PJ Library gives kids their very own book club

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Who doesn’t love a free book?

Since 2005, PJ Library (PJ stands for pajamas) has provided families around the world with high-quality children’s books, music and other resources that foster Jewish learning and create a gateway for deeper engagement in Jewish life.

Thanks to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, Jewish children in Rhode Island can participate at no charge – all that’s necessary is registration and that the child is between 6 months and 8 years old. The folks at PJ Library (pjlibrary.org) hope the books will foster Jewish literacy and help families start a conversation about Jewish values and traditions.

The program was inspired by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which Grinspoon sponsors in Springfield, Massachusetts, according to Ruth Horton, PJ Library program coordinator at the Alliance.

The PJ Library program also organizes monthly story times for children age 5 and under that focus on current Jewish holidays and include a story, craft and snack. These meet at the Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence, and are free. This year, Alliance staff members will participate in the program as guest readers. According to Horton, there are a growing number of families participating in the story times.

Every PJ Library family receives a monthly e-newsletter with ideas, resources and listings of local, family-friendly events. Many are events that PJ Library supports by participating. The program had a presence at Temple Beth-El’s program at Dame Farm in September and Temple Torat Yisrael’s Apples and Honey program in the fall. It was also at Mitzvahs and Miracles, the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island’s Hanukkah program in December. And Horton led a story time during the Hope Street Stroll in December.

Parent input is crucial. Said Horton, “We want voices of parents to help us grow a dynamic, parent-driven PJ Library in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island families might remember Horton from her tenure as interim director of the David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center in 2015. She says she’s excited to be heading PJ Library:  “I am an early childhood educator whose greatest love is engaging with families and their children through the magical journey books take us on.”

PJ Library has been so successful that “graduates” wanted a program for themselves. So the folks at PJ Library recently announced that children 8½ and older can sign up for PJ Our Way and receive a gift of books geared for ages 9 to 11. In PJ Our Way, children choose the books they want from an online selection, creating an experience tailored to their interests and reading level.

To make the choice easier, the PJ Our Way website (pjourway.org) includes book summaries and author bios, along with ratings, reviews and video trailers created by members. Children can also take polls and quizzes, participate in monthly interviews and challenges, post reviews or videos and comment on blog posts. The PJ Our Way site is moderated and has a parent blog with information about the books offered and family discussion questions for each book.

“We are thrilled with the newest chapter of PJ Library.  Children can continue reading about Jewish themes with free high-quality literature.  And the fact that children can choose their own book really gives them a sense of ownership,” said Michelle Cicchitelli, vice president of programming at the Alliance.

For more information about PJ Library or PJ Our Way, contact  Ruth Horton at 401-421-4111 or rhorton@jewishallianceri.org.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice.