2018-02-28 / Voice at the Shore

PJ Library offers families free books and a doorway into Jewish life

Executive Director, Board of Jewish Education

PJ Library and PJ Our Way programs meet at many different venues locally. This PJ Library musical program was held at the beach. PJ Library and PJ Our Way programs meet at many different venues locally. This PJ Library musical program was held at the beach. Everyone loves free books (what’s not to love?), and free books are exactly what PJ Library and PJ Our Way provide for local children aged six months to eleven years—free Jewish books, and more.

Children whose parents or grandparents sign them up for either PJ Library (for children up to age 8) or PJ Our Way (for children ages 9-11) not only get a Jewishthemed book (or music CD) in the mail once a month; they also have the opportunity to attend fun programs offered throughout the year at the JCC, Beth Israel, Shirat Hayam and a number of secular venues like the beach. Next month, PJ Library will offer a Passover Palooza program for young children on March 19 at the JCC, and PJ Our Way will hold a book group for tweens on March 18.

PJ Library and PJ Our Way (and in case you were wondering, “PJ” stands for pajamas) are both programs of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Locally, our programs are offered through a partnership between HGF and Jewish Federation, Katz JCC, Board of Jewish Education, Beth Israel and Shirat Hayam. Thanks to this partnership, all families with a Jewish presence in the home, regardless of background, knowledge of Judaism, family make-up or observance can get free books and attend PJ Library and PJ Our Way programs. In our community children need to live in Atlantic or Cape May counties full-time in order to sign up. If you have grandchildren living elsewhere, there are PJ communities virtually everywhere in the USA, England, Australia, Russia, Israel and parts of Latin America.

PJ Library, the HGF program for young children, nurtures the bond between parents, children and Judaism. The importance of reading is well-known; studies show its beneficial impact on child development. Children who grow up with books in their home are more likely to become avid readers.

We know that something magical happens when parents and children sit down to read together. Thanks to PJ Library, parents can now easily share Jewish stories that encourage family conversations about important Jewish values and traditions.

Each book that the children receive includes an explanation of the Jewish holiday or concept discussed in the book. This means that parents new to Judaism can learn along with their children!

Even the simplest picture books can lead to really big questions like: “Why do we dress up on Purim?” or “Why do you believe in G-d?” or “What does it mean to give tzedakah?” These questions can lead the way to great parent-child discussions.

Starting this year, PJ Library will be offering parents even more information and resources, through parent and grandparent books as well as website articles and blogs. This enhancement has been made to make sure that all parents (or grandparents!) feel comfortable talking to their kids about the kinds of things they’re reading about in their PJ Library books.

PJ Library events are fun not only for kids but also for their parents and grandparents, who often are the ones who bring children to PJ Library events or come along with another parent. Over the five years that PJ Library has been in our community, more and more people are being drawn to PJ Library programs. The last one—a Chanukah event at Beth Israel in Northfield—drew a crowd of 100 people.

That event began with kids doing a craft (making Chanukiot). Then everyone watched a puppet show based on a PJ Library book, sang songs, and had dinner. It was a great time for everyone.

Although PJ Library is for all Jewish families, it can be especially important for intermarried families and the unaffiliated. For many families, PJ Library is the doorway into the Jewish community.

Kids older than eight who “age out” of PJ Library can now join PJ Our Way. This program, which began last year, was created for families that didn’t want the stream of books and Jewish learning from PJ Library to come to an end.

PJ Our Way, which is for children ages 9-11, is a kid-driven reading and Jewish education program. Kids choose their own chapter book, which allows them to make choices in line with their own interests and reading level. To make the choosing easier, PJ Our Way has created a wonderful website for kids that include book summaries and author bios, along with book ratings, reviews, and video trailers created by other kids.

The PJ Our Way website is also a fun, interactive place that lets kids take polls and quizzes, participate in monthly interviews and challenges, post their own reviews and comment on blog posts. The website is a completely safe and moderated space, perfect for acclimating older kids to using the web independently. It even has a blog for parents, where they can read about the books being offered to the tweens, and find family discussion questions for each book. Parents (or grandparents) can also find out what values or topics each book covers, as well as any content advisories a parent or child should be aware of before choosing a book.

HGF’s PJ program continues to expand! Late last year, it came out with PJ Radio, which allows PJ Library/Our Way families to listen to Jewish kids’ music. This music can be accessed 24/7 by going to PJLibraryRadio.com. This online streaming radio station has more than 2,000 songs from hundreds of Jewish artists across the globe, with special music blocks for Shabbat, Holiday and Bedtime. Just like the PJ Library books, PJ Library music inspires, educates and entertains children and parents alike.

What is the downside to signing your child or grandchild up for PJ Library or PJ Our Way? There is none! To sign up or learn more, contact me at (609) 822-1854 or pjlibraryatlantic@gmail.com or go to PJLibrary.org. 

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