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the CONTENT issue


The PJ Library Framework


Encouraging Words

the Shelf: PJ Our Way 16 On



Mirrors and Windows The PJ Library

6 Content Framework 8 9 10 11

Encouraging Words Naomi Shulman Tent: Children’s Literature 2017 Josh Lambert STUCK! Erica S. Perl Kid Tested. Committe Approved. Catriella Freedman


MANAGING EDITOR AND ART DIRECTOR, PROOF MAGAZINE Jillian Farrell ADDITIONAL SUPPORT: Allison Biggs, Graphic Designer & Project Manager, PJ Library Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Executive Director, 14th Street Y Catriella Freedman, Director, PJ Our Way Daniel Ginsburg, Writer & Editor, PJ Library Josh Lambert, Academic Director, Yiddish Book Center Jamie Light, Engagement Officer, PJ Our Way Erica S. Perl, Author Will Schneider, Director of Advancement, PJ Library Naomi Shulman, Content Officer, PJ Library Becky Skoff, Director of Program Administration, 14th Street Y Renee Zborowski, Operations Coordinator, PJ Library PARTNER SPOTLIGHT CONTRIBUTORS: Mark and Linda Silberman Evan and Mindy Fox

12 14 16 18 20 22

PJ Library and the 14th Street Y at the Summer in the Square Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein and Becky Skoff PJ Library Parent Book Choice On the Shelf: PJ Our Way On the Shelf: PJ Library Partner Spotlight Beyond Fear Winnie Sandler Grinspoon


Barry and Barbara Zemel Cover photo by Amy Frances Photography Page 11 photo by Asher & Oak Photography Back cover photos from Photography by Nikki Cole We welcome suggestions for stories. Please send ideas or author inquiries to


FOREWORD PJ Library is three months away from having another subscriber: my baby daughter, Aya Ruby Schneider, who will be 6 months old (and therefore eligible for PJ Library) in March of 2018. Aya won’t be alone. In the next three months, we expect more than 10,500 children to be signed up to receive PJ Library books in the United States and Canada. That’s a lot of Jewish children’s books we need to get ready to send. Not only is it a lot in volume of books, but it’s a huge number of titles. Each year, PJ Library delivers 136 titles across 11 age groups, from board books to middle grade chapter books. This issue of PROOF is dedicated to the behind-the-scenes effort to ensure there are always great new PJ Library books. PJ Library upended the Jewish book publishing world shortly after it was launched, buying more Jewish children’s books than had ever been sold. Suddenly the skyrocketing demand for Jewish children’s books meant the supply chain needed to be developed. Today, PJ Library brings many books back to the market with new print runs, but we are increasingly relying on new material. To source that material we are investing in the publishing industry and in author development directly. We believe these investments are paying off. From September 2016 through August 2017, 43% of titles were first-time PJ Library books. Twentynine titles had never been published before being selected by the book selection committee.

The books are the core of our program, and sending them to homes almost invariably has a positive impact on the Jewish home lives of families. This can sometimes happen in unpredictable ways. In my own family, my daughter was just 2 weeks old the first time my 4-year-old son Max brought her a PJ Library book to read. I had just set Aya down on Max’s pillow so I could read a bedtime story to Max, and he quickly grabbed Todah and laid down on the bed to “read” it to her. Todah has more than one word, but Max just flipped the pages repeating “Todah” on each page. It turns out it was the “big brother moment” my wife and I had been waiting for — a chance to help Max get comfortable with his new role with a baby in the house. I pulled out my phone to snap what I knew would be one of those pictures to come back to as my kids grow older. I have already looked at it frequently to say, “Todah, indeed.” We are proud of these efforts, but it’s only the start. In this issue of PROOF you will read not only about where the books come from, but also about how they are used by families, and even a special project for grown-ups to receive books of their own. Please enjoy PROOF and as always reach out with your stories, ideas, and questions.

Will Schneider Director of Advancement, PJ Library

MIRRORS & WINDOWS The PJ Library Framework

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” RUDINE SIMS BISHOP


For PJ Library, the need to have both mirrors and windows in its books is imperative. “Window” books show the variety of Jewish families, traditions, and experiences. They can take the reader beyond their own home and show the breadth and diversity of Jewish life, yesterday, and today. “Mirror” books play an equally crucial role in affirming for PJ Library families that through their celebration of Judaism’s customs and practices, and their striving toward Judaism’s ethical ideals, they are an integral part of the Jewish community and its future. These books often show characters who echo the experiences of the readers. Other “mirror” books connect values to their Jewish source, demonstrating Judaism’s relevance in today’s world. To that end, PJ Library wrote an educational framework detailing the content areas it seeks to include for families.

Image from One,Two,Three, Shabbat!. Copyright © 2015 by Naomi Shulman. Illustrated by Nora Hilb. Image from Fridays Are Special. Copyright © 2015 by Chris Barash. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai.



The PJ Library Content Framework This framework presents the core content themes for PJ Library books, offering families both mirrors and windows into Jewish life. The framework guides the PJ Library Book Selection Committee and other content creators. The content framework is divided into three sections: Jewish Values, Jewish Cycles, and Jewish Stories, with key topic areas under each section. Nearly all of these topics are interwoven in complex ways.

Jewish VALUES The values found in classic Jewish texts can help bring more kindness and compassion into the world. They are organized around the emotional and social development of the child, beginning with values that help address a child’s growing sense of identity and to answer the question, “Who am I?” This focus on a child’s uniqueness places them within family and community, connection to others, and relationship to the infinite.

Jewish CYCLES Here is PJ Library’s opportunity to give families scripts and suggestions for celebrating their family’s milestone moments, both Jewish and secular. Judaism has an internal cycle that families can incorporate into their lives. The Jewish calendar, with its weekly countdown to Shabbat and its roster of seasonal holidays, provides structure, consistency, rhythm, and routine to help a child acclimate to the world. PJ Library can highlight the values and meanings behind Jewish holidays and, however parents choose to integrate holidays into their family life, help families create Jewish moments in time that transform into Jewish memories.

Jewish NARRATIVES Parents talk to their children about family — who they are and where they came from. This provides a basic framework for where they are going. Judaism does the same thing. The Jewish story is one of people, places, times, ideas, and ideals. It explains where the Jewish people have been. The overarching story has been told by all generations. PJ Library families — parents and children — are the next generation to write a chapter, and in order to do so they need to know the backstory. They need to know Biblical stories, traditional stories, historical stories, stories of how upstanding people act. In doing so, children and parents will know that the classic Jewish texts contain collective wisdom and values, which are still relevant to Jewish families today.



VALUES Relationship with oneself Relationship with others Relationship with the Divine



Family moments and milestones Shabbat Holidays Jewish objects and customs


NARR ATIVES Bible Other Jewish texts Jewish people and places Israel

Image from One,Two,Three, Shabbat!. Copyright © 2015 by Naomi Shulman. Illustrated by Nora Hilb. Image from Fridays Are Special. Copyright © 2015 by Chris Barash. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai.





I know: I’ve done it. Writing the article you’re reading right now was a piece of cake in comparison. When you’re working with so few words, each one counts more than ever — and young audiences are, shall we say, easily distracted. So how does PJ Library offer extra encouragement to writers who might have a Jewish story or two knocking around in their heads? We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve. In summer 2016 PJ Library announced the AUTHOR INCENTIVE AWARD. Every time the book selection committee accepts a new, unpublished story submitted to us (up to December 31, 2018), the author receives $2,000 for a PJ Library book and $5,000 for a PJ Our Way book. This award is truly an award. It is separate from and in addition to any other payment received by the author from a publisher. And anyone, including authors, agents, and publishers, can submit stories. This incentive has sparked conversations with new authors and created opportunities to promote PJ Library with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Jewish Book Council, and Publisher’s Weekly. We’re not doing this alone. In addition to our own incentive award, PJ Library has partnered with the SCBWI on the new JEWISH STORIES AWARD. To encourage the creation of more high-quality Jewish children’s literature, an award of $2,500 will go to the


author of the most promising manuscript that furthers PJ Library’s mission. Submissions were accepted from September 1, 2017, through October 31, 2017, and are in the process of being judged by an expert panel. The winner will be announced at the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in 2018 in New York City.  In August 2017, we also collaborated with the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA, to host TENT: CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, a week-long summer retreat for 20 emerging or midcareer authors. The goal was to create a cohort of peers who understand PJ Library and its mission — and if they left inspired to write a manuscript or two for us, so much the better. Are these added incentives working? I can tell you this much for certain: We Book Selection Committee members are reading more new manuscripts than ever before. At time of publishing the book selection committee is on track to receive more than 1,000 manuscripts in 2017 — nearly double the amount received in 2016. Personally, while the numbers are impressive, I am thrilled to see more diverse families and playful stories in the pages of PJ Library books. The results will bear out in the next several years. If you notice more titles that you’ve never seen before coming in the mail, that’ll be a sign that authors of Jewish books are feeling more encouraged than ever to write, and write, and then write some more.



the Yiddish Book Center was founded because a group of young readers couldn’t get their hands on the Jewish books they needed — in that case, Yiddish novels assigned in graduate school classes. So while the Center is now probably best known for rescuing and digitizing more than a million Yiddish books, it makes perfect sense that the organization serves as the host of a new retreat that’s all about making sure young readers have all the Jewish books that they need — this time, by supporting authors of children’s literature. This new program, Tent: Children’s Literature, brought 20 authors of picture books, early chapter books, and middle grade fiction together in Amherst, MA for a week of writing workshops and exploration of the history of Jewish children’s literature. More than 120 authors applied for the opportunity, and the selected participants came to Amherst from as far afield as Switzerland, Spain, and Israel (and as near as Boston). The group met with top editors, practitioners, and critics in the field of children’s literature; saw priceless original illustrations by masters like William Steig and Uri Shulevitz at the

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; and discovered little-known works written for children in Yiddish. Those works exist because long before the founding of PJ Library, major Jewish writers already understood the single importance of children’s literature. In the decades following the haskole, or Jewish Enlightenment, and throughout the 20th century, almost every major author of Hebrew and Yiddish literature wrote at least a few works for children. Miriam Udel, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, is creating the first anthology of Yiddish children’s literature in English translation — a project that has been supported by the Yiddish Book Center’s Translation Fellowship. She visited Tent: Children’s Literature to share some of the treasures she has found and will soon make available in English for the first time. Other sessions focused on pressing questions for children’s authors today: What are the challenges of representing Jewish children, without relying on cliché and stereotypes? How can the field of

Jewish children’s literature learn from the recent #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign? What crucial Jewish stories remain untold? This program, which was made possible by the support of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, helped the writers to understand the content needs and priorities of PJ Library, and gave them space and time to refine their works-in-progress and generate new ideas for book projects. Most importantly, it offered them a chance to form a community of like-minded but diverse authors who can encourage one another in the creative process and inspire one another to do their best work. Our hope is that the writers will stay in touch and collaborate on innovative projects. One of them, Betsy Rosenthal, wrote a note to the group when she arrived back home: “For me the week was magical and I want to thank all of you for your part in making it so. I came home charged up … and ready to work on some new ideas and improve my manuscript. And, I feel as if I’ve found my people.”

FOR MORE about Tent: Children’s Literature visit YIDDISHBOOKCENTER.ORG/KIDLIT P ROO F DEC EMB ER 2017



evening, and I have a comfortable place to sit, a draft of my current work-in-progress, and a pen. Everything is perfect, except… I’m stuck. Majorly, mightily, don’tknow-what-to-write-ily stuck. I often find myself in this situation. Sure, I write all the time, but the road from initial idea to finished book can be a long and windy one with many potholes in which to get stuck. For example, when I started writing WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J., I got seriously stuck. It started out as a picture book, but when I tried to make it shorter, it got longer instead. Also, the main character, an almost-11-year-old girl named Zelly Fried, seemed too old for a picture book. And her relationship with her eccentric Grandpa Ace was too contentious for a picture book. So the book stayed stuck…. Until one day it dawned on me: Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a picture book. This realization meant that all those extra words I had written were a blessing, not a curse. And Zelly’s adversarial relationship with Ace was relatable to 8-12 year olds. And the fact that Ace is such a meshuggener (he insists that Zelly walk—and clean up after—a “practice dog” made out of an orange juice jug)?


Let’s just say that particular detail worked for tweens. Suddenly, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. wasn’t just unstuck… it was a finished novel. And I had so much fun writing it, I wrote a sequel: ACES WILD. So, okay, I say to myself in the apple orchard. Maybe this newly stuck story is supposed to be something else, too. Perhaps it should be in rhyme? Or maybe I should change the perspective. The only problem? I’ve already tried both of these things. My computer has exactly 16 versions of this particular picture book on it, and the earliest is datestamped five entire years earlier. I take a deep breath. I pick an apple, take a bite, and try to think of other ways I’ve gotten myself unstuck. Sometimes, I’ve gone for a run. Other times, I’ve taken a shower. But some stories can’t be run or bathed loose… and that’s exactly how stuck this story is. Gah!!! I close my eyes in frustration. Why is writing so hard sometimes???! “Hey, Erica. You okay?” I open my eyes and see that two of my friends are in the orchard, too. We are three of the children’s book authors who have been selected to participate in the Tent program run by the Yiddish Book Center and supported by PJ Library. They

look amused and mildly concerned. With good reason: It’s possible they overheard me yelling at trees. “Yeah,” I say sheepishly. “I’m just having some trouble with a story.” My friends nod sympathetically. We’ve all had a great time at the program, learning from scholars and experts in our field and participating in spirited workshops and discussions. But we’re all Jewish writers, which over the week we’ve come to realize means we question ourselves and our work on a near-continuous basis. The three of us sit down together. I read my stuck story aloud to them, and we begin to discuss it — what’s working, and what isn’t. They ask me questions and I ask them questions. And, as darkness begins to fall, I start to feel movement. I scribble as fast as I can in the dwindling light, my heart racing as we talk over each other. My story may not be done yet, but I can feel the wheels turning. At long last — it’s starting to come unstuck! Leaving the orchard, I feel a sense of tremendous relief and gratitude. I can’t help but laugh at myself for forgetting one of the best ways of getting unstuck: sharing your writing with trusted friends.

ERICA S . PERL is the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel, All Three Stooges (1/18; Knopf), as well as many popular and

critically acclaimed books for young readers. She is a crowd-pleasing presenter at schools, libraries, synagogues, and community events. Erica honed her skills working as a trial lawyer in New York City, and, before that, studying theater and driving an ice cream truck. Raised in Vermont, she now lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs.


KID TE ST ED. COMMITTEE APPROVED. CHOOSING BOOKS FOR OLDER READERS BY CATRIELLA FREEDMAN DIRECTOR, PJ OUR WAY I RECENTLY QUIPPED TO A GROUP OF AUTHORS that if we just wanted to provide Jewish content to older kids, we would send each one a Torah and call it a day. The fact is that older kids are independent readers with a growing sense of self that includes a large dose of strong opinions. Authors, publishers, and agents agree that for a middle grade book to be a success it needs to engage the reader within the first 10 pages. I’ve been directing PJ Our Way from the beginning, when it was a concept without a name. While so much of the program has developed to be a wonderful companion chapter to PJ Library for kids ages 9-11, one aspect of the program continues to be the greatest challenge: Finding quality Jewish middle-grade books that kids will want to read. That is why in our quest to provide the best middle-grade Jewish content, the PJ Our Way book selection process includes three key elements:


Once the PJ Our Way Book Selection Committee decides that a book or manuscript is a good fit for the lineup, it is sent out to kid readers. These readers are a continually rotating group of PJ Our Way subscribers from varied locations, ages, and Jewish backgrounds. Our kid manuscript reviewers are asked details about the reading experience, and their comments are shared directly with the author and publisher who then work with the committee to integrate this vital feedback.

2. AUTHOR INCENTIVE AND SUPPORT In September 2017, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation began awarding $5,000 incentives to new, unpublished manuscripts that are accepted into the PJ Our Way lineup. In addition, we have introduced a number of initiatives to support and communicate with authors, such as author lunches and meetups, a quarterly author newsletter, and a middle-grade track to the PJ Library sponsored Tent: Children’s Literature workshop.


PJ Our Way has a built-in, user-friendly platform to promote this important feedback. Kids are encouraged through the website to post reviews and comments about the books and share their opinions and perspectives with each other. These reviews serve a triple purpose: They allow kids to see that their opinions matter and engage them further in the conversation; they help future PJ Our Way members decide which books are right for them (serving the same function as Amazon or Goodreads); and they are a crucial way for us to know which books are worth offering again in the future. Early on, when we were developing the idea of a PJ Library for older children, it became obvious that the first step would be to rely on our customers: the kids! That was the inspiration for basing PJ Our Way on choice — each month kids can choose the book that most appeals to them. It’s not always easy. It’s not uncommon for a “popular” book, like Queen of Likes, to receive kid reviews from both extremes:

“This book was fantastic! I couldn’t stop reading it and I brought it to school every day. I can really relate to this book. You should totally read it!” “Awful. 0 stars.” For me and the book selection committee, this is actually part of the fun. Learning more about kids’ tastes and enjoying how differently they can each look at the same book and the same content is part of our own professional development. Each interaction and review brings us closer to our goal of providing the best and most inspiring Jewish content to older kids.

— book s that they choose themselves! With more than 25,0 0 0 subscribers, the program is available throughout the United St ates and launching in Canada in 2018 . Visit PJOURWAY.ORG for more information.

PJ OUR WAY of fers the gif t of exceptional book s with Jewish themes to kids ages 9-11

PJ Library and the 14th Street Y at the



would find ourselves in a tent in Union Square, squawking like a chicken and yelling, “Gey Avek Du Fahrshtunkeneh Katz!” More than 100 parents, nannies, and children sat in our tent in a New York City public thoroughfare, learning about a Jewish country chicken named Yetta, her new Spanish-speaking city-parrot friends, and how kindness can unite us all across cultures. For the last two summers, the 14th Street Y, PJ Library, and the Union Square Partnership have joined forces to present Summer in the Square, weekly public programming grounded in Jewish values. Through interactive PJ Library readings and sing-a-longs, we brought the books to life in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan. The events were free and open to anyone who walked into our tent.


"Summer in the Square is such a wonderful experience as a whole, and story time with PJ Library is a great fit to round out the afternoon.”

Summer in the Square offered us a way to reach unaffiliated, intermarried, and hard-to-reach families, including those that may feel intimidated walking into an unfamiliar space, with an opportunity to engage in a Jewish activity with no barrier to entry. We strove to communicate to those ambivalent about exclusively Jewish spaces that we want to speak to Jews and non-Jews alike. Our team roved Union Square inviting people to non-religious Jewish story time for ALL children. Our storytellers were prepared to unpack each sensibility to offer meaningful content for all, with the potential for special richness for those who embrace Judaism. For Shabbat, we asked how people take breaks — and where and how their religion or culture helped enrich these breaks. Then we celebrated that Shabbat is a gift, allowing us a

break and inviting us to welcome our loved ones to celebrate with us with meaningful rituals and traditions. We learned of our success as we talked to participants. A Catholic mother with a baby told us she had been searching for a way to bring her husband’s Jewish faith into their household, but that she didn’t know where to start. She had never heard of PJ Library and was ecstatic to hear there was a resource she could use at home. She told us this was the first Jewish program she had attended where she did not feel “stared at.” Our community catalyst, Laura Newmark, plays an integral role in continuing to cultivate and follow-up with these families, especially those unfamiliar with Jewish programming. One parent said to Laura, “What a treat to see so many children of all races and religions coming together

About 14TH STREET Y The 14th Street Y is a cultural hub in downtown Manhattan, providing services for the entire community from health and fitness and personal training to camp and after school programs to arts and culture programming. No matter what your interests you have a place here and all members are invited to try out the many offerings, activities, and facilities.

to enjoy stories and music based in Jewish values. The PJ Library books have such a magical way of bringing together Jewish values in a way that is so pertinent to everyone in today’s society. Summer in the Square is such a wonderful experience as a whole, and story time with PJ Library is a great fit to round out the afternoon.” In Beautiful Yetta, the lost Yiddish chicken has a life changing adventure after happening upon an unexpected green parrot in the middle of the city — soon joining a community where she becomes a leader. Like that parrot, Summer in the Square engaged new families in fun, brought them together in conversation about Jewish sensibilities, and whetted their appetite for future involvement. We are grateful to PJ Library books, musicians, and ideas to help us to reach more of aundzer tayere kinder (our dear children).

About DOWNTOWN JEWISH LIFE DJL is a collective, made up of 20 to 30 downtown New York Jewish organizations and individuals, that seeks to build a connected, culturally engaged community that is open and welcoming to all. For more information, or to become a member, visit 14STREETY.ORG or call 646-395-4310.




What we’ve learned

a program that offers parents the opportunity to select a free book for themselves. Parent Book Choice entered its second year this spring with nearly 59,000 parents participating — an increase of 13,000 parents from the first year. The Parent Book Choice webpage on the PJ Library website received more than 44,000 unique page views this year, and 17,500 parents watched a live author chat on the PJ Library Facebook page. As an exciting component of the larger PJ Library family engagement strategy, Parent Book Choice is helping us to develop a better understanding of the topics and resources that successfully engage PJ Library parents. IN 2016, PJ LIBRARY LAUNCHED

Through surveys, feedback, and above all, their actual book selections, parents are expressing their literary preferences: family activity books, Jewish parenting books, and holiday and ritual guides. We have learned that parents value the opportunity to decide which book appeals to them most, given their interests, the ages of their children, their parenting challenges, and the nature of their own Jewish journey. Book choices reinforced what we hear consistently: PJ Library parents want to be engaged as parents and with their kids. With this in mind, we’re developing more opportunities to give parents content they can use. In an effort to showcase PJ Library’s growing database of digital resources, updated book flaps will also direct parents to even more resources on the PJ Library website. Results from the PJ Library triennial evaluation show that 65% of parents feel that PJ Library “increased their confidence to engage with their children regarding Jewish traditions, values, and/or customs.” Parent engagement — including Parent Book Choice, in-the-envelope family activities, updated book flaps, and online resources — offers parents a growing set of creative tools to help them become more effective at facilitating Jewish conversations and experiences at home. Currently, we are honing in on titles for 2018 Parent Book Choice, and can’t wait to begin stuffing envelopes — for parents only. 14 P JLIBRARY. O RG


by Wendy Mogel



how we’re responding 59,000

chose a book in 2017 (42% of all eligible parents)


parents viewed a parent book author live chat on Facebook


by Ilene Cooper

CASTING LOTS by Susan Silverman


by Danya Ruttenberg





Here are a few of this years' titles along with reviews from PJ Our Way subscribers. We hope these books expand young readers’ minds and bring families together with a great story.


By Susan Goldman Rubin We hope this biography of Leonard Bernstein’s younger years (before he became famous) will inspire kids as they learn about his sheer determination and single-minded dedication to his musical career. “I liked this book because it was very informative and it was easy to read. I think my dad would like it, and my music teacher would like it too.”


Set in the Wild West of the 1870s, Rabbi Harvey is the unlikely leader of the citizens of Elk Spring, Colorado. Equipped with Jewish knowledge, a good heart, and a keen wit, Rabbi Harvey resolves disputes, fights crime, and saves the town from no-good robbers. “Do you like hilarious books with Jewish themes? Then Rabbi Harvey Rides Again is the book for you. This graphic novel takes place in the Wild West where Rabbi Harvey has to hold his own against criminals. All he has is his never-ending knowledge of Jewish wisdom. Read Rabbi Harvey Rides Again if you want to have the ultimate combination of laughter and learning.”



Eleven-year-old Tara Feinstein struggles with her identity as a Jewish-Indian-American with a Christian best friend. With a bit of guidance from her Rabbi and supportive family, she learns to embrace her mixed heritage by opening her mind and heart and using a little creativity. “I liked this book because it was interesting to learn about another culture. It also showed that you can be more than one thing at once.”

STEALING HOME By Ellen Schwartz

Nine-year-old Joey Sexton has to grow up fast — his African American dad is gone, his Jewish mother just died, and now he has been sent to live with his mother’s family in Brooklyn. Joey’s zayde (grandfather) acts as though Joey can’t do anything right. Sure, Joey can play a mean game of baseball, but is that enough to impress the person whose affection he wants most? “Stealing Home was the best book I got from PJ Our Way. This book is inspiring, active and a little sad at the end part which is good because I love sad stories. This book teaches us also about black and white it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it matters what you are on the inside. Thank you, Ellen Schwartz, for writing the best book in the world!!!!!!!!”




PJ LIBRARY The PJ Library Book Selection Committee has a challenging task: Every month we have to find not one, not two, but eight of the best Jewish children’s books possible. Each title needs to entertain, inspire, and delight its readers — kids and grown-ups alike. These are a few of our recent choices.


BY JULIAN EDELMAN PJ Library Subscriber Age: 5 You may know Julian Edelman as the small, scrappy New England Patriot who made one of the greatest catches ever in Super Bowl history. But before he reached that shining moment, Edelman had to overcome lots of preconceived ideas about who can play football. As time went by his former detractors started calling him the “Minitron” and “Energizer Bunny” because he didn’t let his size stop him and he never, ever quit. As the 19thcentury Zionist Theodor Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream” — and the book selection committee thinks Edelman is a perfect example.



Jack Ezra Keats’ classic children’s book The Snowy Day is a quiet story, but it made a loud splash when it hit the publishing scene in the early 1960s. It was the first mainstream picture book to feature an African American child. “My book had him there simply because he should have been there all along,” said Keats — who had been born Jacob Ezra Katz, and who knew all too well what it felt like to be unseen and marginalized. This lyrical book explores how one’s past can shape what he or she brings into the world.


Hanukkah is coming, and Sadie’s family is getting ready. Luckily, her mom grew up in India, and oily, pan-fried dosas happen to make a terrific Hanukkah treat — just as yummy as latkes. But toddler Sadie keeps climbing up the counter, getting in the way of the food prep. When the family manages to lock themselves out of the house — just when their Hanukkah party is about to start! — Sadie’s climbing skills are suddenly exactly what they need. The book selection committee was charmed by this sweet story that shows how a family’s particular quirks can be very lucky indeed.




Who’s got it going on? Bubbe, that’s who. Far from a bit player, this family’s grandmother is the star of Shabbat, inviting all the grandkids over for a rollicking Friday night meal. The book selection committee knows that PJ Library grandparents often play an active and energetic role in their grandchildren’s lives, so we were delighted to see this reflected in such a fun-loving, warm story. Bubbe strikes a beat that will have fingers snapping and toes tapping all week long.

It’s a never-ending irony: Purim is possibly the most fun holiday for kids, and yet the Purim story can be scary or hard for them to understand. Enter Purim Masquerade: half book, half mask, this title manages to harness all the fun of costumes and make-believe in a way that little ones can totally enjoy. We’ll admit it: Book selection committee members are looking forward to reading this one aloud to the little ones in their own lives. We’re certain this is one book that won’t be gathering dust on the shelf!

In The Mitten String, author Jennifer Rosner wove a beautiful tale of how young Ruthie befriends her deaf friend, Bayla, and comes up with an idea to solve a problem that everyone who’s ever lost a mitten will relate to. The Candlewick continues the story of their friendship, as Ruthie thinks of another string-based solution to one of Bayla’s problems. The book selection committee loves the quiet lyricism of Rosner’s storytelling, which is inspired by her experiences with her own daughters.

BY JUDY PRESS PJ Library Subscriber Age: 2

BY SAMARA KLEIN PJ Library Subscriber Age: 2

BY JENNIFER ROSNER PJ Library Subscriber Age: 6




SPOTLIGHT First of all, just let me say that I love PJ Library! I wish I had it growing up, and I would have loved to have it for my kids. But…it’s not about me, but about our future. I have your typical Jewish family. Divorce and interfaith.  Statistics say that this is the reality today, and my family is the perfect example. Four kids, three married, and all to non-Jewish spouses. PJ Library has proven to be our family’s starting point! PJ Library got them involved, made them feel comfortable and empowered, and from there we have Jewish pre-school, Sunday school, and Jewish overnight camp! I can say with confidence that if not for PJ Library, with its programing in “non-threatening” spaces and books that educate parents as much as the kids, I don’t think they would be Jewishly involved like they all are now. This is why we are proud donors to PJ Library! Mark and Linda Silberman Atlanta, Georgia


In today’s fast-paced age, with technology both creating communities and leaving people feeling disconnected, there is a simplistic and “haimisha” unity created by sending books with meaningful themes to Jewish homes around the country. The excitement of a child receiving a package addressed to them, combined with the sentimental feelings our whole family gets from reading these books together, made us realize how wonderful an organization PJ Library is. Our 4-year-old son Adam has been enjoying receiving and reading PJ Library books for years, and we are excited our 1-year-old daughter Shira can have these wonderful experiences, too. Inspired by the selfless way this organization sends books to so many families, we wanted to give back, out of appreciation for what we received and out of hope that donating would allow other families to receive books, too. Evan and Mindy Fox Greater MetroWest New Jersey

Since biblical times, Jews have a special history of tikkun olam [repairing the world], so giving and helping others should come naturally. Having first-hand knowledge of the attempted destruction of our Jewish culture in Europe imbued in us a sense of community and shared well-being. We always felt that we had to give back, even when we were just starting out and had no money. But it was the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and the realization that Jewish life on this planet is precarious, that propelled us into a lifelong legacy of philanthropy. We were very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and we did well — and we now recognize that it is our responsibility to put our prosperity to good use in our community. What we have found is that giving money away is easy, but to do it right, one needs help. Being a philanthropist is like being on a speeding train — it needs fuel and a destination. We supply that fuel, but we need the engine to reach the destination. Some of our giving goals are to Jewish causes and education, and thus, when we were introduced to a program that provided free books to Jewish children, we knew we found that engine.

Our goal remains: Give to make a difference. PJ Library and other causes supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation are instilling a revitalization in Jewish life and we are very proud to be part of these endeavors and allowing our giving a destination. Barry and Barbara Zemel Paradise Valley, Arizona




I was 9 years old when 11 terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics. I can’t remember how I heard the news, but it didn’t take long. I may have seen something on TV when it was first reported, or maybe heard it on the radio before my parents realized I was listening. It was terrifying to hear that athletes were murdered at the Olympics, of all places. If athletes at the Olympics weren’t safe in the Olympic Village, how could anyone be safe anywhere? The news was shocking and scary for everyone, for sure, but for us Jewish kids it created extra cause for nightmares. I had never been to Israel and I didn’t know anyone who lived there, but I knew that we had a connection to those Israeli athletes and that the world was less safe for people like me. All parents anguish over how to protect their children and allay their fears. At some point, shielding them from bad news is not possible. News will get to them. I remember how, on the morning of September 11th, I rushed to my children’s school; I wanted to take them home, hold them close, and somehow shield them from


the horrors that were unfolding. But by the time I got to their school, my 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son already knew that the towers had been hit. A year ago, as JCC preschools were subjected to bomb threats, parents faced the issue yet again. No matter how calm and reassuring the teachers were during each evacuation, the children were experiencing a disruption to their daily routine that shook their sense of security. Before long, some children were showing signs of stress. On social media and at PJ Library gatherings, parents were seeking advice about the right words to say or approaches to take. Many of the people on the PJ Library team are parents of young children themselves, and they were asking the very same questions. Soon after the bomb threats began, PJ Library published a blog post entitled “How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Situations” that shared advice from respected child psychology experts. The post gained traction right away — reaching nearly four times as many people as other popular PJ Library blog posts. The bomb scares


BLOG continued, and we decided it was time to address the question that was on many Jewish parents’ minds. Our next blog post was entitled “How to Talk to Children bout Anti-Semitism.” Again, the post was read widely, reaching more people than any other post in the month it was posted. We know from our recent survey of subscribers that parents view PJ Library as a trusted parenting tool, and we saw from the response to those blog posts that we have an important role to play. PJ Library will be there to curate content and share the best resources we can find to help PJ Library parents navigate the topics that are on parents’ minds. I read recently that a memorial and museum opened in Munich this past September to remember those 11 Israeli athletes. The memorial is carved into a grassy hill in the Olympic Park. As described by one of its designers, the concept was to take something away from the landscape, just as the massacre took something away from the victims and their families. That massacre also took something away from those of us who were children at the time, as do all scary world events.

Many sources recommend being direct with kids about difficult topics. The American Psychological Association (APA) stresses that for children in groups that are likely to be targets of discrimination, it’s vital for parents to have ongoing, honest, discussions with their children rather than shying away from the subject. The APA also recommends: • Let the discussion be ongoing. • Keep talking. Yes, even — and especially — when it gets hard. • It’s also ok to say “I don’t know.” • Encourage your children to ask questions.


We hope in the year ahead, the PJ Library team can blog less about helping our children feel safe in scary situations and more about the joyous moments of parenting. But should difficult issues arise, PJ Library will

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy Like a Maccabee by Barbara Bietz

be there to help. To read the blog post in its entirety visit PJLIBRARY.ORG/BEYONDFEAR

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A PJ Library TOUCHDOWN! Julian Edelman isn’t just a Super Bowl hero and wide receiver for the New England Patriots, he’s also a PJ Library author. In October, a special edition of his children’s book, Flying High, was mailed to nearly 25,000 PJ Library subscribers. To celebrate the release, PJ Library hosted Edelman at the JCC Greater Boston, where he read the book to more than 400 children and their families. Before the book reading, Edelman met with PJ Library founder Harold Grinspoon, and discussed how a 2015 trip to Israel transformed his relationship with Judaism.

Profile for Harold Grinspoon Foundation

PJ Library PROOF magazine December 2017  

PJ Library PROOF magazine December 2017