Review: Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories

Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories

edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz

Albert Whitman & Company, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego

Buy at

“Sure, even though one by one we were being called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, none of us had miraculously become a grown-up. But we were getting there,” reflects the narrator of Nancy Krulik’s “The Contest” in this anthology. Krulik is one of thirteen authors presenting tales of young people preparing for B’nai Mitzvah celebrations large and small, ceremonies and parties they look forward to or dread. The characters struggle with self-confidence and religious identity as well as the challenges of school bullies, a global pandemic, and various manifestations of antisemitism.

The thread that runs through the anthology is what it means to become an adult. Some characters struggle with shyness, particularly when it comes to approaching a romantic interest, whether they happen to be in suburban Connecticut or on the Planet Latke. Others are afraid of having to speak to an entire congregation, and still others envy friends’ and relatives’ bigger and seemingly better celebrations. They are realistic tweens, facing the same fears and joys in their individual ways.

A variety of family structures are featured in this anthology, as the protagonists consider their changing roles and responsibilities. The importance of communicating across generations is another recurrent theme. In Rosen’s “The Pocket Watch,” Daniel gets a whirlwind personal tour of his own family’s history in nineteenth-century Russia and 1920s America that brings him much closer to his grandfather, while Bella of Roske’s “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” is bewildered by her grandmother’s sudden insistence that she have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, despite the family’s minimal religious practice. The realization only strikes her while on the bimah: “I was doing something special for Grandma Merle, just as she’d done so many special things for me.”

This book should be a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Many of the authors are experienced middle-grade writers who are already familiar names in the field. Each has created a window into a different facet of Jewish life, united by the practice of B’nai Mitzvah celebrations. The stories are diverse, including contemporary realism, historical fiction, and a bit of fantasy and science fiction. They are touching and frequently funny, featuring authentic voices. Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike will find echoes of their own experiences. Highly entertaining and very timely, this is a welcome addition to the middle-grade shelves.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Beth L. Gallego grew up outside Chicago, earned her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, and promptly moved to sunny Southern California, where she has been a Librarian since 2002.