Gloria's List

By Gloria Koster,
Jewish children's books list

The best lighthearted picture books featuring Jewish characters or themes

I am a school and public librarian as well as a writer. I also serve as a member of the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education. We review hundreds of books each year for consideration of a place on our list –The Best Children’s Books of the Year. I’ve chosen to recommend some lighthearted picture books with Jewish characters or themes because a number of my own books fit into this category. Mitzi’s Mitzvah, Little Red Ruthie, and Dance the Hora, Isadora! are three of my Jewish themed books. Each of these titles has been selected by PJ Library, an organization that sends a book each month to children.

Interview with Gloria Koster

Published by Shauna Kosoris, Thunder Bay Public Library’s Book Blog

Gloria Koster

December 1, 2021

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, The Peanut-Free Café, came out in 2006. What inspired you to write it?

I had spent a week at a writers’ workshop sponsored by Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY), and bonded with several of the other participants. One of my new colleagues worked at a local preschool, and one day at lunch she mentioned how great it would be to have a book about peanut allergies. I’d already been thinking of a story about a super fussy eater based on one of my son’s closest friends who really did eat only 5 or 6 foods. The idea that a classmate could arrive on the scene to interfere with his one sacred food – peanut butter – was an irresistible story starter. 

Definitely!  Where did you get the idea for your newest children’s book, Little Red Ruthie?

In my job as school librarian I loved reading folktales to my students. There was something so organic about these stories, and the kids loved the nasty characters, especially when they were depicted with humor. At the time, I felt there weren’t enough lighthearted Hanukkah stories, so I was drawn to the idea of framing a classic tale for Jewish kids and for all kids who didn’t necessarily have knowledge of Jewish celebrations.

What a fantastic idea! So why did you choose to have Ruthie and her grandmother making latkes, rather than another dish associated with Hanukkah?

I never thought of another dish, since latkes are the standard Hanukkah fare. Any fried food could fit with the Hanukkah story, which is based on the fact that a tiny amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. However, latkes are most familiar, with jelly donuts (I do include those in the story too) being a close second. In Israel, the donuts are very representative of Hanukkah. They are called sufganiyot.