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Kids know that "In the year 1492..." and might immediately recite, "Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue." But missing from their cultural tapestry might be the other 1492 story. The story, 'Across So Many seas' by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books, Feb 6, 2024), a story that shares painful truths about a time when families were brought down to a town square and told to convert religions or be hanged. Even a specific date is shared, a moment when the Jewish faith will no longer be tolerated. This happens as loved one stare deep into each others eyes and come to learn that they may make different decisions that will render them enemies.

'Across So Many Seas'  is a novel that carefully unfolds the timelines of Jewish prosecution over the course of 500 years and four generations and stays with you long after the reader reads her last words.

It weaves in rich Jewish beliefs into the sharing of the music from an oud, smell of almond sweets, and recipes shared and passed on for generations. But it also tells tales of separations many of us cannot imagine: sending a small child off on a ship alone to meet a future husband; moving away from family never to see them again; longing to see a childhood friend, only to learn you are one year too late.

This book is a gift to teacher-librarians wanting a novel in four parts, spanning 500 years, each telling the story of a girl forced to brave her own path: 1) Part One: Benvenida 1492; 2) Part Two: Reina 1923; Part Three: Alegra 1961; Part Four: Paloma 2003. 

According to Amazon, "Spanning over 500 years, Pura Belpré Award winner Ruth Behar's epic novel tells the stories of four girls from different generations of a Jewish family, many of them forced to leave their country and start a new life.

"In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, Benvenida and her family are banished from Spain for being Jewish, and must flee the country or be killed. They journey by foot and by sea, eventually settling in Istanbul.

"Over four centuries later, in 1923, shortly after the Turkish war of independence, Reina’s father disowns her for a small act of disobedience. He ships her away to live with an aunt in Cuba, to be wed in an arranged marriage when she turns fifteen.

"In 1961, Reina’s daughter, Alegra, is proud to be a brigadista, teaching literacy in the countryside for Fidel Castro. But soon Castro’s crackdowns force her to flee to Miami all alone, leaving her parents behind.

"Finally, in 2003, Alegra’s daughter, Paloma, is fascinated by all the journeys that had to happen before she could be born. A keeper of memoriesshe’s thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about her heritage on a family trip to Spain, where she makes a momentous discovery."

Plus, this book has an awesome downloadable teacher's guide that can be shared right inside your library under the Other Links tab to share with every reader, thanks to Nancy Paulsen Books and Penguin Random House. 

Four memorable experiences merge into one and share with this, the the benefits of friendship (some brief, some young and full circled, some we call kin, and songs and the gifts shared culture brings. It's hard not to explore titles like this one and not also thank the publisher that gave it life and spine. 

Thanks, Nancy Paulsen Books, for the stories and authors (author-illustrators) you champion.

Other Books by Ruth Behar

You need only open one of these to understand the gifts she presents to her readers. Open Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar and meet Ruth who is smart as smart before she boards a plane and lands in the United States where she feels dumb as her "differences" lands in a class labeled for delinquents where she meets Ramu. His Bengali language leaves him feeling much the same as Ruth. They share two separate journeys. Two different cultures. But will chat here between the spine a the reader discovers how their two lives that intertwine from their shared mission to feel whole again. 

Books by Author Padma Venkatramen

I still remember the day I purchased The Bridge Home, not because of the author (at first), but because it was a Nancy Paulsen Book and sure to be good—only to also fall in love with Padma Venkatraman’s storytelling. Her rich use of dialogue to add depth of character is a tribute to the craft of children's book creating.

A group of 100+ seventh graders read The Bridge Home together, and it created a vivid venn diagram and non-stop dialogue about how Indian life of the street orphan differs from their own reality. Dipping into culture nurtured comparisons to other books they read together: Long Way Down (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books) by Jason Reynolds, which explores the Black experience and opens discussions about choices and peer pressure; Song for a Whale (Delacorte Press) by Lynn Kelly which speaks to a wild cousin being shunned by his peers while a deaf girl braves her mission to help save him and bring him home.

Students might open Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman and learn what life is like born in a prison, perhaps, compare it to Leslie Connor's All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (Katherine Tegen Books)

To think this is only a small glimpse of the many worlds that literature gifts us. When we can stand in the doorway of a library and just see that lush landscape of shelves and spines that hold the promise to improve reading, improve lives, and build a better awareness for all people, we cannot help but thank the very editors who help bring these books to us.

Books by Author Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has helped the world explore differences: Her national Boom Award Winner, Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson "shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement" (Amazon). In Before the Ever After, she allows readers to experience what it feels like to have a father who has suffered a brain injury as it's a whole family that is impacted. In Harbor Me, Woodson and Paulsen remind us of the power of creating community as six kids gather in the ARTT room and learn to open up with each other, record their voice, and embrace their individual struggles. These are titles that every middle school around should read with kids to bring them closer.


Books by author Lisa Fipps

Lisa Fipps, author of Starfish and And Then, BOOM! is a newer author at Nancy Paulsen Books, but she's a talent to watch. Her first novel in verse reminds us of the power of words: negative and positive—as well as how these dynamics can impact a girl seen as too much girl, too fat, which to some equates to too unworthy to love. It's tough to put this book down and forget it. It has staying power at the gutteral level. Yes, words are powerful and this book opens a nice discussion for all students about acceptance and love—and gives everyone real reason to dare to sit alone on the 'buddy bench' praying to be let in. And Then, BOOM! releases May 7, 2024.


These, along with so many other brilliant authors and titles.  What we know is that we can really help tweens and teens by placing top quality book in front of them and really explore the pages, ask questions, and help kids build their inner libraries. We, here at Alexandria, believe the tie to add great books to any selection starts right now.  Post a comment on our blog. Two librarians will be selected to win a hardcopy of Across So Many Seas by Ruth Behar.

Comment to Win!  Two prize winners will be selected  


  1. Toni Steen says:

    I would love a copy of Across So Many Seas for my school library!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Looking forward to seeing “Across So Many Seas”; I am at an elementary school library (Title 1) in California and I have been looking for children’s and middle-grade books about the Jewish experience that are not tied solely to the Holocaust. This looks like one that will not only fill that gap in my collection, but also be a really interesting story for my students who like historical fiction and adventure stories.

  3. Kim Hoeven says:

    I think my wonderful students would love to have a copy of Across So Many Sea in our middle school library. This is just the type of book they would devour and walk away with new perspectives on the Jewish experience. It would be both a window and a mirror. Thank you for considering the Chisholm Trail Wildcat Library.

  4. Anna Peart says:

    This book sounds fantastic. I would love to win a copy for my school library!

  5. Amy Harris says:

    I would love to have a copy for the school library. I will be reading it first.

  6. Melissa Payne says:

    As a Jewish librarian, I would love to be able to share stories like this.

  7. Becky Dollins says:

    Sounds amazing. Would love it for my school library!

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