The Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2015!

by marjorieingall on December 2, 2015

9780763665555

In Tablet Magazine. The best of the best! I have spent the last couple of months reading like a mofo.

Sadly, there were big-kid books I really liked but couldn’t justify including in Tablet because they didn’t have quite enough Jewy to them. But let’s discuss! I loved Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous, a biography of Daniel Ellsberg and the story of the Pentagon Papers. (Ellsberg’s religion doesn’t seem to have played any role in his activism or evolution, so nope, not for Tablet. But it’s a really good book.) I also admired two books about the Danish resistance in World War II. Courage and Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in WW2 Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson offers tons of tales of heroism and badassery — for example, when one resistance fighter was spotted in the woods by a German soldier as he was taking pictures of a military installation, he stuffed his camera into his jacket, yanked down his pants and underpants, squatted, and started screaming curses at the Nazi for interrupting his pooping. The Nazi, horrified, scuttled away. Meanwhile The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, by National-Book-Award-winner Phillip Hoose, is more focused (and as far as I recall, poop-free), offering a tighter narrative about one particular Danish teenager who with his pals engaged in regular acts of sabotage against the German occupying army – they turned street signs the wrong way, smashed portraits of Hitler, ignited gas tanks, stole guns, and splashed their town with bright-blue anti-Nazi graffiti. It’s super-gripping and should be a movie. But again: Not about Jewish characters (though one of the peripheral boys is half-Jewish) or ideas.

Finally, The Bullies of Wall Street, by Sheila Bair, the former head of the FDIC, explains clearly and cogently exactly what happened in the financial crisis of 2008…and who let it happen. The first third discusses different causes and aspects of the economic meltdown, as experienced by different (fictional) kids: Matt’s family lost their home because of a subprime mortgage for which they couldn’t afford the payment increases; Anna’s dad speculated in the housing market and overextended himself when prices dropped; Jorge’s dad lost his job; Imani’s family suffered when banks changed strategies and rushed to foreclose rather than helping families with mortgage payments; Mary’s public school got screwed by cutbacks; Zach’s recent-college-grad brother took out loans to attend a for-profit college and then struggled with stratospheric unemployment among teenagers and 20somethings. Blair explains each of these scenarios so well, even a math-phobic dipshit like me can keep up. The second third of the book is a condensed version of Bair’s time at the FDIC. She’s clearly still furious at and scornful of a lot of the players she dealt with there (especially Tim Geithner of the Federal Reserve, Vikram Pandit at Citi, Dick Kovacevich at Wells Fargo, and Larry Summers and Bob Rubin). Many of the characters in this chapter are Jews, but this does not make this a Jewish book. So nope, not for Tablet’s list. The final third of the book, by far the shortest and weakest, basically says, “So, uh, the future! We screwed up! Good luck, kids!”  It feels pro forma, but what the hell is she supposed to say?

But go read all the books on the Tablet list, because they are great. And that is all. (Oh, no it’s not: my former Sassy colleague Kim France quoted me in her Hanukah paraphernalia roundup, and tomorrow (I hope) I will update this with a super-cute additional shopping suggestion for the wee. Sorry to be cryptic, gotta wait until it’s up on Tablet’s site.

Happy holidays!

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

sam December 3, 2015 at 12:02 pm

As a father of 5 boys and an uncle of another dozen or so nephews, I’m always hard pressed trying to find the kind of gift that’ll appeal to every kid of the male persuasion. After a certain age we just go the Amazon gift card route, but otherwise we opt for something of the literary persuasion, if for no other reason than like this they’ll think of me at least on Shabbat–the official day of reading for pure enjoyment. This year’s tome was The Season of Pepsi Meyers, In the interest of full disclosure, the author, Abie Rottenberg is a friend and I’ve been a fan of his music ever since he gave the world D’Veykus in the mid 70’s and Journeys about a decade or so later…When someone who’s earned his creative cred goes ahead and explores other venues, that piques my curiosity. When he does so as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Sandy Koufax choosing fasting over fastballs on Yom Kippur, that sealed the deal as far as I was concerned. So after testing it via a focus group of one–as in a nephew with a birthday that precedes Chanukah by 6 weeks–and getting a thumbs up, I felt I’m good to go gift wise. True Abie is no Amanda Peet (I’ve been a fan of hers since Studio 60) and “The Season of Pepsi Meyers” while memorable, doesn’t come close to a title like “Dear Santa, Love Rachael Rosenstein”, but for those of us looking for something more Chanukah than Hanukkah, for sports-loving kids, Pepsi (Meyers) hits the spot–now to work on the other 7 days…

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