Israeli Children’s Literature

Israeli children’s literature has undergone an evolution since Israel’s founding. As a nation was becoming established, most Hebrew children's books emphasized the values of pioneering, struggle, and achievement, emphasizing the role of the individual in the building of the state.

Since then, children's literature has shifted to more age-appropriate subjects such as death, divorce, handicaps, adolescence, and the struggle for belonging. Imaginative children's books and stories were also written, providing pure fantasy, amusement, and escapism to young readers.

With these content changes, we are seeing many more current books which aim to show the diverse narratives of the people who live in Israel, to negate stereotypes, and address the immigration of Jews from around the world. Over the years a considerable body of children's literature for various age groups has been produced.

Explore this collection of classic and modern children’s literature, along with ideas for bringing them into your classrooms!

ISRAELI CHILDREN'S CLASSICS

Room for Rent book cover (English)

ROOM FOR RENT by Leah Goldberg

Purchase Book: English or עִבְרִית‎ 

Synopsis: When Sir Reginald Mouse disappears from his apartment, the neighbors in the building advertise his room for rent. One prospective renter after another comes to see the apartment but finds fault with one or another of the neighbors. The hardworking Ant finds the Hen lazy, the Rabbit criticizes the Cuckoo for abandoning her young, the Pig finds the Cat beneath him because of her color (and is roundly chased out by the neighbors for his racism), and the Nightingale thinks the Squirrel is just a noisemaker. At last the Dove arrives, bringing with her an eye for the good and restoring an atmosphere of peace.

Suggestions for sharing this book: 

At the beginning of the year: Use it as a lesson on not judging people, how to form community, and welcoming the stranger.

When conflict emerges: Even if we disagree, we can find ways to work together and create shalom bayit, peace within our home and community.

Learning about new cultures: Tie it to b’tzelem elohim, the concept that we are all made in God’s image.

Once Upon a Potty book cover

ONCE UPON A POTTY by Alona Frankel

Purchase Book: English or עִבְרִית

Synopsis: In 1975, Alona Frankel wrote and illustrated her first book, especially for her son Michael, on how to use the potty. Thirty-two years later, Once Upon a Potty—Boy and Once Upon a Potty—Girl are the classic books on potty training and have sold more than four million copies worldwide. These children's books help parents everywhere deal successfully with an often vexing challenge for the whole family.

Suggestions for sharing this book: 

When children are potty training: This book uses simple language and colorful illustrations to unpack the process of using the toilet, in a child-appropriate way.

A planning note: The language used for body parts and bodily functions are not the proper names, and we know that families all have different ways of approaching this. Additionally, there is a ‘girl’ version and a ‘boy’ version of this book, and the language in each is specifically gendered. Read through the book in advance and decide the language most appropriate for your group.

AN AFTER BEDTIME STORY by Shoham Smith

Purchase Book: English or עִבְרִית

Synopsis: Little Nina will not go to bed. Not when the adults are having so much fun in the other room without her! Before her exasperated parents can catch up, Nina escapes her bedroom and races through the house, sampling cakes, and stirring up trouble. With Nina on the loose, a cordial family party becomes a wild good time, as her aunts and uncles join in the riotous fun. Finally, it’s time for the guests to leave, and it is bedtime at last—not just for Nina, but for the entire exhausted family.

Suggestions for sharing this book:

To teach about routine: Ask questions about Nina’s choices, such as “do you ever stay up late when you’re supposed to be sleeping?” or “can you believe she’s eating cake so late at night??”

As a fun, silly story: Enjoy Nina’s antics and notice with the class what is happening in the background of the illustrations.

To talk about family: Nina has a lot of fun with her aunts and uncles! Who are the people in your family? How do you spend time with them?

Pair it with another book:

A CONCERT IN THE SAND by Tami Shem Tov

Purchase book: English only

Synopsis: A grandma and her grandson take a walk along a Tel Aviv street and encounter the conductor and musicians of the Israel Philharmonic gathering for their first performance. This book is based on the true story of the creation of the Israel Philharmonic just before the birth of the State of Israel.

Suggestions for sharing this book: 

To teach about Israeli history: This is a true story of the creation of the Israel Philharmonic, but it is also a metaphor for the creation of the State of Israel.

To think about relationships: Uri and his grandmother don’t speak the same language, but they communicate well. What do they do together? How do you know they enjoy spending time together?

To teach about observation: Uri notices many interesting things on his walk. What can we notice when we are quiet? What are some ways we can learn about people without talking to them?

Pair it with another book:

  • The Listening Walk by Paul Showers
  • Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams

THE NEIGHBORS by Einat Tsarfati

Purchase Book: English or עִבְרִית

Synopsis: As a young girl climbs the seven stories to her own (very boring!) apartment, she imagines what’s behind each of the doors she passes. Does the door with all the locks belong to a family of thieves? Might the doorway with muddy footprints conceal a pet tiger? Each spread reveals—in lush detail—the wilds of the girl’s imagination, from a high-flying circus to an underwater world and everything in between. When the girl finally reaches her own apartment, she is greeted by her parents, who might have a secret even wilder than anything she could have imagined!

HAYELED HARA (THE NAUGHTY BOY) by Leah Goldberg

Purchase book: עִבְרִית‎ 

Synopsis: Lea Goldberg’s second children’s book, The Naughty Boy, also written in 1959, focuses on a preschooler struggling to cope during a visit to a relative’s house. The boy’s alter ego, the naughty boy, is familiar to adults and children, since everyone struggles with Jekyll and Hyde tendencies we hope to keep hidden inside.

Suggestions for sharing this book:

To discuss behavior: “Why do you think it was so hard for him to behave?”

Pair it with another book:

  • No David by Michael Shannon
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
SUGGESTIONS FOR READING THE BOOKS

1. Read and discuss one book, and then read and discuss the second book on another day.

2. Read both books in one sitting as partners or a small group, and then discuss

3. Have both books out on the table for students to peruse. At group time, ask what they noticed about the two books: how are they are similar? How are they different?

4. Read the book that will be new to them: “Does this remind anyone of any other book you’ve read?” Listen to the responses and discuss the similarities!

STRATEGIES FOR DISCUSSING

1. Visually organize the group’s observations and thoughts through a topic web, and explore the connections.

2. Create a comparison chart

    • Select 4-5 categories for comparison (such as location, characters, or emotions)
    • Ask the group to notice differences between the books related to the categories. Alternatively, let children share their observations of what is different, and categorize them together once you have a list compiled.  

3. Create a Venn Diagram to record comparisons

    • For example, choose the main character from each book and record how they are different and how they are the same

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