About Acorn Books
A mum of two boys and life-long book worm, I review the books my children enjoy and the things they inspire us to do on our blog – Acorn Books. As a practicing Reform Jew I feel passionate about finding books that represent our culture and are relevant to our family.
5 Reasons We Love PJ Library
by Acorn Books
Once a month we get a very special bit of post. It comes in a big white envelope with the blue logo of PJ Library in the top corner and is always met with excitement from my boys. Inside the envelope we know there will be a new a brand new book to add to our growing library of books about Judaism and Jewish families.
PJ Library is an organisation which sends Jewish books out every month to children aged between 6 months and 8 years. Funded by Jewish organisations and benefactors, these books are a gift to encourage parents and children to read together and engage with Jewish life and culture.
With Jews making up less than 1% of the population in the UK, it is really difficult to find books that relate to us; the target market is so small and children’s books are even harder to find. The introduction of PJ Library in the UK has completely revolutionised this for us.
PJ Library is unique and truly amazing, so in celebration of Diversity Month here are our…
5 Reasons We Love PJ Library:
- High quality books
The books that we receive are high quality and brilliantly produced. They are well written, beautifully illustrated and in some cases, award winners. These are highly appealing picture books, they look good, they feel good and they are always a good read.
- Stories about families enjoying Jewish festivals and culture
What I find really wonderful about the books is their purpose is not solely to inform and educate. When you are part of a cultural minority, the books that are usually available in the mainstream serve to explain your culture to others. Whereas the books from PJ Library have characters that are living our religion, our culture and stories that are built around them.
The books go beyond the major festivals, delving into the cultural rituals, the values and beliefs that are at the core of Jewish life.
- Inclusion of Hebrew and Yiddish
Many of the books have Hebrew and/or Yiddish words somewhere within them, sometimes using Hebrew characters as part of the illustration. Hebrew is the language we use in prayer and finding opportunities for my children to engage with it is really important. Yet the use of this is always subtle so as not to be a barrier for any readers who are unfamiliar with it.
Another language often spoken by Jews is Yiddish – my son has started using this and doesn’t yet distinguish who can understand it…
“Ssh, the baby’s having a schluff!” He whispers to my non-Jewish friend.
“A what?” Asks the friend with a puzzled look on their face and a glance to me for an explanation.
“He means a sleep.” I translate “Schluff is Yiddish for sleep!”
For many Ashkenazi Jews like us (that’s Jewish people whose ancestors came mostly from Eastern Europe) we regularly drop the odd Yiddish word into conversation. The phrases and words spoken by our families have been passed through the generations and become an integral part of our vocabulary. It is such a thrill to see them in print in the books from PJ Library and gives me such naches to hear my children use them. (Click here for an earlier post of mine that explains what that phrase means and for more on introducing Yiddish to children.)
- Bringing Jewish writing and publishing into the mainstream.
Before I found PJ Library I didn’t know where to look for Jewish children’s books, especially in the UK. I would maybe find some on American websites but they could be tricky to source and you never knew if the books would be any good. Now our eyes have been opened to a world of books we couldn’t access previously; we know which publishers to look for, we recognise the authors and illustrators. There is even a full list of the books that PJ Library provide on their website. As PJ Library has grown in the UK I’ve noticed the increase in availability of some of the books on British websites. The books are cleverly selected so they are accessible to all children and would be perfect additions to any school library looking to recognise and celebrate diversity.
- They excite us about our culture.
These books provide us with the springboard for so many activities and discussions about being Jewish. The books we’ve shared have inspired craft activities from groggers for Purim to new year cards at Rosh Hashanah. So many of the books feature traditional foods and we have baked hamantaschen and eaten matzah brei at Pesach. These are books about our world and they are books about us. The books are a gift but being able to read books to my children that they can relate to is a whole other gift within itself.
If you’ve never heard of PJ Library before then please take a look at their website and blog. Maybe you’re looking for books for Jewish children or looking for accessible books about Judaism or you simply want to see an example of how diversity in books is promoted.