For the longest time, looking for great and age appropriate literature was an impossible task as a Jewish music educator and as a parent. For some reason, all of the Jewish educational books seemed to be so wordy. These books were way over the heads or too long to read to the preschoolers I so often encountered. I would often discuss this topic with other parents and educators and most of the time, our discussions would end with shaking heads and frustration.
This was the case for years, until one day, I was at a Jewish informational event when I was new to Tucson and approached the PJ Library of Southern Arizona (http://www.pjlibrary.org/communities/jewish-federation-southern-arizona/5 ) table. I quickly learned that this just-getting-started organization was established and funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (http://www.hgf.org/) with generous support from the Tucson Jewish community and that if I signed my children up, I would receive a free Jewish book monthly. What did I have to lose?
I had no idea when I signed up what an amazing gift was ahead of me and my children. Every month, both of my children received a big white envelope in the mail with a treasure inside that they combed through over and over again looking at the colorful and delightful illustrations and begging me to read the story immediately upon arrival. Our PJ Library books soon became a welcomed evening of family bonding and learning every time another one of the books was waiting in the mailbox for us.
It didn’t take me very long to realize that as a Jewish music specialist, these books could add so much to my musical lesson plans at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and the local congregations. I am always able to pull out musical elements from the stories emphasizing beats and rhythms and utilizing fun and exciting instruments.
Recently, I have discovered that PJ Library has been sending out “singable” books. These are Jewish songs that have been illustrated and turned into a story. I made the discovery when I began to sing Rabbi Joe Black’s “Afikomen Mambo” song for a preschool classroom recently, and a teacher present mentioned that she had just bought the book. Book? I had been singing this song for years. There was really a book?
Lo and behold….a beautiful book with colorful illustrations and a CD of the song to boot! Check this out:
I went to the national PJ Library website and discovered further that not only did “Afikomen Mambo” exist, but there were many other “singable” books, too.
“Boker Tov” by Rabbi Joe Black
“Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” by Olga Ivanov
“Old MacNoah Had an Ark” by Sally Lloyd
“Sunrise Sunset” by Sheldon Harnick
Be on the lookout, too, for the book “Thank You For Me.” This story is based on Jewish rock star and PJ Library National Spokesperson, Rick Recht’s song “Kobi’s Lullaby.” PJ Library will be releasing “Thank You for Me” in May, and this well-loved song with beautiful illustrations is sure to be a hit. Children’s artist, Ann Koffsky illustrated the book, and there is a great preview of her pictures set to Recht’s music on Youtube. Click HERE to view it.
I have come to the conclusion that PJ Library is a gem. You must sign up your children if you have not already done so!!! It is too good of a thing to pass up.
In Tucson, our PJ Library holds excellent events throughout the year each focusing on one of the books with storytelling, crafts and snacks. To find out about the events “Like” your PJ Library chapter on Facebook. For PJ Library of Southern Arizona’s page, click this link: https://www.facebook.com/PJLibrarySouthernArizona?fref=ts. Here are few pictures from some past Tucson PJ events.
My song of the day is, of course, “Afikomen Mambo” by Rabbi Joe Black in honor of this awesome organization. It is perfect for Passover time and is so wonderfully age appropriate and engaging. I was unable to find the song on Youtube, but if you click HERE, you can listen to a song sample on Amazon.com. I am thrilled to have found the PJ Library, which I can honestly say has enhanced my life and my children’s for the better. I can’t wait to see what the next book brings, and until then, I have plenty of their delightful reading to keep me busy.