the best jewish children’s books of 2012

by marjorieingall on December 4, 2012

My annual list, at Tablet magazine.

Everyone has different standards of “best.” Me, I’m not interested only in distinguished literature (I’m not the Newbery committee) or only in whether a book hammers home certain values. I see my job as helping parents to find books that kids of different reading persuasions will want to read. (If it’s a doorstop, it’s not a good gift.) If a book’s got horrid art or it’s thuddingly didactic, I can’t recommend it. For some Jewish folks, if a book has interreligious dating or it’s not strictly focused on observance and/or a tragic moment in Jewish history, it doesn’t belong on a best-books list. And for some critics, literary writing and/or important subject matter is essential. For me, not always. Hey, let a thousand lists bloom.

For what it’s worth, my favorite not-specifically-Jewish kids’ and YA books this year all had a Jewish component. Wacky! Code Name Verity, my fave young-adult novel this year, is a twisty, brilliantly constructed story of WW2 story about the best friendship between a girl spy and a girl pilot. One character is Jewish, and an awareness of Jews disappearing from France hangs over the story. I reviewed it for the NYT and could not figure out what to say about it because EVERYTHING is spoiler-y. Trust me, just read it. Wonder by R.J. Palacio, my favorite middle-grade novel this year, has truly Jewish ethical values in addition to a half-Jewish character. Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson tells the story of that doomed ship (including its most famous Jewish victims, the Strauses) in a way that seems wholly new and insanely suspenseful. And Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin spotlights a bunch of Jewish scientists struggling with the consequences of their terrifying invention, as well as Jewish spies who think Communism will be better for society than Capitalism. It’s non-fiction that reads like a Ludlum thriller.

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renee December 4, 2012 at 10:47 am

I’ve been meaning to thank you for Code Name Verity since the summer. Thank you. I discovered after I read it that I went to college with Elizabeth Wein–why don’t they give you a list when you show up of who you’re going to wish you knew in 25 years? (A guy I know, who I think was a few years ahead of you at Harvard, recently posted on Facebook “Did anyone know Tom Morello?”)

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