Anya and the Nightingale, by Sofiya Pasternack

Wondering how Jewish a middle grade fantasy book could possibly be, I turned to page one of Anya and the Nightingale. The first line read, “Anya’s sukkah was suspiciously lopsided,” referring to the temporary hut many Jews build for the fall holiday of Sukkot. Okay then! Jewish it is. (Turns out that Anya’s goat is inside the sukkah munching on the thatching which is an adorable start.)

I started with this, the newest book in the series, which came out in November from Versify, a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt imprint run by Kwame Alexander. The sequel to Anya and the Dragon takes place in a fictional version of Kiev in Kievan Rus’, where the last dragon on earth accompanies his two human friends on an adventure to rescue the main character’s father.

The plot, interestingly, combines Jewish magic and folklore with elements of classic European fairy tales to tell an engaging story of bravery, friendship, displacement, and family. 

Anya and the Dragon, Versify 2019
Anya and the Nightingale cover art
Anya and the Nightingale, Versify 2020

Although the book is engrossing on its own, I suggest starting with the first book, Anya and the Dragon (Versify, 2019), which builds the relationships between these main characters from the start. Coming right into this one I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to discern Dobrynya the bogatyr from Dyedka the grandfather, but in book one the Slavic and Jewish characters and words are more gradually introduced at a digestible pace.

Both of these books by author Sofiya Pasternack are available in audiobook format. They have been given Sydney Taylor Book Award Honors and are recommended by the Jewish Book Council.

For more books featured by the Sydney Taylor Book Awards this year, see the full list announced in January: https://thewholemegillah.wordpress.com/2021/01/25/sydney-taylor-book-award-winners-announced-today/

Published by Sara Lesley Arnold

Librarian and writer

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