how she figures out who she is in the midst of so many things changing all at once. The questions Tara is asking, how to be part of both sides of her family and still stay true to who she is, deeply resonated with me, but I think many middle-schoolers regardless of their background would connect in different ways. Part of the value of the book is that it is so widely relatable and yet Tara is not afraid to ask the deeper questions. It’s definitely an example of how specificity in fiction creates universal connections. 

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Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

By Mira Jacob

Book cover of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Why this book?

This graphic memoir is one of most brilliant books I’ve had the pleasure to read. In some ways, it’s a modern version of my own parents’ story. To be very clear, it isn’t actually a children’s book, but I see it as both a YA and an adult book (probably from age twelve on up because of some mature content) that could open up important “good talks” between parents and kids. It tells the real story of author Mira Jacob as she navigates her Indian American identity, her marriage to a Jewish man, her difficult in-laws, and how she tries to communicate all this to her young biracial son who’s figuring out his own identity. The edgy illustrations make it all the more compelling. There are honest, unflinching, and even hilarious discussions about racism, colorism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism and much of it takes place during the heightened setting of the 2016 US presidential election. 

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