Antisemitism (also spelled anti-semitism or anti-Semitism): Prejudice, discrimination, vandalism, and/or violence against people who are Jewish. From Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
There are plenty of books on racism and even skin color, but when I tried to make this list, I had trouble finding books for kids on antisemitism, particularly set in current times. This seems weird because these books are more needed than ever given the rise of antisemitism and crimes against Jews recently here in the United States.
Can you help me build this list? What books would you add? Thank you for your suggestions!
Children’s Books to Combat Antisemitism
Red and Green and Blue and White: Inspired by a True Story by Lee Wind, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This story is inspired by an incident that happened in 1993 in Billings, Montana (population 110,000). Most of the homes are decorated for Christmas in red and green, but one house, Isaac’s, is decorated in blue and white to celebrate Chanukah. His home is lit with a menorah at the window. In the middle of the night, a rock is thrown through their window. What should Isaac’s family do? Hide that they are Jewish? Isaac and his family decide to continue to light their menorah. His best friend across the street, Theresa, adds her drawing of a menorah on her window in front of her family’s red and green decorations. She adds two words, “For Isaac.” Theresa’s idea catches on. Their friends, their school, and their library join in. Local stores, restaurants, and clubs also participate. Soon, more than 10,000 windows are decorated with a menorah for Isaac. The little town of Billings demonstrates the true meaning of community and of the holiday spirit:
Christmas Tree and Menorah Light
Red and Green and Blue and White
[picture book, ages 5 and up]
Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox, illustrated by Nicholas Wilton
Two flocks of birds — peacocks and swans — live in a garden near a clear, blue lake. They start to notice each other’s differences and that leads to fear and hate. Soon, they destroy each other, but all is not lost. In the ruins, two eggs hatch. A baby peacock and baby swan stumble towards each other, noticing each other’s similarities and that leads to friendship. This is an allegory about the Holocaust. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Would You Salute? by D. Kelley Steele, illustrated by Becky Hyatt Rickenbaker
I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Helen Keller
This true story of Margo and her interfaith family helps explain how hatred and fear grow. They lived in Germany during WWII and watched Adolf Hitler rise to power. Her Jewish father lost his medical practice and Margo lost her friends. Her mother was not Jewish but this doesn’t protect Margo and her mother from the rising tide of anti-Semitism. As Margo and her family’s story unfolds, the reader is encouraged to make a decision about what they would do in the same position. For example, Margo’s teacher taught them the new salute they would do every day. Would you salute? Margo receives a new uniform with a Nazi symbol. Would you wear it? Is it easier to go along with the crowd? This story is a powerful tool to teach empathy. [picture book, ages 9 and up]
Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback
In the Second World War, every Jew was a victim, but not every victim was a Jew. Priests, clerics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Afro-Germans, Russians, Czechs, Poles, Serbs, political dissidents, people with disabilities, and many others were also on Hitler’s hate list.
In this true story about Alter Wiener, he experiences the kindness of a stranger. He and his family lived in Poland. When Hitler came into power Germany invaded Poland, he and his family suffered from the rising tide of hatred that started with words and grew into something much worse. When Alter was fifteen years old, he was taken from his home and taken to the first of five Nazi labor prison camps. Food was scarce and he thought he no longer had the will or strength to live another day.
But then, something extraordinary happened. A German factory worker hid a bread and cheese sandwich for him. This was a dangerous act for her. And she did it not just once, but thirty times. When the war ended, Alter tried to find his kind stranger but was never able to locate her. The lesson that he wishes to share is ” there are kind and the cruel in every group of people, How those you meet in life is far more important than who they are.” [picture book, ages 8 and up]
It is also my strong wish for today’s children to never give up hope in their efforts to make this world a better, more caring place for all. Alter Wiener
The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II (an Inquire & Investigate Book) by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Tom Casteel
For Hitler and the Nazis, the “Jewish Question” was the perception that Jewish people were taking over Germany and conspiring to take German wealth for their own. In reality, Jews made up less than 1 percent of the total German population. Among these were people who did not identify as Jewish — they might have converted to another religion or simply did not practice Judaism. However, the Nazi regime defined someone as Jewish if their grandparents were Jewish, regardless of that person’s current religion.
Readers learn about the Holocaust beginning with the rise of the Nazi Party to the aftermath of the Nurenberg Trials and the creation of the United Nations but this is not a passive learning experience. As the cartoon above alludes to, learning about the Holocaust is important to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In this book, the reader interacts with the information presented through a series of Inquire and Investigate questions that include primary sources via QR codes. [nonfiction young adult, for ages 12 and up]
Although the Holocaust ended in 1945, its lasting effects are still felt around the world today. The Holocaust was not an accident in history — it occurred because individuals, organizations, and governments made choices. These choices legalized discrimination and allowed prejudice, hatred, and ultimately mass murder.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Senator McCarthy believed that people who didn’t share his beliefs about government needed to be silenced and even imprisoned. From one of her professors at Cornell, Ruth learned that lawyers could fight back. Lawyers could also fight the type of prejudice she discovered when she’s seen that sign outside a hotel, NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the first Jewish woman and the second woman to become a Supreme Court justice. When she was young, her family drove past a hotel in Pennysylvania that had a sign that said “No Dogs or Jews Allowed!” She never forgot the sting of prejudice and became a lawyer to fight for equality for all. But this career path wasn’t easy. Not many women went to college in the 1950s; Ruth went to Cornell University and then to Harvard Law School. No one wanted to hire a female attorney, but finally, one judge hired her and her outstanding work made others want to hire her too. Women weren’t just excluded from being a lawyer, they were excluded from other jobs as well. Ruth went to court to fight for equal treatment of women. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Becoming RBG by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Ruth’s grandparents had immigrated to the US from Russia and Austria where anti-Semitism flourished even before the rise of Nazi Germany. In the United States, they thought they wouldn’t encounter such prejudice … but anti-semitism was rearing its ugly head right there in New York City.
As a young girl growing up in New York City, Ruth became aware that racism including anti-Semitism was widespread in America as well as Nazi Germany. It made her question unfairness and motivated her to fight against it. When she went to college at Cornell University, she was placed next to other Jewish girls from big cities. Was this to make them more comfortable? It’s hard to separate the obstacles Ruth faced in her career as the result of being female or Jewish or both, but she didn’t let anything stop her. All her life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg blazed a trail for women in male-dominated spaces and fought tirelessly for equal rights for everyone. [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and strength from my heritage. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Best Friends by Elisabeth Reuter
Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust. from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Lisa and Judith are best friends at school but Judith is Jewish and Lisa is not. Now that Hitler is in power, the children learn that good people are strong and German, and bad people had hooked noses, dark hair, and are Jewish. The children are taught to torment Judith, and Lisa protects her. Judith is not allowed to go to gymnastics class or swimming with Lisa. Lisa’s parents no longer shop at Judith’s father’s pharmacy. Lisa’s parents want Lisa to stop playing with Judith so they play in secret together. On one terrible day, Judith and Lisa get into a fight over a teddy bear. That night, Lisa sleeps through the noise of glass breaking. On this night, Kristallhacht (Night of Broken Glass), Jewish store owners and their families are taken away to concentration camps and their stores destroyed. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
The Edelweiss Pirates by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Daniela Stamatiadi
By 1938, open anti-Semitism became increasingly accepted throughout Germany, including in public schools. Portraits of Adolf Hitler hung in all classrooms. Students saluted Hitler at the start of school. They read books and played games that made fun of Jews. Teachers and students verbally and physically punished Jewish students.
In 1938, jazz music was forbidden in Germany and the Hitler Youth Patrol will harm anyone breaking the rules. Albert and his friends are part of the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of young people who play jazz and find other ways to defy the Nazis. Albert’s younger brother, Kurt, wants to join the Edelweiss Pirates but his brother thinks that he is too young. Kurt’s friend, Albert, is tormented at school for being Jewish. In an act of defiance, Kurt plays jazz on his trumpet at the school band concert. The Edelweiss Pirates join in. The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of more than 5,000 young dissenters in western Germany. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
In 2005, Germany officially recognized the Edelweiss Pirates as a resistance group, a tribute to those young people who dared to stand up to Nazi tyranny.
A Kids Book About Allyship by Sam Rapoport and Rebecca Gitlitz-Rapoport
What does it mean to be an ally? This book counsels readers to learn, respect, listen, and, most importantly, act! Being an ally requires active participation. Speaking out about unfairness! Getting involved even when it’s scary! Being willing to learn and make mistakes! Becoming an ally is a journey and this book is a roadmap. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
p.s. Related posts:
My Jewish Book Lists for Kids
Contemporary #OwnVoices Jewish Children’s Books
10 Jewish Folktale-Inspired Books
Passover and Easter Picture Books
10 Award Winning Jewish Books for Kids
39 Haunting Holocaust Books for Kids
Holocaust Heroes Who Weren’t Jewish
Resources for Holocaust Memorial Day
How is Genocide Covered in Children’s Books?
Holocaust Performing Art Show: For Our Fathers
New Orleans Holocaust Memorial
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
3 thoughts on “Children’s Books to Combat Antisemitism”
I’m so glad to see this post. As you say, it is much needed now.
One way to combat antisemitism is just for young readers to know and see more about Jewish people in the world, so your multiple book lists at the bottom of this post serve that end well.
In addition, here is an excellent list from the Book of Life Podcast’s website (Book of Life is a podcast about Jewish KidLit hosted by Judaica librarian Heidi Rabinowitz) https://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/p/antisemitism.html. This is a list of children’s and YA books that include instances of antisemitism outside of the Holocaust–all good for though and discussion.
Of the novels, I want to call particular attention to The Assignment by Liza Wiemer. This YA novel is a deep exploration of modern antisemitism. Told from multiple points of view and inspired by a real event, it is the story of what happens in a small town when a teacher gives students an assignment to put themselves in the minds of perpetrators of genocide and it doesn’t sit well with some students.
Among the picture books, I want to call particular attention to Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin. Also based on a true story, this book shows how one Jewish woman in 19th-century England impacted the portrayal of Jews in the popular writing of Charles Dickens through correspondence–it’s all about the power of the written word.
Heidi’s blog has more excellent resources for standing against antisemitism here: https://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/p/stand-up.html.
Mia, thank you for this post. The Jewish community really appreciates your allyship! And Karin, thanks for mentioning the resources on my blog/podcast, The Book of Life. I’d like to mention another excellent YA novel that can help readers understand how a normal person can become radicalized into antisemitism: Some Kind of Hate by Sarah Darer Littman. You can hear my podcast interview with Sarah at https://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/2022/09/some-kind-of-hate.html.
What an important article, book list, and resource! Thank you for leading MCBD to connect communities, children, and diverse books!