The best Jewish historical fiction for young readers about family, friendship, and a journey of self-discovery

The Books I Picked & Why

Secrets in the House of Delgado

By Gloria D. Miklowitz

Book cover of Secrets in the House of Delgado

Why this book?

A gripping account of a converso family--their ancestors had been Jewish but were forced to convert to Christianity—trying to survive in Spain during the 1492 Inquisition. This story most closely aligns with the thread of Jewish history underlying my book. It’s told by a young servant girl working for the family, who overcomes her firmly ingrained hatred of Jews and becomes a hero as she learns that what matters most is a person’s goodness, not the religious rituals they practice. It’s told with lavish detail that transports the reader to a dangerous time for anyone with Jewish blood in their ancestral line. 

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Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry

Book cover of Number the Stars

Why this book?

Pitched against the backdrop of Germany’s occupation of Denmark during World War II and the German soldiers’ round-up of Danish Jews for “relocation,” ten-year-old Annemarie learns what it means to be brave. In this page-turner based on real events, Annemarie and her family help their Jewish neighbors escape the Nazis. Danger lurks around every corner and survival depends on secrets and deception. Although the story focuses on Annemarie and her valiant efforts to protect her best friend Ellen Rosen from the Germans, it opened my eyes to the human decency of the Danish people during the occupation. 

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Nothing Here but Stones

By Nancy Oswald

Book cover of Nothing Here but Stones

Why this book?

There is a crossover with my book in the fleeing of a Jewish family from persecution in Russia. I was captivated by this slice of American Jewish history that I was completely unaware of. Eleven-year-old Emma tells the story of her family’s journey with a group of Jewish Russian pioneers making their way to Cotopaxi in the mountains of Colorado in the mistaken belief that rich farmland and completed houses awaited them. These pioneers weren’t prepared for such a harrowing journey and the many struggles of frontier life they would encounter—marauding bears, poor land for growing crops, an early frost, and being a different religion from the other settlers. The author was inspired to write this story after learning that the remains of the Cotopaxi Jewish colony are located on her family’s land. 

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Letters from Rifka

By Karen Hesse

Book cover of Letters from Rifka

Why this book?

A moving intimate portrayal of a Jewish family escaping persecution in Russia to settle in America, as told through a series of letters written by twelve-year-old Rifka to her cousin Tovah whose family stayed behind in Russia. Rifka is not permitted to board the ship bound for New York with her family because she has ringworm, a contagious disease causing her to lose all her hair. Once she’s finally able to sail to America to rejoin her family, she faces a perilous voyage and a lengthy quarantine on Ellis Island. This story caused me to reflect on the hardships my grandparents must have faced when they fled Russia. My grandmother was sent to this country by herself at age thirteen in the steerage section of the ship without knowing a word of English. 

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Black Radishes

By Susan Lynn Meyer

Book cover of Black Radishes

Why this book?

This story is loosely based on the author’s father’s childhood in France and his family’s escape from the Nazis. In this nail-biter, young Gustave is forced to grow up too quickly and find the courage to risk his life to help bring his aunt and cousins out of German-occupied France. To keep his family safe in the unoccupied countryside of France, he must keep his Jewish identity hidden. The cruelty of the German guards and one of Gustave’s classmates is contrasted with the kindness and bravery of a girl who befriends Gustave and helps him and his family through her work with the French resistance. 

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