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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Story Insights from Authors of COMING OF AGE

Hi writers, illustrators and readers! I’m happy to highlight a middle grade anthology edited by Henry Herz and Jonathan Rosen. COMING OF AGE 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES will be released on April 19th by publisher Albert Whitman.

The anthology’s theme is fighting anti-Semitism via representation and "norming" the "other.” Henry Herz asked each author in the book to share how their story fits this theme.

The Contest by Nancy Krulik

The narrator in "The Contest" has never known a time when he couldn’t pray in his synagogue. He's done it his entire life. In fact, now that he’s almost 13 and it’s “Bar Mitzvah Season” (as his dad calls it), he’s there every week. Spending the morning praying doesn’t seem like a great way to spend his Saturdays—until he and his friends set out to make things a bit more interesting. He’s all in on the contest, until hearing from someone who didn’t have the same teen experience changes his views on things, and makes him more grateful.

Bar Mitzvah on Planet Latke by Henry Herz

To win the hearts of his crush, the story’s multi-tentacled alien protagonist neglects his community service project to plan out of this world Bar Mitzvah party. Only when the party spins out of control does he realize the true meaning of his Torah portion, relevant to all people: striking a balance between caring for oneself and caring for others.

Grandma Merle’s Last Wish by Melissa Roske

13-year-old Bella grew up in a nonobservant home and considers herself “barely Jewish.” Because of this, she knows little if anything about Judaism and, in effect, “others” herself from other Jews. Once Bella realizes there’s more than one way to be a Jew—including having a Bat Mitzvah, in English, in a rabbi’s study—she’s finally able to embrace her Jewish identity."

The Second Ever Bat Mitzvah of New York City by Barbara Bottner

Hannah's concerns are not about anti-Semitism as she lives safely inside a Jewish enclave in New York City, 1922; the Yiddish Theater. She's more focused on her identity as a female; both as how that's represented in her Haftorah and what it means historically as well as how she will live in the larger world she's about to enter.

Where Is Uncle Louie? by Alan Katz

In the middle of the narrator's bar mitzvah reception, cries of “Mazel Tov!” are drowned out by the cry of “Where is Uncle Louie?” The day's honoree goes in search of his missing 85-year-old uncle; as he finds him, he also finds out that a celebration isn’t about lavish food, music, and dancing. It’s about family.

Helping Noah: A Torah Travel Adventure by Stacia Deutsch

The Torah narratives the ancestral history of the Jewish people. Whether we believe the stories of the Torah actually happened or not doesn’t matter, they are the link that has connected our people over thousands of years. This story poses the question: What if it’s the responsibility of every Jewish child to go into the Torah and make sure the stories don’t change? Imagining that act empowers Jewish kids to see themselves as heroes in the historical narrative.

Snowball by Nora Raleigh Baskin

There is a Yiddish expression that applies to all people across all cultures and religions:

“Az ikh vel zeyn vi er, ver vet zayn vi ikh.” If I try to be like them, who will be like me?

At the Bar Mitzvah party of her crush, Annie needs to stop hiding and realize that being herself is the best thing she can be.

The Assignment by Sarah Aronson

To write this story, I went through my old journals. I remembered what it was like to grow up Jewish in Bethlehem, PA, the Christmas City. Over the years, I was the “matzoh girl,” or “the menorah girl,” or the girl who didn't get a tree. It wasn't mean-spirited, but it came at a time when I wanted desperately to fit in, to be like everyone else.

The process of becoming a bat mitzvah changed how I saw myself – and my faith. Part of it came from the opportunity to study deeply, to speak about my hopes for the world and what my faith meant to me – to be given agency, trust, and responsibility, to be heard as an adult. Even then, I knew that was cool. And special. I became bolder and prouder of myself and my Judaism. When you accomplish something big, you get to know who you are and what you want in a new way. Facing anti-Semitism is never easy, but with confidence, I was better able to do it, to be myself, to reach for goals that hadn't felt possible before.

This Is What I’ll Tell You by Debbie Reed Fischer

After being targeted by anti-Semitic bullies in Virginia, Libby is determined to fit in at her new international school in Athens, Greece. The plan is simple. She will pretend to be Christian. So, a bat mitzvah is completely out of the question, despite her parents' insistence she have one. In the end, Libby gains the courage to go public with her Jewish identity and has a fresh perspective on her upcoming bat mitzvah.

Pandemic Bat Mitzvah” by Debra Green

A contemporary, humorous story about a girl on the morning of her bat mitzvah. The pandemic, unfortunately, has affected everyone in big or small ways. Also, many preteens and teens will relate to Ruthie’s dismay over an ill-timed pimple on an important day, the fondness/irritation Ruthie feels for her brother, and her angst over a clothing debacle.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bimah by Laura Shovan

Dani Karet's two best friends aren't Jewish, but that doesn't stop them from understanding her. Astrid and Nerf get how nervous Dani is about giving a speech, so they help her brainstorm ideas for her D'var Torah. By focusing on Dani's emotions, rather than any unease they feel about attending a b'nai mitzvah, Astrid and Nerf show what it means to be good allies to a friend.

Thanks very much, Henry and to all the authors!

Henry Herz is the author of 11 traditionally published children's books, eight children's short stories, and over 20 adult short stories. He is co-editor of two children's anthologies: THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing, YA) and COMING OF AGE: 13 B'NAI MITZVAH STORIES (Albert Whitman & Co., MG).




All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support.

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