IN THIS POST: We are studying World Religions in school so I went on the hunt for picture books about Judaism and other faith traditions. This list of 18 has some of our favorites and some that are great for a younger crew.
Picture books about Judaism might seem an odd choice for students in 3rd and 6th grade, but there are a lot of great advantages to using them even with older children.
Using Picture Books with Upper Elementary
First, communicating complex concepts through story is a tactic established well before picture books or written language developed. I’m an adult and still learn a lot from picture books.
Second, since we are only doing an introduction, I wanted to give a broad picture of the faith traditions. Picture books are the right length for providing a few different perspectives on one common event or tradition.
Third, as these are not my traditions, I wanted to make sure they were presented in more representative voices.
And fourth, similar to the second reason, I wanted to be able to cover a range of aspects of the various religions. Instead of focusing on just one holiday or practice, picture books are the right length to introduce several.
This was not my only form of instruction, but it helped to enhance and understand the traditions better. Also, several of the books create situations where my daughters can build empathy for how practicing a certain faith shapes someone else’s life.
Before I taught this part of our unit using the picture books about Judaism, I went through an overview of the faith, history, and practices of the religion. And I will do that for all the faiths we consider.
Also, I found this map of how and where various religious traditions are dominant to be helpful for conversation and context.
18 Picture Books About Judaism
I don’t know if I’ll be able to organize all my posts this distinctly, but the books we found at our library generally group around common events. We didn’t read all of these for our study, but I did read through them. Some are more appropriate for younger students or I had selected a few different books on a similar topic.
Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays by Lesléa Newman
A book of Jewish holidays told in rhyme and accented by beautiful charcoal-inspired illustrations. At the end there are activities and recipes for children to try as well. This book is definitely geared toward a younger group, and I used it more as a reference than reading cover-to-cover.
Kibitzers and Fools by Simms Taback
A fun collection of short tales with witty wisdom and a sprinkling of Yiddish words.
The Always Prayer Shawl by Sheldon Oberman
The gift of a prayer shawl travels from troubles in Russia through generations to the United States. At the end a grandson is ready to learn the wisdom of the always prayer shawl – some things change and some things don’t.
Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year
Even Higher: A Rosh Hashanah Story by Eric A. Kimmel
The townspeople are convinced that their esteemed rabbi goes to heaven every Rosh Hashanah to beg and plead with God to forgive their souls. A sceptic shows up and follows the rabbi on Rosh Hashanah. He sees enough to make up his mind.
Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement
Gershon’s Monster by Eric A. Kimmel
A poignant tale about the importance of apology and forgiveness. One man habitually refuses to apologize or ask forgiveness, choosing instead to ignore the impact of his words and actions. Finally, they catch up with him in a most unfortunate way and he must confront them. Will he learn?
The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story by Jacqueline Jules
The giant Ziz is sent on a quest to find the hardest word and bring it back to God. He tries again and again to find tricky words to say. It’s not until he gives up completely that he succeeds.
Sukkot – Giving Thanks for Autumn Harvest
The Best Sukkot Pumpkin Ever by Laya Steinberg
Micah is determined to find the best pumpkin for his family’s celebration. In the pumpkin patch they learn about the other pumpkins that will be taken to a local soup kitchen to feed others. As Micah uncovers more and more great pumpkins, he uncovers his giving spirit. What he takes home is different than he expected.
Sky-High Sukkah by Rachel Ornstein Packer
A child growing up in the city despairs that they don’t have room for a sukkah. Challenge after challenge emerges even when a sukkah is won in a local contest. In the end, it brings together the best in the neighborhood for a memorable celebration.
Tikvah means Hope by Patricia Polacco
Based on a true story, this is about a firestorm in Oakland that ravaged thousands of homes during its two-day blaze. When the community returns they find a miracle – and then another in the form of a beloved cat whose name means hope.
The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda by Shoshana Nambi
A small group of Jewish Ugandans live in community. In this story, competitive Shoshi has great plans for creating the best sukkah for her family to celebrate Sukkot. When a sudden storm disrupts all the sukkah’s in the community, Shoshi experiences a valuable lesson.
Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde
Another tale of Jewish community thriving in an unexpected place. Before World War II began many Jews felt the need to leave their homes to pursue safety. Thousands escaped to Shanghai, China. Conditions were not ideal, but the community grew and retained their traditions. This story is a blending of cultures through friendship.
The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder
I’ve heard the Passover story many times, but I don’t think I’ve been as compelled from a retelling as I was with this one. Told from a young girl’s perspective and written in haunting verse, this story takes us from Hebrew slavery to past the Red Sea. The watercolor illustrations brighten only as the story ends and evoke a sense of particular perspective within a familiar, general narrative. Beautiful.
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman
Do you know the story of the Little Red Hen trying to bake bread and no other animal will help her? This is the matzah version. Seasoned with Yiddish phrases and completed with a difficult command from Jewish tradition, this new take on an old tale is delightful and gives new meaning to the old tale.
The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel
Set during the Great Depression, a young girl wanders through the streets of DC on her way home and encounters an odd man juggling on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Despite having nothing to eat for her family’s Passover celebration, she places her only penny in the man’s hat in gratitude for his performance. He encourages her to head home for Seder. When he shows up at her family’s doorstep later in the evening, he provides more than entertainment for her family and her community. A Passover miracle.
Meet the Matzah: A Passover Story by Alan Silberberg
Hands down the funniest explanation of Passover. When the students in Mrs. Crust’s class have to talk about their cultural celebrations, Alfie Koman goes into hiding. Soon the class bully, Loaf (the school sourdough) takes over and tells his own version of the story until Alfie stands up for himself with a hearty “Let my story go!” The actual story emerges, and Loaf and Alfie become friends. The ending illustration is great.
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman
Eight brave knights set out to prepare the kingdom for the Hanukkah celebration, but a dreadful dragon is thwarting all the townspeople’s efforts to prepare for the big event. Can the knights save Hannukah?
The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle by Jacqueline Jules
The Ziz likes his oil lamp from God and tries to keep it for himself. Will he learn to share as God has shared with him?
Way Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm by Linda Glaser
Too many potatoes lead to too many latkes – but there is no such thing as too many latkes, just not enough mouths! A fun folk story about a Hanukkah celebration with a lot of potatoes.
More Picture Books About Judaism
These are just eighteen of the picture books about judaism that I was able to read and incorporate into our study of world religions. There are many options available and mostly it will depend on your library selection. I’m sure our library was wondering what was happening as I checked out stacks of picture books suddenly, but I’m so grateful that we can use a variety of reading material for learning!
Along those lines though, I did a lot of searching on Pinterest for these recommendations. Many others have gone before and collected great samplings of books in categories related to world religions.
If you’d like some more ideas and titles to peruse, check out these posts at other sites:
- 13 Children’s Books About Sukkot
- 20 Best Passover Books for Kids
- Great Books About the High Holidays
- Miraculous Hanukkah Books
- Contemporary #ownvoices Jewish Books
Stay tuned for more book lists in this unofficial series. My library is going to be getting a lot more requests in the weeks to come as we learn about world religions. I’ll pass it on to you!
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