When PJ Library, a Jewish literacy program, first came to the Greater Phoenix area in 2010, my oldest son just turned 4 so I signed him up right away. The program sends a free Jewish book or CD to people’s homes each month and I feel fortunate to have had such a wonderful Jewish resource arriving in our mailbox for the past nine years.
When our oldest son turned 8 and aged out of the PJ Library Program, PJ Our Way, a Jewish literacy program for children ages-11, launched here in the Valley so he continued receiving a book each month, this time being able to choose from four books each month.
Now 12, he’s no longer receiving a monthly book, but we have a wonderful Jewish library of books and since he didn’t actually read one book a month, he’s still enjoying them. (He’s currently reading “Bridge to America” by Linda Glaser, which is based on a true story about a boy and his family who live in a shtetl in Poland in 1920).
Since my 10-year-old was 2 when PJ Library began in Phoenix, he’s been receiving a Jewish book in the mail as long as he can remember and my youngest, who just aged out of PJ Library this past spring, has been receiving books with Jewish content every month his whole life. How cool is that?
PJ Library is such an amazing resource for the Jewish community. Each month, the nonprofit sends more than 200,000 books to households in the United States and Canada.
As a parent, I just wanted to express my gratitude to the Harold Greenspoon Foundation for providing us with all this wonderful Jewish content through the years and for those in the Phoenix Jewish community who brought it to my children and others in our community!
One of the things I enjoyed most about PJ Library is that receiving these books give me an opportunity each month to discuss some aspect of Judaism with them on their level, whether it’s a holiday, a concept, a Jewish value, history or historical figure.
Since the books received are on an age-appropriate level, my sons have outgrown the preschool books, so we donated those to the preschool they attended.
To mark the occasion of my youngest son “graduating” from a lifetime of PJ Library (the younger two still receive PJ Our Way books), I thought I’d take a look at some of our family’s favorite PJ Library books.
As I scroll through the list of books on the PJ Library website, here are some memories from the books on the list that we received:
All of Me! A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang: This was a sweet book that the boys enjoyed when they were younger. I loved the lesson of gratitude that the book shared, and the colorful collage illustrations were fun to look at.
The Apple Tree’s Discovery by Peninnah Schram and Rachayl Eckstein was a favorite of mine, as I liked the message that each of us has our own gift and that’s an important message to convey to children. Plus, they discovered something new about the inside of an apple.
A Big Quiet House by Heather Forest: This book, based on a Yiddish folktale, tells the story of a man who was unhappy with his house and gets some strange advice that in the end helps. This was one of our favorites.
Bone Button Borscht by Aubrey Davis – My 10-year-old said he loved it, although he remembers it having a sad ending. I remember the Stone Soup story from when I was a kid so I enjoyed sharing it with my sons.
The Carp in the Bathtub by Barb Cohen and Joan Halpern: My youngest HATED this book because he was very sad about the fate of the fish. It made him very sad and he wanted me to keep the book out of sight so he wouldn’t have to see it.
The Chanukkah Guest by Eric Kimmel: This was one of the most popular requests – about a bear who visits an elderly lady on Chanukkah and she mistakes him for the town’s rabbi.
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff and Kyrsten Brooker: We only read this one a few times, but it was fun to read and the illustrations were fun to look at.
Clever Rachel by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell: My middle son really enjoyed this as he likes to solve riddles.
Ella’s Trip to Israel by Vivian Bonnie Newman: We read this one several times, as they were curious about Israel and liked the connection the girl had to her stuffed monkey.
Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen. I liked this message of forgiveness.
Estie the Mensch by Jane Kohuth: This was fun to read, especially to my youngest who I think kind of related to Estie and he enjoyed her antics.
Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson: Some of my favorite books were the biographies, such as this one.
Feivel’s Flying Horses by Heidi Smith Hyde: This was a touching book about a man whose dedication to his family, who he had left behind in the Old Country until he could afford to bring them to America, was beautiful. It also brought up a discussion about what some people went through in previous generations.
Five Little Gefiltes by David Horowitz: This was a favorite one by all three boys for several years. Probably because of the silliness and little jokes throughout. It was also fun to read.
A Grandma Like Yours/A Grandpa Like Yours by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum: We read this book many times. It was a soothing bedtime book with fun illustrations and the kids are close to their grandparents so they connected to it. They also liked how it turned upside down midway through the book.
Hanukkah Bear by Eric Kimmel: This is the same story as The Chanukah Guest but with different illustrations and was also a popular one, depending which one they kids saw on the shelf first.
Happy Birthday, World! by Latifa Berry Kropf: This board book was a nice introduction to Rosh Hashanah for a young one.
Hershel and the Hannuakh Goblins by Eric Kimmel: The two younger boys said this was one of their favorites.
A Holiday for Noah by Susan Topek: This one was requested often about the time we got the book, probably because of the twist at the end.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy: Another favorite for me as I learned more about Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life.
Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean by Yael Mermelstein: This was a fun rhyming one to read and received reading requests throughout the years. (And boy, do I wish I had one of those machines before Passover each year!)
Jodie’s First Dig: My 10-year-old enjoyed this book.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback: For a time, this was a popular one. Great illustrations and a great message. The book is based on a Yiddish song.
Let My People Go! By Tilda Balsley: One year, we used this on Passover as the story the kids acted out during the seder.
Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards: We made a matzah cake during Passover.
A Mountain of Blintzes by Barbara Diamond Goldin: We used the recipe to make blintzes during Shavuot.
The Mystery Bear: A Purim Story by Leone Adelson: A Purim story: Similar to the Hanukkah guest stories, this is a case of mistaken identity that the boys enjoyed.
Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti: A soothing bedtime story. Plus, I never really thought much about Noah’s wife and family so this was an interesting approach of her saying goodnight to all the animals on the ark.
No Rules for Michael by Sylvia A. Rouss: This was a popular one, as the boys learned how a day without rules could turn out.
Noah’s Bark by Stephen Krensky: This was entertaining – the boys enjoyed when the animals said different sounds than we’re used to.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne: Another biography I really enjoyed, which also inspired this blog post: “What if Albert Einstein had a smartphone?“
The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer: A cute story about a family pet. My two younger boys especially liked this one.
A Picture for Marc by Eric Kimmel : I enjoyed learning about Marc Chagall’s life and enjoyed reading it with my youngest son, who is a natural artist.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney: This was a great one. I liked it since I learned more about an author and book I enjoyed as a child.
Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice McGinty: This was a fun one to read and a unique way to cover the major holidays.
Red, Blue and Yellow Yarn: A Tale of Forgiveness by Miriam Kosman: All kids do things they’re later sorry for and telling the story through multiple generations was a good way to share this concept.
Rooster Prince of Breslov by Ann Redisch Stampler: My 10-year-old said he really liked this one and I enjoyed reading it, too.
Sammy Spider’s First Purim by Sylvia A. Rouss: My youngest son enjoyed this one when he was younger.
The Shema in the Mezuzah : Listening to Each Other by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso: I thought this had a beautiful message.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead: This was a popular one and was still being requested for a bedtime story many months after we received it.
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman: When I was scrolling through the list of books with the boys, two of the kids called out “Something from Nothing!” saying that they remembered reading it, but couldn’t remember what it was about. Funnily enough, I had the same reaction when I first saw it -I remember liking it, but don’t remember what it was about. I think it may be based on the same folktale as “Joseph had a Little Overcoat.”
Today is the Birthday of the World by Linda Heller: A Rosh Hashanah book with cool illustrations.
PJ Our Way books
Rabbi Harvey series
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey graphic novels by Steve Sheinkin were a hit with all three of my sons. They enjoyed the stories, the humor and the format. Other books they were reading at the time were “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” and “Big Nate” books so they really enjoyed this format. So far these have been their favorite PJ Our Way books.
Other PJ Our Way books they’ve enjoyed so far:
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor: This was NOT a favorite of my 9-year-old, primarily because it was a family of girls and at that time, he was only interested in hearing stories with boys. However, my 10-year-old is currently reading it and he’s enjoying it.
Echo Still by Tim Tibbitts: My 10-year-old used this for a book report.
Hereville graphic novels by Barry Deutsch – My sons are fans of graphic novels.
How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart – This was a fun book.
Ilan Ramon: Israel’s Space Hero by Barbara Sofer: I read this one and enjoyed learning more about Ilan Ramon, though of course I wished for a different ending.
Jessie’s Star by Ellen Schwartz: I read this with my youngest son and he really enjoyed following the story.
Letters to Leo by Amy Hest: I’m currently reading this with my youngest son. Cute approach, as the whole book is written in letters from a girl to her dog.
Mort Ziff is Not Dead by Cary Fagan: Read this to my youngest, he really enjoyed the story.
Seymour, the Formerly Fearful by Eve B. Feldman; Another one my youngest son and I enjoyed together.
The Time Tunnel series by Galia Ron-Feder-Amit- My 10-year-old really enjoyed these.
Who Were the Three Stooges? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso: I read this one on my own and really enjoyed it – I’d like introduce the boys to the Three Stooges through this book and watch some of their films, but haven’t yet so they’re not sure who they are and haven’t expressed an interest.
We still have some on the shelf that we haven’t gotten around to reading yet, but there are some good ones to choose from!
These are just some of the books we’ve received through the years and I learned from looking at the site, that PJ Library offers so many more books that we haven’t seen.
Thank you, PJ Library, for being part of our family’s life!
To learn more or to sign up or make a donation, visit pjlibrary.org or pjourway.org.