We are thrilled to share this wonderful blog post from Interfaith Mom, a blog dedicated to exploring the dynamics of interfaith family life. It is authored by our own Virginia Glatzer, who is an Educational Consultant at Jewish Learning Venture.
by Virginia Glatzer
As a family, we spent many afternoons and early evenings perusing the books at Barnes & Noble. My children always appreciated a gift card to a book store. Each week, we made time to visit the public library; we always had 10 books per child checked out. Up until the time my children were in Middle School, reading books together was part of our nightly ritual. When they were little ones, we read during the day as well. As an educator, good books with wonderful stories and illustrations are part of who I am. My favorite college course was Children’s Literature with Dr. Dornish. Ah, the joy of picking up a good book and sharing it with children. And, when I was teaching, the day the Scholastic book order arrived was the best day of the month – for my students and for me.
Since we are an interfaith family, we read books about Christian holidays as well as Jewish holidays. However, I realized early on that the pickings were slim for books about Jewish holidays or Jewish themes. The fact that there were so many beautiful books about Christmas, and there was next to nothing about Chanukah annoyed me. Upon reflection, Chanukah is actually a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. It is really only emphasized in the United States because it falls so close to Christmas. However, as an interfaith Mom, that gave me no solace. If everyone else’s children had the opportunity to enjoy a book about their holiday, my children should as well.
So, as I began looking for books for all Jewish holidays, I was saddened by the selection. Either the stories were ridiculous and trying to replicate the traditions of a Christian holiday that falls during the same season, or poorly written with mediocre images. When you have young children, you look for picture books with pictures that could be considered for the Caldecott Medal. As they reach chapter books, you hope for stories that are worthy of the Newbery Medal. The books I found were disappointing to say the least.
There were two exceptions. There were quite a few novels for young readers about being an interfaith family at Christmas. Also, while my daughter was in middle school, she read every book she could find that had a Holocaust theme, and there were many.
What I have been describing is based on my experience as a mother of young children. Fast forward to today. For those of you who would like to read to your children or provide your children with good books with Jewish themes, the news is good. Just recently, I was introduced to the PJ Library. On a monthly basis, children ages 6 months – 8 years can receive a free Jewish-themed book delivered to their doorstep. Oh, how I wish PJ Library existed when my children were little! I can just imagine the joy when the mail delivery arrived. On a recent afternoon, I had the opportunity to check out many of the books from PJ Library. The pictures? Fabulous! The stories? Engaging. The selection? Amazing! Although these books are also available at bookstores without the PJ imprint, as an extra bonus, the PJ Library-imprinted books have a book jacket flap that makes beautiful connections between the content and Jewish themes. By the way, for your older kids, there is PJ Our Way and PJ Goes to School. Those of you in Jewish homes with young children are very fortunate.
As we approach the Jewish High Holidays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I encourage you to begin your search for wonderful books.