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Children’s Books That Tackle Anti-Semitism And Difference

During challenging times, books can be a safe place to explore complicated issues.

As the children in our lives are processing the recent Pittsburgh shooting and as their awareness of anti-Semitism grows, it’s helpful to see examples of these themes in well-loved books. It is impossible, however, to speak about anti-Semitism without first introducing the broader themes of immigration, welcoming others and the importance of cultivating an appreciation for and an understanding of the other.

These books give children the opportunity to see versions of themselves, peek into unfamiliar situations and immerse themselves in settings that aren’t readily available in their day to day lives. All of which are critical for building an understanding of how the world works. When reading about characters who faced adversity and persevered or those who have spoken out in times of conflict, children can feel empowered to do the same.

Here are some suggestions from PJ Library, which sends free Jewish children’s books to families with children ages 6 months to 8 years every month and PJ Our Way, the next chapter of PJ Library, which offers free chapter books and graphic novels with Jewish themes for kids ages 9-11. (PJ Library also offers programming beyond books, in partnership with local organizations in New York.)

[Welcome, Written and Illustrated by Stephane Barroux (Ages 2-6)](Ages 2-6 “Welcome, Written and Illustrated by Stephane Barroux (Ages 2-6)”)

Welcome, by Barroux Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Polar Bear and his friends have lost their home. Will they find a safe place to stay? After several animals turn them away, the polar bears find an empty spot where they can settle. Now that they’ve found a new place to call their own, what will they do when others have been displaced?

[Across the Alley, Written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Ages 4-7)](Ages 4-7 “Across the Alley, Written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Ages 4-7)”)

Across the Alley, by Richard Michelson Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Abe’s grandfather wants him to be a violinist; Willie’s father assumes he’ll grow up to be a baseball superstar. In this story of friendship across racial and cultural lines, it turns out, the boys are happiest when they exchange hobbies.

[I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark: By Debbie Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Ages 6-9)](Ages 6-9 “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark: By Debbie Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Ages 6-9)”)

‘I Dissent’ by Debbie Levy Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Disagreeing does not necessarily make you disagreeable. Just ask Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court. When she was a young girl, lots of people told her she didn’t have what it took to do the things she wanted to do, but she disagreed — and proved them wrong. Now she shows the whole world that sometimes it’s important to say “I dissent!”

[Hidden, By: Loïc Dauvillier (Ages 8-11)](Ages 8-11 “Hidden, By: Loïc Dauvillier (Ages 8-11)”)

Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Elsa wakes up in the middle of the night to find her grandmother, Dounia, is also awake and has been thinking about her childhood in France, when the Nazis came to power. This is her story.

[Secrets in the House of Delgado, By: Gloria D. Miklowitz (Ages 8-11)](Ages 8-11 “Secrets in the House of Delgado, By: Gloria D. Miklowitz (Ages 8-11)”)

Secrets in the House of Delgado, by Gloria D. Minkowitz

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Eleven-year-old Maria Sanchez’s entire family died in an epidemic in Spain in 1492 and now she is completely alone in the world. She finds work with the Delgados. Are they Jewish? By order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, all Jews must leave Spain by July 31, 1492. Maria, must find out the truth … but does she really want to know?

[The Time Tunnel: The Dreyfus Affair, By: Galia Ron-Feder-Amit (Ages 8-11)](Ages 8-11 “The Time Tunnel: The Dreyfus Affair, By: Galia Ron-Feder-Amit (Ages 8-11)”)

The Time Tunnel: The Dreyfus Affair Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Through their magical time tunnel, Dan and Sharon meet Alfred Dreyfus in a French prison, just as he is wrongfully convicted of treason for spying against France. They discover how the rampant anti-Semitism of the time caused his arrest and they attend the shocking ceremony in which Alfred Dreyfus is stripped of his rank before a jeering mob.

[When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, By: Judith Kerr (Ages 8-11)](Ages 8-11 “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, By: Judith Kerr (Ages 8-11)”)

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr Image by Amazon

PJ Library’s parental reading guide

Nine year-old Anna lives in Germany in 1933 with her mama, papa, and older brother, Max. Daughter of a celebrated Jewish author, she and her family are forced to flee Hitler’s ascendency to power. They escape to Switzerland, and then immigrate to France as Anna’s father finds it increasingly difficult to find work.

Sarah Ruderman Wilensky is the Educator for PJ Goes to School, part of the PJ Library family of programs at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

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