In Search of the Perfect Gifts

AS AN ADDED GIFT available in limited quantities to parents who request it, the PJ Library program is pleased to offer The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, a Jewish children’s book with LGBT characters.

In the letter below, Harold Grinspoon Foundation trustee Winnie Sandler Grinspoon discusses PJ Library book selection considerations and provides insights into its decision to offer a LGBT-inclusive book to families as an added gift during the month of March.

Winnie Sandler Grinspoon

Winnie Sandler Grinspoon
Trustee, Harold Grinspoon Foundation

I recently read an article about a book that was removed from the shelves of a school district in Utah. The author of the book was none other than Patricia Polacco, the author of several PJ Library selections including Mrs. Katz and Tush and Tikvah Means Hope.

The book in question in the Utah case, In Our Mothers’ House, is told from the voice of a girl who is part of a two-mom family. The school district had removed the book from the shelves, making it available only with parental permission, in response to a petition from parents who did not want their children reading that book. The American Civil Liberties Union brought suit against the school district on behalf of a mother of a child in that school system who objected to a small group of people imposing their personal values on others; in her words, “It’s not their job to decide what my kids can read — that’s my job as a parent.”

Following the lawsuit, the school district changed its policy and the parties reached a settlement. The district returned the book to the shelves and set up a system whereby parents who wish to restrict their children from reading the book are able to do so. The district spokesperson noted that under the new plan parents “are still in the driver’s seat.”

Imagine a scenario beyond Utah and its public library. You are invited to the home of a family you have never met. You know nothing about the family other than that they have a young child. You decide to bring a book to the child as a gift. What book do you choose? Are there any books you might hesitate to bring? If so, why? Do you bring those books anyway? Why? Why not?

Or this scenario: You are visiting a family you know. The parents have made clear that a certain subject is taboo in their family. Their position is based on their sincerely held religious belief. If there is a children’s book that touches on that subject, even indirectly, do you bring it as a gift to the child in that family?

By imagining these scenarios, you are one step closer to understanding the questions that we at PJ Library consider. Parents have entrusted PJ Library to select age-appropriate books with Jewish content for their children. That sounds easy enough. But what about a book that some parents might welcome but others would not? How does PJ Library select books that respect the varied interests of its parents without offending some and disregarding others? What are the best gift choices in a “one-size-fits-all” model?

A story book featuring a Jewish family with two dads is now available for young children. The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner tells the story of a boy trying to choose what character to be for his school’s Purim parade. He struggles over whether to dress as the other children or follow his heart.

We know from comments we have received from PJ Library parents that there are those who would encourage us to send the book out to PJ Library families. We also know that there are those who would object to receiving it. Like it or not, parents in our community have differing opinions about same-sex marriage and how or when it is discussed with children.

PJ Library welcomes and embraces the diversity of our community, whether in Jewish custom and practice or in the uniqueness of each family. And we know how wonderful it is for families and children to see themselves reflected in a book. What’s more, The Purim Superhero is a lovely book that captures the excitement of preparing for Purim and teaches important messages of the holiday. We think many families would love this book. Yet we know that there are some parents who would want to decide for themselves.

And so, this month, we are putting parents in the driver’s seat. We are pleased to offer The Purim Superhero as an added gift to families that request it.

Adar, the month of Purim, is a time of added joy for the Jewish people, and we sincerely hope that our gift of another free book to those who choose it will bring an added measure of happiness to families across our community.

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