Once PJ Library families outgrow their books, where do those books go?
The life of a PJ Library book is more interesting than other books. Rather than gathering dust on a shelf in a bookstore for months or years, PJ Library titles zip around the globe, delighting kids (and parents!) every month. Families welcome each book onto their bookshelves, where they are likely to be read and reread again and again. But what happens next?
Dani Hill counts on PJ Library books to help her educate her 4-year-old son, Tobias, about Jewish holidays and traditions. There are very few Jewish households in Dani’s tiny Illinois town, so when a friend told Dani about PJ Library, she signed up immediately and quickly realized there was another way to find the books. “I pick them up at the nearest JCC (Jewish community center) when they have book sales,” Dani says. “You can fill a bag with books for five dollars!”
As a result, sometimes Dani ends up with duplicates. “We had three of the same Sammy Spider books at one point, and two copies of Engineer Ari,” Dani says. She then lowers her voice as she continues, “I shouldn’t have said ‘Engineer Ari’ out loud. He’s going to come in and want me to read it again.” Dani donates the duplicate PJ Library books to other kids through her local Buy Nothing group, which organizes ways for families to give and receive items for free. “l get rid of stuff, I pick up stuff. It’s fantastic.” But Tobias need not worry: she’ll keep his favorite titles for the long haul, no matter how many times he requests that she reads them to him.
Carolyn Bassett of Edenton, North Carolina, has had many, many kids’ books in her home over the years – she’s a mother of seven, ranging from age 6 to 20. Like Dani, Carolyn and her family live in a rural area with a very small Jewish community, which means that her kids are often the only Jewish kids in their classes. PJ Library to the rescue!
“My son Gabe’s teacher was so excited,” Carolyn says. “She had never had a child who celebrated Hanukkah in her classroom but had a Hanukkah curriculum for 32 years.” Gabe brought in a copy of Hanukkah in Alaska, a book about a Jewish child in a rural community. “We also brought in dreidels for the whole class and made latkes in the school cafeteria,” Carolyn says. “I had no idea that the school would be so receptive!”
Of course, not everyone gets to go to school with Gabe, so Carolyn has another way of sharing PJ Library books. “We built a Little Free Library for our neighborhood,” she says, which is a box that allows people to take and leave books as they wish. “We don’t donate all our PJ Library books because my kids want to read some of them over and over,” Carolyn admits. “But we put some in the Little Free Library, and when we look again, the books are gone.” Her family’s real library, which is about 20 minutes away, has a similar take-a-book, leave-a-book bin. “The library budget here is really, really small, and there hasn’t been any Jewish media there at all, so the librarian has been very happy to have these books – even circulating some of them on the shelves.”
Not all PJ Library families are giving the books away, however. Rachel Leva, a PJ Library parent in Houston, Texas, found herself on the receiving end a couple years ago when Hurricane Harvey hit her community. Rachel, a nurse, was working at a hospital when the waters began to rise. She ended up stranded at work for five days. Her husband and toddler were stuck on the second story of their home until a friend came to rescue them by kayak.
Rachel and her family know they were lucky. They were safe, and they didn’t lose their home. They did, however, lose their books, which were covered by four feet of water on the first floor. And that mattered more to Rachel than one might think since she’s a member of her local PJ Library committee. “Silly as it sounds, one of the things I lost was my PJ Library shirt,” she says wistfully.
The flood hit Houston’s Jewish neighborhood heavily, which included the building that houses the local PJ Library office and Rachel’s daughter’s preschool, not to mention countless families. A PJ Library liaison reached out to the affected community and asked if any families lost books due to the hurricane. “We had a huge community response,” Rachel says. “I actually ended up with more books after Harvey than we had started with! PJ Library communities across the country supported Houston, dividing up the books by age and dispersing them.”
Rachel’s family is fine now, but her family’s bookshelves are a continual reminder of the many kindnesses extended toward them in a time of need. “It’s not that easy to go to a local bookstore and buy a book on a Jewish holiday,” she says. “I really liked ending up with a collection of multiple books for every holiday for years to come.”
Of course, these are just a few paths a PJ Library book might take. We’ve had reports of many book sightings in the wild. Families have donated books to senior centers for residents to read with young visitors or to doctors’ offices for kids waiting for their checkups. An extra PJ Library book is an excellent addition to a Purim basket or a care package when visiting a sick friend. No matter where the books end up, we’re confident they’ll continue to entertain and provoke thought – and maybe inspire a new family to sign up. Happy reading!