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PJ Our Way offers free books for older kids
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PJ Our Way offers free books for older kids

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Building on its success with PJ Library — a program that provides free Jewish books and music monthly to children ages six months to eight years in more than 200 North American communities — the Harold Grinspoon Foundation is launching PJ Our Way, a program for nine- to 11-year-olds.

Launched after a successful pilot period beginning in October of 2014, the new program, supported locally by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, also has an interactive website designed to engage children in the book selection process.

Currently, the site (pjourway.org) offers a review of one book, videos about others, a readers’ poll, and kids’ answers to the question, “What’s the best thing about being in the world today?” The reviews, which are written by children across the country who serve on an advisory panel created by the foundation, help other youngsters decide which one of four PJ Our Way books to choose each month. 

“We’ve thought a great deal about how to engage older readers by giving them more say in what they read and then giving them creative platforms to talk to their peers about the books,” said PJ Our Way director Catriella Freedman.

The participants also have the opportunity to create book trailers, videos, quizzes, author interviews, and other media to communicate with their peers about the books via the website. 

Harold Grinspoon, founder of both programs, said, “We believe these stories and their values help shape young people in their understanding of being Jewish, and it’s our hope that PJ Our Way will ultimately build a strong community of young Jewish people.” 

The website also engages parents; they have to authorize their children to go onto the site, and a parent section offers them suggestions on how to talk to children about book content.

“The federation is delighted to support the launch of PJ Our Way in the local community,” said Sarah Portilla, the federation’s director of community engagement. “It is an important part of our mission to connect young families with Jewish life and inspiring young people to embrace their Jewish identity.” 

More than 8,000 young children throughout Monmouth and Middlesex counties receive PJ Library books and tapes; now, Portilla said, the federation is helping to bring Jewish ideas “into the homes of children right through bar or bat mitzva age.” 

To sign up for PJ Our Way, go to pjourway.org.

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