PJ Library Enriches Children’s Reading With Jewish Characters and Culture

(Photo courtesy of PJ Library Facebook)

PJ Library, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends free Jewish children’s books to 2,400 Baltimore-area families and hundreds of thousands of families across the world every month. Each book comes with specially annotated book flaps that highlight the Jewish values in the book and offer discussion topics and activities for parents and children.

The program is not affiliated with any particular denomination of Judaism. According to their website, all families raising Jewish children between six months to nine years old (with the exception of Messianic Jewish families) are eligible to sign up and receive monthly deliveries of an age-appropriate PJ Library book until their children age out of the program.

After age 8.5, children can enroll or be enrolled in PJ Our Way. With PJ Our Way, kids age 9-12 can go to pjourway.org every month to choose the book they want to receive. It is a kid-driven experience based on their own interests and reading level. They can even submit reviews and videos about the books for their peers to enjoy on the website.

“I think reading books with Jewish values and characters are key for a number of reasons,” said Brenda Footer, director of PJ Library at the Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore. “First, it’s validating to see oneself reflected in a book. It lets kids say, ‘There are other people like me.’ Second, it’s a way to bring more Jewish knowledge into your home. So many parents tell me that they learn new things about their Judaism through these books.”

“Third, the books serve as a conversation starter for families. They can ask questions: ‘Are these values I uphold? Are these rituals we choose to observe in our family? Why or why not?’”

Books are chosen by a selection committee comprised of writers, early childhood professionals and Jewish content specialists. The titles chosen for distribution may be previously published or come from manuscripts submitted directly through the PJ Library website, said Footer.

Starting this month, the JT will feature book recommendations for PJ Library and PJ Our Way readers in a special monthly column, “Brenda Says.”

Local support for PJ Library comes from The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore; Bavar Family Foundation; Gerson G. and Sandy F. Eisenberg Foundation; The Goldsmith Foundation, Inc.; Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation; Zimmerman Fund for Children and the Russel Family.

Brenda Says: Get ready for Rosh Hashanah with these recommended reads from PJ Library!

For infants and toddlers:

“Apples and Honey: A Rosh Hashanah Lift-the-Flap Book” by Joan Holub. Puffin Books. 2003. 16 pages.

Synopsis: With each exciting Rosh Hashanah activity shown, little ones begin to explore the meaning and traditions of the Jewish New Year.

Brenda says: “A lift-the-flap book is a great way to get babies excited about learning.”

For ages 3-7:

“Are We Still Friends?” by Ruth Horowitz. Scholastic Press. 2017. 40 pages.

Synopsis: Beatrice and Abel are the finest of friends — until a misunderstanding gets in the way. How will they reconcile in time for a fresh start in the new year?

Brenda says: “Every young child — and many grownups — will relate to this dilemma.”

For ages 7-10:

“Even Higher” by Richard Ungar. Tundra Books. 2007. 32 pages.

Synopsis: Each year, just before Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi of the village of Nemirov disappears. Where does he go? Reuven’s friends decide to find out by appointing Reuven to follow the beloved older man.

Brenda says: “This delightful mystery is based on a Jewish folk tale and captures young Reuven’s world in a 19th-century European Jewish village with vibrant watercolor-and-colored pencil artwork.”

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