Zayda Was a Cowboy

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  • June Levitt Nislick (author)
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About the Book

Ages 8-12.

The extraordinary story of how one family, and one young boy in particular, are changed forever when Zayda (Yiddish for “grandfather”) comes to live with them. At first the young narrator, Bill, is resistant to all the changes in the house: Zayda spooks his friends, tries to get Bill to speak Yiddish, and demands strange foods like herring.

But as Zayda starts telling Bill and his brother Danny the fascinating story of his life, a story filled with many extraordinary dangers and adventures, the boys begin to see their grandfather in a whole new light. From why, as a young boy, he was forced to flee his Russian village for America to how he eventually became a cowboy, Zayda holds the boys captive with his amazing tale.

Like Zayda’s grandsons, young readers—and their parents and teachers—will also be entranced by Zayda’s saga. While the characters are fictional, Zayda’s experiences are historically correct and are a colorful retelling of a fascinating yet little-known time of Jewish-American history.

This book, like Zayda himself—funny, touching, and memorable—is destined to be a favorite of Jewish and non-Jewish children alike, teachers, librarians, and educators for many years to come.


A 2006 Notable Children’s Book of Jewish Content by the Association of Jewish Libraries

A Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition Award Winner (Association of Jewish Libraries)


The true charm of the story is in listening to Zayda tell it . . . Seldom does a written narrative so resemble human speech and just as seldom does narrative style establish character as well as this does.
—Jewish Book World

The facts of cowboy work will fascinate kids, as will the seldom-told immigration story . . . . This will make a great read-aloud; the story will interest kids no matter what their religious background.

—American Library Association Booklist

Though its characters are fictional, its Old World and New World adventures are historically accurate, often fascinating, sometimes humorous, and thoroughly empathetic . . . . an entertaining, rewarding read.

—Ottawa Jewish Bulletin

Nislick’s historical fiction provides multicultural experiences that are good lessons for all . . . . Boys would enjoy the adventures of Zayda as a cowboy, and there are parts of this book that are laugh-out-loud funny.

—Multicultural Review

June Levitt Nislick

Study Guides


Preview Prologue.

Preview Chapter 6, A New Me.

Read a conversation with the author.

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