Hundreds of Jewish schools in the United States foster scholarship and growth in the virtues with stories from their faith tradition. The resources we recommend here are not for their exclusive use, but rich companions for any virtues-based program in the Jewish faith tradition. We also feature "Old Testament" stories and bibles in the Christian Schools section.
Moses’ Ark. Stories from the Bible. Alice Bach and J. Cheryl Exum. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Delacourt Press, 1989 (3-6) Schools of Faith 13 Bible stories (taken from Genesis through Kings) lyrically told and beautifully illustrated. These stories help you to understand the times and culture as well as enticing you to learn more about these times and people. The endnotes illuminate details that add to the history.
Books below are listed by virtue. For stories themed to specific religious holidays see our Holidays tab.
Daniel in the Lion's Den - A First Book of Jewish Bible Stories - page 42
Beautiful Yetta. Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Jill Pinkwater. Feiwel and Friends, 2010. (K-2) Schools of Faith, Courage When the farmer who raised Yetta, a beautiful Yiddish chicken, in the country takes his chickens to market, Yetta has a bad feeling about what is coming. She escapes her fate as dinner and runs free in the city of Brooklyn, where she has to summon all her courage to survive the dangers of traffic and unfriendly mice and birds. But she not only survives, she saves Eduardo the parrot from a cat, and is welcomed into the wild parrot community. The dialogue is in English and Yiddish—except for the parrots, who speak Spanish!—written in all three languages with transliterations. Yetta will steal your heart.
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue.Heidi Smith Hyde. Illustrated by Jamel Akib Kar-Ben Publ. 2012 (K-3) Courage, Hanukkah Emanuel’s father is a merchant in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. Afraid of the persecution that they experienced in Portugal, the Jewish families of the town do not light the Hanukkah candles. Discouraged that they are not really free, Emanuel stows away on a whaling ship so he will not be bound by fear as his family is. However, a massive storm overtakes the ship and it returns to port for repairs. The lighthouse cannot be seen through the storm. The ship is guided home by the lights of the menorahs, now lit by the families, who were inspired by Emanuel. Bold chalk pastel illustrations light up the book.
My Grandmother’s Journey. Cech, John. Illustrated by Sharon McGinley-Nally, 1991. Bradbury, Macmillan, 1991. (K-3) Courage Korie’s Russian Jewish grandmother tells of her arduous life in and flight from 20th century Russia. Good for 2nd grade unit on immigration.
Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah.Maida Silverman. Illustrated by Carolyn Ewing. Aladdin, 1999. (2-5) Courage, Hope This reverently told, colorfully illustrated text recounts the origins of this feast (Greek ruler Antiochus taking the Jewish temple, and the Maccabees reclaiming and rededicating it), how subsequent customs relate to the original feast, and what the customs are (ranging from the Dreidle game to lighting the Menorah.)
The Sabbath Lion. Schwartz, Howard and Barbara Rush. Illustrated by Stephen Fieser. Harper Collins, 1992. (2-4) Faithfulness, Courage A young Jewish boy is willing to risk traveling across the Sahara with a departing caravan in order to claim his mother’s inheritance in Egypt. Mother sells her most precious possession to pay caravan leader to stop on the Sabbath, so that her son can pray. He takes the money but then refuses to stop. The young boy refuses to travel on the Sabbath, the caravan moves on, and he is left alone in the desert, but is befriended by a Sabbath lion. A beautiful story of having the courage of one’s convictions.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto. Susan Goldman Rubin. Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Holiday House, 2016 (4-6) Courage, Lives to Learn From, Compassion, Mercy An important older child’s book about a Polish Catholic social worker, who over three years smuggled more than 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety during World War II. Irena Sendler’s actions (combined with the selflessness of Jewish parents who let their children go) ensured that these children did not die in the Treblinka Concentration Camp, as most of their family members did. Irena was eventually apprehended by the Germans for her actions, imprisoned, and tortured. She survived but her thoughts remained with those she couldn’t save. This extraordinary story lay untold for many years, since the Communist regime that ruled Poland after the war considered her (she was anti-communist too) a traitor. The Jewish community remembered, and Irena herself had buried the names of the children she saved in jars in her yard. A haunting and extraordinary story of one woman, who remembered her father’s wisdom: “When someone is drowning, you don’t ask if they can swim. You jump in to save them.” The large picture book format should not be mistaken for a K-3 read. This is an older child’s book.
Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor Movement. Goldin, Barbara Diamond. Illustrated by James Watling. Once Upon America Series. Viking, 1992 Courage (4-6) Freyda works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and attends meetings to help organize the union to improve working conditions. Through the eyes of a Jewish immigrant family, this slender chapter book tells the true story of the famous fire of the early 1900s that killed 146 women and led to the banning of sweatshop working conditions. A story of perseverance and courage.
Tutti’s Promise. K. Heidi Fishman. MB Publishing, 2017 (5-8) Courage A superb portrayal of one family’s courage and resilience during the Holocaust: true story of the Lichtensterns, a close-knit, German-Jewish family, who move Amsterdam in the 1930s to avoid Nazi persecution in their homeland. When the Netherlands falls to the Third Reich, their lives are threatened. Little Tutti is five-years-old at the time of the German invasion. Written simply but beautifully, the novel alternates from Tutti’s point of view (Why can’t I play with my friends after curfew? Why do I have to go to an all-Jewish school and wear this star?) to her parents (How can we get a passport to escape Europe? How will we survive Westerbork Concentration camp?) The Lichtensterns endure humiliation, squalor, hunger, the death of family members. Hardships are counter-balanced by their own resourcefulness and acts of kindness from others. K. Heidi Fishman (Tutti’s daughter) presents the family overcoming grave obstacles in the context of hope. That perfectly rendered balance makes Tutti’s Promise an excellent choice on a difficult subject for middle grade students.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust. Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix. Holiday House, 2009 (4-6) Courage, Compassion A little-known, true story from World War II, gorgeously illustrated. In occupied Paris, Jews had reason to fear for their lives. The Algerian-born rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris mobilized fellow Muslims to assist them. Built atop a network of tunnels, the Mosque afforded sanctuary; the Muslim community provided new identity papers, and safe passage for many Jews.. This well-researched, highly informative book documents the courage of those who risked their lives in this effort and inspires hope in compassion as a bond between all peoples and faiths. Excellent older grade read-aloud.
Anna the Bookbinder. Andrea Cheng. Illustrated by Ted Rand. Walker Children’s Press, 2003. (K-3)Faithfulness, Diligence Twelve-year-old Anna admires her father’s skill hand-stitching and binding books, though new commercial binderies threaten his trade. Her father’s largest client threatens to pull his order if not completed within three days. Then Anna’s mother goes into labor with a baby brother, and desperately needs her husband. Unasked and alone in the bindery, Anna steps in to finish her father’s task, mimicking his stitches and technique. Rand’s exquisitely precise illustrations (of a heroine in glasses no less) render the tale a memorable one of faithfulness to family and “slow but steady wins the race.”
Jonah and the Great Fish. Hutton, Warwick. Atheneum, 1983. (2-4) Hutton’s wistful watercolor and engaging text retell the story of stubborn Jonah, who decides not to do the Lord’s bidding and ends up in the belly of the whale. Ultimately, Jonah finds himself called to greater faithfulness.
Exodus. Chaikin, Miriam. Holiday House, 1987. (1) Beautifully illustrated version of the Jews escape from captivity in Egypt, and faithfulness to God, who goes in glory before them. (Works well with the Core Knowledge Ancient Egypt unit in 1st grade.)
Miriam at the River. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Khoa Le. Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 (K-3) Stunningly illustrated and poetically written story of Miriam as she places baby Moses in the river. We feel as if we are also hiding in the reeds, waiting for the Pharaoh’s daughter to find the baby and take him home to safety. Available on Epic!
The Always Prayer Shawl. Oberman, Sheldon. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Boyds Mills Press, 1994. (3-5)Faithfulness Themes of generational continuity and the abiding power of faith in this story of a Russian Jewish boy who receives a prayer shawl in his youth. Many things in his life change. He comes to America during the pogroms, raises his own family, but through it all abides in his faith and teaches his sons and grandsons.
A Different Kind of Passover* Linda Leopold-Strauss. Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau. Kar-Ben, 2017 (K-3)Loyalty to Family, Holidays. *On Epic! Jessica is looking forward to the ritual of Passover, where for the first time she will ask the four questions in Hebrew. But her grandfather has just returned from the hospital and cannot join them at the table. It's usually his job to answer the Passover questions. Jessica finds a way to include her grandfather in the rituals and the family feast is even more special.
Noah’s Ark. Ray, Jane. Dutton Child Books, 1990.(K-3) Noah’s faithfulness to God, when others might have doubted, and the saving grace of God in re-establishing a covenant with his people.
Tales from the Old Testament.Weiss, Jim. CD. Greathall Productions, 1989. (K-5) Compelling audio retellings of the stories of Abraham, Noah, Ruth, Esther, David, and King Solomon.
Esther’s Story. Diane Wolkstein. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. Harper Trophy, 1998. (3-5)Loyalty A moving retelling of the Old Testament story, in which one woman’s faithfulness and courage save her people. When the King’s advisor, Haman, hatches a plot against the Jews, Esther, the Jewish girl turned Persian Queen, intercedes for her people. She risks ignominy and death to foil the scheme. Glorious illustrations bring new life to the ancient story.
King Solomon and the Bee. Dalia Hardof Renberg. Illustrated by Ruth Heller. Crocodile Boos, 2010. (K-2)Forgiveness Lush illustrations accompany this retelling of the classic Jewish folktale. A bee alights on King Solomon’s nose, and mistakes it for a flower. The royal sting meets with a furious response, but King Solomon pardons the deeply ashamed bee, who promises to help him in time of trouble. Solomon expects no repayment but shows mercy, forgives, and off flies the bee – only to reappear when the King needs help solving a high-stakes riddle put to him by the Queen of Sheba.
New Year at the Pier. A Rosh Hashanah Story. By April Halprin Wayland. Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Dial Books, 2009. (K-3) Forgiveness, Holiday Izzy and his family prepare for Jewish New Year by recalling any misdeeds of the past year for which they should apologize, and then apologize to the person harmed. Izzy finds it challenging to recall and seek forgiveness for his wrongdoing, but does so willingly -- if only there weren't this one thing.... A touching and lovely treatment of the challenge and healing of forgiveness (Izzy receives apologies too), and a very good explanation of the traditions of Rosh Hashanah. Limpid watercolors keep the feeling of a heavy subject light.
Generosity and Charity
Moishe’s Miracle: A Hanukkah Story. Laura Krauss Melmed Illustrated by David Slonim. Chronicle Books, 2005 (2-4) Generosity Moishe, a generous Jewish milkman living in a small village, is forever helping his neighbors. But his resentful wife insists his charity has left her without flour or money to make traditional potato latkes for Hanukkah. Moishe is literally sent packing to board with the cows, but he is rewarded for his efforts with a magical pan that makes latkes. He is also given a warning that he alone must use it. When his wife tries to use it, the hijinks begin…. Beautifully written, stunningly illustrated.
In the Month of Kislev: A Story for Hanukkah. Jaffe, Nina. Illustrated by Louise August. Viking Child Books, 1992. (2-6) Generosity Impoverished Mendel the Peddler and his children, along with a wise rabbi teach their wealthy and not-very-generous neighbor the meaning of charity. Humorous and wise.
The Chanukkah Guest. Eric A. Kimmel Illustrated by Giora Carmi. Holiday House, 1990. (K-2) Generosity Eric Kimmel’s humorous and charmingly illustrated tale of a nearly blind, elderly lady who lives in the forest and fixes potato latkes for the first night of Chanukah, expecting the rabbi as her guest. In walks a bear instead, drawn from his slumber by the tantalizing aroma. She mistakes him for the rabbi, and a wonderful tale of hospitality and humor follows.
Days of Awe.- “The Samovar” . Eric Kimmel Viking Child Books, 1991. (2-6) Generosity A mysterious vagabond asks an old woman to care for his special silver urn (“samovar”) while he is gone. She does so at personal cost and inconvenience, but in the end is rewarded for her selflessness. A Jewish folk tale that embodies the virtue of charity
Oskar and the Eight Blessings. Richard and Tanya Simon. Illustrated by Mark Siegel. Roaring Book Press, 2015. (K-4) Generosity, Charity, Kindness Young Oskar has fled Germany during the Holocaust (1938) and arrives in New York City to live with an aunt he’s never met. Arriving on the seventh day of Chanukkah, cold and hungry, with only a photograph of his aunt and an address, Oskar finds the city enormous and his journey frightening. With the kindness of many strangers, the young boy walks the hundred blocks to his new home. A gorgeously illustrated, profoundly moving story of a boy's journey and NYC at its finest: a diverse people not afraid to extend kindness. Or as Oskar’s father says: “Even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” This book could be enjoyed by older children as well because the message is timeless and the drawings of New York are intricate.
Miracle of Potato Latkes. Penn, Malka. Illustrated by Giora Carmi. Holiday, 1994. (K-4) Generosity Poor woman opens her home to those in need and finds her latkes multiply.
All-of-a Kind-Family. Taylor, Sydney. Illustrated by Helen John. Dell, 1979. 189 pgs.Generosity, Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Loyalty Set in New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century, Taylor’s novel portrays the daily life of a gracious Jewish family. Dressed in similar clothing, sisters Ella, Henny, Sally, Charlotte, and Gertie are an “all-of-a-kind family,” who experience the adventures of childhood rich with Jewish tradition. Guided by the loving support of their parents the five girls learn valuable lessons about responsibility and family loyalty. Other titles in Taylor’s series include More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown and Ella of All-of-a-Kind.
It Could Always Be Worse. A Yiddish Folktale.Zemach, Margot. Square Fish, 1990. (2-4) Gratitude Written in 1977, this classic is still in print with its timeless message of appreciating what one has rather than seeing the glass half-empty. A family of nine lives in a tiny home, where tempers are short and arguments many. When the beleaguered peasant father goes to a rabbi for advice, he’s told to invite the chickens and geese inside, then still more critters. Uproariously funny situations result, as things go from bad to worse, and the original family dwelling starts to seem like paradise. Terrific illustrations.
The Gift. Aliana Brodmann Simon and Schuster, 1993. (2-4) Generosity A young girl tries to figure out how to spend her Hanukkah geld, and comes to understand that the best gift is the gift she can give to others.
In Every Life. Marla Frazee. Beach Lane Books, 2023. Gratitude, Wonder, Hope, Joy, Schools of Faith. (K-1)
Inspired by a traditional Jewish baby-naming blessing, this simple book is a sweetly-illustrated and wondrous tour through the beautiful moments of being human. From the happy to the sad to the poignant, illustrations of people of all ages and all races experiencing moments of life accompany beautiful phrases that will stick with the reader long after the book is closed—"In every moment, blessed is the mystery. In every sadness, blessed is the comfort. In every love, blessed are the tears." This is a book for very young children, but even adults will take something meaningful from it.
One Yellow Daffodil: A Hanukkah Story.Adler, David. Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1995. (4-6) Hope Profoundly moving story of an elderly Jewish man, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz by clinging to the promise of one daffodil in the death camp. Later in New York, he rediscovers the meaning of hope through Hanukkah and a family who reaches out to him. Not appropriate before 4th grade.
Next Year in Jerusalem - “The Language of the Birds,” Schwartz, Howard. See General Collections. (4-6) Humility When King Solomon was a boy, he wished to learn all he could from humble surroundings and creatures. He traded clothes with a beggar, learned the language of the birds, and the language of the winds. The story reminds us that one often learns the most from the least. “The Bird of Happiness,”Schwartz, Howard. See General Collections. (4-6) Humility Jewish folk tale of a young boy (Aaron) and his family, who escape enslavement and wander through the desert guided by a stone sent from the Bird of Happiness. The family finds their way to Jerusalem and the Bird of Happiness chooses Aaron as their leader. As a ruler Aaron remembers to “put on my old rags to remember where I came from. For only then can I know where I must go.” A tale of hope and humility.
The Book Rescuer. Sue Macy. Illustrated by Stacy Innerst. Simon and Schuster, 2019. (K-3) Perseverance, Stewardship, Schools of Faith Aaron’s grandmother traveled alone from Europe to New York to make a new life, but when she got there, she was met by her brother, who took her suitcase with her precious Yiddish books and threw it into the river! He wanted to break with the past. Many years later, Aaron loved books and he wanted to read books about Jews, so he learned Yiddish. When he discovered Yiddish books were hard to find, he began his mission of saving them. Aaron thought of Yiddish books as the “portable homeland“ of the Jewish people. Eventually he built a library with over a million and a half Yiddish books. This is a true story, with good source notes at the end.
The White Ram. A Story of Abraham and Isaac. Mordicai Gerstein. Holiday House, 2006. (3-6) Perseverance Based on a Midrash (Jewish commentary on Old Testament stories), this is the tale of the white ram God created on the sixth day. The ram waits patiently through the years until it is time for him to fulfill his purpose – to take Isaac’s place on the altar of sacrifice. The evil one tries to prevent him from reaching his goal, but the ram is steadfast in his journey. This is a compelling telling of a difficult story with engaging illustrations. There is so much to look at on every page. The final pages include the stories of how the white ram sacrifice contributed o the temple and city of Jerusalem and many other Jewish traditions.
Respect and Responsibility
Molly’s Pilgrim. Cohen, Barbara. Illustrated by Michael J. Deraney. Bantam, 1990. (2) Respect Russian-Jewish immigrant girl and her classmates learn that “pilgrims” still come to America today. Respect for others regardless of faith and national origin.
Yussel’s Prayer.Cohen, Barbara. Illustrated by Michael J. Deraney. Lothrop, 1993. (K-3) Respect Arrogant rabbi comes to appreciate the true prayer of a poor Jewish boy on Yom Kippur. Themes of faith and faithfulness as well.