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

Who am I?

Before becoming an author, I was a civil rights lawyer, so naturally, I’m drawn to stories that shine a light on prejudice and hatred for “the other.” My desire to combat the bigotry that stems from ignorance, coupled with my fascination with the historical struggles of the Jewish people, led me to write this latest book. Because my kids can trace their ancestors to Spain, I took an interest in learning everything I could about the Spanish Inquisition and the fate of the Jews of Spain. I added some of my own family lore from Russia and voila! When Lightnin’ Struck was born. The research gave me a great excuse to visit Spain!


I wrote...

When Lightnin' Struck

By Betsy R. Rosenthal,

Book cover of When Lightnin' Struck

What is my book about?

In 1928 Odessa, Texas, eleven-year-old James struggles to find his purpose in life, and along the way discovers a family secret. He’s treated as an outcast at school because his father was struck dead by lightning and his mother is in jail, but he has a loyal friend in Paul, a Russian Jewish immigrant. Together they battle the school bully and Paul helps James uncover his beloved Abuela’s hidden history. 

Newberry Award winner Susan Patron describes the book as “a keenly observed and timely story of a Texas Boy’s discovery of deeply buried family secrets—and his own humanity.”

The books I picked & why

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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. 

Secrets in the House of Delgado

By Gloria D. Miklowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secrets in the House of Delgado as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1492 people of the Jewish faith were leaving Spain by the thousands. Not even the Conversos, those who had converted to the Catholic faith, were safe. Inquisitors sought out heretics and encouraged informers to report anyone who might not be a "pure" Catholic. Those accused were then questioned and tortured. Many confessed to anything that would stop theirtorture. Those declared "guilty" could be burned at the stake.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty and terror, fourteen-year- old Maria finds herself alone and homeless. The Church assistsMaria by offering her the opportunity to work for the Delgados, a wealthy Converso family.…


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. 

Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Number the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful story set in Nazi occupied Denmark in 1943. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is called upon for a selfless act of bravery to help save her best-friend, Ellen - a Jew.

It is 1943 and for ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen life is still fun - school, family, sharing fairy stories with her little sister. But there are dangers and worries too - the Nazis have occupied Copenhagen and there are food shortages, curfews and the constant threat of being stopped by soldiers. And for Annemarie the dangers become even greater... her best-friend Ellen is a Jew. When Ellen's parents are taken…


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. 

Nothing Here but Stones

By Nancy Oswald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Here but Stones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At first I thought everything in America would look like New York City, with shops and crowded streets, but I have discovered, the farther west we travel, that there are long stretches of nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I only hope the place we are going to is not so empty.

Nothing Here but Stones is based on a Russian Jewish colony that settled in Cotopaxi, Colorado, in 1882. Told from the viewpoint of eleven-year-old Emma, the book vividly portrays the hardships and struggles of the colony.

They were promised housing and rich ground for farming. Instead, the land is rocky and…


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. 

Letters from Rifka

By Karen Hesse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Letters from Rifka as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Newbery media winner Karen Hesse comes an unforgettable story of an immigrant family's journey to America.

"America," the girl repeated. "What will you do there?"
I was silent for a little time.
"I will do everything there," I answered.

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her…


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. 

Black Radishes

By Susan Lynn Meyer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Black Radishes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner Black Radishes is a suspenseful WWII/Holocaust story, in which one boy learns what it means to be Jewish and French at a time when everything is changing.

   Gustave doesn't want to move from the exciting city to the boring countryside, far from his cousin Jean-Paul and his best friend, the mischievous Marcel. But he has no choice. It is March of 1940, and Paris is not a safe place for Jews.
   When Paris is captured by the Nazis, Gustave knows that Marcel, Jean-Paul, and their families must make it out of the occupied zone. And…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Jewish history, the German occupation of Europe, and prejudices?

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