Celebrating Jewish Book Month with an Ongoing Gift of Books
November is Jewish Book Month. Perhaps you have noticed or attended a Jewish Book Festival in your city or town; there are many across the country every November, from San Diego to St. Louis to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Many of these events are coordinated by the Jewish Book Council, which annually auditions authors for the JBC Network at an event held in New York just before Book Expo. Those selected win coveted spots as readers at various national festivals.
Meanwhile, all year long, another organization is regularly seeking out Jewish authors and Jewish books, and sending them all across the country: a successful and growing non-profit called PJ Library.
Founded in 2005 by Harold Grinspoon, PJ Library is a “Jewish family engagement program” that uses books to support its mission of expanding Jewish literacy and identity by providing free books of Jewish content directly to families of children from ages six months to eight years at no charge. With over three million books distributed as of earlier this year, when PJ Library’s Book Selection Committee picks a book, publishers listen.
Chris Barash is Chair of the Book Selection Committee, a group of five tasked with the job of finding eight new books in eight age groups to send out each month. The books come from a variety of sources, as Barash explains: “Some come from new manuscripts that we receive—we get about 20 per month from authors, some from publishers and occasionally from an agent.” Some are books that are published or contracted to be published, others are out of print and have been tracked down or recommended, yet others are unpublished manuscripts sent in by hopeful authors.
“We read and discuss and decide whether we think they would make a good fit,” Barash says of these unpublished books. If a manuscript is selected it is then sent to a number of publishers for consideration. If one decides to publish the book, PJ Library will make a commitment to buy it in bulk. “We’ve had very good results,” she says. “The majority of these do in fact get published.” And considering that the organization sends out more than 100,000 books each month to about 185 communities across the country and also in Australia, it’s not a surprise publishers pay attention to their recommendations.
Adrian Bailey, COO of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, describes the growth of the organization. When founded in December of 2005, it had a regional focus, sending 200 books a month to families in Western Massachusetts, near the organization’s home base of West Springfield. A year later, they were sending 1500 books a month to partners across the country, growing yearly since then to reach today’s impressive numbers. And from buying books through regular sales outlets, they grew to working directly with a wide range of publisher from Jewish publishers such as Kar-Ben Publishing to mainstream houses such as Random House, and to ordering custom print runs.
The goals of the program are much the same now as when they started, explains Bailey: “We want to engage families that are raising Jewish children in a respectful and comfortable a way that comes into their homes. We do that by giving them this gift so they can start and continue a Jewish journey, whatever it may be to them.”
Barash adds: “It’s still amazing to me that it came to be and that it’s so successful. In the beginning we knew it was a good idea, and now we know it’s a great idea.” Bailey and Barash are thrilled to be part of an organization with a mission in which they so ardently believe, and a mission that has been and continues to be so successfully accomplished. According to them, “Giving books is a simple gift with a profound impact.”
Learn more at: http://www.pjlibrary.org/