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10 of the best Israeli books for children
English translations of Israeli publications for children bring beloved Holy Land favorites to a worldwide audience.
Every culture has its classic children’s literature, and Israel is no different. Home to the People of the Book, Israel has produced a wide array of talented children’s writers, some of whom are already international bestsellers.
The selection of local kids’ masterpieces available in English give a fascinating glimpse of the literary soundtrack of an Israeli childhood, from potty training to early teens. Here are our top picks.
ROOM FOR RENT by Leah Goldberg
A true classic, Room for Rent was first published as a magazine story back in 1948, meaning that literally every Israeli child grew up with it.
Room for Rent tells the tale of animals living in a shared apartment building and struggling to find new tenants for a vacant apartment because of potential renters’ prejudices against the existing neighbors. Finally, a dove moves into the building after determining that her new neighbors are exactly to her taste.
Fighting stereotypes and promoting acceptance, renowned author and poet Leah Goldberg teaches little kids the importance of tolerance in a humorous, beautifully written way, accompanied by colorful illustrations that are as famous as the words themselves.
ONCE UPON A POTTY (BOY) and ONCE UPON A POTTY (GIRL) by Alona Frankel
A veteran international bestseller, Once Upon a Potty is the ultimate potty-training guide. The story is fun, the language simple and the illustrations colorful, making it a favorite for toddlers and their parents.
Alona Frankel first published the story of Joshua (Natfali in the Hebrew version) in 1975, and it has since been translated into multiple languages. New board editions are somewhat toilet-proof, guaranteeing their endurance on your child’s journey from diapers to bathroom.
In the female version of Once Upon a Potty, the hero is called Prudence, and like her male counterpart Joshua teaches young readers all about anatomy, bathroom habits and the transition from baby days into (slightly) more adult life.
THE LITTLE SPACECRAFT by Dr. Mom
A brand-new addition to the repertoire, The Little Spacecraft was published in January ahead of the recent launch of the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft on its mission to the Moon.
The book’s hero is Berrie, a little spacecraft that wants to travel to the Moon just like her larger counterparts. The book’s purpose is to get young children excited about space exploration and engineering, and we have a hunch that the fabulous tale and illustrations will do just that.
LONG-HAIRED CAT-BOY CUB by Etgar Keret
Popular contemporary writer Etgar Keret is known for his fantastical books, and his children’s novel is no different.
This story of a young kid at the zoo, whose father is busy talking business on the phone, opens up a world of magical animals, airships and parent-child relationships in our digital age.
Fun for children and poignant for their parents, this book would make a wonderful bedtime story – a traditional and phone-free activity beloved by generations.
AN AFTER BEDTIME STORY by Shoham Smith
Still in the realm of bedtime, An After Bedtime Story is sure to become a favorite with all the family.
Written by Shoham Smith, the story centers on heroine Nina, who instead of going to bed sneaks out to join the adult fun taking place on the other side of the wall.
While kids will likely identify with bedtime-refusenik Nina, parents everywhere will see themselves in her long-suffering parents, turning this stylishly illustrated book into a truly modern tale.
MY DOG IS AS SMELLY AS DIRTY SOCKS: AND OTHER FUNNY FAMILY PORTRAITS by Hanoch Piven
In this fun and interactive book for children and parents alike, Israeli illustrator Hanoch Piven demonstrates how to create family portraits out of the most ordinary objects around.
Encouraging kids to use materials that symbolize their family for them (a small piece of rope for a mouth on a dad who’s as “stubborn as a knot in a rope,” for example), Piven sets off a conversation on character, values and loved ones. Hours of fun and creativity guaranteed.
A CONCERT IN THE SAND by Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank
A grandma and her little 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 beautiful work of historical fiction for ages 4-9 is based on the true story of the creation of the Israel Philharmonic just after the birth of the State of Israel.
RUN BOY, RUN by Uri Orlev
The Holocaust isn’t usually considered a matter for children, but Israeli masterpiece Run Boy, Run is stunning proof that it can be done. Based on a true story, author Uri Orlev recounts in clear, concise, yet age-appropriate language the tale of Srulik Frydman’s survival in wartime Poland.
This book for older kids can introduce the subject of the Holocaust in a personable, relatable way. Adults, too, will find this to be an interesting read, making this book a great candidate for joint family reading.
SOMEONE TO RUN WITH by David Grossman
Israeli author David Grossman really needs no introducing, being the international literary superstar that he is, and his book Someone to Run With is a great way for teenage readers to get to know his work.
A compelling tale of teens on a quest in Jerusalem, the book touches on that most difficult of ages; tricky family situations, loneliness, social anxiety and the desire to find a place in the world. An added bonus for Israel-oriented readers is the beautiful description of real-life Jerusalem, the wonderful and gritty alike.
Under the Domim Tree by Gila Almagor
Based on celebrated author and actress Gila Almagor’s childhood years, Under the Domim Tree recounts the everyday lives and struggles of Holocaust survivor and native-born Israeli children living in a youth village in 1950s Israel.
The children at the youth village all deal with some very difficult issues — some are orphaned, others don’t know the fate of their families, while the protagonist, Aviya, has a mother who suffers from mental illness. The children share their experiences with one another, giving young readers a glimpse into the personal hardships endured by the characters during the Holocaust and immediately in its aftermath.
The book became very successful in Israel, and like its predecessor in the series was turned into a popular children’s film. A must-read for young teens interested in learning about the Holocaust from a sensitive, age-appropriate source.
About the Author:
Naama Barak is a writer at ISRAEL21c. A PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she loves all things history and politics. Food and fashion come a close second. Prior to joining ISRAEL21c, Naama worked for Israel’s leading English-language dailies and cutting-edge startups.