The best lighthearted picture books featuring Jewish characters or themes

Gloria Koster Author Of Dance the Hora, Isadora
By Gloria Koster

Who am I?

I am a school and public librarian as well as a writer. I also serve as a member of the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education. We review hundreds of books each year for consideration of a place on our list –The Best Children’s Books of the YearI've chosen to recommend some lighthearted picture books with Jewish characters or themes because a number of my own books fit into this category. Mitzi’s Mitzvah, Little Red Ruthie, and Dance the Hora, Isadora! are three of my Jewish themed books. Each of these titles has been selected by PJ Library, an organization that sends a book each month to children.

I wrote...

Dance the Hora, Isadora

By Gloria Koster, Barbara Bongini (illustrator),

Book cover of Dance the Hora, Isadora

What is my book about?

A young girl learns the Hora at her cousin's wedding, then brings her new moves to dance class.

The books I picked & why

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The Eight Knights of Hanukkah

By Leslie Kimmelman, Galia Bernstein (illustrator),

Book cover of The Eight Knights of Hanukkah

Why this book?

So many Hanukkah books are super serious. I love the way Leslie Kimmelman cleverly uses wordplay to expand the story of the 8 nights of the holiday into something completely unexpected and uproariously funny. The book obviously references a Jewish holiday, but the story will have broad appeal to children of all religious backgrounds and children living in strictly secular households too.

Hanukkah Bear

By Eric A. Kimmel, Mike Wohnoutka (illustrator),

Book cover of Hanukkah Bear

Why this book?

I always recommend this genius book as a wonderful companion to my own Hanukkah book. The young audience is always one step ahead of the old woman in Kimmel’s story, and this engages them from the start all the way through to the comforting end. There’s an old-fashioned folktale-like quality to this story which makes it a sure winner!

The Matzah Ball Fairy

By Carla Heymsfeld,

Book cover of The Matzah Ball Fairy

Why this book?

When lighter-than-air matzah balls send Passover guests floating on the ceiling, a remedy is needed to bring them down. The author’s solution is brilliant and hilarious for anyone who has experienced cooking mishaps. There are so many Passover books that dwell on the story of the Jewish people’s escape from tyranny in Egypt and this is undoubtedly an important story to tell. But there’s also a need for holiday books that are just plain fun. This is definitely one of those. 

Rifka Takes a Bow

By Rebecca Rosenberg Perlov, Cosei Kawa (illustrator),

Book cover of Rifka Takes a Bow

Why this book?

This book reflects the author’s own experience as a child during the heyday of Yiddish theater. It’s an exciting story that will engage kids with a slice of history as they imagine themselves taking to the stage and enjoying the thrill of the limelight. So many Jewish-themed books focus on the holidays, so it’s refreshing to have others that just reflect Jewish life in the past or the present.

Five Little Gefiltes

By Dave Horowitz,

Book cover of Five Little Gefiltes

Why this book?

It’s not easy to create non-human characters that are fully believable, but Horowitz does it with the most unlikely creatures–gefilte fish who escape from their jar. Their antics are silly in the best way and the sprinkling of Yiddish terms (explained in a glossary) adds flavor and humor. The cartoon illustrations are spot on!

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