We Recommend: Bar Mitzvah Books? Or, How Do You Tell Kids Over 8 Anything?

It's We Recommend, in which we attempt to match kids up with their perfect book. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good suggestions are in the comments (especially with this one), so be sure to look there!

This one is a little funky. We got the following lovely email from a reader:

My daughter (age 11) is increasingly getting invitations to bah mitzvahs, which she says she wants to attend because all her friends are going. Since my husband and I are atheists we've been having trouble explaining to her the whole concept of a spiritual journey to adulthood and what Judaism is about.  I don't feel good about letting her go to a bah mitzvah just for the sake of the party but if she goes to the service I feel like she needs some background information first.  Any ideas (fiction or non-fiction) about something she could read?

Trying to figure out a way into thinking about what sort of book might work here brought up a whole huge question, which is: how are you supposed to tell anyone anything? I mean, there's a whole wide world between Dinosaurs Divorce and Who Moved My Cheese (or whatever self-help books are now sweeping the nation: The Secret? Skinny Bitch? I don't read these so much, though I would no doubt benefit).

Sure, the American Girl books have moved in their juggernaut-like way to take up the slack, and I think there is even a section in A Smart Girl's Guide to Manners about attending religious celebrations of other faiths, but where are the books of yore! You know, the All About Christmas or All Dogs Have ADD or whatever fact-filled well-meaning book you put in the blank? Because the truth is—wait, well there are two truths. One truth: 11 year olds do need help in figuring out what the heck is going on in the world, whether it's Bar Mitzvahs or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Socialism—there is a world of things they have inklings about but don't fully understand. Another truth: they don't seem all that keen on having the information given to them.

Now that second truth there comes with many caveats. For instance, many kids are happy to get information from each other, as my daughter's encyclopedic but entirely second-hand knowledge of Dr. Who proves. Also, I did witness a rather thorough and diligent study of A Smart Girl's Guide to Middle School on the part of a 10-year-old cousin in our house. But it isn't as simple somehow. And there aren't all the books out there.

So? What I figure would help is a novel. A good, funny Judy Blume-esque novel about a girl (or boy!) preparing for a bat or bar mitzvah. With chaos. And shenanigans. And a troubling little brother/sister. Such a thing must exist, right? But I don't know it is.

So this is a call to readers far and wide: does this book exist? Does one a little bit like it exist? If so, put it in the comments!

And for what it's worth: Blubber, which is excellent, has an excellent scene AT a bar mitzvah, even if it's not exactly the point. It's a turning point in recognizing the humanity of others, though. And it's a book that is always worth reading. Also? It completely worth going just for the party. Everyone else is.

9 thoughts on “We Recommend: Bar Mitzvah Books? Or, How Do You Tell Kids Over 8 Anything?

  1. Okay, I’m going to weigh in here, not with a book recommendation, but with a way to search for a book recommendation. A bar mitzvah is a rite of passage, just like a quinceanera, or other event. Maybe search for rites of passage books. You may learn of other cultures’ and religions’ rites of passage that you didn’t know about! Also, this approach may work best with your religious leanings.


  2. Abby’s Lucky Thirteen? It’s a Babysitter’s Club book and I think one of the characters was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Not brilliant writing, but could give a feel for the process.


  3. There’s actually a healthy sub-genre of bar/bat mizvah novels out there (I used to be a Jewish day school librarian so I saw them all). One is a middle-grade novel called You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! I’ve never read it but have heard good things about it (though some reviews say it’s kind of shallow, so who knows). Another, probably out of print, is Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues. I read that one (some time ago) and liked it. Oh, and browsing Amazon, I see there’s a recent one called “The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah” that looks like it might fit the bill.
    But for basic information, I’d recommend a general book about Judaism for kids (I think there’s an Eyewitness/Dorling Kindersley one) that has a page or two about the bar/bat mitvah ceremony and its meaning. If she wants more detail, there’s an out of print nonfiction book called “Bat Mizvah: A Jewish Girl’s Coming of Age” that might be available in the library. And if all else fails, usually there’s a program at the ceremony that explains the basics.


  4. I actually read You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, and it’s super valley-girl-esque, focusing A LOT more on the social aspects/mean girl plots than the religious aspects of the ceremony. I think that there is religious stuff in the end, but I’m not sure it’s what the requester is looking for.
    I’d recommend Letters From Rifka. It’s about a young girl immigrating to the US from the USSR so her brothers can escape from the tsars army. It’s not about a bat mitzvah per se, but she holds her own bat mitzvah when she is separated from her family. There’s some good conversation about what it means to be a Jew, and it’s a compelling story. Though, you might need to do some explaining about how girls used to be a lot more excluded from Judaism, including not having bat mitzvahs.
    Also in the historical lens, the Rebecca books in the American Girl series do some great explaining about Judaism, at least at whatever time period it’s set in. Rebecca is younger than bat mitzvah age, so it probably doesn’t adress it head on, but it might be a good way to open up some discussion.
    Lastly, when I was preparing for my own bat mitzvah, my dad and I sat down and read the encyclopedia entry in Encyclopedia Judaica. If you can get her asking questions, you might be able to guide her to do research herself or with you, even if generally they don’t like being provided info directly…


  5. It’s not specifically Bat Mitzvah related but between Judy Blume (Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great) and Chaim Potok, I learned a whole lot about Judaism. Chaim Potok books (The Chose, My Name is Asher Lev) were obsessions for me as a 9-10 year old. Wonder if they still stand up…


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