It’s become a monthly ritual that my daughters (ages 9 and 11) always look forward to. It generally goes something like this: I tell the girls it’s time to select their PJ Our Way books. They bicker about who gets to choose first, we flip a coin, someone disputes the results of the coin toss, we toss again. Eventually, both girls take the time to read each book description and other kids’ reviews before settling on their choices. After they’ve read their books, they use some of their precious screen time to log on and write their own reviews, and the process begins again.
My girls think of PJ Our Way as something fun they get to do every few weeks. And while I agree with them, I also see it as a powerful tool for their ongoing literacy development. Children who reach reading proficiency by third grade (which is when both of my girls signed up for PJ Our Way) are more likely to be academically successful in the future than those who don’t, according to research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Unfortunately, this also seems to be the age at which many kids are putting down their books. Recent research by Scholastic has identified a “decline by nine,” in which the percentage of children who report reading books for fun – five to seven days a week – drops from 57% to 35% between the ages of 8 and 10.
Fortunately, we parents can do something about this. Experts have offered a variety of ideas for keeping pre-tweens’ noses in books, such as allowing them to choose what they read, providing opportunities to connect with other kids who have read the same books, and using technology as a bridge to reading.
Check, check, and check. PJ Our Way nails them all, and I’m seeing the magic happen in our home.
The girls get to read books that align with their interests, whether it’s a biography of Albert Einstein or Judy Blume or a story about what it would be like to travel back in time to the days of Moses and Miriam or live with a golem in your town. My voracious reader who doesn’t love to write gets excited to craft her reviews, and I wonder when my reluctant reader will stop being surprised by how much she enjoys books about everything from being the only Jewish kid in your class at a new school to preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah you’re not entirely sure you want. As for me, I’m so grateful that my daughters are learning the stories of our people – both past and present – connecting to the Jewish community, and strengthening their own evolving identities. And I know that we’re combating the decline by nine, one PJ Our Way book at a time.