Jewish Folk and Fairy Tales for Older Readers

People from all over the world have treasuries of stories that carry messages and lessons full of important truths about themselves. Some tales contain fantastical creatures performing magical feats, while others portray people living ordinary lives. Jewish folktales are no exception, where sources range from the epic narratives of the Torah--the first five books of the Bible--to the midrash, a story that fills in the gaps or clarifies a fundamental account from the bible or other Jewish text.

For countless generations, folktales have played a major role in Jewish culture. Tales that have specifically Jewish themes have long been transported by Jewish immigrants to their new homelands. For centuries, travelers carried stories from Asia and Africa to Europe, and eventually, to North America.

Sharing folktales became not only a means of entertainment, but of remembering history and transmitting Jewish values and lessons to the next generation. This tradition continues with the books in this list.

The Adventures of Hershel of Ostropol by Eric Kimmel

Recommended for ages 9 and up

Meet Hershel, the cleverest (and laziest) man in all of Ostropol. Hershel has nothing but his wits to rely on to earn enough money to feed his family. Luckily, that’s about all he needs… 

Bone Button Borscht by Aubrey Davis

Recommended for ages 5 to 7 years

In this gentle retelling of the Stone Soup tale, an imaginative beggar teaches the miserly residents of a shtetl the spirit of community.

Clever Rachel by Debby Waldman

Recommended for ages 7 to 8

Two youngsters, Rachel and Jacob, learn the importance of putting differences aside and working together as they solve tricky riddles that change lives..

Gittel's Hands by Erica Silverman

Recommended for ages 7 to 8 years

With her father constantly boasting about her talents, a young girl named Gittel is asked to perform impossible tasks. She must embroider a matzo cover without a needle and create an Elijah's cup from a silver coin. Just as all seems hopeless, Gittelis rewarded for her kind ways and gentle nature by none other than the prophet Elijah.

The Golem's Latkes by Eric A Kimmel

Recommended for ages 5 to 6 years

When a rabbi leaves his housemaid in charge while he visits the emperor, a golem, a creature made from clay, comes to life and creates more latkes than the city can contain.

Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel by Laura Gehl

Recommended for ages 6 to 7 years

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare, right? In this version, they race across Israel -- and see many sights along the way. At least, Tortoise does…

The Hungry Clothes & Other Jewish Folktales by Peninnah Schram

Recommended for ages 8+ years

Here are 22 Jewish tales, some told with humor and all sure to inspire conversation. Each story contains a message that resonates with Jewish values.

Joha Makes a Wish by Eric A. Kimmel

Recommended for ages 6 to 7 years

Joha, a trickster character popular in Sephardic folklore, has found a magic stick! Unfortunately, this magic stick gets all Joha’s wishes wrong. But before long, Joha figures out a way to use this to his advantage -- and to hilarious effect.

Kishka For Koppel by Aubrey Davis

Recommended for ages 8+ years

In this retelling of a Jewish tale, a magic meat grinder helps a poor Jewish couple recognize their blessings after the three wishes it grants them don’t bring the happiness they expect.

Oy Vey Life In A Shoe by Bonnie Grubman

Recommended for ages 5 to 6 years

Poor Lou! He lives in a shoe -- with a LOT of kids. The rabbi has an idea of what to do -- but it seems like his suggestion will just make life worse for Lou!